Martin Partington: Spotlight on the Justice System

Keeping the English Legal System under review

Going digital – piloting video hearings

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The Transforming our Justice System reform programme has flagged the possibility of much more use of digital technology in the processing and handling of disputes. Following the announcement at the beginning of February 2018 that it is now possible to start divorce proceedings on-line (see this blog for 2 Feb 2018), we now have a new announcement about how cases might be heard using new technologies

This development, announced on 15 February 2018, concerns the piloting of video hearings in the Tax Tribunal. This initiative will be rolled out in a measured way, with potential participants being asked whether they would like their cases to be dealt with on-line.

It seems that the Tax Tribunal has been chosen for this experiment as it is presumed that many tax cases turn on rather complex points of law, rather than major disputes on questions of fact which might require the presence of parties in the same room.

This new announcement builds on another pilot, which ran in the autumn of 2017 in which a number of case management hearings in the Immigration and Asylum Chamber were dealt with through video hearings. The results of these seem to have been very positive and demonstrate that such issues can be dealt with more efficiently on-line without compromising standards of justice.

HMCTS do seem to be taking a measured approach to these developments, wanting to bring all those involved – judges, practitioners and litigants – with them, to ensure that these developments do meet user needs.

Further announcements will emerge in the months ahead.

To read more about the video Tax Hearing pilot, see https://www.gov.uk/government/news/video-hearing-pilot-launched.

For the HMCTS blog on these developments go to https://insidehmcts.blog.gov.uk/2018/02/15/video-hearings-can-make-a-difference-for-court-and-tribunal-users/

 

 

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Written by lwtmp

February 21, 2018 at 11:28 am

Family justice: reforming public law case procedures

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Hot on the heels of the announcement of on-line divorce applications (see this blog Feb 2 2018), information has just been published as a blog from HMCTS on developments relating to the digitalisation of procedures relating to public law childrens’ cases.

Emma Petty, Service Manager for the Public Law project, writes:

We want to make the public law process more efficient, ensuring the court, parties and their representatives have access to the right information at the right time to help decide the best outcomes for children involved in public law cases. Based on our early thinking, the aims of the project could be to:

  • provide an online application process which speeds up the gatekeeping process and shares information with partner agencies at the point of submission
  • improve the process for dealing with urgent applications
  • enable users to see the progress of their case and to take action to progress their case online
  • provide clear signposting to support available outside HMCTS, to assist parties acting in person and without a lawyer
  • enable users to upload and access documents and evidence digitally both outside and inside the courtroom
  • ensure suitable facilities and support are provided at hearing centres
  • enable hearings, where appropriate, to be conducted online
  • provide fast digital access to outcomes of hearings
  • ensure those who need it get the support they need to access our digital services.

Over coming months, the Public Law Project team will be working with practitioners and others involved in these types of case in developing practices and procedures to deliver these goals. This is an important development within the scope of the Transformation of the Justice System policy.

Further detail is at https://insidehmcts.blog.gov.uk/2018/02/07/designing-a-public-law-service-to-meet-user-needs/?utm_medium=email&utm_source=

Written by lwtmp

February 10, 2018 at 12:10 pm

Controlling trolling? A job for the Law Commission

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Although the Law Commission’s 13th Programme of Work was announced only in December 2017, the Commission has already had those plans amended by the Government asking whether changes to the law are needed to ensure that internet trolling can be controlled. More specifically the government has asked the Law Commission to review the laws around offensive communications and assess whether they provide the right protection to victims online.

This is a serious problem. Research shows that nearly a third of UK internet users were on the receiving end of trolling, harassment or cyberbullying in 2017.The Commission will  review  the current laws and set out how they apply to online communications. Its work be informed by developing Government policy in the Government Digital Charter. (See https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/digital-charter published in January 2018.)

Among issues to be addressed are the following:

  • How the Malicious Communications Act 1988 deals with offensive online communications

  • How the Communications Act 2003 deals with online communications

  • What “grossly offensive” means and whether that poses difficulties in legal certainty

  • Whether the law means you need to prove fault or prove intention to prosecute offensive online communications

  • The need to update definitions in the law which technology has rendered obsolete or confused, such as the meaning of “sender”

  • How other parts of the criminal law overlap with online communications laws

It is intended that thw work should be undertaken swiftly. A consultation paper is expected within 6 months.

For further detail see https://www.lawcom.gov.uk/government-asks-law-commission-to-look-at-trolling-laws/

 

Written by lwtmp

February 10, 2018 at 11:51 am

Divorce on-line: recent developments

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On January 30 2018 the Government announced that a fully online divorce application process is being tested across England and Wales for the first time. (It had been trialled in a small number of areas from 2017.)

The initial pilot allowed people seeking a divorce to use an online system which offered prompts and guidance to assist them in completing their application. But they still had to  print off the form and send it to the court.

HM Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS) has now extended the service so that the application is now fully digital – submitting the form, sending the relevant documents, and payment. In the first week HMCTS received 130 online applications.

According to HMCTS the online system has drastically cut the number of applications being returned because of errors – showing a 90% improvement from paper forms. This is particularly important given the increasing numbers seeking a divorce without using a lawyer to help them.

Users of the new service seem to like it. It has already gained positive feedback with people welcoming the simplified, streamlined and easy to understand system which delivers their application instantly – without the worry of it being lost in the post.

The next stages will include making the system available for use by legal representatives. A date has not yet been publicly announced for this further development.

For further detail, see https://www.gov.uk/government/news/hm-courts-and-tribunals-service-tests-fully-digital-divorce-application

Experience in other contexts suggests that once up and running, use of on-line application procedures will increase very rapidly. Indeed, people will wonder why this development had not occurred years ago. This sort of development is at the heart of the Transformation of our Justice System reform programme.

Written by lwtmp

February 2, 2018 at 4:05 pm

Disclosure of evidence: planning for change – first steps

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In July 2017, the Inspectorates of the Crown Prosecution Service and Constabulary published a very critical report on the failure of police and prosecution services to apply the rules relating to the disclosure of evidence held by police/prosecutors to defence teams. (I noted the report here in November 2017).

Since then, it seems that the issue of the failure of the police and prosecution to disclose evidence to defence lawyers which might undermine or weaken the prosecution case has received almost daily attention in the mass media. A number of well publicised cases have emerged in which those accused of serious crimes (in particular rape) have found out only at a late stage that evidence which undermines the case against them is available.

A number of reasons have been advanced for these failures. For example, it is argued that the current law was put in place before the arrival of mobile phones and the vast amounts of electronic data that is generated on phones and tablet.

It is also argued that police and prosecutors lack the resources to comb through all this information to see what might by relevant.

This is an extremely serious issue which goes to the heart of the criminal justice system. People must feel that the system is fair and that those who run it are complying with the rules.

Clearly both the police and CPS are taking this issue seriously. The first tangible step has recently been taken. At the end of January 2108, a plan was published  by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) and the College of Policing.  This sets out measures designed to improve practice in this area.

These first steps include:

  • Reviewing disclosure training with the College of Policing
  • Developing a cadre of specialist and experienced disclosure experts in every force
  • Providing all multimedia evidence from the CPS to the defence digitally
  • Putting in place specific improvement plans for each force and CPS area
  • Setting up a system for the CPS and police to better identify and deal with cases with significant and complex disclosure issues.

This will not be the last word on this subject. Much work has to be done to ensure that all those engaged in the criminal justice system actually act in accordance with the statutory rules on disclosure. But it is an important first step.

The text of the plan can be found at http://www.npcc.police.uk/Publication/National%20Disclosure%20Improvement%20Plan%20January%202018.pdf

Written by lwtmp

February 1, 2018 at 11:12 am

Administrative justice: research review

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This links to an important publication from the UK Institute for Administrative Justice:

Research Roadmap: Where we’ve been and where we need to go with administrative justice research

Written by lwtmp

February 1, 2018 at 10:43 am

Posted in chapter 6

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Parole Board – review of procedures

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The decision by the Parole Board to release the London Cab Driver John Warboys – who had been convicted of raping a number of his customers – has generated a great deal of publicity. Many of the challenges in that case arose from the fact that Warboys had been sentenced to an Indeterminate Sentence, which meant that he could continue to be detained after the period set by the judge as punishment for his crime, where it was anticipated that his release would be a danger to the public. (The law relating to such sentences was changed by the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012.)

The Government has now announced that there is to be a review of the practices and procedures of the Parole Board. This is to include a review of how the work of the Board impacts on the victims of the crimes committed by those the Board is considering for release.

The terms of the reference are as follows:

This review will consider the case for changes in law, policy and procedure in relation to Parole Board decision-making. It will include an examination of the transparency of the process and reasons for parole decisions, and how victims are appropriately engaged in that process. It will take account of the interests of justice, public confidence in the system and the impact on victims. The review will draw on the views and experience of victims, practitioners and international best practice.
The review will focus on the following areas:
1. The law, policy, guidance and practice relating to challenges to Parole Board decision making, specifically whether there should be a mechanism to allow parole decisions to be reconsidered.
2. The transparency of Parole Board decision making, including:
whether the outcomes of Parole Board decisions should be published or otherwise
disclosed;
whether the reasons for those decisions should be published, and if so to what extent; and
whether there are any other changes that should be made in order to contribute to greater transparency.
3. Victim involvement in Parole Board hearings:
to review the relevant entitlements outlined in the Victims’ Code to determine whether improvements should be made to how victims are currently involved in and contribute to Parole Board hearings;
what improvements should be made to how their involvement is facilitated.
4. Arrangements for communicating with victims:
to review whether the current entitlements for victims who qualify under the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004 for the Victim Contact Scheme are adequate, including in relation to Victim Personal Statements and licence conditions;
to review whether improvements can be made to the way that the scheme operates in practice, in particular the process by which victims are notified of their entitlements and of decisions; whilst respecting the victim’s preference for how they are contacted;
to consider the question of ongoing contact with victims who are eligible for the Victim Contact Scheme but have previously opted out; and
whether there need to be new entitlements or procedures for victims not covered by the statutory scheme.
Interestingly in its own Press Release, the Parole Board observes: “Justice needs to be seen to be done and the Canadian model for victim contact could provide a good starting point.”
As far as I  am aware, decisions have not yet been taken as to who should lead this review, nor the time line for the completion of the review. I will endeavour to keep you posted on such developments.
The terms of reference are at https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/674955/pb-review-terms-of-reference.pdf
The Parole Board Press statement is at https://www.gov.uk/government/news/parole-board-welcomes-independent-review-of-victim-contact-and-extended-terms-of-reference-for-review-of-parole-processes

 

 

Written by lwtmp

January 24, 2018 at 12:46 pm