Martin Partington: Spotlight on the Justice System

Keeping the English Legal System under review

Archive for March 2019

Post Implementation Review of LASPO 2012 Part 1 (reform of legal aid)

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February 2019 was a busy month for the Ministry of Justice.They published a large number of official documents relevant to the future of the English Legal System.

First up was the long-awaited post-implementation review of the legal aid changes brought about by Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO), Part 1 which introducted major changes to the legal aid scheme. This is a very long document which concludes, broadly, that not much is going to change, at least in the short-term.

The key objectives of the reforms, as the Government saw them, were

  1. to reduce expenditure on legal aid;
  2. discourage unnecessary and adversarial litigation at public expense;
  3. target legal aid on those who need it most;
  4. deliver better overall value for the taxpayer.

The Review concludes, in the light of large amounts of evidence it received, that Objective 1 was successfully achieved. In relation to objective 2, the outcomes are unclear. There has been a reduction in clinical negligence litigation, now funded by Conditional Fee Agreements rather than legal aid; but family law litigation is increasing – diverting cases to mediation has not worked. The Review ‘cannot say with certainty’ whether objective 3 has been successful, as there in insufficient evidence from those outside the scope of the current legal aid scheme. They also cannot reach any conclusions regarding Objective 4.

A number of themes also emerged from the Review:

  1. Scope changes undermining value for money: LASPO removed many areas of early civil and family legal advice from the scope of legal aid, restricting it to the most serious cases. It is argued this lack of early intervention in social welfare and private family law generate wider costs as relatively minor legal problems can escalate and cluster into more serious problems.
  2. People who need legal aid cannot access it: LASPO did not substantially reform the financial eligibility requirements but lots of evidence was submitted arguing change was necessary.
  3. Exceptional Case Funding is not working:  There were lots of criticisms over how the scheme operates.
  4. Fees for legal aid work are inadequate:  Many practitioners, especially in criminal law, have argued this is affecting recruitment and retention, potentially creating future problems in provision.
  5. Increases in litigants in person generating costs: by removing funding for legal representation the volume of self-representing litigants has risen.
  6. Advice deserts: people may not able to access advice due to geographical remoteness, or a shortage of supply in their given area.

There was never going to be any chance that, despite the difficulties of assessing whether the objectives for the original legislation had been met and all the other issues the Review identified, the cuts made by LASPO would be restored. The Government has, however, taken modest steps which are worth noting and will be considered in future blog items.

The full report of the Review is at https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/777038/post-implementation-review-of-part-1-of-laspo.pdf

 

 

 

 

Written by lwtmp

March 8, 2019 at 11:08 am

Reforming the parole board: new announcements

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In April 2018 I noted here the fact that the Government was planning to take steps to reform the ways in which the Parole Board goes about its work. In March 2019, the Government has published the conclusions it has reached so far on this work. The principal features of the new approach are:

  1. The Government will change the Parole Board Rules to create a new reconsideration mechanism so if there is a seriously flawed decision it can be looked at again without the need for judicial review. This is the most important change in the current round of reform proposals.
  2. The Parole Board will publish new Standard Practice documents which will make more transparent the considerations and approaches to decision making that should normally be followed
  3. Improved engagement and communication with victims will be delivered through changes to the Victim Contact Scheme, the commitments in the Victims Strategy published on 10 September 2018 (see this blog November 29 2018) and a revised Victims’ Code following consultation in 2019.
  4. The Government will replace the current Prison Service Instruction on the parole process with a new Policy Framework which will make improvements to timeliness and efficiency as well as ensure the published instructions are up-to-date and support the other reforms.
  5. A new Operational Protocol between the Parole Board and HM Prisons and Probation Service will be published which will clarify and make more open everyone’s roles and responsibilities; support better joint working; and reduce duplication.
  6. Provision will be made in the Rules for prisoners with mental health needs and learning difficulties, who lack mental capacity, to ensure a fair hearing, including the appointment of suitable representation if necessary.
  7. A Rules Committee will be created to oversee future Rule changes, ensuring the rules keep pace with wider developments, with input from key stakeholders including victim representatives.
  8. A further Review of the Parole Board will examine the future constitution of the Parole Board and whether more fundamental reform requiring primary legislation is needed.

Further information about these proposed reforms can be found at https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/775844/review-of-the-pb-rules-and-rm.pdf

A separate paper sets out in more detail how the proposed reconsideration mechanism will work. This is potentially an important change; its operation will need to be kept under review to ensure that it is an effective means of seeking reconsideration without the need for judicial review proceedings.

For further detail see https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/reconsideration-of-parole-board-decisions-creating-a-new-and-open-system

 

 

Written by lwtmp

March 6, 2019 at 1:33 pm

Judicial decision making – tackling the problem of ‘cognitive bias’

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When coming to decisions, we all have a tendency to reach decisions that are not entirely logical or free from bias. We should all aim to limit the effects of such biases. This is particularly important for those reaching decisions in a judicial setting. However, this is hard to do unless we know about the biasses that may exist and how they may be countered.

In a recent edition of Tribunals Journal (2018 No 2) Simon Ward – a medic who also sits as medical member of the First Tier Tribunal – discusses five major types of cognitive bias that exist when we are required to weigh evidence before reaching a decisions. He also considers techniques for countering these biasses.

  1. Representativeness. Similarity or resemblance to a group is used to imply representativeness of that group rather than using the real probability of membership. Applying the actual base rate rather than the perceived occurrence rate of the factor being considered, is recommended so the correct likelihood is utilised.

  2. Availability. Easily recalled or available memories or experiences are used to predict or estimate an outcome rather than the actual objective occurrence. Using measures to reduce reliance on memory such as reminders, prompts and checklists, is advocated so that accuracy is maintained.

  3. Anchoring. Salient or prominent features are preferred and given undue influence or anchored onto before evaluation is completed. Slowing down decision making to allow time to evaluate matters fully is advised so the correct weight or apportionment is applied.

  4. Confirmation. Information that confirms our own pre-existing expectations or beliefs is filtered and selected in preference to opposing or contradictory aspects. Actively seeking out alternative possibilities or positions is suggested so as to challenge and counter subjective, partisan or partial viewpoints.

  5. Optimism. Overconfident or optimistic evaluations are made of how much we know and how reliably we know it, whilst our own knowledge limits are undervalued. Comparing the current evaluation to a reference group of similar membership is recommended so as to allow calibration of the current decision

The article gives further examples of the applications of these principles and how they may be applied in practice. The lessons are, of course, important for all decision-takers, not only judges. It is an issue to which, historically, little attention has been paid in judicial training. It is very interesting that a practicing tribunal member should be seeking to share his expertise on this often misundertood issue.

The full article is at https://www.judiciary.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/tribunals-journal-edition2-2018.pdf pages 2-9.

 

 

 

 

 

Written by lwtmp

March 4, 2019 at 12:58 pm