Martin Partington: Spotlight on the Justice System

Keeping the English Legal System under review

Archive for March 2019

Courts and Tribunals (Judiciary and Functions of Staff) Act 2018

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In June 2018, I noted the arrived of the Courts and Tribunals (Judiciary and Functions of Staff) Bill. It has now completed its Parliamentary process and became law at the end of 2018.

The aims of the legislation remain unchanged. The Act contains measures that are essential to enabling the judiciary to respond to the changing demands of a reformed courts and tribunals system and delivering better services to users.

The Act also introduces much greater flexibility to the deployment of judges. It  also frees up judges’ time to focus on more complex matters by allowing suitably qualified and experienced court and tribunal staff to be authorised to handle uncontroversial, straightforward matters under judicial supervision.

The measures in the Act will also increase the efficiency of the courts and tribunals.

For further details see https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/courts-and-tribunals-judiciary-and-functions-of-staff-bill

 

 

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Written by lwtmp

March 16, 2019 at 10:28 am

Dealing with domestic abuse: draft Bill published

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Given all the time and attention devoted to Brexit, it is perhaps not surprising that important policy initiatives have not been achieving the publicity they deserve. A good example of this was the publication, in January 2019, of a draft Domestic Abuse Bill.

Domestic abuse is a cruel and complex crime that can affect anyone. It leaves physical and emotional scars that can last a lifetime. It also places a considerable demand on public services . Home Office research estimates the economic and social costs of domestic abuse to society to be £66 billion for victims in 2016 to 2017.

A consultation, launched in March 2018  asked questions on policy should develop to d achieve 4 main objectives:

  • promote awareness – to  raise public and professional awareness
  • protect and support – to enhance the safety of victims and the support that they receive
  • transform the justice process – to prioritise victim safety in the criminal and family courts, and review the perpetrator journey from identification to rehabilitation
  • improve performance – to drive consistency and better performance in the response to domestic abuse across all local areas, agencies and sectors.

Following the consultation, the Government has defined 9 measures that require legislative change – which is the focus of the draft Bill. They are:

  • create a statutory definition of domestic abuse
  • establish the office of Domestic Abuse Commissioner and set out the commissioner’s functions and powers
  • provide for a new Domestic Abuse Protection Notice and Domestic Abuse Protection Order
  • prohibit perpetrators of domestic and other forms of abuse from cross-examining their victims in person in the family courts (and prevent victims from having to cross-examine their abusers) and give the court discretion to prevent cross-examination in person where it would diminish the quality of the witness’s evidence or cause the witness significant distress
  • create a statutory presumption that complainants of an offence involving behaviour that amounts to domestic abuse are eligible for special measures in the criminal courts
  • enable high-risk domestic abuse offenders to be subject to polygraph testing as a condition of their licence following their release from custody
  • place the guidance supporting the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme on a statutory footing
  • ensure that, where a local authority, for reasons connected with domestic abuse, grants a new secure tenancy to a social tenant who had or has a secure lifetime or assured tenancy (other than an assured shorthold tenancy), this must be a secure lifetime tenancy
  • extend the extra-territorial jurisdiction of the criminal courts in England and Wales to further violent and sexual offences.

As the Bill has been published in draft, it is unlikely to become law until 2020 at the earliest.

For further detail see https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/domestic-abuse-consultation-response-and-draft-bill

The Home Office research is at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/the-economic-and-social-costs-of-domestic-abuse

Information on the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme and related guidance (which was updated in December 2016) is available at https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/575361/DVDS_guidance_FINAL_v3.pdf

 

 

Written by lwtmp

March 15, 2019 at 10:27 am

Abolition of the ‘same roof’ rule

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At the end of February 201, the Government announced that it was introducing a measure to amend the criminal juries compensation scheme. The amendment would abolish the rule that a victim could not claim compensation under the scheme where he/she lived under the same roof at the perpetrator.

The ‘same roof rule’ was part of the original scheme introduced in 1964 and was intended to ensure perpetrators would not benefit from compensation paid to victims they lived with.

It was amended in October 1979 so future victims could claim compensation if they no longer lived with their attacker and were unlikely to do so again. However, as is common with many changes to the law, this was not made retrospective – which meant some victims may have missed out on compensation if they were a victim of a violent crime before the law change.

A statutory instrument, laid in Parliament on 28 Feb 2019, will remove the pre-1979 rule completely – enabling more victims access to compensation.

Ministers had recognised the rule’s unfair impact on victims of crimes such as child sexual abuse. The move will amend the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme so that all victims abused by someone they lived with can reapply for compensation – regardless of when the attack took place.

It will mean that victims who may not have come forward because of the rule, or were previously denied awards under it, will be eligible to claim compensation – with awards being made to those who meet the Scheme’s other criteria.

The ongoing review of the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme, which will report later in 2019, will look at, among other things, concerns around the eligibility rules, the definition of ‘violent crime’, and the type of injuries that are covered.

See press announcement https://www.gov.uk/government/news/access-to-compensation-scheme-for-victims-who-lived-with-their-attacker

 

 

 

Written by lwtmp

March 14, 2019 at 4:57 pm

Transformation: Courts and Tribunals, 2022: HMCTS and MoJ respond to the Public Accounts Committee

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I noted in 2018 the critical report from the National Audit Office (see this blog June 2018) and the subsequent report (which I labelled ‘brutal’) from the Public Accounts Committee (see this blog October 2018) on the courts and tribunals transformation programme.

Well, now the Ministry of Justice and HM Courts and Tribunals Service have come back with a series of replies, setting out the progress that has been made with the transformation programme, and setting out targets for the following 6 months.

Between November 2018 and February 2019, MoJ and HMCTS published no fewer that 6 reports, each one responding individually to the six principal criticisms made by the Public Accounts Committee.

The most fundamental question is whether the timeframe for the delivery of the transformation programme is being adhered to. The report on Recommendation 1 – which deals with this question – acknowledges that parts of the programme have not yet been started while listing a substantial body of completed work.

Other responses deal with:

  • the impact of the transformation programme on users;
  • engagement with stakeholders;
  • the financial implications of the transformation programme on the wider justice system;
  • evaluating the impact of the reform programme on access to justice and the fairness of the justice system; and
  • balancing the portfolio of change projects to ensure that there is some flexibility and an ability to respond to financial pressures.

Interestingly, less than a month after the publication of the latest of these reports a Press Release in March stated that at least some aspects of the Transformation programme will not be completed until 2023.

There is a lot of detail in the reports. They can be found by going to https://www.gov.uk/government/news/response-to-public-accounts-committee-transforming-courts-and-tribunals

This links to each of the six individual responses.

In January 2019, the Justice Select Committee announced that it too would be conducting an inquiry into the Courts and Tribunals Reform programme. See https://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/justice-committee/inquiries/parliament-2017/court-and-tribunals-reform-inquiry-17-19/

It is right that such a major reform programme should be carefully scrutinised by MPs. They can help to ensure that the transformation, that I think is needed, is delivered.

 

 

 

 

Post-implementation review of Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012, Part 2 (The ‘Jackson’ reforms on costs)

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Part 2 of LASPO introduced changes recommended by Lord Justice Jackson on the rules relating to the costs of civil litigation. The Post-Implementation Review (PIR) report, also published in February 2019,  covers the following five changes made by the Act:

  • non-recoverability of conditional fee agreement (CFA) success fees;
  • non-recoverability of after the event insurance (ATE) premiums;
  • the introduction of Damages-Based Agreements (DBAs);
  • section 55 changes to Part 36 offers; and
  • banning referral fees in personal injury (PI) cases.

These changes came into effect in April 2013. Other changes – dealing with different issues, and which came into effect at different times – were not within the scope of the PIR

According to the PIR review, the changes had five objectives:

  1. reducing the costs of civil litigation (Objective 1);
  2. rebalancing costs liabilities between claimants and defendants (Objective 2);
  3. promoting access to justice at proportionate cost (Objective 3);
  4. encouraging early settlement (Objective 4); and
  5. reducing unmeritorious claims (Objective 5).

The review drew on evidence presented to the review team by a range of stakeholders involved in civil litigation. Data were also subject to empirical analysis by Professors Fenn and Rickman – two researchers with a long track record of empirical analysis of court and process data.

The overall conclusion of the Review was that, in general, the objectives of the legislation had been met.

There was concern that the regulations relating to Damages Based Agreements were not as clear as they might be; the Government will consider whether to amend them in due course.

The Review did not consider other reforms made by Lord Justice Jackson, in particular relating to much greater use of fixed recoverable costs. The Report states that the Government is not currently minded to introduce these further changes.

Practitioners had expressed the view, during review, that a period of regulatory stability would be welcome. It seems that  the Government has largely accepted this.

The Press Release and Report can be accessed at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/post-implementation-review-of-part-2-of-laspo

 

 

 

 

Written by lwtmp

March 10, 2019 at 1:45 pm

Legal support – the way ahead? How much vision?

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I have already noted the outcome of the  Post-Implementation Review of changes to the Legal Aid scheme contained in Part 1 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO) 2012. While the Government clearly does not want to make major changes to the scheme, the review did reveal issues to which the Government clearly feels it must respond. In February 2019 it published Legal Support: The Way Ahead – An action plan to deliver better support to people experiencing legal problems.

As a paper, it lacks the ambition or vision of other recent reports, in particular the Report of the Low Commission report on the future of legal services. But buried in the detail is a number of straws in the wind which are worth noting, even if they don’t make the heart race.

The Paper starts by repeating the point that the Government already provides ‘£1.6 billion to the most vulnerable in society to ensure that they can access legal aid’. It seems to accept, however, that there are some who – at least in some circumstances – should receive legal aid who currently do not get it. The Paper states that the Government ‘will conduct a review into the thresholds for legal aid entitlement, and their interaction with … wider criteria’. This review will be completed by summer 2020.

In the interim there will be changes to eligibility for some public family law cases, to be introduced in summer 2019.

And, whilst the review is ongoing, the Government  will continue with current arrangements to passport all recipients of universal credit through the legal aid means test.

Addressing the problem that people do not know about their entitlement to legal aid, the Government states that it ‘will ensure that more people are aware of their entitlement to legal support – and will advertise its availability’. The stated aim is to launch the awareness programme by autumn 2019 – dealing not just with legal aid, but legal support more generally.

The Government plans to make some changes to protect the most vulnerable. It will expand the scope of legal aid to include separated migrant children in Spring 2019. It also plans to bring forward proposals to expand the scope of legal aid to cover special guardianship orders in private family law by Autumn 2019.

As regards Exceptional Case Funding, the Government plans to consider, by the end of 2019, whether the process for applying for Exceptional Case Funding can be simplified, and whether decisions can be reached more quickly. It will also consider whether it is necessary to introduce a new emergency procedure for urgent matters to access Exceptional Case Funding.

By Spring 2020, the Government will amend the rules relating to the ‘mandatory telephone gateway’ so that there can be immediate access to face-to-face advice in discrimination, debt and special educational needs cases. (The telephone option is retained.)

The new Paper accepts that ensuring people can access the right legal support at the right time may help people resolve problems more efficiently and effectively. There is research evidence demonstrating how problems, if left undiagnosed and unresolved, can escalate, cluster, and lead to damaging cycles that are hard to break. However, the Government states that there is limited comprehensive research as to what works best, when, and for whom. Further, whilst it is often suggested that early intervention leads to cost savings, the financial and economic benefits of early advice are difficult to quantify with accuracy. The Government’s response to this challenge is that it wants to pilot and evaluate several different forms of early legal support.

Thus,

  • it will work collaboratively with providers to develop web-based products which bring a range of legal support tools together in one place;
  • it will improve the signposting advice and support available from the existing specialist telephone service and test enhancements to this service;
  • it will use funding to encourage the delivery of legal support through technology;
  • recognising that a comprehensive service may offer people an opportunity to support themselves, the Government will work collaboratively with the legal and advice sector to evaluate the impact of legal support hubs;
  • it will pilot face-to-face early legal advice in a specific area of social welfare law and will evaluate this against technological solutions, bearing in mind costs; and
  • it will enhance the support offered to litigants in person.

All these interventions will be researched to assess what is the best way to help and support those who need it, and whom should be assisted in the provision of legal support. The intention is that there should be outcomes from these initiatives by the end of 2019.

The Government states that it will continue to work across departments to help to improve the quality of decision-making on legal rights. It has been noted on numerous occasions that if decisions are ‘right first time’ this should reduce the need to take cases on appeal.

Key to the modernisation of the justice system is the need to ensure that forms and systems are as simple and straightforward to use as possible, and that the courts and tribunals service enables people to resolve their conflicts as quickly and early as possible. The Government wants to generate momentum in this area, but acknowledges that this is a first step.

It will be important for the Government to continue open and collaborative working with experts over the coming years, identifying and evaluating new ideas. One specific commitment is that the Government plans to set up a Legal Support Advisory Network to make use of external expertise, shape research and evaluation proposals, and potentially explore new research opportunities and collaborations.

As a nod to the problem of whether or not there will be sufficient numbers of people entering this sector of the legal services market, the Government states it will ‘support practitioners to join the legal profession and continue to deliver high quality legal support to people across England and Wales long into the future’.

Specifically there will be a comprehensive review of the criminal legal aid fee schemes and structures, to be completed by Summer 2020.

The full paper can be accessed at https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/777036/legal-support-the-way-ahead.pdf

See also Press Release at https://www.gov.uk/government/news/government-sets-out-new-vision-for-legal-support

 

 

Civil Liability Act 2018

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The Civil Liability Act 2018 makes significant changes to the personal injury compensation system. In outline, it has three principal objectives.

First, it changes the rules relating to claims for injury for whiplash (which arise when someone drives into the back of your car).  Measures in the Act will:

  • provide for a tariff of compensation for pain, suffering and loss of amenity for whiplash claims. The final tariff will be set in supporting regulations via the affirmative procedure following Royal Assent.
  • enable the court, subject to regulations, to increase the compensation awarded under the tariff
  • introduce a ban on seeking or offering to settle, whiplash claims without appropriate medical evidence

The purpose of these changes is to try to reduce the cost of motor insurance for motorists in general by reducing the numbers and amounts of such claims.

Second, it makes changes to the way in which what is called the Personal Injury Discount Rate is set. The new rules will

  • retain the 100% compensation principle which has long been a central part of the law, but modernise the calculation of the discount rate so that it reflects the reality of how claimants actually invest money. This provides a fairer and better way to set the rate for both parties
  • put the process of setting the rate on a statutory footing, with expert independent advice and a requirement for the Lord Chancellor to set it at least every 5 years, giving clarity and assurance to claimants and to those underwriting costs. The regular setting of the rate will ensure vulnerable people suffering life-changing accidents have their compensation adjusted by an up to date rate
  • create an independent expert panel, which the Lord Chancellor will be required, from the second review under the new legislation, to consult in relation to the factors he or she may consider in setting the rate. This will bring a wider range of expertise into the process

Thirdly. the Act  requires insurers to provide information to the Financial Conduct Authority so that the government can assess whether they have passed on savings as a result of the Act to their customers.

 

The whiplash changes were in particular strongly resisted by personal injury lawyers. Whether the rules achieve their objectives will have to await their implementation.
The whiplash changes are due to come into force in April 2020.
For further information on the legislation see https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/civil-liability-bill

Written by lwtmp

March 9, 2019 at 11:01 am