Martin Partington: Spotlight on the Justice System

Keeping the English Legal System under review

Archive for the ‘Chapter 5’ Category

Enhancing the Quality of Criminal Advocacy

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In 2014, a review of  criminal advocacy services by Sir Bill Jeffrey was published. In his report he pointed out some harsh truths for the legal professions:

For example:

  • Recorded and reported crime are down.
  • Fewer cases reach the criminal courts.
  • More defendants plead guilty, and earlier than in the past.
  • Court procedures are simpler.
  • There is substantially less work for advocates to do.
  • Its character is different, with more straightforward cases and fewer contested trials.
  • In the publicly funded sector (86% of the total), it pays less well.
  • There has been a marked shift in the distribution of advocacy work in the Crown Court between the two sides of the profession. There are many more solicitor advocates than there were in the years following the liberalisation of rights of audience. Between 2005-06 and 2012-13, the percentage of publicly funded cases in which the defence was conducted by a solicitor advocate rose from 4% to 24% of contested trials and from 6% to 40% of guilty pleas. Both figures are on a rising trend.
  • In 2012-2013, Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) in-house lawyers led the prosecution in approximately 45% of Crown Court trials.

He noted that there would be serious implications for the criminal justice system, if current trends towards the use of solicitor advocates and away from the criminal Bar continue. Sir Bill was clear that it would be neither feasible nor desirable to wind the clock back on rights of audience. He found that solicitor advocates are a valuable and established part of the scene. But if the Bar’s share of the work continues to decline, as the current generation moves to retirement, the supply of top-end advocates to undertake the most complex trials would be in doubt.

This stark assessment is the background to a new  consultation, launched in October 2015 by the government, setting on a number of measures it argues are necessary to enhance the quality of advocacy in criminal cases.

The paper sets out two principal reasons why it feels it must undertake this consultation:

  1. The Government has a responsibility to ensure the delivery of an efficient, fair and effective justice system in which the public has confidence and therefore has a legitimate interest in making sure that good quality criminal advocacy services are available to those that need them.
  2. The government, via the Legal Aid Agency (LAA), is also the largest single procurer of criminal defence advocacy services, and has a responsibility to ensure that, where such advocacy services are being paid for with public money, they are of a good quality.

The specific proposals on which the Government is seeking views  can be summarised as follows:

  • the proposed introduction of a panel scheme – publicly funded criminal defence advocacy in the Crown Court and above would be undertaken by advocates who are members of this panel;
  • the proposed introduction of a statutory ban on referral fees in criminal cases;
  • how disguised referral fees can be identified and prevented; and
  • the proposed introduction of stronger measures to ensure client choice and prevent conflicts of interest.

The period of consultation expires at the end of November 2015. If these, or measures similar to what is proposed go ahead, they will have a profound impact on the ways in which criminal practitioners work and the way in which the Legal Aid Agency operates.

For Sir Bill Jeffrey’s report go to

For the consultation go to

Written by lwtmp

November 5, 2015 at 12:53 pm

Restorative Justice: Information pack for the judiciary

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It is some time since I wrote in this blog about restorative justice. (See Nov 2012 and April 2013).
The leading charity in the field, the Resorative Justice Council, has just (October 2015) published an information pack about restorative justice.The pack has been developed with the help of the Magistrates’ Association, the Ministry of Justice and Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service.

It is designed to help magistrates, crown court judges and court staff to understand restorative justice, the benefits it can bring to all parties involved in a crime and the role that the judiciary can play in the process.

As well as providing information on restorative justice and its use in sentencing, the pack features a checklist for restorative justice, an article about why the judiciary can have confidence in the approach, and the voices of victims and offenders who have taken part in a restorative justice process.

The pack can be downloaded free from

Written by lwtmp

October 28, 2015 at 5:56 pm

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Rise in numbers of private prosecutions?

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The principal prosecution authority in the English Legal System is the Crown Prosecution Service. Private prosecutions, brought by individuals, have been rare. But two recent news items, reported in the Times Newspaper suggest that we may be witnessing an increase in private prosecutions.
On 2 September 2015 it was reported that some of the families caught up in the terrible refuse lorry accident in Glasgow last year were contemplating bringing criminal proceedings against the driver.
On 3 September 2015, there was an interesting feature also suggesting that private prosecutions might be on the interest, in particular where allegations of serious corporate fraud were involved. The key issue made in the article was that the reason why private prosecutions might be on the increase might be reductions in funding for the CPS which meant that they did not have the resources to take on serious cases.
It is hard to judge from a single newspaper article whether this really is a trend; and it is certainly not possible to say whether the suggested reason – public expenditure cuts – is the principal reason why this is happening. However, the two items – taken together – perhaps lay down a marker that this is an issue which needs to be kept under review.
Although I have argued elsewhere that not all cuts to public expenditure are necessarily harmful, if those cuts are preventing the CPS from doing its job of bringing to court cases that fall within its code of practice, this would seem to extremely worrying and an issue on which there should be proper research.
For the article see:

Written by lwtmp

September 14, 2015 at 3:51 pm

Use of stop and search powers by the police: recent developments

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On 10 October 2014 I wrote about the new Code of Guidance, prepared by the College of Policing on the use of stop and search powers.

The use of the new Code, called Best Use of Stop and Search, went live on 1 December 2014. It is a voluntary  scheme, but one to which all police forces in England and Wales have signed up. It is designed to ensure the police take a more intelligence-led approach to using these powers, and that they are only used when necessary. Adoption of the code is seen as part of a range of measures designed to contribute to a reduction in the overall use of stop and search, lead to better and more intelligence-led stop and searches and more effective outcomes.

Initially only thirty-five forces were fully implementing the Scheme, City of London, Derbyshire, South Yorkshire, Greater Manchester Police, Lincolnshire, South Wales and Dorset police came full on board in April 2015. Key elements of the scheme are that

  • Forces will publish their stop and search outcomes on, This allows members of the public to see how their force is using these powers
  • Forces can now arrange for members of the public to accompany officers on patrol, so they can see how the police use stop and search
  • Where a force receives a large volume of complaints on the use of stop and search, that force will explain to their local community scrutiny group how it is using the powers
  • Forces should reduce the number of stop and searches where there are no reasonable grounds for suspicion.


In August 2015, it was announced that policed forces would be publishing further data on how they use these powers.This means that members of the public can see the number of stop and searches, the outcomes and the proportion of these outcomes that were linked to the purpose of the search in any given police area. The data also provide a breakdown of the ethnicity and age of people stopped and searched and the time of day stops are carried out on a monthly basis.

Currently 25 forces also publish their stop and search data on the crime maps on this site. This allows residents in these areas to see where stop and searches take place, and view details about the stop and search including the reason and outcome.


The data are available at

At present the data is presented in a rather raw spreadsheet format. A more narrative account would make for easier reading of the data.

Written by lwtmp

August 8, 2015 at 11:44 am

The treasure in the heart of man – making prisons work

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The new Lord Chancellor, Michael Gove, is turning out to be a very interesting appointment. Following his speech on his vision for the justice system, (see this blog 23 June 2015), he has now given a truly remarkable lecture on how prisons might be made to work more effectively in helping to rehabilitate offenders and leading them to play a constructive role in society.

Taking his inspiration from Winston Churchill, who once said ‘There is a treasure, if only you can find it, in the heart of every man’ he has noted that education must be at the heart of the prison experience.

To be fair, his predecessor said something very similar; but then went on to ban books being available to prisoners, which seemed, at the least, to be counter-productive.

Michael Gove, pursuing interested he had as Secretary of State for Education, has returned to the same theme.

At present, Gove noted

45% of adult prisoners re-offend within one year of release. For those prisoners serving shorter sentences – those of less than twelve months – the figure rises to 58%. And, saddest of all, more than two-thirds of offenders under the age of 18 re-offend within twelve months of release.

Referring to the characteristics of those in prison, he said:

Prisoners come – disproportionately – from backgrounds where they were deprived of proper parenting, where the home they first grew up in was violent, where they spent time in care, where they experienced disrupted and difficult schooling, where they failed to get the qualifications necessary to succeed in life and where they got drawn into drug-taking.

Three quarters of young offenders had an absent father, one third had an absent mother, two-fifths have been on the child protection register because they were at risk of abuse and neglect.

  • 41% of prisoners observed domestic violence as a child
  • 24% of prisoners were taken into care as children. That compares with just 2% of the general population
  • 42% of those leaving prison had been expelled from school when children compared to 2% of general population
  • 47% have no school qualifications at all – not one single GCSE – this compares to 15% of the working age general population
  • Between 20 and 30% of prisoners have learning difficulties or disabilities and 64% have used Class A drugs

His answer to this is to try to ensure that there is much more ‘purposeful activity’ in prisons so that prisoners are helped to fill in some of the gaps in their education and upbringing.

Gove continued:

In prisons there is a – literally – captive population whose inability to read properly or master basic mathematics makes them prime candidates for re-offending. Ensuring those offenders become literate and numerate makes them employable and thus contributors to society, not a problem for our communities. Getting poorly-educated adults to a basic level of literacy and numeracy is straightforward, if tried and tested teaching models are followed, as the armed forces have demonstrated. So the failure to teach our prisoners a proper lesson is indefensible.

In this context, Gove proposes that prisoners should be required to earn early release from prison by showing they have participated in and learned from appropriate educational opportunities. He want to down play, even abolish, the automatic release of prisoners halfway through their sentences – a practice which he says means that sentences imposed by judges hardly ever mean what they purport to say.

It is not clear how far detailed policy work has been undertaken to bring this vision into effect – it seems likely that it would be a policy that would require significant additional resources, even if in the long run savings could be made through the reduction It may therefore be easier said than done. But as a goal for the prison system to aim for, it makes a lot of sense.

To read the whole speech go to

Written by lwtmp

August 3, 2015 at 9:55 am

Revolution in the Justice system?

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On 23 June 2015, the Lord Chancellor delivered a major speech on his vision for the development of the Justice system. Mr Gove is not shy of taking on existing established practices – witness his battles with the teachers when he was Secretary of State for Education under the Coalition Government.

In his speech, entitled What does a one nation justice policy look like? he argues that the justice system is in need of fundamental reform if is it to deliver access to justice to ordinary people.

A potentially very important difference between what he was trying to do in the world of education and what he now seeks to do to the justice system is that for the latter, much of the initiative for reform is coming from the judiciary itself. They see the need for better use of court facilities, fundamental investment in IT which would enable much legal work to be done without attendance at courts, support for new ideas – in particular in civil justice – endorsing proposals recently set out by Justice in its report Civil Justice in an Age of Austerity. (see this blog, entry for 5 May 2015)

First reactions to the Lord Chancellor’s speech can be heard in a special edition of the BBC programme Law in Action which was broadcast on the same day. The discussion – by Sir Stanley Burnton, Dame Hazel Genn and Keir Starmer – provides a useful basis for understanding what may start to unfold in the justice system over the next five years

What is absolutely certain is that anyone starting the study of law should be aware of what is in the pipeline – things are likely to change pretty quickly.

To read the speech go to

To hear the Law in Action Broadcast go to

The Centre for Justice Innovation, whose work is mentioned in the programme has a website at

Reflecting on how measures set out in the Queen’s Speech 2015 may impact on the English Legal System

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The Queen’s Speech sets out each year the bare bones of the proposed legislative programme for the forthcoming 12 months.

I’ve been looking through the detailed briefing to see whether there are issues which will affect the English Legal System (ELS) that may not be apparent from the speech itself.

Here are my personal comments:

Enterprise Bill.

The headline aim of the new Bill is to reduce red tape and improve the ways in which regulators work. But there are also two specific ELS related issues that may be noted:

  • Establishing a Small Business Conciliation Service that will handle business-to-business disputes without the need for court action, tackling  in particular, late payment issues;
  • Introducing business rates appeals reform, including modifying the Valuation Tribunal powers to consider ratepayer appeals.

Immigration Bill

Among proposed measures to be set out here, there are proposals to change the way in which immigration appeals work. In particular, the Government plans to:

Extend the principle of “deport first, appeal later” from just criminal cases, to all immigration cases. In 2014 the
last government cut the number of appeal rights but other than foreign criminals, migrants retain an in-country
right of appeal against the refusal of a human rights claim. We will now extend the “deport first, appeal later” principle to all cases, except where it will cause serious harm.
In addition to the well publicised plans to devolve further legislative power to the Scottish Assembly Government, there are also proposals for a new Wales Bill and a Northern Ireland bill that will also contain detailed devolution measures.
English Votes for English Laws
This contentious measure, designed to ensure that only English MPs vote on legislative measures that will only apply in England is to be introduced, not by legislation, but by changes to the Standing Orders of the House of Commons.
Investigatory Powers Bill
Among other issues this will deal with the question of who should authorise various forms of electronic surveillance – the Home Secretary or senior Judges (as recently recommended by the Government’s Independent Reviewer of Counter-Terrorism legislation)
Policing and Criminal Justice Bill
Among other things, this will change the law on Bail, The proposals are
To create a presumption that suspects will be released without bail unless it is necessary.
The Bill would initially limit pre-charge bail to 28 days, with an extension of up to three months, authorised by a senior police officer.
In exceptional circumstances, the police will have to apply to the courts for an extension beyond three months, to be approved by a magistrate.
This will introduce judicial oversight of the pre-charge bail process for the first time, increasing accountability and scrutiny in a way that is manageable for the courts.
British Bill of Rights
Proposals on this are delayed.
Victims of Crime Bill
This will put existing protections for Victims on a statutory footing and give greater protection to victims and witnesses
Votes for Life Bill
This will give UK citizens who live abroad a life time right to vote, rather than, as at present losing that right after 15 years.
Draft Public Sector Ombudsman Bill
Proposals to merge the current Parliamentary Commissioner, local government ombudsmen and the Health Service Ombudsman will be considered in a draft Bill.
Of course at this stage, most of the details are not available and they may well change during their various Parliamentary processes. But it is worth noting these issues so that you can keep an eye on them.
For more detail go to

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