Martin Partington: Spotlight on the Justice System

Keeping the English Legal System under review

Archive for December 2011

Shaping legal services: interview with Crispin Passmore, Legal Services Board

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In this podcast I talk to Crispin Passmore, Strategy Director at the Legal Services Board, about the work of the Board – discussed in Chapter 9 of the book. He talks about the background to the establishment of the Board, and how its work has developed since the Legal Services Act 2007 came into effect.

In the course of the discussion we consider a number of themes. First, what is ‘public interest’ in the provision of legal services. Historically, there has been a close alignment of public interest and professional interest; this is now changing. Crispin refers to a paper on this, available at

Second, Crispin emphasises the need for legal services to be delivered in ways which the users of those services – members of the public – feel comfortable with. This may result in big changes to the ways in which lawyers currently deliver services and deal with complaints from clients.

Third, Crispin talks about ABS – the alternative business structures – that are going to affect legal service delivery. They will provide, he argues, enormous opportunities for those willing to seize them. There will be significant developments in 2012.

To hear the podcast go to


Written by lwtmp

December 16, 2011 at 4:32 pm

Abolition of more committal hearings: offences triable either way

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In the book I discuss how the more serious criminal cases, all of which start in the magistrates’ courts, get to the Crown Court. it used to be the case that cases would only be transferred after a committal hearing. Committals in indictable-only cases were abolished and replaced by a process known as ‘sending’ under section 51 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998. This enables cases to be sent straight to the Crown court after the defendant’s first appearance in the magistrates’ court.

The Criminal Justice Act 2003 made provision for the same procedure to be adopted in cases that could be tried either way, where it was decided that they would be tried on indictment. The relevant provision has not to date been implemented, but the Secretary of State for Justice has now decided to bring this provision into effect from April 2012. It is estimated that this will reduce the number of committal hearings by around 60,000.

Defence lawyers are furious that, in anticipation of the change they will no longer be paid for committal hearings; this decision is currently the subject of a judicial review.

Written by lwtmp

December 11, 2011 at 3:51 pm

Posted in Chapter 10, Chapter 5

Digitalising the criminal justice system: Virtual courts and ‘Live Links’

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In 2009, the Ministry of Justice started to use communication technologies to create, initially on an experimental basis, virtual courts. They enable a defendant, charged in a police station, to have their first hearing held over secure video link from the magistrates’ court. This can happen within hours of being charged and if the defendant pleads guilty, the court can often sentence on the same day.

The same equipment allows police witnesses to give evidence in court via the police station. This initiative, known as ‘Live Links’, began in July 2011. It allows for the police to free up time to carry out frontline duties rather than travelling to and from court.

Defence lawyers are concerned that the initiatives created problems. In particular, they aregue that the police still need to address fully the issue of how officers exhibit live evidence, such as their notebooks, when they are physically not present.

However, the Government is so convinced of the value of these two related initiatives that the announced at the end of November 2011 that by spring 2012, the entire criminal justice system is required to go digital, with secure electronic transfer of case files between the police, prosecutors and courts becoming the norm rather than the exception.

For more details see:

Written by lwtmp

December 11, 2011 at 3:37 pm

Posted in Chapter 4, Chapter 5

Handling complaints against lawyers; interview with Adam Sampson

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In this podcast, I talk to Adam Sampson, Chief Legal Ombudsman. We discuss the work of the Legal Ombudsman, how it operates, the kinds of issue it deals with, and some of the limitations the office has to deal with matters raised by dissatisfied clients. He stresses the importance, in a rapidly changing legal environment, of firms learning from complaints, so that they can improve their services to the public.

Full details of the work of the Office can be found at

To hear the interview, go to

Written by lwtmp

December 11, 2011 at 3:14 pm

Youth Justice Board wins reprieve

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At a late stage in the debates on the Public Bodies Bill, the Government announced that it would reverse its original decision to abolish the Youth Justice Board. Many voices had been raised against taking the functions of the Board into the government machine. (Incidentally, I am always puzzled as to why ministers making ‘U-turns’ is regarded as a bad thing; if they are responding to well argued alternatives should they not be applauded?)

A closer look at what Ministers said, however, shows that while the YJB is being retained, they will be reviewing the particular role that it plays in the youth justice system. Obviously these new ideas will take some time to emerge.

I will keep you posted.

Written by lwtmp

December 1, 2011 at 11:46 am

Posted in Chapter 5