Martin Partington: Spotlight on the Justice System

Keeping the English Legal System under review

Archive for the ‘Chapter 5’ Category

Efficiency in the Criminal Justice system – pleas online – minor motoring offences

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In February 2015, the Government announced that – from March 2015 – it would be possible for those charged with minor motoring offences to plead online.People charged with summary motoring offences, like speeding, failing to identify the driver or using a vehicle without insurance, are now able to use the website to respond to charges against them.

The new digital system means defendants will be able to make their plea from any suitable device 24 hours a day through the secure website.

The service is offered as an alternative to a postal plea or attending court and was developed with court users to meet their needs. It was trialled in the Greater Manchester are before being rolled out nationally.

The ‘make a plea’ site is at https://www.makeaplea.justice.gov.uk/

The announcement is at https://www.gov.uk/government/news/digital-make-a-plea-system-means-people-can-choose-where-and-when-they-plead

Written by lwtmp

May 5, 2015 at 8:04 pm

Review of Efficiency in the Criminal Justice System

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Just before the 2014-15 Parliamentary session came to an end, the Government announced that it had accepted in principle all the recommendations made by Lord Justice Leveson on improving efficiency in the Criminal Justice system. (See entry in this blog in January 2015).
Particular emphasis was placed on changes that might be brought about with no or very little public expenditure.
The announcement was made in a letter from the Lord Chancellor to Lord Justice Leveson.
See https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/government-response-to-sir-brian-levesons-review-of-efficiency-in-criminal-proceedings

Written by lwtmp

May 4, 2015 at 3:29 pm

New Chairman for the Law Commission

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From 1 August 2015, Lord Justice Bean will be Chair of the Law Commission – a three year appointment. Professor David Ormerod has been reappointed for a further five year term.

See https://www.gov.uk/government/news/chair-of-the-law-commission-and-re-appointment-of-law-commissioner

Written by lwtmp

May 4, 2015 at 2:58 pm

Posted in Chapter 5

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Increasing sentencing powers of magistrates

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In the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act, 2012, provision was made (section 85) to give magistrates greater flexibility in the fines that they may impose. Offences are divided into 5 levels – the least serious are level 1 offences, the most serious level 5. Up to now, the maximum fine for level 5 offences has generally been £5000 (although there are special circumstances where the maximum is set at a higher level). Regulations have now been made and brought into force (15 March 2015) whereby, for offences which attract a level 5 sentence, magistrates now have power to impose fines without any cap being imposed.

This will mean that in cases where magistrates want to impose higher fines for level 5 offences, they will no longer have to send cases to the Crown Court for sentence.

Magistrates who want to impose a prison sentence of more than 6 months still have to commit such cases to the Crown Court for sentencing.

The fact that magistrates in future will have increased sentencing powers will not mean that they will automatically be increasing their sentences; indeed this is likely to happen in only a small number of the most serious cases.

The Sentencing Council gives detailed guidance on the appropriate amount of fines to be imposed within each level . These relate both to the seriousness of the offence and the means available to the defendant. See

http://www.sentencingcouncil.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/MCSG_web_-_October_2014.pdf
For Ministerial statement see https://www.gov.uk/government/news/unlimited-fines-for-serious-offences

Written by lwtmp

May 4, 2015 at 11:09 am

Disclosure of unused evidence in a criminal trial

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Part 2 of the Criminal Procedure and Investigations Act 1996 makes provision for the publication of a Code of Practice which sets out how police officers are to record, retain and reveal to the prosecutor material obtained in a criminal investigation. A previous version of the code was published in 2005.

In May 2014 the Magistrates’ Court Disclosure Review recommended a streamlined procedure in summary cases that are expected to end in a guilty plea, so that a schedule of unused material need not be served in such cases. To this end it recommended amendments to the code, some of which are incorporated in the revised code.

The revised code was laid in Parliament on 28 January 2015. The Criminal Procedure and Investigations Act 1996 (Code of Practice) Order 2015 will bring it into force the day after the Order has been approved by affirmative resolution of both Houses of Parliament.

The Code, in its present unappoved form is available at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/criminal-procedure-and-investigations-act-code-of-practice

Written by lwtmp

March 3, 2015 at 4:39 pm

Victims in the criminal justice system: getting the balance right

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Successive governments have attempted to improve the position of the victims of crime in the criminal justice system. But there is clear evidence that there is still room for further improvement.

In January 2015, the Victims’ Commissioner, Baroness Newlove, published a report which showed the gap between what was supposed to happen to victims, and what actually happened. The principal recommendation of her report was the adoption of a set of principles, drawn up by her, to which all actors in the criminal justice system should adhere.

The Commissioner stated that all victims should have:

  • Clear information from agencies and service providers on how they will support them in raising a concern or making a complaint about the service they have received
  • Information on how informal concerns can be submitted and dealt with, in additional to processes for the submitting of formal complaints
  • Details on how agencies and service providers will keep victims informed of the progress of their complaint at all stages
  • The option to state their preferred method of communication with an agency or service provider when raising a concern or making a complaint
  • Clear information to understand what to do if not happy with the response that has been received, including details about the role of the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman and the right to complain to them
  • Information on how they might be able to be involved in developing, reviewing and improving an agency’s or service provider’s complaints process.

In addition, she stated that agencies and service providers should ensure they offer to all victims:

  • A clear statement about the support they will provide to victims who wish to raise a concern or make a complaint about the service that has been provided
  • Processes to deal with concerns swiftly and informally where appropriate, in addition to processes to deal with more formal complaints
  • A commitment that they will deliver mandatory training and development plans for all staff who deal with victims’ complaints
  • A commitment to ensure that all staff who interact with victims, have in place a performance objective reflecting how they will be held accountable for treating victims with empathy, dignity and respect
  • Properly defined processes and recording practices which enable victims complaints to be handled proactively and appropriately
  • A published statement on whether they will apply the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman’s Principles of Good Complaint Handling in their complaints processes

In addition, agencies should publish information illustrating how complaints from victims have led to improvements in services.

The Government announced in February 2015 that it accepted these proposals and would work to bring them into practical effect.

The Commissioner’s report is at http://victimscommissioner.org.uk/baroness-newlove-victims-still-let-down-by-justice-agencies/

The Government’s response is at https://www.gov.uk/government/news/response-to-the-victims-commissioners-review-of-complaints-and-resolution-for-victims-of-crime

In January 2015, the Government has announced that an online service TrackMyCrime, which has been developed by Avon and Somerset police, will start to be rolled out nationally. This is designed to keep victims updated on the progress of their case, allow them to submit details about stolen or damaged property, and find information on support and advice. Crucially, officers and victims can securely exchange messages with one another at any time and police can regularly update victims on the progress of the case. This offers more flexibility for victims and will be more efficient for police officers working shifts.
See https://www.gov.uk/government/news/online-tracking-service-launched-for-victims-of-crime

And in yet a further development, the Government has announced further support for victims and witnesses in court, through a doubling of the number of Registered Intermediaries – people able to support victims and witnesses as they give evidence in court.
See https://www.gov.uk/government/news/courtroom-communications-experts-to-double

Written by lwtmp

March 3, 2015 at 4:30 pm

Review of Efficiency in Criminal Proceedings

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The results of the inquiry by Lord Justice Leveson into the efficiency of criminal proceedings was published in January 2015.

His task was to come up with recommendations that could be implemented without legislative change.

In summary, he recommends:

  • the greater use  of  video and other conferencing technology across the system (including courts and prisons) particularly featuring remote hearings in the Crown Court, which would lead to a better service for all those involved and reduce both delay and cost (para. 40-50);
  • facilitating the use in court of evidence gathered by police on video cameras mounted on their bodies or helmets (para. 58) and a streamlined approach to other evidence which has been captured electronically,  such as interviews of child witnesses (achieving best evidence) and interviews with defendants (para. 250);
  • more flexible opening hours in magistrates’ courts to accommodate those who cannot attend hearings during normal office hours (para. 54);
  • tighter case management by judges, including, in appropriate cases, the provision of timetables for evidence and  speeches (para. 274, 281);
  • that contracts awarded to those responsible for delivering prisoners to court should require greater efficiency so that prisoners appear on time and do not delay proceedings (para. 214).
  • that there should be funding available to pay for the inevitable cost of changing from the current systems to the more efficient ones (para. 320).

There is also an interesting chapter (chapter 10) on other changes that might be contemplated, but on which, because they would require legislation, he does not make recommendations. These include the controversial question of whether the ways in which defendants can opt for jury trial should be changed.

The full report can be found at http://www.judiciary.gov.uk/publications/review-of-efficiency-in-criminal-proceedings-final-report/

Written by lwtmp

February 3, 2015 at 1:09 pm

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