Martin Partington: Spotlight on the Justice System

Keeping the English Legal System under review

Archive for May 2012

Reform of sentencing: new law

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The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 not only reforms legal aid, it also makes important changes to the sentencing options available to courts in criminal trials. In outline:

The Act contains a number of new measures to protect the public and reduce reoffending. These include:

  • Creating a new youth remand and sentencing structure, which gives more flexibility to courts to decide on appropriate disposals
  • Creating tougher community sentences with longer curfews for offenders
  • Giving prosecutors the right to appeal against bail decisions when they think the defendant could be dangerous, or might flee the country
  • Reforming the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act, to help ex-offenders reintegrate into society after their sentences.
  • Creating a tough new sentencing regime to replace the inconsistent Imprisonment for Public Protection (IPP) sentence.
  • Doubling to 30 years the starting point for sentences for murders motivated by hate on grounds of disability or transgender – in line with other hate crime murders.

In addition, the Act creates a number of new offences. These include:

  • Making it an offence to threaten people with a knife in public and at schools, with offenders receiving a minimum prison sentence (6 months for adults and a 4 months Detention Training Order for 16 and 17 year olds)
  • Making prisoners work harder, longer and on meaningful tasks, earning money for victims
  • Making it a crime to squat in people’s homes
  • Creating a new offence to appropriately punish drivers who seriously injure others by driving dangerously

Further information is at http://www.justice.gov.uk/legislation/bills-and-acts/acts/legal-aid-and-sentencing-act?dm_i=4P,SEF0,24B1P,2BC4T,1

Written by lwtmp

May 1, 2012 at 3:40 pm

Posted in Chapter 5

Reform of legal aid: new law

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The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill (LASPO) has after a long passage through Parliament finally received the Royal Assent and is now an Act of Parliament.

This means that changes to the scope, eligibility and other aspects of the legal aid scheme – many of which have been outlined in earlier comments in this blog – are now law. The Legal Services Commission’s website notes that these reforms are due to be implemented on 1 April 2013.

The Act also means that a new Agency will be created. The LSC will be replaced by the Legal Aid Agency, which will be an Executive Agency of the Ministry of Justice. The Legal Aid Agency will also start to operate formally on 1 April 2013.

Independence of legal decision-making is to be preserved with the creation of a Director of Legal Aid Casework. The Director of Legal Aid Casework will have independence from the Lord Chancellor in applying directions and guidance to individual funding decisions. This is protected under the new statutory framework.

As Chief Executive Designate of the new Agency, it is expected that Matthew Coats will also be appointed the Director of Legal Aid Casework.

According to the Ministry of Justice Press release:

“The Act:

  • Ensures that legal aid is available for those who require formal legal advice and assistance and provides access to a range of alternative sources of dispute resolution in appropriate cases
  • Increases mediation funding to £25 million a year and provide an additional £20 million a year for the next three years for third sector advice and assistance organisations
  • Reforms civil litigation procedures by dealing with disproportionate legal costs, and by capping the amount that lawyers can take in success fees
  • Makes referral fees illegal in personal injury cases.

It remains to be seen whether the outcomes indicated above are achieved in practice. Certainly there is widespread concern throughout the legal world that great damage will be done to the provision of legal advice and assistance to the poor.

Further news will be noted in these columns over the coming months.

Written by lwtmp

May 1, 2012 at 3:27 pm

Posted in Chapter 10, Chapter 4