The Howard League for Prison Reform, established in the mid 19th century, is a national charity ‘working for less crime, safer communities and fewer people in prison. Too much money is spent on a penal system which doesn’t work, doesn’t make our communities safer and fails to reduce offending’.
In this podcast I talk to Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the League. She speaks about the work of the League, noting some of the successful impacts it has made in recent years. She talks about penal policy in the UK arguing that it operates in a more ‘punitive’ way than other European countries (including former Easter-bloc). She makes a passionate defence of the current probation service and deplores the current Government’s approach to reform of the service. Finally she calls on those setting out on their legal studies to understand the importance of social justice as an aspect of being a professional lawyer.
You can listen to Frances at http://fdslive.oup.com/www.oup.com/orc/resources/law/els/partington13_14/student/podcasts/Crook.mp3
To read about the work of the Howard League go to http://www.howardleague.org/
In July 2012, I noted developments relating to the encouragement of early guilty pleas. At that stage, a scheme had been rolled out in the magistrates’ courts and a crown court scheme was being trialled in London.
The crown court scheme has now been rolled out nationally.
The official view of the scheme is:
“The principle of the Early Guilty Plea Scheme is to identify those cases where a defendant is likely to plead guilty and to expedite those cases to an early guilty plea hearing….The Early Guilty Plea Scheme acknowledges that around three quarters of Crown Court cases plead guilty on the day of trial and is designed to encourage the guilty plea where appropriate to be entered at an earlier opportunity to prevent delaying justice unnecessarily.
The Early Guilty Plea Scheme allows the defence and CPS to identify those cases likely to plead guilty and offers a credit on sentence for the defendant where they plead guilty at the Early Guilty Plea Hearing. The Scheme encourages discussion between the CPS and defence practitioners before the Early Guilty Plea Hearing takes place where any issues such as basis of plea can be agreed. This discussion can be undertaken using secure email as a way of ensuring that the CPS are able to respond quickly to any queries. This ensures that all parties are ready for the Early Guilty Plea Hearing where, providing the National Offender Management Service have a pre-sentence report, sentencing can occur at the Early Guilty Plea Hearing avoiding additional hearings for sentence.
One of the benefits of the Scheme for defence practitioners is to enable them to secure maximum credit on sentence for their clients and reducing the number of hearings that they are required to attend. This also relieves the stress and anxiety felt by victims, witnesses and defendants whose case is finalised more quickly.”
As noted in the book the practical advantages of the scheme – in terms of saving resources, and improving efficiency – are to a degree at odds with the ‘due process’ model of criminal justice. Do you think the correct balance has been achieved?
For more information see
The decision of the UK Supreme Court on Prisoners’ voting rights, published on 16 October 2013, seems to me to be rather more nuanced than much of the media coverage I have read and heard.
The case which reached the Supreme Court involved two appeals, one from England (Chester) and one from Scotland (McKeoch). Only the Chester case invoked the European Convention on Human Rights and the Human Rights Act 1998. Both cases also raised a question of EU law.
The issue under EU law arose from the focus in the EU on the core concerns of ensuring equal treatment between EU citizens residing in Member States other than that of their nationality, and so safeguarding freedom of movement within the EU. However, eligibility to vote in Member States is basically a matter for national legislatures, and a matter for each individual legislature to determine. In any event, the EU legal principle of non-discrimination would still not be engaged. Convicted prisoners serving their sentence are not in a comparable position to persons not in prison. Thus, in both cases, the Supreme Court held that EU law did not apply.
As regards the European Convention on Human Rights and the Human Rights Act 1998, the Supreme Court noted that in a series of cases (Hirst (No 2) v UK, Greens v UK and Scoppola v Italy) the European Court of Human Rights (“ECtHR”) had held that a blanket prohibition of this nature is an indiscriminate restriction on a vitally important right and, as such, incompatible with Article 3 of Protocol No 1, the duty to hold free and fair elections.
Under the HRA, the Supreme Court is required to “take into account” decisions of the ECtHR, not necessarily to follow them. This enables the national courts to engage in a constructive dialogue with the ECtHR. However, the prohibition on prisoner voting in the UK has now been considered by the Grand Chamber of the ECtHR twice and, on each occasion, found to be incompatible with Article 3 Protocol 1. In these circumstances, it would have to involve some truly fundamental principle of law or the most egregious oversight or misunderstanding before it could be appropriate for the Supreme Court to refuse to follow Grand Chamber decisions of the ECtHR. The ban on prisoner voting is not, in the Supreme Court’s view, a fundamental principle of law in the UK, and the circumstances do not justify a departure from the ECtHR’s caselaw.
Thus contrary to some reporting, the Supreme Court has upheld the ECtHR’s view that the UK’s blanket ban on voting rights is incompatible with the European Convention. The Supreme Court did not issue a declaration of incompatibility, however, because that is a discretionary remedy; the Court had already issued such a declaration; the Government was undertaking work to respond to the initial declaration; it was not for the Court to say how the Government should ultimately resolve the matter; and that therefore, being a discretionary remedy, the Court would not exercise its discretion in this case.
So the ball is still very much in the Government’s court.
The full judgement of the Supreme Court and a press release prepared by the Court are available at http://www.supremecourt.gov.uk/news/latest-judgments.html
In August 2013, I noted that Mike Maiden had been appointed as the Director of the new Probation Service. He has withdrawn from the post for personal reasons. The Government has just announced that, in his place, Colin Allars, the current director of probation within the National Offender Management Service (NOMS), has been chosen to take up the new role. Sarah Payne’s appointment as director of the NPS in Wales is unaffected.
The Government announcement states: “the two will work together to lead the new service. It is due to launch in April 2014 and tasked with protecting the public from 30,000 of the most dangerous offenders in England and Wales each year…”
The long awaited launch of the National Crime Agency occurred on Monday 7 October 2013. It brings together, in a single body, four formerly separate activities under four Command heads. These are:
Border Control Command, designed to increase security at border entry points.
Economic Crime Command covering a range of crimes including:
Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) Command which aims to protect children from sexual exploitation on the internet.
Organised Crime Command (OCC) which leads, supports and co-ordinates the national effort to identify, pursue and disrupt serious and organised criminals.
The Agency also contains the National Cyber Crime Agency, which aims to provide a joined-up national response to cyber and cyber-enabled crime.
Critics of this new initiative argue that this is largely a ‘re-branding’ exercise for pre-existing bodies with a rather underwhelming track record, which is also likely to struggle because it has had its funding cut. My view is that it is far to early to assume that this will be the case. The Agency has to have some time to establish itself before we can determine whether it is delivering the benefits planned for it.
There is quite a lot of information about the agency available on-line. Go to http://www.nationalcrimeagency.gov.uk/ and follow the various and varied links.
Government cuts to the legal aid budget are making people who want to deliver legal services to the poorest in society think hard about how this can be done into the future. I have already noted that one law firm has created an Alternative Business Structure to enable it to use its profits from private client work to fund its social welfare advice work. See http://martinpartington.com/2013/08/
To get more general thinking going on this, the Legal Action Group has established a Commission under the chairmanship of Lord Low to develop a new strategic approach. It has recently published an important Consultation Document on which it is consulting until the end of September 2013.
As background, the Commission states: “For many people, having access to advice and legal support on Social Welfare Law issues is central to ensuring that they receive fair treatment at the hands of the state, when in dispute with an employer or when struggling with debt. This type of advice and support is currently provided by both the not for profit sector (for example, by organisations such as Law Centres or Citizens Advice Bureaux), through the private sector (solicitors) and occasionally via welfare rights units run by Local Authorities.
“These services are currently funded by both central and local government as well as by charitable trusts and the private sector. However, changes to the scope of legal aid as a result of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 combined with other reductions in central and local government funding due to the period of austerity are threatening the provision of these services as never before.
“These cuts come at a time when advice agencies are seeing an increase in demand due to a combination of welfare reform, other austerity measures and the financial downturn.”
The aim of the Commission is “to develop a strategy for the future provision of Social Welfare Law services, which:
- meets the need for the public, particularly the poor and marginalised, to have access to good quality independent legal advice;
- is informed by an analysis of the impact of funding changes and by an assessment of what can realistically be delivered and supported in the future;
- influences the thinking and manifestos of the political parties in the run up to the 2015 election.”
In its Consultation Paper summary, the main components of the Commission’s strategy are::
- Legal aid should be viewed as part of a continuum including information, general advice, specialist advice, legal help and legal representation, rather than as a stand alone funding mechanism; the more we can do at the beginning of this spectrum, the less we should have to do at the end.
- By reducing demand, taking early action and simplifying the legal system it will be possible to reduce some of the need for advice and legal support.
- For those who can afford to pay, affordable advice and legal support should be more accessible and the routes into it much better communicated and understood.
- People with pressing problems need a simple and effective way of accessing good advice, without hurdles or confusion. Much basic provision can be developed using a combination of public legal education, national telephone helplines and websites, local advice networks and specialist support for front line advice agencies.
- More in-depth and intense support should be targeted at those most in need.
- Ensuring the quality of all levels of service provision must be a high priority
- We would like to see a more open and collaborative advice sector. There is considerable scope for local advice agencies to work more closely together and in some cases even to merge. We would also like to see the national advice services umbrella bodies work more closely together and share their resources and experience more widely
- The importance of advice and legal support on social welfare law to people’s lives, coupled with challenges to its continued provision and additional costs to government that are likely to result if no action is taken, makes it imperative that the next UK Government develops a National Strategy for Advice and Legal Support in England for 2015-20 and that the Welsh Government develops a similar strategy for Wales
- Local authorities should co-produce or commission local advice and legal support plans in conjunction with local not-for-profit and commercial advice agencies; these plans should review the services available, including helplines and websites, whilst targeting face to face provision to ensure that it reaches the most vulnerable and ensuring some resources are available for legal representation where it is most needed, to supplement the reduced scope of legal aid
- We estimate that currently, post the implementation of the 2012 Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO), there is about £400m per year available to fund advice and legal support services- mainly coming from local authorities, the Money Advice Service and the legal aid that remains for social welfare law.
- We estimate at least a further £100m pa is required in order to ensure a basic level of provision
- We are calling on the next UK Government to provide half this extra funding by establishing a 10 year National Advice and Legal Support Fund of £50m pa, to be administered by the Big Lottery Fund (BIG), to help develop provision
- We propose this Fund should be financed by the Ministry of Justice, the Cabinet Office and the DWP, as the main creator of the need for advice and legal support (on the polluter pays principle)
- 90% of the Fund should be used to fund local provision, with 10% for national initiative.
- BIG should allocate the 90% share of the National Fund to local authorities, based on indicators of need, to help implement local advice and legal support plans, which should be prepared in conjunction with the local advice sector.
- We are also calling on other national and local statutory, voluntary and commercial funders to contribute a further £50m pa to help develop provision. These should include NHS clinical commissioning groups, housing associations, additional Money
Advice Service funding, charities, trusts and foundations and lawyer fund generation schemes, such as the interest on money held for clients and dormant accounts.
- Most of our recommendations apply equally to Wales, but it will be important to build on the momentum resulting from the Welsh Government’s Advice Services Review published in May 2013.
A final report is due to be published at the end of 2013. it makes clear that legal aid budgets, as such, are unlikely to be restored so that alternative funding models must be developed.
Links to the full consultation report are at http://www.lowcommission.org.uk/Can-you-help
When I was preparing the last edition of the book, in October 2012, the full details of how the legal aid scheme would work once the Legal Aid Agency had started its work, were not available. As a result of the changes that are now fully effective there is a number of points in the book that are now out of date.
1 The Funding Code (see p 273), under which the former Legal Services Commission operated, has been abolished. The new Legal Aid Agency works under the regulations that have been made under the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012. These include most importantly the Civil Legal Aid (Procedure) Regulations 2012/3098, see http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2012/3098/contents/made; and the Civil Legal Aid (Merits Criteria) Regulations 2013, see http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2013/104/contents/made.
2 The Lord Chancellor’s priorities (p 273) are repealed and do not apply to the Legal Aid Agency.
3 Similarly the statement of Objectives for the Legal Services Commission (p 275) has been abolished and does not apply to the Legal Aid Agency