Martin Partington: Spotlight on the Justice System

Keeping the English Legal System under review

Reliability of statistics on crime

leave a comment »

At the beginning of 2014, I noted here there was growing public concern about the reliability of statistics on crime, in particular the statistics on recorded crime which comes from individual police forces. In January, the UK Statistics Authority published a report which concluded that: ‘the Authority has removed the National Statistics designation from statistics based on recorded crime data [i.e. data from individual police forces and the National Fraud Office to the Home Office] until such time that Office for National Statistics, with the Home Office, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary or other appropriate bodies, is able to demonstrate that the quality of the underlying data, and the robustness of the ongoing audit and quality assurance procedures, are sufficient to support its production of statistics based on recorded crime data to a level of quality that meets users’ needs.’

At the same time, the Statistics Authority confirmed that crime statistics which are based on sources other than recorded crime data are not included in this down-grading.

The issue was the subject of a special inquiry by the Public Administration Select Committee of the Housing of Commons (see this blog Jan 2014). In April 2014 it issued a very critical report. It said, in summary:

  • There is strong evidence that the police under-record crime, particularly sexual crimes such as rape in many police areas. This is due to “lax compliance with the agreed national standard of victim-focussed crime recording.”
  • As a result of PASC’s inquiry, the UK Statistics Authority has already stripped Police Recorded Crime data of the quality kite mark, “National Statistics”.
  • The Home Office, the Office of National Statistics and the UK Statistics Authority have all been “far too passive”.
  • Numerical targets drive perverse incentives to mis-record crime.
  • Associated “attitudes and behaviour… have become ingrained, including within senior police leadership” raising “broader concerns about policing values”.
  • This presents officers with “a conflict between achievement of targets and core policing values.”
  • PASC “deprecate the use of targets in the strongest possible terms” and accuses the police of adopting a “flawed leadership model, contrary to the policing Code of Ethics.”

The Select Committee recommended:

  • The Home Office should do more to discourage use of targets.
  • The Home Office must take responsibility and accept accountability for the quality of Police Recorded Crime Statistics.
  • Senior police leaders must emphasise data integrity and accuracy, not targets.
  • They should place new emphasis on values and ethics, especially in the Metropolitan Police.
  • The Home Office should “clarify the route open to police whistleblowers” and Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of the Constabulary (HMIC) should investigate the treatment of key PASC witness police whistleblower PC James Patrick.
  • PASC recommends that “the Committee on Standards in Public Life conducts a wide-ranging inquiry into the police’s compliance with the new Code of Ethics; in particular the role of leadership in promoting and sustaining these values”.

In July 2014, the Government published a response to the Select Committee’s report, which noted that HMIC was undertaking a review of crime recording practices in each of the 43 police forces, and had already published an interim report (which noted they had serious concerns, particularly about the recording of serious sexual offences). It also noted that the new Code of Ethics, which was in the process of becoming a code of practice for policing, dealt – among many other things – with the recording of data. The Home Office noted that better recorded crime statistics might lead to an increase in the numbers of reported crime, but it was keen to assert that this did not mean that crime was on the rise. Other evidence showed that crime was decreasing – in particular the Crime Survey for England and Wales.

A further response from the UK Statistics Authority was published in September 2014.

There is clearly a great deal of technical work needing to be done to restore confidence in the recorded crime statistics.

For further information, see

Report of the Select Committee at http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/public-administration-select-committee/news/crime-stats-substantive/

The Government’s response at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/caught-red-handed-why-we-cant-count-on-police-recorded-crime-statistics

The initial report from the UK Statistics Authority at http://www.statisticsauthority.gov.uk/assessment/assessment/assessment-reports/index.html (entry for 15 January 2014).

The response of the UK Statistics Authority to the Select Committee is at http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201415/cmselect/cmpubadm/645/64505.htm

See also the website of the Crime Statistics Advisory Committee at http://www.statisticsauthority.gov.uk/national-statistician/ns-reports–reviews-and-guidance/national-statistician-s-advisory-committees/crime-statistics-advisory-committee.html

 

Written by lwtmp

October 8, 2014 at 11:39 am

Law-making process in the European Union

leave a comment »

Those coming new to the study of law often struggle to understand precisely how the institutions of the European Union operate. There is a great deal of information readily available on the websites of EU institutions.

I have recently seen an excellent diagram on how the law of the EU is made, setting out the different stages that proposals from the European Commission must go before they become law.

To view, go to http://www.europarl.europa.eu/aboutparliament/en/0081f4b3c7/Law-making-procedures-in-detail.html and look at the slide show. (Click on the arrows in the middle of the picture.)

Written by lwtmp

October 6, 2014 at 9:29 am

Where next for Human Rights?

with one comment

Much publicity has been given to the publication of proposals from the Conservative Party to, in some way, opt out of the European Convention, or more particularly judgements of the European Court of Human Rights.

I was unable to track the paper down through the Conservative Party website, but it can be accessed from the BBC News website at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-29466113.

The proposals are controversial and have already generated heated debate. A key issue, which has not had the air-time it deserves, is what message any such move by the UK Government would have on the other 46 states who are also members of the Council of Europe and who are signed up to the European Convention on Human Rights. Despite the Government’s impatience with certain aspects of the way in which the European Convention impacts on the UK (such as the decision on prisoner’s voting rights, or the power of the judiciary to impose whole life prison sentences without possibility of review) there is a general public assumption that – on the whole – human rights are respected in the UK. But this cannot be said for many of the countries who have joined the Council of Europe.

If the UK Government is able to announce that it no longer wishes to accept rulings of the European Court of Human Rights, then it is not hard to imagine that many other countries – where human rights are less well protected – might want to make the same argument. This could lead to an unravelling of the standards set by the European Convention on Human Rights that could lead to significantly adverse consequences for the future development of human rights in Europe.

More broadly, if these proposals went ahead, they could undermine the ability of future UK Government’s to make the case for improvements in human rights standards, in other countries where they currently do not exist or are extremely weak.

I do not argue here that the application of the European Convention through the work of the European Court on Human Rights is perfect. Far from it: the decision taking process is sclerotic; the backlog of cases is a scandal. The UK Government has taken a lead in discussions on developing measures to ensure that the European Court works more efficiently.

And if, as the Conservative Party argues, the Court is suffering from ‘mission creep’ then to remain engaged with the Court and to argue that there has been mission creep seems to me a more positive way forward. (In the latest prisoners’ voting rights case, at least 2 judges expressed significant concerns about the way decisions of the Court had been going, which opens up the possibility that the Court might alter its approach. )

This should be an important issue for public debate. The problem is that so many people do not really understand what the Convention rights are nor how they are applied. The issues are treated inadequately in the news media. Thus there is often assumed to be a lack of common sense about the Convention and its application which is not justified.

Certainly it is an issue that will continue to attract attention over the next couple of years.

Written by lwtmp

October 4, 2014 at 5:13 pm

Courts rule draft legal aid regulation a nullity

leave a comment »

It is accepted that the courts have power to declare a statutory instrument invalid where it has been made outside the powers (ultra vires) provided in the Act of Parliament. In practice this happens rarely – not least because officials usually ensure that they do not act beyond their powers.

However, in July 2014, in The Queen on the Application of the Public Law Project -v- The Secretary of State for Justice and The Office of the Children’s Commissioner [2014] EWHC 2365 (Admin), the Administrative Court did find that a regulation had been made ultra vires.

The issue arose from the desire of the present Government to cut public expenditure on legal aid. Arguing that what money was available should go to those most in need, the Government proposed that there should be a ‘residence’ test for civil legal aid. This would mean that, with some exceptions, 12 months continuous residence in the UK would be required before someone could be eligible for public legal aid funding. The rule was set out in a Draft Regulation, that was due to come into force in August 2014.

The problem arose because the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012, in Part 1 of Schedule 1, list types of  case that remained potentially covered by the civil legal aid scheme.  Funding remains in place because the listed cases are regarded as having the greatest need for legal aid. In short, the Act limited entitlement according to criteria based on need and not on any other basis.

It was argued that, by seeking to prevent those coming new to the UK from getting legal aid, their needs might be just as urgent as those affecting people already here, but they would be denied legal aid because they did not meet the residence test. It was argued that the attempt to introduce this test by regulation was outside the scope of the Act. It was also argued that the effect of the regulation would, if upheld, be to discriminate unlawfully against those recently come from abroad. The Division Court agreed with these arguments and declared the Draft Regulation of no effect.

The Government announced that it would appeal the decision, but in the meantime, they would not go ahead with implementation of the draft Regulation.

The text of the decision is at http://www.judiciary.gov.uk/judgments/the-queen-on-the-application-of-the-public-law-project-v-the-secretary-of-state-for-justice-and-the-office-of-the-childrens-commissioner/

The Government response is at https://www.justice.gov.uk/legal-aid/newslatest-updates/civil-news/update-on-civil-legal-aid-residence-test

Written by lwtmp

September 30, 2014 at 5:06 pm

Public defender service – expansion

leave a comment »

The Public Defender Service (PDS) was established in 2001 to offer an alternative to solicitors in private criminal legal aid practice. The service now operates out of 4 centres: Cheltenham Darlington, Pontypridd and Swansea. These offices operate as solicitors but the staff are employed by the Legal Aid Agency, rather than paid fees by the Agency.

In 2014, the scope of the PDS was expanded by the creation of PDS Advocates, described as “a team of 25 barristers and higher courts advocates including seven Queens Counsel with experience at every level of the criminal justice system [providing]… independent, high quality, professional advice and representation to accused persons throughout England and Wales.

“Amongst [the] team, [are] advocates who specialise in murder, fraud, historic and serious sexual offences, terrorism and Very High Cost Criminal Cases.

[The team] can be instructed to carry out work by any solicitors looking for representation for their clients in the Higher Courts of England and Wales [and] are able to operate nationally.”

This development occurred at a time when barristers were in significant conflict with the Ministry of Justice over rates of pay for criminal legal aid work and appears to have been a response to barristers refusing to take on some serious criminal trials.

For further details of the PDS go to http://publicdefenderservice.org.uk/

Written by lwtmp

September 26, 2014 at 11:44 am

Podcasts – volunteers: innovation in service delivery

leave a comment »

One feature of this blog are the podcasts I have made with a variety of leading legal actors. I will continue to add to these from time to time.

But, given the rapidly changing environment within which legal services are being provided, I thought it would be interesting to hear from more recently qualified lawyers about what type of work they are doing, how they are doing it, how it is being paid for.

I would be especially interested in talking with people offering legal services in innovative ways, who may be able to share ideas about the development of legal services in ways that will interest current law students and those coming new into the legal world.

If you would like to volunteer please contact me through the ‘leave a comment’ button just below the heading to this blog item. Your comment will not be published unless you want this to happen.

Written by lwtmp

September 26, 2014 at 10:02 am

Posted in Podcasts

Improving efficiency in the criminal justice system

leave a comment »

Sir Brian Leveson achieved national fame for chairing his inquiry into the press. Since that work finished, he has been appointed President of the Queen’s Bench Division of the High Court. He is currently leading another inquiry – not one that is hitting the headlines of the press inquiry, but one that could be of considerable importance to the development of the English Legal System. This is the inquiry into efficiency in the criminal justice system. It started work in March 2014 and is expected to produce a first report around the end of 2014.

Its terms of reference are:

  •  ‘While taking into account:

a) existing rules and procedures for criminal cases;

b) current initiatives to improve the efficiency and speed of the criminal justice system (in particular recent changes relating to the early guilty plea scheme);

c) the need for robust case management;

d) recommendations made in previous reviews of the criminal justice system, including those not implemented at the time; and

e) Government reforms to the criminal justice system;

  • 1. To review current practice and procedures for pre-trial hearings and recommend ways in which such procedures could be:

a) further reduced or streamlined;

b) improved with the use of technology both to minimise the number of such hearings or, alternatively, conducted (whether by telephone, or internet based video solutions) without requiring the attendance of advocates.

  • 2. To review the Criminal Procedure Rules to ensure that:

a) maximum efficiency is required from every participant within the system;

and

b) any changes proposed are fully supported by the Rules.

  • 3. To report to the Lord Chief Justice within 9 months.

The Inquiry has established three sub-groups to investigate specific themes within these general terms.
Each group is tasked with identifying the problems occurring within its own ‘theme’. Each group is also, perhaps most importantly, tasked with finding a workable solution to each of those problems.

The three sub-groups are:

1) Case Management (Chaired by Professor David Ormerod);

2) Listing & IT (Chaired by Lord Justice Fulford)

3) The Trial (Chaired by Mr Justice Openshaw)

It seems that in the first instance, the inquiry is wanting to go for some relatively easy targets. Thus the website for the inquiry states:
‘In the first phase, the review will examine the extent to which better use could be made of technology – for example holding short hearings by telephone or web or video-based applications. It is expected to identify ways to reduce the number of pre-trial hearings that require defendants in custody and advocates attending court.’

But the work of the sub-group on the trial could lead to quite major changes in the ways in which criminal justice is delivered in England and Wales.

At present the progress of the Inquiry is not clear; the website is not as informative as to the progress made so far. But this blog will keep an eye out for the promised report and comment on its findings in due course.

For more detail see http://www.judiciary.gov.uk/the-president-of-the-queens-bench-divisions-review-of-efficiency-in-criminal-proceedings/

Written by lwtmp

August 25, 2014 at 9:18 am

Posted in Chapter 4, Chapter 5

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 53 other followers