Martin Partington: Spotlight on the Justice System

Keeping the English Legal System under review

Archive for June 2018

Enforcement of judgments

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One of the challenges for the civil justice system is knowing how to enforce judgments made by the courts that money should be paid by the losing party to the winner. At the heart of this issue is the problem of whether someone cannot pay (because they just do not have the resources) or won’t pay (because they won’t).

The rules relating to enforcement agents working for both the High Court and County Court were amended with effect from April 2014, and a review of the first year of operation of the new rules was started a year later in 2015. The results of that review were published in April 2018.

The results of the review are not in themselves particularly startling though there are indications that the new rules are beginning to have some impact, both in relation to the behaviour of enforcement agents, and in encouraging people to come to an agreement before their possessions are actually seized for sale (the usual objective of enforcement action in civil cases).

This is very much work in progress. Indeed, a significant component of the big Transformation Programme is the Transforming Compliance and Enforcement Programme (TCEP) which is upgrading systems in HMCTS’s National Compliance and Enforcement Service, used to enforce court orders such as penalties and compensation. If this works, this will have impact across the whole of the justice system, not just civil justice, as it will also deal with fines and compensation orders made in criminal courts.

For the one year review, see https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/695833/one-year-review-bailiff-reform-web.pdf

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Written by lwtmp

June 8, 2018 at 10:32 am

Explanatory notes to Bills and Acts

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Explanatory notes have been published alongside Bills and Acts for many years now.

There are legal purists who argue that no lawyer worth his/her salt should look at them; truly independent legal advice can only be based on the actual legislative words.

I completely disagree with this argument. In my view these notes are key to an understanding of what particular Acts of Parliament are about and are an essential ingredient in promoting the public understanding of law.

The Office of Parliamentary Counsel considered Explanatory Notes in a couple of short papers published in 2014 and 2015. (I missed them at the time.)

It is clear that there is no intention of abandoning the use of these Notes. Indeed, it is intended that their use and usefulness should be enhanced. A survey of users of legislation found that overwhelmingly the Notes were used by people consulting statutes on-line. At the same time, it also found that significant numbers of those using statutory material either did not know they existed or how to find them.

The two papers can be found at https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/322113/Explanatory_Notes_survey_Jul_2013_report.pdf

and https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/explanatory-notes-for-bills-new-format

 

 

 

Written by lwtmp

June 7, 2018 at 11:02 am

Transforming the Justice system – views from the National Audit Office

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In this blog, I have tried to keep readers abreast of developments with the major Transformation of the Justice system programme. I have observed that this is not always easy and depends on keeping an eye out for press releases, blogs and now the new monthly e-bulletin issued by HM Courts and Tribunals Service.

In May 2018, the National Audit Office (NAO) published its first appraisal of how the programme is going.

Obviously the NAO is supportive of the aims of the programme, which it summarises as follows:

In 2016, HMCTS set up a portfolio of change programmes that will introduce

new technology and working practices to modernise and upgrade the justice system.

By March 2023, HMCTS expects to employ 5,000 fewer staff, reduce the number of
cases held in physical courtrooms by 2.4 million cases per year and reduce annual
spending by £265 million. Savings will come from lower administrative and judicial staff costs, fewer physical hearings and running a smaller estate. As well as making savings HMCTS expects the reformed system to work better for all those involved, use court time more proportionately, and make processes more accessible to users.

The NAO report helpfully reminds readers of the scale and scope of the overall programme:

The HMCTS change portfolio consists of several related programmes, which in turn
are made up of many individual projects. The major programmes are:
• The HMCTS Reform Programme which is modernising processes and systems
to reduce demand on courts by moving activity out of courtrooms. For example,
it will introduce online services and digital case files and expand the use of video
technology in hearings.
• The Common Platform Programme which is developing shared processes
and a digital criminal justice case management system to share information
between HMCTS, the Crown Prosecution Service and the police. It is jointly
managed by these organisations.
• The Transforming Compliance and Enforcement Programme (TCEP) which
is upgrading systems in HMCTS’s National Compliance and Enforcement Service,
used to enforce court orders such as penalties and compensation.
As part of these programmes, HMCTS is also reducing and modernising the
court and tribunal estate and creating cross-jurisdictional hearing centres and national ‘customer service centres’. These will centralise case management and administration and provide support to the public, judges and lawyers on civil and criminal matters.
The NAO makes some rather obvious observations:

1 The scope of the programme is challenging

2 The timetable has been expanded

3 The scope of some projects has been reduced

4 Progress has been slower than expected

5 Costs have risen and likely benefits decreased

6 There remain funding gaps for the later stages.

The NAO notes that many of these points have been taken on board within HMCTS. Nonetheless, the NAO argues that more should be done to demonstrate in detail how the reformed system will work. It states that it is important to sustain the committment of all those involved in the design and delivery of the new service. It implicitly criticises the Ministry of Justice for its failure to reintroduce the legislation that will be needed to ensure that aspects of the reform programme can be implemented. The NAO warns that the scale and spped of change may result in changes having unexpected consequences. And as much of the anticipated savings arise from reductions in staff, this could actually lead to an inability to deliver the service.

The public response of HMCTS has been upbeat – as indeed it has to be. A Press Release acknowledges that the programme is challenging; it summarises a number of specific changes that have been delivered; and remains confident that the programme will be successfully delivered.

My own view is that it is very important that the transformation programme is delivered. But the managerial challenge of delivering a large scale change should not be underestimated. To date, key judicial figures have been working with HMCTS to promote the need for and advantages of change. Continued judicial leadership will be essential. But I think it would be wise to develop a wider group of ‘change champions’, particularly within the judiciary more broadly and from  the legal professions. Many practitioners will accept that the current system does not serve the public well. Many will have good ideas for how things could be done more efficiently and to greater public benefit. Giving them the encouragement to voice their support for change would be highly desirable.

The NAO report is at https://www.nao.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/Early-progess-in-transforming-courts-and-tribunals.pdf.

The HMTCS Press release is at https://www.gov.uk/government/news/hmcts-response-to-national-audit-office-report-on-court-reform-programme?utm_medium=email&utm_source=

Search warrants – reform proposals

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As a keen follower of the work of the Law Commission (I was once a Commissioner), I confess I had not spotted the fact that the Commission was undertaking work relating to the law on search warrants. It did not get a mention in either its 12th or 13th programmes.

The reason for this is that in December 2016, they were give a specific commission by the Home Office to undertake work in this area. The first fruits of this project have now been published in the form of  a Consultation Paper setting out the Commission’s initial ideas as to how the law might be reformed.

A search warrant is a written authorisation that allows an investigator to enter premises to search for material or individuals. Search warrants are usually issued by a court following an application by a police officer or other investigator. Most search warrants authorise the investigator to seize and retain relevant material found during the search.

Surprisingly, perhaps, detailed analysis of the law reveals that there over 175 different powers to issue search warrants. Some, like the general power under section 8 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, are used to look for evidence of a criminal offence.  More specific powers allow the searcher to remove stolen goods, drugs, firearms or other dangerous materials or to rescue people or animals in danger or distress. Other powers relate to complex financial or other types of specialised investigation.

The Commission identified a number of problems with the current law:

  • the sheer number of provisions, coupled with their complexity, leads to a confusing legislative landscape;
  • there is inconsistency across search warrant provisions and in the procedure for obtaining a search warrant. Importantly, there is inconsistency in the applicability of statutory safeguards and the protection afforded to particular categories of material;
  • a large proportion of the legislation, in particular the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, predates the advent of electronic material and risks failing to deal with emerging digital technology and the forms in which criminal activity now takes place; and
  • the number of appeals generated by search warrants legislation, and the legal fees incurred, creates excessive cost for all parties.

In the light of their analysis, the Commission has made proposals to:

  • simplify the law and procedure governing search warrants by rendering it more rational and accessible at all stages of the search warrant process;
  • make the law fairer by extending protections, improving judicial scrutiny and making the law more transparent;
  • modernise the law to ensure that it reflects the changing nature of investigations and is equipped to deal with current technology; and
  • make the law more cost-effective by introducing a streamlined way to obtain a search warrant and a new procedure to challenge and correct procedural deficiencies.

The consultation runs until 5 September 2018.

For further details and links to the consultation go to https://www.lawcom.gov.uk/project/search-warrants/

 

 

 

 

 

Written by lwtmp

June 7, 2018 at 9:35 am

Keeping up to date with the Transformation of our Justice System project

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I have commented before that it is quite hard for those outside Government and the Judiciary to keep abreast of developments with the Transformation project. Occasional blog items from HM Courts and Tribunals service are useful but don’t necessarily pick up all that is going on.

I therefore welcome the announcement that from June there is to be a monthly e-bulletin devoted to the programme. Those interested are able to subscribe to the service, thereby receiving regular updates.

The first edition is available at https://content.govdelivery.com/accounts/UKHMCTS/bulletins/1f03e7b

The Courts and Tribunals (Judiciary and Functions of Staff) Bill 2018

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The great Transformation of the Justice System programme, being advanced by the Ministry of Justice and HM Courts and Tribunals Service was initially supported, legislatively, by a substantial Prisons and Courts Bill 2017. This fell when the General Election was called in June 2017. (See this Blog,  March 2017 and July 2017). Since then, legal system watchers have been awaiting the return of the Bill, either in its original form or in a new guise.

Our patience is now at least partially rewarded with the publication of the Courts and Tribunals (Judiciary and Functions of Staff) Bill 2018, which was introduced into the House of Lords at the end of May 2018. As its title suggests, this is not the full legislative package originally envisaged. Rather it is a short, 4 clause Bill  Iwith Schedue) which proposes measures to facilitate the more flexible deployment of judicial and other staff.

Once enacted, the judiciary will be flexibly deployed across jurisdictions, allowing judges to gain experience of different types of cases, helping with their career progression. It will also enable judges to be used in specific courts or tribunals where there are serious backlogs of cases.

As regards the taking over of tasks currently undertaken by judges, authorised staff could carry out some of the more straightforward judicial functions, including tasks like issuing a summons; taking a plea; extending time for service of applications; or considering applications for variations of directions made in private or public law  children  cases. One noteworthy measure is that the role of the Justices’ Clerk, currently a statutory one, will become non-statutory. This will enable them to give advice on law in the Family Court as well as in the Magistrates’ Court.

Details of the Bill are at https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/bills/lbill/2017-2019/0108/lbill_2017-20190108_en_2.htm#sch1

Written by lwtmp

June 4, 2018 at 1:59 pm

Transforming the Justice system – maintaining the estate; answering the phones; better listing

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I have noted many of the developments that are currently taking place within  courts and tribunals, arising from the Transformation programme that has been on-going for the past couple of years. Much of the emphasis has been on the design and development of new practices and procedures – e.g. pilot schemes relating to the use of on-line courts, or the digitization of procedures

A recent blog from the Head of HM Courts and Tribunals Service, Susan Acland-Hood, notes that the transformation programme is not just  the use of high-tech innovations. It also includes more bread and butter issues, which nonetheless affect the public and those who work in the courts.

In her recent post, she notes three specific examples of investment, designed to improve the day-to-day operation of the courts and the court service.

1 Maintenance and repair. Many court buildings suffer from heating systems that do not work, lifts that do not work, and a generally drab physical environment. The modernisation programme includes improvements to the overall environment of courts and tribunals.

2 Answering the phone.  Investment is being made in a number of call centres whose task will be to answer questions directed to a number of courts – county courts and magistrates courts. This is designed to ensure that calls don’t go unanswered, especially in smaller courts where there may be insufficient staff to handle all the incoming calls.

3 Tacking delay.  The blog notes that the number of outstanding cases in the Crown Court is at the lowest level since 2004; the time taken from first listing in the Magistrates’ Court to completion at the Crown Court has been decreasing since the peak of 196 days in 2015 to 175 days in 2017. (It is not clear whether this is due to greater efficiency or because few cases are coming into the criminal justice system.) It also note the positive impact of the use of single-justices hearings to reduce delay.

Forther information is available at https://insidehmcts.blog.gov.uk/2018/05/17/reform-means-getting-the-basics-right-too/

 

 

Written by lwtmp

June 4, 2018 at 10:01 am