Archive for the ‘Chapter 11’ Category
I always thought that one of the important aspects of the National Curriculum was the introduction of citizenship education. When done well, it teaches young people to understand, challenge and engage with the main pillars of our democracy: politics, the economy and the law. It has also led to some quite brilliant and inspiring project work. Citizenship education is central to how young people can be given the confidence to engage and navigate the law and legal processes.
However, the Department for Education is now conducting a review of the National Curriculum and has issued a consultation document for public comment. Of most interest are the proposals for citizenship education in key stages 3 and 4.
The proposed new curriculum removes the explicit reference to ‘political, legal and human rights, and the responsibilities of citizens’, present in the current curriculum leaving only a vaguer reference to the ‘precious liberties of the citizens of the United Kingdom’.
Other references to ‘influencing decisions affecting communities…’ and ‘strategies for dealing with disagreement and conflict’ have also been removed; although there is now an explicit reference to the ‘importance of personal budgeting, money management and a range of financial products and services’.
The consultation closes on April 16 2013, so if you are moved to comment you’ll need to act fast. You can get further information from the Citizenship Foundation, who have provided a handy critique and guide to proposed changes.
In addition, campaign group Democratic Life has an online response form that you can use. It is pre-filled with thoughts about the citizenship curriculum, which you can leave in or edit as you see fit. It is sent automatically to the Department for Education’s consultation team, and a copy is sent to you.
One development, not adequately publicised, is the creation of an increasing number of short YouTube videos on different aspects of the justice system. Produced by the Ministry of Justice they provide introductions to many aspects of the justice systems, including information about a number of tribunals where those appearing will struggle to get legal representation.
To browse the videos, go to http://www.youtube.com/user/MinistryofJusticeUK/videos?view=1&flow=grid
In the book I argue that it is hard to encourage rational debate on sentencing policy. Discussion tends to be hi-jacked by shrill comments from politicians and the press.
To encourage better public understanding of sentencing and its actual application in particular cases, the Ministry of Justice created an interactive website – You be the Judge – which invites you to be the judge. The scope of the website has been expanded to include new offences.
From 30 November 2012, cases of murder, manslaughter, drug dealing and teen crime were added to the website You be the Judge.
To try you hand at sentencing go to http://ybtj.justice.gov.uk/
In the book, I observe how difficult it is for governments to get the balance right when it comes to questions of civil liberty and human rights. The Coalition Government’s Protection of Freedoms Act was born of a belief that the previous Labour government had got the balance wrong.
But the Coalition Government itself is struggling with this issue with two measures that are currently causing great concern in the civil liberty/human rights arena.
The first is the Justice and Security Bill 2012. The issue that has drawn the fire of human rights groups is the proposed introduction of what is called the ‘Closed Material Procedure’ which would allow, in certain civil cases being hear in courts, evidence about the work of UK Intelligence services to be heard behind closed doors.
The battlelines are clear and have been hard fought in the press and in Parliament. The Government argues that this is a practical way of admitting certain evidence to a hearing behind closed doors which it would not be in the public interest to disclose publicly; opponents argue equally strongly that this is an attack on the principle of openness and transparency in judicial proceedings that should be resisted at all costs.
The second is the Draft Data Communications Bill which is currently the subject of pre-legislative scrutiny. The Government argues that the arrival of new forms of communication has resulted in the police and security services facing new challenges when it comes to keeping tabs on those suspected of serious criminal activity, who need new powers to deal with these challenges.
Opponents argue that this is simply a ‘snoopers charter’ that will seriously undermine the right to personal privacy.
These are both live measures that make clear how important the Parliamentary process is in ensuring that arguments for and against such measures are properly debated. The final outcome of both measures is as yet far from certain, but given the importance of the role of law in balancing the interests of the state against the rights of the individual, they provide excellent illustrations of the problem of balance.
What do you think? Has the Government got it right? or has it cone a step too far?
This Act of Parliament deals with a somewhat miscellaneous series of matters, but ones which had caused political controversy, where it was argued (and the Coalition Government had accepted) that the balance between the rights of the individual and the interests of the State was not right. (It had indeed been preceded by the Identity Documents Act 2010, which abolished measures relating to the introduction of identity cards, introduced by the previous Labour administration.) Among the measures included in the 2012 Act are:
• reducing the maximum period of pre-charge detention (without trial) for terrorist suspects to 14 days;
• deleting the DNA samples and fingerprints of more than 1m innocent people from police databases;
• deleting the DNA samples and fingerprints of more than 1m innocent people from police databases;
• abolishing a law to permit trials without juries in serious fraud cases;
• ending the fingerprinting of children in schools without parental consent; and
• introduction of a code of practice for CCTV and Automatic Number Plate Recognition systems
For more detail of these and other provisions go to http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/media-centre/news/protection-of-freedoms and follow the links.
In 2000, Parliament enacted the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act. At the time, it was acclaimed by government ministers as Human Rights Act compliant, and was presented as forward-looking legislation. The Protection of Freedoms Bill, currently before Parliament contains provisions to tighten up the use of covert investigatory techniques. And a recent report from JUSTICE makes a strongly argued case for fundamental reform of the regulation of surveillance.
The principal findings in the report are:
• Since RIPA came into force in 2000, there have been:
– more than 20,000 warrants for the interception of phone calls, emails, and Internet use;
– at least 2.7 million requests for communications data, including phone bills and location data;
– more than 4,000 authorisations for intrusive surveillance, eg, planting bugs in someone’s house
– at least 30,000 authorisations for directed surveillance, eg, following someone’s movements in
public, or watching their house.
• In total, there have been close to three million decisions taken by public bodies under RIPA in the last decade.
• This does not include the number of warrants and authorisations on behalf of MI5, MI6 and GCHQ, which have never been made public.
• Of the decisions we do know about, fewer than 5,000 (about 0.16 per cent) were approved by a judge.
• The main complaints body under RIPA, the Investigatory Powers Tribunal, has dealt with only 1,100 cases in the last decade and upheld only ten complaints.
• Surveillance is a necessary activity in the fight against serious crime. It is a vital part of our national
security. It has saved countless lives and helped convict hundreds of thousands of criminals.
• But unnecessary and excessive surveillance, however, destroys privacy and blights our freedoms.
• RIPA has not only failed to check a great deal of plainly excessive surveillance by public bodies over the last decade but, in many cases, inadvertently encouraged it. Its poor drafting has allowed councils to snoop, phone hacking to flourish, privileged conversations to be illegally recorded, and CCTV to spread. It is also badly out of date.
• The conclusion is that RIPA is neither forward-looking nor human rights compliant. Piecemeal amendments are no longer
enough for what is already a piecemeal Act. Root-and-branch reform of the law on surveillance is needed to provide freedom from unreasonable suspicion, and put in place truly effective safeguards against the abuse of what are necessary powers.
• This report sets out a series of recommendations to serve as the basis for a draft Surveillance Reform Bill.
The full report is at http://www.justice.org.uk/resources.php/305/freedom-from-suspicion
Joshua Rozenberg is one of a very small number of specialist journalists who cover legal issues in a serious and thoughtful way. He has worked in a wide variety of media, including the BBC – he was their legal correspondent for 15 years. He still makes the Law in Action series. He was also legal of the Daily Telegraph for a number of years. He now works freelance; much of his current work is published by The Guardian on-line
In the interview, he describes how he decided to become a journalist rather than a practising lawyer and comments on the challenges of devising ways to enable legal issues to be raised in the mass media.
To hear my interview with Joshua Rozenberg go to http://www.oup.com/uk/orc/bin/9780199601806/01student/podcasts/Rozenberg.mp3
One of the consequences of government funding cuts was the elimination of financial support for the Public Legal Education Network – a group that was doing important and innovative work to promote better public understanding of law.
Frankly I was not sure where this initiative had got to. However in the last couple of days I received a newsletter telling me that the network has reconstituted itself as Law for Life: the Foundation for Public Legal Education and that there will be a relaunch of this work in early 2012.
Among other recent activity, they have secured funding for participating in research into adult legal education in Europe; they are about to publish the results of work they have done with Bristol University; and they continue to promote the Street Law programme.
Full details are still on their old website: http://www.plenet.org.uk/
but you can sign up to their newsletter to keep in touch with developments as they unfurl.
Unlike the situation in many other countries, the televising of court proceedings has not been a central feature of the English Legal System.
There are signs of significant change on the horizon.
First, the Supreme Court has already decided not only to let television companies make documentary programmes about its work (see this blog Feb 2011) but also to enable Sky TV viewers to see full broadcasts of its proceedings. For further details see http://news.sky.com/home/supreme-court.
Second, Justice Minister Ken Clarke has announced that limited televising of proceedings will be allowed. Initially this will be limited to the Court of Appeal where filming will be of judges’ summary remarks only; victims, witnesses, offenders and jurors will not be filmed. He has stated that this may be extended to the Crown Court at a later date.
This second step will not take place overnight, however. Legislative change is required to repeal Section 41 of the Criminal Justice Act 1925 and Section 9 of the Contempt of Court Act 1981, which currently forbid the broadcasting of court proceedings. See further http://www.justice.gov.uk/news/press-releases/moj/moj-newsrelease060911a.htm.
One consequence of these developments may be that members of the public who think that most cases are heard by courts will be reinforced in this view, whereas readers of the book will know that in every area of the law, save perhaps family law, great number of issues are disposed of outside court proceedings.
Nonetheless, I welcome this development and suspect that in a year or two people will wonder why we took so long to reach this position.
Two recent announcements from the Ministry of Justice have been concerned with the interaction between young people and the law.
The first, called the ‘London Justice Programme’ is the latest initiative of the National Centre for Citizenship and the Law. Though based in Nottingham, the Centre has been seeking to develop national initiatives, of which the London Justice Programme is the latest development. At present there is not a lot of detail on what the programme involves, but it does provide opportunities for children at school to visit courts, hold mock trials there, and more generally become more aware of the legal system. The announcement at http://www.justice.gov.uk/news/features/feature170511a.htm provides a link to a video which gives the flavour of what is on offer.
There has also been an announcement about a new DVD – made by the Halton and Warrington Youth Offending Team (which comes under the Youth Justice Board) – which seeks to explain how restorative justice works and the demands that restorative justice measures make on those subject to them. The press announcement suggests that the DVD will be available from the YJB, but my researches do not currently indicate how it may be viewed. But it could be a useful source of information about restorative justice, challenging the perception that it is a ‘soft option’. For the press announcement, see http://www.justice.gov.uk/news/press-releases/yjb/yjb-news-release-20may2011a.htm