Archive for October 2010
In this short podcast I welcome in particular new students of law to the new legal year, noting that considerable change is likely to occur during the coming 12 months.
Listen to this audio file of Martin Partington:
So, the Coalition Government has now published its decisions on what public bodies are to be kept, what are to go. Here I comment on the decisions through the specific lens of the English Legal System.
The two highest profile casualties of the cull are the Youth Justice Board and the Administrative Justice and Tribunals Council.
The YJB did have a bit of a reputation for clashing with Government on issues relating to young offenders and how they should be treated in the criminal justice system; presumably policy will now be taken into the Ministry of Justice. The justification is that this change is wrapped up in a wider review of criminal justice. My view is that the independent voice of the Board will be missed and that Government will still need expert external input into policy making. We shall see.
The Administrative Justice and Tribunals Council, created out of the former Council on Tribunals, had a broad remit to keep administrative justice under review. Given the importance of getting the relationship between the citizen and the state right, ensuring that government operates according to principles of good administration is vital. The Council played a key role in ensuring that different agencies communicated with each other. This facilitative role was particularly important and I think it will be missed.
For me, the most intriguing announcement is that the whole edifice of independent judicial appointments, created by the previous government, is stated to be under consideration. The new process has not been welcomed by many lawyers but has made judicial appointments more transparent – need to watch this space on this one!
Similarly the future of the Office of the Children’s Commissioner is also under review – an announcement is expected in November 2010.
The public bodies review has usefully tidied up a number of tribunals and brought them into the Tribunals Service. The Residential Property Tribunal Service and the Valuation Tribunal Service, which in my view should always have been in the Tribunals Service, are now to be incorporated. A number of other tribunals are still under consideration for inclusion in the Tribunals service, including the ever popular Plant Varieties and Seeds Tribunal.
The Parole Board has been spared, but its future status and functions are still under review.
The Victims Commissioner is retained, but the Victim’s Advisory Panel is abolished.
The published list confirms the abolition of a number of bodies which had been announced earlier: these include HM Inspectorate of Court Administration; the Legal Services Commission (not to be confused with the Legal Services Board, which is retained); the Legal Services Ombudsman; and the National Policing Improvement Agency.
On balance, my view is that the legal institutional landscape has changed less than might have been expected. There has actually been some sensible rationalization, particularly in the tribunals world. But I think that the Youth Justice and Administrative Justice worlds have been weakened by the changes.
The new Legal Ombudsman – a post created by Office for Legal Complaints under provisions contained in the Legal Services Act 2007 – started work on 6 October 2010. It replaces a ‘system’ in which 8 different bodies had responsibility for handling complaints about lawyers. The first holder of the office is Adam Sampson. He has a staff of around 350 who investigate complaints received by his office.
For further information see http://www.legalombudsman.org.uk/
Two recent news items have considered the use of mediation as a form of Alternative Dispute resolution. In the first, Jeremy Tagg an official in the Ministry of Justice, was presented with the Lord Slynn Mediation Prize for leading a drive to see more disputes settled out of court.
He was picked as winner for his role in the development of both the National Mediation Helpline (NMH) and the HMCS Small Claims Mediation Services (SCMS).
The SCMS has conducted more than 10,000 mediations in each of the past two years and continues to receive exceptionally high levels of customer satisfaction – 98 per cent of users say they are satisfied or very satisfied with the professionalism and helpfulness of the mediators and 95 per cent say they would use the service again
The second relates to statements recently made on the Today programme by Jonathan Djangoly, Justice Minister, urging greater use of mediation in Family disputes. Some family practitioners might take issue with his assertion that family lawyers are not sufficiently aware of mediation to resolve family disputes.
Nevertheless, it is still the case that there is a lack of awareness of the potential of mediation to resolve disputes and an assumption (at least by lawyers) that it is being promoted simply to reduce costs; there is considerable evidence, however, that mediation – when properly used – promotes better outcomes for parties.
Further details on both announcements can be found on the Ministry of Justice website