Martin Partington: Spotlight on the Justice System

Keeping the English Legal System under review

Archive for November 2015

Public expenditure review: impact on the Justice system (2): the future of personal injuries litigation

leave a comment »

A totally unexpected announcement in the 2015 Autumn Statement relates to how personal injuries cases are to be dealt with in future. The statement says (at p 125):

3.103 Motor insurance – The government will bring forward measures to reduce the excessive costs arising from unnecessary whiplash claims, and expects average savings of £40 to £50 per motor insurance policy to be passed onto customers, including by:

••removing the right to general damages for minor soft tissue injuries (Claimants will still be entitled to claim for ‘special damages’, including treatment for any injury if required and any loss of earnings);

••removing legal costs by transferring personal injury claims of up to £5,000 to the small claims court.

This announcement has caused consternation amongst PI claimant lawyers since, by moving many more cases into the small claims track, they will not be able to claim their costs from the insurers when they win. This will result in many claimant lawyers giving up this type of work.

Two consequences seem likely to follow:

First, insurers will be able to put more pressure on claimants to settle on terms dictated by the insurers.

Second, claims management companies may well try to find ways to move in to this work.

Despite the fact that many claimants may end up with a lower level of damages than they might have done had they been represented by a lawyer, many will think that the estimated reduction in insurance premia is a price worth paying to ensure that the costs of small claims are more proportionate than they currently are.

There might, however, be another way of looking at the issue.

In Ireland, the Injuries Board – established by Act of Parliament in 2003 – can deal with all personal injury claims on line. The injured party submits details of the accident and the injury; the insurer makes an offer; and this is assessed by an independent assessor with practical experience of PI and familiar with current trends on the awards of damages by the courts.

There is no compulsion to use the system, but it is free to claimants who win their case, and the services costs much less for the insurers (though still makes an annual surplus).

An analogous scheme already operates in the UK for dealing with tenancy deposit disputes.

The full statement  is downloadable at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/spending-review-and-autumn-statement-2015-documents.

For the Irish Injuries Board, go to http://www.injuriesboard.ie/eng/

Written by lwtmp

November 30, 2015 at 12:51 pm

Public spending review: impact on the Justice system (1): Court closures and investment in IT

leave a comment »

The long awaited announcement that there would be significant investment in prisons and also in the IT infrastructure for the Courts and Tribunals service, paid for by selling existing old prisons and little used court buildings, was made by the Chancellor of the Excehquer in the Autumn Statement and Spending Review, announced on 25 November 2015.

More specifically, the Ministry of Justice website notes:
On prisons

£1.3 billion will be invested to reform and modernise the prison estate to make it even more efficient, safer and focused on supporting prisoner rehabilitation. The government will build 9 new, modern prisons – 5 of which will open this Parliament – with better education facilities and other rehabilitative services, while selling ageing, inefficient prisons on prime real estate to free up land for new homes.

By investing in the prison estate, the government will reduce running costs in prisons by £80 million a year when the reforms are complete. New investment will also fund video conference centres, allowing up to 90,000 cases to be heard from prison instead of court, and will deliver more safety improvements in prisons, including body scanners and mobile phone blocking technology.

The Government states its hope that these reforms will reduce reoffending through more effective rehabilitation, and will reduce the cost of transporting prisoners between courts and prisons, stamp out the organisation of crime from within prisons, and stem the availability of drugs and other illicit substances.

The Government also states that these developments will build on the probation reforms undertaken in the last Parliament, which will reduce the costs of the system and reinvest them into extending probation support to 45,000 short-sentence offenders for the first time, to tackle reoffending.

 

On courts and tribunals

Over £700 million will be invested to fully digitise the courts and create a more modern estate. This will generate savings to the taxpayer of approximately £200 million a year from 2019-20. The government will also look at changes to court fees as it continues to put the courts on a more sustainable financial footing.

The text of the statement and other documents may be accessed at https://www.gov.uk/government/topical-events/autumn-statement-and-spending-review-2015

The impact on the Ministry of Justice is at https://www.gov.uk/government/news/ministry-of-justices-settlement-at-the-spending-review-2015

Written by lwtmp

November 30, 2015 at 11:06 am

The future of the Criminal Courts charge

leave a comment »

The Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015 introduced the principle that those convicted of crimes should be required to make a contribution towards the costs of the criminal court. Regulations prescribe the charges that must be imposed:

Conviction by a magistrates’ court in proceedings conducted in accordance with section 16A of the Magistrates’ Courts Act 1980 (trial by single justice on the papers)(a)

£150

Conviction by a magistrates’ court for a summary offence on a guilty plea

£150

Conviction by a magistrates’ court at a trial of a summary offence where (a) the defendant did not enter a plea, (b) the trial proceeded in the absence of the defendant, and (c) the court dealt with the case on the papers without reliance on any oral evidence

£150

Conviction by a magistrates’ court for an offence triable either-way on a guilty plea

£180

Conviction by a magistrates’ court at a trial of a summary offence

£520

Conviction by a magistrates’ court at a trial of an offence triable either way

£1000

Conviction by the Crown Court on a guilty plea

£900

Conviction by the Crown Court at a trial on indictment

£1200

Magistrates’ court when dealing with a person under section 21B(1)(b), (c) or (d) of the Prosecution of Offenders Act 1985

£100

Crown Court when dealing with a person under section 21 B(2)(b) or (c) of the Prosecution of Offenders Act 1985

£150

Crown Court dismissing an appeal by a person against conviction or sentence

£150

Court of Appeal dismissing an application for leave to bring an appeal under Part 1 of the Criminal Appeal Act 1968 against a person’s conviction or sentence

£150

Court of Appeal dismissing an appeal under Part 1 of the Criminal Appeal Act 1968 against a person’s conviction or sentence

£200

The charges have been criticised by many lawyers and judges on the basis that they have the potential to create a perverse incentive to plead guilty (and thereby attract a lower charge) even in cases where the case should go to trial. Press reports have suggested that the current Lord Chancellor, Michael Gove, is not unsympathetic to reviewing the rules, although the recent statement on Public Expenditure did not mention the charge.

Nonetheless, the Justice Select Committee decided that it would issue an urgent report on the matter. This was published on 20 November 2015. It recommended abolition, or, failing that, that sentencers should have discretion over whether or not to impose a charge and what the amount of the charge should be.

While it is unlikely that there will be abolition so soon after introduction, my hunch is that the Government will be returning to the issue in the not too distant future.

You can read the Justice Committee report at http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201516/cmselect/cmjust/586/58602.htm

Written by lwtmp

November 30, 2015 at 10:43 am

Enhancing the Quality of Criminal Advocacy

with one comment

In 2014, a review of  criminal advocacy services by Sir Bill Jeffrey was published. In his report he pointed out some harsh truths for the legal professions:

For example:

  • Recorded and reported crime are down.
  • Fewer cases reach the criminal courts.
  • More defendants plead guilty, and earlier than in the past.
  • Court procedures are simpler.
  • There is substantially less work for advocates to do.
  • Its character is different, with more straightforward cases and fewer contested trials.
  • In the publicly funded sector (86% of the total), it pays less well.
  • There has been a marked shift in the distribution of advocacy work in the Crown Court between the two sides of the profession. There are many more solicitor advocates than there were in the years following the liberalisation of rights of audience. Between 2005-06 and 2012-13, the percentage of publicly funded cases in which the defence was conducted by a solicitor advocate rose from 4% to 24% of contested trials and from 6% to 40% of guilty pleas. Both figures are on a rising trend.
  • In 2012-2013, Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) in-house lawyers led the prosecution in approximately 45% of Crown Court trials.

He noted that there would be serious implications for the criminal justice system, if current trends towards the use of solicitor advocates and away from the criminal Bar continue. Sir Bill was clear that it would be neither feasible nor desirable to wind the clock back on rights of audience. He found that solicitor advocates are a valuable and established part of the scene. But if the Bar’s share of the work continues to decline, as the current generation moves to retirement, the supply of top-end advocates to undertake the most complex trials would be in doubt.

This stark assessment is the background to a new  consultation, launched in October 2015 by the government, setting on a number of measures it argues are necessary to enhance the quality of advocacy in criminal cases.

The paper sets out two principal reasons why it feels it must undertake this consultation:

  1. The Government has a responsibility to ensure the delivery of an efficient, fair and effective justice system in which the public has confidence and therefore has a legitimate interest in making sure that good quality criminal advocacy services are available to those that need them.
  2. The government, via the Legal Aid Agency (LAA), is also the largest single procurer of criminal defence advocacy services, and has a responsibility to ensure that, where such advocacy services are being paid for with public money, they are of a good quality.

The specific proposals on which the Government is seeking views  can be summarised as follows:

  • the proposed introduction of a panel scheme – publicly funded criminal defence advocacy in the Crown Court and above would be undertaken by advocates who are members of this panel;
  • the proposed introduction of a statutory ban on referral fees in criminal cases;
  • how disguised referral fees can be identified and prevented; and
  • the proposed introduction of stronger measures to ensure client choice and prevent conflicts of interest.

The period of consultation expires at the end of November 2015. If these, or measures similar to what is proposed go ahead, they will have a profound impact on the ways in which criminal practitioners work and the way in which the Legal Aid Agency operates.

For Sir Bill Jeffrey’s report go to https://www.gov.uk/government/news/advocates-must-adapt-to-a-changing-landscape.

For the consultation go to https://consult.justice.gov.uk/digital-communications/enhancing-the-quality-of-criminal-advocacy

Written by lwtmp

November 5, 2015 at 12:53 pm

Legal Ombudsman – complaints about Claims Management Companies

leave a comment »

After some delay, the Legal Ombudsman acquired jurisdiction to deal with complaints against Claims Management Companies in January 2015.

On 5 November 2015, Simon Tunnicliffe,  the Legal Ombudsman’s Head of Claims Management Complaints, reported in an interview that they have had 9,000 enquiries about claims management companies  since they widened their remit to consider complaints about these companies, in addition to their previous remit. Many of the complaints concern the amount of money retained by CMCs, and not passed on to the original claimant, e.g. for personal injury.

Further information about the work of the Legal Ombudsman in relation to CMCs is available at http://www.legalombudsman.org.uk/helping-cmcs/#publications

Written by lwtmp

November 5, 2015 at 12:16 pm

Unbundled legal services

leave a comment »

The concept of unbundling legal services is still relatively new, but has already been the subject of an important research paper from the Legal Services Board, published in September 2015.

Unbundling is where a package of legal services is separated into parts and the work shared between the consumer and lawyer. An example of unbundling is a consumer preparing the evidence and the court bundle themselves and then directly instructing the barrister who represents the consumer at the court hearing.

The Press release on the research states:

This research paints a picture of law firms beginning to respond to consumer demand and changes in their commercial environment by developing affordable alternatives to full-service representation. It suggests that:

– reduced cost and the opportunity to exercise greater control over the case were the primary reasons why those consumers interviewed chose to unbundle

– unbundling tended to be identified as an option during the initial interview between a consumer and their legal advisor rather than being actively marketed to potential clients. As a result, while some consumers are making savings on their legal bills, this development is not benefiting large numbers of people who are currently put off approaching lawyers in the first place due to cost concerns

– no regulatory barriers to unbundling were identified, but some concerns were raised around assessing consumer capability, giving advice based on limited information and ensuring there is clarity on agreements about the scope of work, and

– members of the judiciary felt that if full representation could not be obtained then, as a starting point, some legal advice and assistance ought to be beneficial. They also echoed some potential difficulties with unbundling identified by providers and felt it important that advice and assistance is given by regulated advisers.

There is a clear indication that the Legal Services Board would like to see unbundling develop further.

The Co-operative Legal Services is an example of a legal service provider who do make clear in their advertising that they are offering unbundled legal services, leaving the clients to choose which parts of the service they wish to pay for. (Of course clients can also go for a full legal service.)

For further details on the research go to http://www.legalservicesboard.org.uk/news_publications/LSB_news/PDF/2015/20150916_LSB_Publishes_Report_Into_The_Unbundling_Of_Legal_Services.html

For Co-operative Legal Services go to https://www.co-oplegalservices.co.uk/

Written by lwtmp

November 4, 2015 at 11:56 am