Martin Partington: Spotlight on the Justice System

Keeping the English Legal System under review

Archive for November 2018

Innovation and the use of technology in the provision of legal services

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The Legal Services Board has just (November 2018) published its latest detailed picture of levels of innovation and use of technology in legal services in England and Wales.

This report looks at the attitudes of legal services providers, sets out the benefits from innovation and considers the perceptions of the main enablers, including the impact of regulation.  The headline findings are:

  • the legal sector makes use of a variety of technologies but the use of services such as Blockchain or predictive analytics are, as yet, rare
  • overall levels of service innovation are unchanged since the first wave of the research three years ago
  • ABS, newer providers and larger providers have higher levels of service innovation.

Although putting a positive spin on the outcomes of the survey, I cannot help thinking that the LSB may actually be rather disappointed at the outcomes of the survey – given all the talk that there has been about the importance of innovation and new technologies.

My impression is that change is happening, but that it will much longer for the full benefits claimed for the use of new technologies to be realised in practice.

You can read the full report at https://www.legalservicesboard.org.uk/news_publications/LSB_News/PDF/2018/20181128_Innovation_Driven_By_Competition_And_Less_Hindered_By_Regulation.html

 

 

 

 

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Reforming referendums: how can their use and conduct be improved?

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This report, published in July 2018, provides a valuable analysis of the use of referendums, suggesting ways in which their use could be better structured

The Constitution Unit Blog

jess.sargeant.resizedalan_renwick_webThis week’s turbulent political events represent the fallout from a referendum where the consequences of a ‘change vote’ were unclear. This is just one of many concerns raised about recent UK referendums. To reflect on such problems and consider possible solutions, the Constitution Unit established the Independent Commission on Referendums. Here Jess Sargeant and Alan Renwick summarise the Commission’s conclusions and recommendations.

The Independent Commission on Referendums has published its final report today. This sets out almost 70 conclusions and recommendations, all agreed unanimously by the 12 distinguished Commissioners, who span the major divides in recent referendums. The report is the product of eight months of discussion and deliberation amongst the Commissioners, backed by comprehensive Constitution Unit research into referendums in the UK and other democracies. The Commission has also consulted widely with experts and the public, including seminars in each of the four constituent countries of the…

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Written by lwtmp

November 30, 2018 at 11:08 am

Posted in Uncategorized

The Victims Strategy – 2018

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In September 2018, the Government published its cross-government Victims Strategy. It sets out a criminal justice system wide response to improving the support offered to victims of crime and incorporates actions from all criminal justice agencies, including the police, CPS and courts.

It is divided into 5 key sections

  1. overarching commitments. These include:
  • Strengthening the Victims’ Code, and consulting on the detail of victim focused legislation, including strengthening the powers of the Victims’ Commissioner, and delivering a Victims’ Law.
  • Holding agencies to account for compliance with the Victims’ Code through improved reporting, monitoring and transparency.
  • Developing the detail on the role of the Independent Public Advocate for bereaved families who have lost loved ones in extraordinary and tragic events.
  • Abolishing the rule which denied compensation for some victims who lived with their attacker prior to 1979 and consulting on further changes to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme.
  1. improving support for all victims of crime, whether or not they report the crime. This includes commitments to:
  • Increase spending from £31 million in 2018 to £39 million in 2020/21 to improve services and pathways for survivors and victims of sexual violence and abuse who seek support to and from Sexual Assault Referral Centres.
  • Develop a new delivery model for victim support services, coordinating funding across government.
  • Expand and extend support available to families bereaved by homicide, including bringing in new funding for advocacy support for families bereaved by domestic homicide.
  • Spend £8 million on interventions to ensure support is available to children who witness domestic abuse.
  • Pilot the ‘Child House’ model in London, whereby multiple services are brought together in a child-friendly environment to minimise additional trauma.
  1. improving victim support after a crime has been reported. This includes commitments to:
  • Introduce improved police training, including new guidance on conducting interviews and collecting evidence, and a trial of body worn cameras to take Victim Personal Statements.
  • Increase the number of Registered Intermediaries, communication experts helping vulnerable victims and witnesses give their best evidence at police interview and at court, by 25%.
  • Increase opportunities for victims to engage in alternative solutions to court.
  • Improve overall victim communication, including when explaining decisions not to prosecute and on the right to review Crown Prosecution Service decisions.
  1. better support for victims during the court process. This includes commitments to:
  • Improve the court environment, with new victim-friendly waiting areas and a new court design guide focussing on accessibility for the most vulnerable.
  • Free up court time in the magistrates’ court by dealing with crimes with no identifiable victim (e.g. fare evasion) outside court hearings.
  • Continue to use video links to allow vulnerable victims to provide evidence away from the defendant and courtroom altogether.
  • Encourage take up of pre-trial therapy by launching new guidance and a toolkit for prosecutors and therapists.
  1. making sure victims understand a court’s decision, the implications for them, and for the offender. This includes commitments to:
  • Review and consider extending the Unduly Lenient Sentence scheme so victims and the public can have sentences reconsidered by the Court of Appeal.
  • Reform the Victim Contact Scheme, making it easier to opt in, introducing more frequent communication, and greater use of digital contact methods.
  • Improve Victim Liaison Officer training, especially in supporting victims during parole hearings and in making a Victim Personal Statement.
  • Review and consider whether any improvements need to be made to entitlements for victims of mentally disordered offenders.

This is substantial agenda of what seem to me to be good ideas. Some of them can be implemented quickly. Others will take more time. What is therefore also needed is a committment to publish progress reports which show how these initiatives are developing throughout the country.

Source: Adapted from https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/victims-strategy/victims-strategy-html-version where the full text of the strategy statement can be found.

Changing the routes to professional qualification

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The Solicitors’ Regulation Authority has been looking at the routes to qualification for some time. It has now decided that  new scheme will be introduced in 2021. This will involved the creation of a common assessment for all would-be solicitors from autumn 2021.

The basic elements of the new scheme are that those wishing to  qualify as a solicitor will be:

  • Pass stages 1 and 2 of the Solicitors Qualifying Examination – the first stage will focus on legal knowledge and be assessed on the basis of a centralised multiple choice examination; and the second will focus on practical legal skills, such as undertaking legal research.
  • Have a degree (in any subject) or equivalent qualification.
  • Pass the character and suitability requirements.
  • Have a substantial period of work experience.

The SRA have appointed Kaplans to be the assessors for the new assessment.

This will mean that law students who are exempt from Part 1 of the current Law Society Finals if they pass a ‘qualifying degree’ will no longer have this exemption. There are currently no details about the curriculum for the new Stage 1 SQE, nor how or where it will be taught.

These proposals raise important questions, particularly for universities who have invested heavily in the provision of law degrees. One unknown is whether those who currently study for a law degree as part of the process of obtaining a professional legal qualification will in future sign up for university law degrees in the same numbers. Why would they want to study law if they still have to do an assessment after they have finished their degree studies? Much will depend on what the teaching methods for the new, unspecified, curriculum will be – will law graduates be treated differently from non-law graduates?

At the same time, universities may relish the fact that they will no longer have half of their degree courses effectively determined by external forces. They may use this freedom to devise new ways of teaching and news types of course. It does seem that the experience component of the new qualifying process could include work done for example in a University Law clinic or other legal context.

For further detail see https://www.sra.org.uk/solicitorexam/.

See also https://www.law.ac.uk/blog/understanding-the-sqe-and-what-it-means-for-me/

For a critique of the proposals see https://www.legalfutures.co.uk/latest-news/training-review-professors-criticise-rudimentary-sqe

 

 

 

 

Written by lwtmp

November 29, 2018 at 1:04 pm

Review of the work of enforcement agents (bailiffs)

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Legislative changes to the rules regulation the work of debt enforcement agents were introduced in 2014. They were the subject of an initial post-implementation review in 2015. The Government has announced (25 November 2018) a second post-implementation review to see what further changes may be needed to the regulatory framework.

The Government is interested in hearing from people who have been contacted by enforcement agents: enforcement agents, creditors, debt advisers, the judiciary and anybody else with experience of working with enforcement agents.

The Consultation runs until February 2019. For details see https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/review-of-enforcement-agent-bailiff-reforms-call-for-evidence.

Written by lwtmp

November 29, 2018 at 12:22 pm

Review of the Criminal Injuries Compensation scheme

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When the Criminal Injuries Compensation scheme was originally introduced in 1964, there was a rule that applicants were not entitled to compensation if they were living with their assailant as members of the same family at the time of the incident.

The reasons for the rule were, broadly, difficulties with evidence in such cases, and a wish to ensure that offenders did not benefit from compensation paid to the victim who they were living with. The rule applied to all victims of abuse inflicted by a family member living under the same roof; this included physical as well as sexual abuse.

The rule was amended in 1979 to apply to adults only. Under the revised rule applicants could still be refused compensation if at the time of the incident they were adults living with the assailant as members of the same family, unless they no longer lived together and were unlikely to do so again. The amended rule gave CICA discretion to consider what had happened after the incident taking place, which  significantly reduced the number of applicants who were refused under this amended rule. The amended rule was, however, not retrospective.

In July 2018 the Court of Appeal found that the pre-1979 rule unlawfully discriminated against an applicant who had suffered injury before the 1979 changes.

The government has decided to not appeal this ruling. Instead, it confirmed it would consult on changes to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme.

In September 2018, the Government announced that it was launching a review that will look at concerns around the eligibility rules of the scheme, the sustainability of the scheme and the affordability of any changes to be made. The review will also enable the government to take full account of recommendations made by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse.

More specifically, the review will look at issues including:

  • time limits for applications – the scheme’s time limit requires that applications be made by a person over 18 as soon as practicable and no later than 2 years after the date of the incident. It is suggested that victims of child sex abuse disproportionately delay reporting such crimes and applications for compensation, and therefore miss out on compensation.
  • the ‘same roof’ rule – we will remove the pre-1979 rule and we will consider further changes to the remaining ‘same roof’ rule and previous failed applications.
  • unspent convictions – the scheme automatically excludes an award if the applicant has an unspent conviction which resulted in a specified sentence (custodial sentence, community order or youth rehabilitation order). It is suggested the rules disproportionately impact vulnerable victims of child sex abuse who may have offended in response to being abused/exploited/groomed.
  • crime of violence– the scheme sets out what constitutes a crime of violence for the purposes of assessing entitlement to compensation. It is suggested that this definition should be broadened to include sexual exploitative behaviour, such as grooming.
  • terrorism – the terrorist attacks of last year left people with serious life changing injuries and brought to light questions about the suitability of the scheme in providing support to victims of terrorism. The review will consider and clarify the eligibility, entitlement and amount of compensation to be awarded. This will build on the roll-out of the ground-breaking Victims of Terrorism Unit last year, to help ensure the best possible support.

The intention is that the review will be completed sometime in 2019, with change following thereafter. There is no hint that the review will expand the scope of the types of injury for which compensation can be claimed.

Details of the review can be found at https://www.gov.uk/government/news/justice-secretary-announces-victim-compensation-scheme-review-scraps-unfair-rule

 

 

Written by lwtmp

November 29, 2018 at 12:11 pm

Creating a Sentencing Code: proposals from the Law Commission

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Way back in May 2016 I noted the publication of a Consultation by the Law Commission on the creation of a single code of law on sentencing for criminal offences. Well, the outcome of that consultation is now published. It is a great law reform effort and one that deserves to be implemented at the earliest opportunity.

To remind readers, the current law is so complicated that judges frequently get their sentencing decisions wrong. As the Commission itself noted:

The current law of sentencing is inefficient and lacks transparency. The law is incredibly complex and difficult to understand even for experienced judges and lawyers.

It is spread across a huge number of statutes, and is frequently amended. Worse, amendments are brought into force at different times for different cases. The result of this is that there are multiple versions of the law that could apply to any given case.

This makes it difficult, if not impossible at times, for practitioners and the courts to understand what the present law of sentencing procedure actually is.

This leads to delays, costly appeals and unlawful sentences.

There is near unanimity from legal practitioners, judges and academic lawyers that the law in this area is in urgent need of reform.

A new Sentencing Code has three key benefits:

  • it makes the law simpler and easier to use;
  • it increases public confidence in the criminal justice system; and
  • it increases the efficiency of the sentencing process.

The benefits claimed for the new code are that it would:

  • help stop unlawful sentences by providing a single reference point for the law of sentencing, simplify many complex provisions and remove the need to refer to historic legislation;

  • save up to £256 million over the next decade by avoiding unnecessary appeals and reducing delays in sentencing clogging up the court system;

  • rewrite the law in modern language, improving public confidence and allowing non-lawyers to understand sentencing more easily;

  • remove the unnecessary layers of historic legislation; and

  • allow judges to use the modern sentencing powers for both current and historic cases, making cases simpler to deal with and ensuring justice is better served.

It is hoped that the Sentencing Code could be enacted as a Consolidation Bill which would take up far less Parliamentary time than a normal bill. Progress ought to be made on this during 2019, if the political will is there.

For further information see https://www.lawcom.gov.uk/project/sentencing-code/ which provides links to the Report and the Draft Code

 

 

 

Written by lwtmp

November 27, 2018 at 4:57 pm

Posted in Chapter 5

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