The Equality and Human Rights Commission is the body given the statutory mandate to challenge discrimination, and to protect and promote human rights. As it states on its website:
“We live in a country with a long history of upholding people’s rights, valuing diversity and challenging intolerance. The EHRC seeks to maintain and strengthen this heritage while identifying and tackling areas where there is still unfair discrimination or where human rights are not being respected.”
To get a clearer idea about how the Commission goes about its work, I have been talking to Nony Ardill, a Senior Lawyer with the Commission. She provides a fascinating account of the ways in which the Commission works with other agencies to fulfill its (very challenging) mandate.
To hear the podcast, go to http://global.oup.com/uk/orc/law/els/partington14_15/student/podcasts/NonyArdill.mp3
To read more about the work of the Commission, go to http://www.equalityhumanrights.com/
The Government has recently announced that it is launching a new pilot scheme that will significantly change the way in which out of court disposals for those accused of criminal activity are dealt with.
It is already the case that the use of out-of-court disposals overall has decreased in recent years. Thus in the 12 months to the end of March 2014, there were 391,171 given, comprising 235,323 cautions, 77,933 cannabis warnings and 77,915 penalty notices for disorder. This compares to 522,133 out-of-court disposals given in the 12 months to the end of March 2010.
The new scheme – which does not affect penalty notices for disorder – will comprise:
- a new statutory community resolution – aimed at first-time offenders. This will be used to resolve minor offences through an agreement with the offender. It will empower victims, giving them a say in how they want the offender to be dealt with. It could see an offender offering a verbal or written apology to the victim, making reparation (which can include fixing material damages) or paying financial compensation;
- a suspended prosecution – designed to tackle more serious offending. This will allow the police to attach 1 or more conditions to the disposal which must be reparative, rehabilitative and/or punitive in nature. It could see the offender receiving a punitive fine or attending a course designed to rehabilitate him or her and reduce the likelihood of re-offending
Under this new two-tier framework, offenders would have to take steps to comply with the disposal, rather than just accepting a warning, which is often the case with the current system. If they fail to comply, they will risk being prosecuted for the original offence.
The pilot scheme will operate in three polic areas for 12 months and will be assessed before a decision is taken on whether to roll out the framework nationally.
For further information, see https://www.gov.uk/government/news/putting-an-end-to-soft-option-cautions
Mediation is the Government’s preferred option for resolving family disputes. The Government has recently announced that, from 3 November 2014, the first mediation meeting will be free to both parties, so long as at least one of the parties to the dispute is in receipt of legal aid.
In addition, from January 1 2015 there will be a third stage in the government’s work to improve mediation and encourage separating couples to use it to resolve disputes. From the beginning of the New Year, the Family Mediation Council (FMC) is introducing a compulsory accreditation scheme and new professional standards which all mediators must work toward. All mediators and those working towards becoming a family mediator will be required to be registered with the FMC. The Ministry of Justice (MOJ) is funding the preparation work and costs of implementing the new standards.
These announcements follow recommendations from the Family Mediation Taskforce.
The report of the Family Mediation Taskforce report, published in June 2014, can be found by googling Family Mediation Taskforce.
In May 2013, the Government launched a consultation on the standards that experts in family cases should have. The standards had been drawn up by the Family Justice Council. The judiciary have recently announced that these standards are now operational.
The standards include making sure that the expert:
- has knowledge appropriate to the court case,
- has been active in the area of work or practice and has sufficient experience of the issues relevant to the case,
- is either regulated or accredited to a registered body where this is appropriate,
- has relevant qualifications and has received appropriate training, and
- complies with safeguarding requirements.
The standards were developed in partnership with the Family Justice Council.
For further details, see http://www.judiciary.gov.uk/publications/new-national-standards-for-family-court-experts/
In July 2014, the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee of the House of Commons launched an inquiry into the question of whether there is a need for a new Magna Carta. The inquiry follows from research undertaken at King’s College London which lays out three different models – including one fully fleshed out, complete constitution – and sets out some of the arguments for and against codifying the constitution in this way. The following summary is from the Committee’s website.
The King’s research points to the fact that the UK has a “sprawling mass” of common law, Acts of Parliament, and European treaty obligations, and a number of important but uncertain and unwritten “conventions” that govern administration, but the full picture is unclear and uncertain to electors in our democracy. They point to concerns about an “elective dictatorship”, and argue that it has “become too easy for governments to implement political and constitutional reforms to suit their own political convenience”. A written constitution would entrench requirements for popular and parliamentary consent. The present unwritten constitution is “an anachronism riddled with references to our ancient past, unsuited to the social and political democracy of the 21st century and future aspirations of its people. It fails to give primacy to the sovereignty of the people and discourages popular participation in the political process.”
Conversely, the case against a written constitution is that it is unnecessary, undesirable and un-British. The UK’s unwritten constitution is evolutionary and flexible in nature, enabling practical problems to be resolved as they arise and individual reforms made. The research points to concerns that a written constitution would create more litigation in the courts and politicise the judiciary, requiring them to pass judgement on the constitutionality of government legislation (which currently happens only in some contexts, such as compatibility with the Human Rights Act), when the final word on legal matters should lie with elected politicians in Parliament, not unelected judges. There is the simple argument that there are so many practical problems in preparing and enacting a written constitution, there is little point in even considering it. There is no real popular support or demand and, especially given the massive amount of time and destabilising effect such a reform would entail, it is a very low priority even for those who support the idea.
The Committee is currently taking evidence on the issue and will publish a report early in 2015.
As part of the changes to Judicial Review being made by Government, planning cases now go to the Planning Court.
From April 2014, the Planning Court deals with all judicial reviews and statutory challenges involving planning matters, including appeals and applications relating to enforcement decisions, planning permission, compulsory purchase orders and highways and other rights of way. It forms part of the Administrative Court but is distinct from it. Cases can start at the following locations:
- The Royal Courts of Justice
- Birmingham Civil Justice Centre
- Cardiff Civil Justice Centre
- Leeds Combined Court
- Manchester Civil Justice Centre
Planning Court cases are subject to tighter time limits than Administrative Court cases:
- applications for permission to apply for judicial review are to be determined within three weeks of the expiry of the time limit for filing of the acknowledgment of service;
- oral renewals of applications for permission to apply for judicial review are to be heard within one month of receipt of request for renewal;
- applications for permission under section 289 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 are to be determined within one month of issue;
- substantive statutory applications, including applications under section 288 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, are to be heard within six months of issue; and
- judicial reviews are to be heard within ten weeks of the expiry of the period for the submission of detailed grounds by the defendant or any other party.
Specialist judges, with planning expertise, sit in the Planning Court.
It is hoped that these changes will ensure that these changes will reduce the delay that can sometimes effect planning decisions.
For further detail see https://www.justice.gov.uk/courts/rcj-rolls-building/administrative-court/the-planning-court
One of the curiosities of the Criminal Justice system is that, while there are strict limits on the time a person may be held for questioning in a police station, there are currently no limits on the time a person is out on police bail. This can result in a person remaining under suspicion for a very considerable length of time. In a recent speech, the Home Secretary has announced that there would be a consultation on the issue and has asked the College of Policing to review current practice in police forces.