Martin Partington: Spotlight on the Justice System

Keeping the English Legal System under review

Archive for April 2010

Legal Services Commission – change of status

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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

Written by lwtmp

April 30, 2010 at 11:30 am

Posted in Chapter 10, Chapter 4

Domestic Violence – specialist courts

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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.

Written by lwtmp

April 30, 2010 at 11:19 am

Posted in chapter 7

East Riding CLAN

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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/

Written by lwtmp

April 30, 2010 at 10:40 am

Posted in Chapter 10

Youth Justice Board review

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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.

Written by lwtmp

April 30, 2010 at 10:17 am

Posted in Chapter 5

Judicial executive board

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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

Written by lwtmp

April 29, 2010 at 1:52 pm

Posted in Chapter 4

Research into juries

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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.

Written by lwtmp

April 29, 2010 at 1:46 pm

Posted in Chapter 5

Sentencing Council starts work

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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

Written by lwtmp

April 29, 2010 at 1:45 pm

Posted in Chapter 5

Protection of victims – recent developments

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There have been two important developments relating to the treatment of victims in the criminal justice system in recent months.

First, in January the Government announced the creation of  the National Victims’ Service. According to the Government, this is designed to guarantee all victims of crime and anti-social behaviour referred by the police more comprehensive and dedicated support, giving victims a louder voice in court through the introduction of the victim personal statement, trebling the funding available for victims’ services in the voluntary sector and introducing special measures which make it easier for vulnerable witnesses to give evidence.

Second, in March 2010, the Government announced the appointment of  a Victims’ Commissioner, whose role will include:

  • working across the criminal justice system to improve the support for victims and witnesses, including victims of anti-social behaviour
  • chairing the new Victims Advisory Panel and working with local and national victims groups to make sure the voice of victims is fed-back to and impacts directly on Government policy
  • reviewing the code of practice for victims of crime, which provides a guarantee to victims of crime of the level of service they are entitled to.

The first Commissioner is Louise Casey, already well known for her work relating to anti-social behaviour.

Written by lwtmp

April 29, 2010 at 1:39 pm

Posted in Chapter 5

Trials without jury – serious criminal cases

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Sections 44 to 49 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 make provision for non-jury trial in cases where there is danger of jury tampering or where jury tampering has taken place. Although these provisions came into force on 24 July 2006 they were not used until 2010.

The case in question involved four men accused of armed robbery from a warehouse at London Airport. There had already been an earlier trial which had been halted on the grounds that there had been jury tampering. The Crown Prosecution Service argued that any further trial would equally be threatened by jury tampering. The Court of Appeal agreed and allowed the trial to proceed without a jury.

Initial indications are that these powers are going to be used only very rarely; of course, the potential danger is that, having been used once, their use becomes more common. My own view is that trials without jury will remain very much the exception

Written by lwtmp

April 29, 2010 at 1:12 pm

Posted in Chapter 5

Proposed merger of Courts and Tribunals Services

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In a statement issued by the Lord Chancellor at the end of March 2010, shortly before Parliament rose for the General Election Campaign, the Government indicated that is was engaged in another major set of structural changes to the institutional framework of the English legal system – namely merger of the Courts and Tribunals Services. There was also mention of changing the institutional context within which the Parole Board operates.

The statement conceded that these changes would require a great deal of further work before they could be implemented. The details are unlikely to be available for some time. Underlying the proposals, however, is a clear intention within the Ministry of Justice that it should start to make its contribution to the substantial efficiency savings that all politicians agree must be achieved as part of the overall strategy of getting Britain’s public finances into better shape.

Written by lwtmp

April 29, 2010 at 12:58 pm