Martin Partington: Spotlight on the Justice System

Keeping the English Legal System under review

Archive for January 2018

Parole Board – review of procedures

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The decision by the Parole Board to release the London Cab Driver John Warboys – who had been convicted of raping a number of his customers – has generated a great deal of publicity. Many of the challenges in that case arose from the fact that Warboys had been sentenced to an Indeterminate Sentence, which meant that he could continue to be detained after the period set by the judge as punishment for his crime, where it was anticipated that his release would be a danger to the public. (The law relating to such sentences was changed by the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012.)

The Government has now announced that there is to be a review of the practices and procedures of the Parole Board. This is to include a review of how the work of the Board impacts on the victims of the crimes committed by those the Board is considering for release.

The terms of the reference are as follows:

This review will consider the case for changes in law, policy and procedure in relation to Parole Board decision-making. It will include an examination of the transparency of the process and reasons for parole decisions, and how victims are appropriately engaged in that process. It will take account of the interests of justice, public confidence in the system and the impact on victims. The review will draw on the views and experience of victims, practitioners and international best practice.
The review will focus on the following areas:
1. The law, policy, guidance and practice relating to challenges to Parole Board decision making, specifically whether there should be a mechanism to allow parole decisions to be reconsidered.
2. The transparency of Parole Board decision making, including:
whether the outcomes of Parole Board decisions should be published or otherwise
disclosed;
whether the reasons for those decisions should be published, and if so to what extent; and
whether there are any other changes that should be made in order to contribute to greater transparency.
3. Victim involvement in Parole Board hearings:
to review the relevant entitlements outlined in the Victims’ Code to determine whether improvements should be made to how victims are currently involved in and contribute to Parole Board hearings;
what improvements should be made to how their involvement is facilitated.
4. Arrangements for communicating with victims:
to review whether the current entitlements for victims who qualify under the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004 for the Victim Contact Scheme are adequate, including in relation to Victim Personal Statements and licence conditions;
to review whether improvements can be made to the way that the scheme operates in practice, in particular the process by which victims are notified of their entitlements and of decisions; whilst respecting the victim’s preference for how they are contacted;
to consider the question of ongoing contact with victims who are eligible for the Victim Contact Scheme but have previously opted out; and
whether there need to be new entitlements or procedures for victims not covered by the statutory scheme.
Interestingly in its own Press Release, the Parole Board observes: “Justice needs to be seen to be done and the Canadian model for victim contact could provide a good starting point.”
As far as I  am aware, decisions have not yet been taken as to who should lead this review, nor the time line for the completion of the review. I will endeavour to keep you posted on such developments.
The terms of reference are at https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/674955/pb-review-terms-of-reference.pdf
The Parole Board Press statement is at https://www.gov.uk/government/news/parole-board-welcomes-independent-review-of-victim-contact-and-extended-terms-of-reference-for-review-of-parole-processes

 

 

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Written by lwtmp

January 24, 2018 at 12:46 pm

Financial Remedies Courts: developments in Family Justice

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2018 will witness the start of a new approach to dealing with the financial matters that can arise when married couples are divorced. The current President of the Family Division, Sir James Munby has set out his ambition that disputes about financial matters should be treated quite separately from the process of getting the divorce itself.

To this end, a series of pilots is being launched in February 2018 in which, in three trial areas of the country, financial matters will be dealt with by specially trained judges in a reduced number of family court hearing centres. The courts undertaking this work will be known generally as Financial Remedies Courts.

The new system will initially be operated on a trial basis in three areas of the country: London, the Black Country and South East Wales.

The President clearly hopes that expansion of the scheme to other parts of the country will take place rapidly.

In a recent Circular, Sir James wrote:

My core ambition for financial remedy work is to improve significantly both the application of procedural justice and the delivery of substantive justice.
Procedural justice will be bettered by the appointment of a cadre of specialist judges to the Financial Remedies Court (FRC) and by a process of early allocation of a case to the right judge at the right level  at the right place, so as to ensure maximum efficiency. It will be bettered by the application and enforcement of standard directions and interim orders and by ensuring that FDRs (where the majority of cases settle already) are conducted with consistency, with sufficient time being allowed not only for the hearing but also for judicial preparation.
The delivery of substantive justice will be improved by an improved programme of judicial training; by the reporting of judgments in small and medium cases by the judges of the FRC to promote transparency and consistency; and by ensuring that sufficient time is allowed for the preparation and conduct of final hearings.
An increase in transparency will result in increased predictability of outcome, which in turn should lead to a higher rate of settlement or, for those cases that do not settle, a reduced rate of appeals.
Although initially hearings will be paper-based, it is intended that – in common with other changes being made in the justice system – there should be rapid moves to making the process an entirely digitised one.
These changes are being accompanied by another reform which has seen the introduction of many more standarised orders, which will be used by judges and avoid the need for parties or their legal advisers to draw up orders that then have to be approved by the judges. Sir James hopes this will particularly assist litigants in person.
A full statement of Sir James’ vision can be seen in Circular 18 available at https://www.judiciary.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/view-from-the-president-of-family-division-20180123.pdf

Written by lwtmp

January 24, 2018 at 11:35 am

Reshaping the Court estate: a further consultation

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The programme of transformation of the justice system depends on the closure of a significant number of existing court buildings and reinvestment of the savings of running costs and the capital receipts from buildings that have been disposed of in a smaller but more efficient court estate.

In January 2018, Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service published a Consultation Paper setting out the basic principles on which detailed plans are now being developed. At the same time there were 5 more specific papers setting our proposals for closing courts in a number of areas, including Cambridge, the Thames Valley, London and Lancashire. There is nothing particularly new in this paper, though it does give interesting accounts of a number of initiatives currently on-going to deliver new ways of working in courts and tribunals.

The key aims are that there should be

  • more videolinks and virtual hearings;
  • digital service delivery, with a major reduction in the use of paper files;
  • flexible opening hours;
  • improved service delivery with much more work being undertaken online.

The number of court buildings will be reduced from around 530 buildings (a decade ago) to a total of 239 buildings in 2018. It is accepted that this will lead to some increase in travel time to reach those buildings, but the vast majority will still, according to HMCTS figures, still be within 2 hours travelling distance. As much work will in future be delivered without the need for lawyers and parties to be present in court, it is argued that this will further mitigate any inconvenience. What will be important will be to ensure that cases listed for a particular day are actually dealt with on that day.

The Consultation Paper reminds readers that the transformation policy is designed

  • to enable existing and new buildings to be much more flexible in the ways in which they can be used;
  • to ensure better public facilities – e.g. waiting rooms, rooms for clients to consult with their advisers;
  • to ensure that the vulnerable are able to feel confident about using court facilities;
  • to include of modern ICT to enable more work to be done online
  • to support the needs of all the professionals who use the courts;
  • to move towards an estate that provides dedicated hearing centres, while seeking
    opportunities to concentrate back office functions in a smaller number of centres where they can be carried out most efficiently.

There will be resistance to some of these ideas. For example, the Bar has already argued against more flexible opening hours. It is said that this could be discriminatory against women barristers who may find it hard to take cases outside traditional working hours. While this is an issue that must be addressed, such arguments fail to acknowledge the fact historically the Court Service has only paid lip-service to the idea of delivering a service to court users. Many parties to litigation may find it more convenient to attend hearings outside of 10-4, Mondays to Fridays. The transformation programme provides a challenge to those who work in the courts to consider how they can deliver the service that clients want, when they want it.

The Consultation runs until 29 March 2018. The documentation can be found at https://consult.justice.gov.uk/digital-communications/transforming-court-tribunal-estate/

 

Written by lwtmp

January 19, 2018 at 12:18 pm

New Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice: David Gauke MP

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In the good old days, Lord Chancellors came and went comparatively infrequently. Unlike their possibly more ‘political’ colleagues, Lord Chancellors seemed to float above the hurly-burly of day-to-day politics.

The reforms to the post of Lord Chancellor, introduced by the government of Tony Blair, resulted in major changes to the role and thus the office holder.

No longer did they have to be in the House of Lords. They no longer had to be professionally qualified as lawyers. In the last 2 and a half years, there have been no fewer than 4 Lord Chancellors.

The latest appointee, in January 2018, is David Gauke. Unlike his immediate predecessors, he is qualified as a Solicitor and has had experience of private legal practice.

I do not anticipate major changes of policy to arise from this new appointment. The Ministry of Justice is engaged in major programmes of work on the justice system, the prison system, legal aid – among others. What I think is needed is a period of stability to ensure that these important initiatives are actually delivered.

For further information see https://www.gov.uk/government/ministers/secretary-of-state-for-justice

You can read the Lord Chancellor’s speech at his swearing in ceremony at https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/lord-chancellor-swearing-in-speech-david-gauke

You can see him deliver this speech at https://www.judiciary.gov.uk/announcements/live-stream-swearing-in-of-the-new-lord-chancellor-the-right-honourable-david-gauke-mp/

Written by lwtmp

January 16, 2018 at 12:26 pm

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