Archive for April 2010
Another major institutional development in the English Legal System, that was announced before Parliament rose for the General Election, is the decision to turn the Legal Services Commission – currently responsible for the delivery of the community legal service and the criminal defence service – into an Executive Agency within the Ministry of Justice.
The precise timing of these changes is not yet clear but will start to emerge after the new Government takes office after the General Election. There will be a need for new legislation to complete this process, and when that goes to Parliament obviously depends on other Government priorities.
An indication of what will happen is in the attached press announcement: http://www.justice.gov.uk/news/newsrelease030310d.htm
As part of its response to the problem of domestic violence, the Government has established a number of specialist courts where staff have been specially training to deal with DV cases. In March 2010, it was announced that the total of these courts had been increased to 141.
Key features of the courts include:
- trained and dedicated criminal justice staff with enhanced expertise in dealing with domestic violence, including magistrates specially trained in dealing with domestic violence cases
- tailored support and advice from independent domestic violence advisers
- multi-agency risk assessment conferences (MARAC) to provide protection for those most at risk of harm.
New provisions to designed to protect the victims of domestic violence are included in the Crime and Security Act 2010, which was passed in April 2010 just before Parliament rose for the General Election campaign.
On March 1st 2010 the first Community Legal Advice Network opened its doors in Yorkshire. This new form of legal service delivery is designed to improve coverage particularly in rural areas and other deprived areas by providing a network of locations from which people can seek legal advice.
For details of the new service, see http://www.communitylegaladvice.org.uk/eastriding/
At the end of March, the Government published a review of the work of the Youth Justice Board. See http://publications.dcsf.gov.uk/eOrderingDownload/Safeguarding-the-Future.pdf
While claiming a number of successes for the Board – including reduced numbers of young people coming into the criminal justice system – it also made recommendations for the future. These included more engagement by the Home Office and greater publicity by the YJB of its work. The Government has announced that it is considering these recommendations for future action.
As part of the changes to the judiciary introduced by the Constitutional Reform Act 2005, a judicial executive board was created, comprising senior members of the judiciary.
Further information about the board is available at http://www.judiciary.gov.uk/about-the-judiciary/the-judiciary-in-detail/index/judicial-executive-board
In February 2010, the Ministry of Justice published a major research report on juries. The report, Are Juries Fair was written by Cheryl Thomas, Professor at the Centre for Empirical Legal Studies at University College London. It is the result of a two-year long survey of more than 1,000 jurors at Crown Courts and a separate study of over 68,000 jury verdicts.
The report reveals that:
- all-white juries do not discriminate against defendants from black and minority ethnic (BME) backgrounds
- juries almost always reach a verdict and convict two-thirds of the time
- there are no courts where juries acquit more often than convict.
It also shows that:
- jurors want more information about how to do their job
- written instructions improve jurors’ legal understanding of cases
- some jurors use the internet to look for information about their case
- some jurors find media reports of their case difficult to ignore.
At the moment the practical consequences that might flow from the research are not clear; there have been suggestions that judges may need to give more written instructions to jurors about how they should approach cases in which they are involved.
The Sentencing Council, whose creation is mentioned in Box 5.17, started work on 6 April 2010. Its chair is Lord Justice Levenson.
For more detail see http://www.justice.gov.uk/news/newsrelease290310a.htm