Martin Partington: Spotlight on the Justice System

Keeping the English Legal System under review

Reviewing Parliamentary constituency boundaries: outcome of the 7th review.

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It is reasonable to argue that, with movements in population, the boundaries of parliamentary constituencies should be kept under review to ensure that historic figures do not operate unfairly (by making some constituencies much larger or smaller than the average.)

The process of Boundary Review is undertaken by 4 Boundary Commissions – one each for England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

The 7th Boundary Review has just been completed. The reports from the Commissions were handed to Government on 5 September 2018, and they in turn were laid before Parliament on 10 September 2018.

The 7th review is the first to have been completed following major amendments to the primary legislation – the Parliamentary Constituencies Act 1986, as significantly amended by the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act 2011.

The Act of 2011 was a product of the Conservative/Liberal Democratic Coalition and was designed to to two things.

  1. Authorise the holding of a referendum on whether some form of proportional voting should replace the current ‘first past the post’ system of voting in UK General Elections – a proposition that was lost in May 2011.
  2. Reduce the total size of the House of Commons from 650 to 600. The amending act set out in some detail the criteria to be used by the Boundary Commissions in reaching their decisions. An important issue was try to ensure that the numbers of voters entitled to vote in each constituency should be more equal than had been the case hitherto. There was to be a uniform electoral quota (number of voters divided by the number of seats) and, with only limited exceptions, each constituency deviating by no more than 5% from that number.

(The 6th boundary review, which was supposed to have developed recommendations to deliver the boundary changes in time for the 2015 General Election).

There are two principal reasons why these particular boundary changes are controversial.

  • Many sitting MPs are faced with the prospect of their seat disappearing; in order to seek relection, they will have to be adopted as a candidate in a new constituency;
  • Historically, urban constituencies  have on average had fewer constituents that rural constituencies. Since rural constituencies have tended to be more Conservative than urban constituencies, it has generally been possible for those in urban seats to be elected with somewhat fewer votes than those in  rural seats.

The recommendations of the Boundary Commissions cannot come into effect without a detailed Order in Council incorporating the changes has been laid before and approved by Parliament. It has been stated by a junior Minister that the process of drafting the order may take some time.

It is currently far from clear whether the changes – and the consequent reduction in the size of the House of Commons – will be made. If they are, they will come into effect for the next General Election, currently scheduled for 2022.

The full reports of the Commissions can be found at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/the-boundary-commissions-boundary-review-2018. (These give details of how the constituencies in your area might be affected.)

A very helpful background note can be found at https://commonslibrary.parliament.uk/parliament-and-elections/government/the-boundary-review-what-comes-next/

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Written by lwtmp

September 19, 2018 at 5:30 pm

Post-implementation review of LASPO Part 2: the Jackson Reforms

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I have noted elsewhere the fact that the Government has started a post-implementation review of the Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO). (See this blog, March 2018 and September 2018).

The principal focus is on changes to the legal aid scheme – Part 1 of the Act.

Part 2 of the Act introduced changes to the costs rules relating to civil litigation proposed in the review led by Lord Justice Jackson.

Progress with this review has been slower than with the legal aid review. But in June 2018, the Government published a short statement on how it thought the changes were going, and set out a number of questions on which it sought evidence from practitioners and other civil justice stakeholders.

The focus of the inquiry is on the five principal reforms contained in the Act. They are

  • (i) non-recoverability of Conditional Fee Agreement success fees;
  • (ii) non-recoverability of After the Event insurance premiums,
  • (iii) the introduction of Damages-Based Agreements,
  • (iv) section 55 changes to Part 36 offers to settle proceedings,
  • (v) banning referral fees in personal injury cases.

The preliminary view of officials is that while their introduction was very contoversial, they are working pretty well in practice.

In June 2018, the Government has published an initial assessment together with a list of questions to which it hopes practitioners will respond during the summer of 2018. A further report will be published in due course.

The document is available at https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/719140/pir-part-2-laspo-initial-assessment.pdf

 

 

 

 

Written by lwtmp

September 15, 2018 at 3:29 pm

Post-implementation Review: Legal Aid – progress report

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The Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO) was a multi-faceted piece of legislation, dealing with a number of issues of great importance to the English Legal System. Part 1 of the Act made provision for major cut-backs in the provision of legal aid. This is now the subject of a Post-Implementation Review (PIR), being conducted by the Ministry of Justice.

A Post-Legislative Memorandum on LASPO was written and published by the Ministry of Justice in October 2017. This set out preliminary views on how the Government thought the reforms were working. This was to be the first step to further inquiry.

I noted the launch of the PIR into Part 1 of LASPO here in March 2018. A brief progress report was published by the Ministry of Justice in June 2018.

This stated, in part,

Ministry of Justice (MOJ) officials have led consultative groups formed from organisations and academics representing a cross section of the justice system. These meetings took place in April 2018 and focused on the four themes:

  • criminal justice,
  • family justice,
  • civil justice and
  • the advice and third sector. ..

Further consultative group meetings have been scheduled later in the year with a focus on how individuals navigate through the justice system at present.

In addition, the review team have been meeting a wide variety of interested parties on an individual and small group basis, in order to gather a broad range of evidence of the impact of the changes to the provision of legal aid made under LASPO. Through all forms of engagement, the review team has so far met with over 50 organisations in order to discuss the impact of LAPSO and many more meetings are planned for the coming months.

Alongside meetings with interested parties and to ensure our review is as informed as possible, the review team is also accepting submissions of evidence.

The deadline for the submission of evidence is this month (September 2018).

It seems unlikely that the final decisions arising from the review will be published before 2019. I stick to my prediction that major change to the legal aid scheme is unlikely to be an outcome of the review, but I would be happy to be proved wrong!

It may also be noted that the Justice Committee has published a report on the impact of changes to the criminal legal aid scheme on practitioners. This urges a full review of Criminal Legal Aid, to start no later than March 2019, to be informed by the work currently being undertaken in the PIR. The Government has yet to respond to this report.

 

The Post-Legislative Memorandum is at https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/655971/LASPO-Act-2012-post-legislative-memorandum.pdf

For the PIR update, see https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/post-implementation-review-of-laspo

For the Select Committee report on Criminal Legal Aid, see https://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/justice-committee/news-parliament-2017/criminal-legal-aid-report-published-17-19/

 

 

 

Suspension of the Transforming Compliance and Enforcement Programme (TCEP).

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What is the point of going to court if, having obtained a judgement in your favour, you cannot get it enforced? This has long been recognised as a problem for the Civil Justice system.

Reforms to the relevant law were introduced in April 2014.

In this blog in June 2018 I noted the publication of a review of how the new rules relating to the enforcement of judgements were operating, based on the first full year of their operation. Reform of the legal basis of enforcement was an important part of the Transforming Compliance and Enforcement Programme, which was itself an important adjunct (though separately funded) of the Transforming our Justice System programme.

The aim of TCEP was that, through better investment in IT, enforcement would be able to be carried out more quickly and efficiently.

The Government has now announced that the TCEP is to be put on hold – the Ministry of Justice just does not have enough money to take the programme forward. While changes that have been made will continue to be implemented, further change and investment must wait.

This will be very disappointing news for those who would like to see significant improvement in enforcement work.

The announcement, made on 6 September 2018, is at https://www.gov.uk/government/news/compliance-and-enforcement-work-to-continue-unchanged

 

 

 

 

 

 

Written by lwtmp

September 6, 2018 at 3:38 pm

The functions of the family court: the need for joined-up policies?

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Shortly before his retirement from the post of President of the Family Court, Sir James Munby gave an extremely interesting lecture at the University of Liverpool about what he regarded as the failings of the current family court system.

He developed two principal arguments. The first focussed on what might be called the core functions of the family court; the other offered a more ‘holistic’ vision for the family justice system.

In relation to the first, Sir James noted that the core functions of the family court involved three key issues

  • determining questions of status – were a couple married or in a civil partnership or not;
  • determining what should happen to the children of marriage; and
  • determining the financial consequences of family breakdown.

He argued that the procedural rules and practices in relation to each of these questions were complex and resulted in potentially people having to go to court on more than one occasion to resolve their issues. Despite the unification of the family court under a single name, it did not and could not in practice operate as a ‘one-stop shop’.

It could be argued that these days questions of status were increasingly being determined on a ‘self-help’ basis (which would increase if the basic law on divorce were to be reformed and simplified) ; and that financial matters were being decided in special financial proceedings meetings taking place outside the formal court structure. Thus the courts were increasingly used for determining questions relating to children. But these trends should not mean that the issue of whether the family court could become more of a one stop shop should not be investigated more closely.

It was the second set of arguments – for a more holistic approach to family justice – that I found interesting. Sir James is a keen advocate of ‘problem-solving’ courts – courts that have the resources and expertise to try to deal with all the problems families may face (including, for example, criminal matters or public law issues such as immigration status) – so that families can obtain a secure basis on which they can build their future lives.

This is an interesting argument and reflects (although Sir James may not have been aware of this) research and policy development a number of years back which argued that people don’t have discrete problems (e.g. housing, or employment, or family – which are categories created by lawyers which don’t reflect how life is actually lived) but ‘clusters’ of problems. This led to interesting experiments, now regrettably abandoned for the creation of Community Legal Advice Centres or Community Legal Advice Networks, that could deal with clients in a ‘holistic’ faction.

These views are controversial, at least for lawyers, since they would mean cutting across long established categorisation of the justice system – into criminal, civil, administrative and family justice system – each with their own practices, procedures and traditions. For this reason, my hunch is that Sir James’ views may not be taken forward, at least in the short-term.

But I thought his arguments were rather refreshing, and worth thinking about.

You can read his lecture at https://www.judiciary.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/speech-by-pfd-what-is-family-law.pdf

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Written by lwtmp

September 6, 2018 at 11:50 am

The future of Family Drug and Alcohol Courts

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For a number of years, Family Drug and Alcohol Courts (FDAC) have existed in a small number of court locations in England. Inspired by a model developed in the USA, Judge Nicholas Crichton thought that such courts could offer a ‘problem-solving’ approach for families caught up in the justice system, because of the negative interactions between the use of drugs or alcohol and the treatment of children. If parents could be helped to kick their habits, it was argued, this might enable families to be kept together, rather than divided with children being taken into care.

Although judges and ministers like the concept, the roll out of the concept has been left very much to local initiatives. In 2015, a FDAC National Unit was created to support existing schemes (there are currently 10 teams, working in 15 courts, service families in 23 local authorities) and to encourage the development of new schemes.

In June 2018, the National Unit announced that it would have to close, as central government funding was being withdrawn from the Unit. Since then, a firm of solicitors has stumped up £12,500 for 3 years, and is leading a fundraising campaign to obtain the £250,000 needed to keep the Unit open.

The schemes themselves are also funded on a cash limited ad hoc basis. For example, in October 2017, £6m was awarded to the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust to enable the work of FDAC teams to be extended to more boroughs in London. The grant was made from the Government’s Life Chances Fund.

There is evidence that, where they exist, schemes deliver savings to the taxpayer (by reducing the costs of keeping children in care, for example.) But it seems that there is still someway to go before use of the approach will be rolled out on a national basis, and funded on a secure recurrent basis.

Further information on the FDAC National Unit is at http://fdac.org.uk/.

News about the private funding initiative is at https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/law-firm-steps-in-to-help-save-family-drug-and-alcohol-court-mtk6jrtxd.

News about the grant from the Life Chances fund is at https://tavistockandportman.nhs.uk/about-us/news/stories/problem-solving-family-drug-and-alcohol-courts-fdacs-support-more-families-6m-life-chances-grant/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Written by lwtmp

July 16, 2018 at 11:06 am

Improving Immigration and Asylum procedures

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Immigration and asylum is always controversial. People have strong view, both for and against current immigration policy and practice. But these policies are underpinned by a legislative framework (albeit a very complex one) and if we believe, as I do, that upholding the rule is an important societal value, then it is important that those impacted by our law on immigration and asylum should be able to rely on decisions that are made in accordance with the law, and that there should be rights of appeal where something has gone wrong.

For a number of years, however, the immigration and asylum appeals process has been under close government scrutiny. In the early part of the 21st century, the concern was with the huge numbers of immigration cases being taken on judicial review to the High Court. More recently, most of these cases were taken away from the High Court and transferred to the Immigration and Asylum chambers of the First Tier Tribunal and the Upper Tribunal.

However, numbers remained high. In this context, there were concerns that too many cases brought were unmerited, being used as a delaying tactic to postpone deportation; and that some of those providing advice and assistance in immigration cases were not providing a properly professional service.

As part of its major series of reports on the justice system, written to assist the Transformation of our Justice System programme led by HM Courts and Tribunals Service, JUSTICE, the all-party Human Rights group, has just published a report Immigration and Asylum Appeals – a Fresh Look. (I declare an interest, I was a member of the working party, chaired by Sir Ross Cranston, that wrote the report.)

In it they try to take a dispassionate look at the problems and challenges which face the immigration and asylum appeals procedure. Their approach is to look at each of the steps through which a case may go in order to  identify difficulties and recommend practical change.

The report is quite detailed. In outline, it argues:

Home Office refusal decisions The Working Party’s view is  that better Home Office decision-making – with more emphasis on getting it right first time – is the key to delivering a better appellate system;

The application process for immigration and asylum appeals. Here the working party argues that more detailed attention needs to be paid to the move to online processes. At the same time the working party addresses the issue of unsupervised, unqualified and poor quality representatives purporting to provide advice and assistance to appellants;

Appeals against adverse decisions of the Home Office on immigration and asylum matters in the First-tier Tribunal (Immigration and Asylum Chamber). This examines the important role of tribunal case workers in moving cases forward. It also wants to see stronger judicial case management to improve tribunal efficiency.

Hearings in the First-tier Tribunal (Immigration and Asylum Chamber) and Upper Tribunal (Immigration and Asylum Chamber). This section of the report focusses in particular on video-conferencing and video-hearings, recognising the potential advantages of these models. At the same time, the report stresses the fundamental principles that should govern any expansion in their use and where they will not be appropriate.

Appeals to the Upper Tribunal (Immigration and Asylum Chamber), Judicial Reviewapplications and appeals to the Court of Appeal. This part of the report focusses on the multiple stages that may be gone through when seeking permission to appeal. The working party considered the tension between the important right of review in this jurisdiction and the pressure on the system that flows from too many appellate stages. While not recommending removing rights of appeal, the report outlines ways to streamline this process.

A key theme to emerge from the report is that there needs to be much better communication between the parties.The Working Party considers how this might be facilitated both at the pre-hearing stage and on a continuing informal basis.

Detailed recommendations are made on ways to improve the management of cases and to reduce the number of unnecessary appeals – to the benefit of all participants in the system and the administration of justice more generally.

The above note has been adapted from the report which is available at https://justice.org.uk/new-justice-working-party-report-on-immigration-and-asylum-appeals/