Martin Partington: Spotlight on the Justice System

Keeping the English Legal System under review

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Computers and the delivery of legal services – the Society for Computers and Law

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It is not hard to imagine that the use of computers will increasingly impact on the ways in which legal and dispute resolution services are provided. Many will resist such developments, not least because they will threaten existing ways of workings with which people are familiar.

But those thinking about how the world of legal practice will develop over the short to medium term should be aware of what is happening and how developments may affect the future, not just in England of course, but universally.

In this context, those starting their legal studies should be aware of the Society for Computers and Law.

The Society’s website explains that it was established in 1973 “to promote the use and understanding of information technology (IT) in the context of the law”. For the first twenty years of its existence it focused more on the technical aspects of IT in use to support legal practices. Since then its focus has shifted more to the practice of IT law as a specialist subject as this has evolved to encompass new issues like the world wide web and digital media.

As a charity, the objects of the Society are

(1) The advancement of education of the public in the fields of: a. information technology law and other related legal subjects; b. information technology as applied to the practice of the law; and c. the law, by the use of information technology.

(2) The promotion of the sound development, administration and knowledge of the law relating to information technology and related legal subjects, both generally and by research and study concerning the same.

The issues which are currently at the forefront of their efforts at the start of the 21st century include:

Operational effectiveness: ranging from the choice of hardware and operating systems through to software selection and development for both lawyers and support teams.

Legal matters: such as data protection, computer contracts and software ownership.

The administration of justice: the impact of IT on the Courts.

Education: promoting the benefits at all levels that the use of information technology has to the legal profession as a whole.

The Society is currently engaged in an important exercise to promote the development of TechLaw in the legal curriculum.

Further information is available at the Society’s website at https://www.scl.org/society

 

 

 

 

Written by lwtmp

July 3, 2020 at 11:56 am

Remote/online courts – worldwide developments

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Over recent years, there have been significant moves towards the use of Information Techologies in the delivery of legal and dispute resolution services. The Covid 19 pandemic has provided a sharp impetus towards the adoption of new practices and procedures, given the difficulties of holding trials in traditional court-room settings arising from the need for social distancing.

Under the leadership of Prof Richard Susskind, a consortium of groups interested in the development of on-line courts has created a brilliant website, Remote Courts.org, which provides an extensive clearing-house of information about developments around the world.

One of the primary objectives of the website is to try to ensure that, as ideas emerge, wheels are not unnecessarily re-invented. There is now a great deal of international experience which can be drawn on, and this is expanding rapidly.

The site is available at https://remotecourts.org/

 

 

 

Written by lwtmp

July 3, 2020 at 11:32 am

Report of the Commission on Justice in Wales: summary of recommendations

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I have just published a short blog on the constitutional changes being made in Wales. As part of that, I mentioned the publication of the Commission on Justice in Wales, whose report was published in October 2019. I think it is an extremely interesting document, for two main reasons.

  1. There are a number of specific ideas in this report which should be considered more actively for implementation in England as well.
  2. It offers a holistic set of proposals for a distinct Justice system for Wales. I have long thought that justice policy in England was made in a piecemeal way. This report provides a model of what a comprehensive Justice Policy in England might look like.

Of course, it is easier for a new government to engage in forward planning at a time when its responsibilities are limited. But the ways in which different parts of the English legal system have been dealing with Covid 19 have often been innovative and imaginative. I would argue that this provides an opportunity, for those willing to seize it, for thinking about what a coherent modern justice policy for England might look like.

Anyway, I offer this summary, adapted from the Commission’s report as something that those interested in Justice policy in England might also like to consider.

Source: Commission on Justice in Wales at https://gov.wales/commission-justice-wales

Commission on Justice in Wales: Summary of recommendations

1. Information, advice and assistance

  • The funding for legal aid and for the third sector providing advice and assistance should be brought together in Wales to form a single fund.
  • Criminal legal aid policy and delivery should be based on the approaches to public defender schemes adopted by the Nordic nations.

2. Criminal justice: reducing crime and promoting rehabilitation

  • A new Wales Criminal Justice Board should be created. It should set an overall strategy for Wales including responsibility for ensuring the rights of victims are respected and there is proper delivery of services to victims.
  • The Police, Crown Prosecution Service, the judiciary and HM Prison and Probation Service should each publish a strategy in respect of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic people in Wales and report annually on the strategy to the Assembly.
  • Policing and crime reduction policy, including drug abuse and mental health related issues, should be determined in Wales so that it is aligned and integrated with Welsh health, education and social policy.
  • Problem-solving courts should be established in Wales along the Northern Ireland model.
  •  Youth justice policy should be determined and delivered in Wales. The age of criminal responsibility should be raised to at least 12 years old.
  • A comprehensive network of services and centres as alternatives to custody should be established rapidly. An integrated and whole system approach to offender management should be established with a single rehabilitative strategy in Wales.
  • Needs assessments of Welsh offenders should be conducted to identify the range of interventions required in both prisons and the community.

3. Civil justice

  • Digital court services and other dispute resolution services that are being developed and introduced must be fully accessible to people throughout Wales.
  • Dispute resolution before courts, tribunals, alternative dispute resolution and ombudsmen, as well as dispute resolution in respect of administrative law, should be promoted and coordinated in Wales through a body chaired by a senior judge.
  • The feasibility of a low cost and effective resolution method for civil disputest hrough the use of a comprehensive ombudsmen scheme, taking into account the online court, should be examined.

4.  Administrative justice and coroners

  • All public bodies, ombudsmen and other tribunals which have been established under Welsh law or by the Welsh Government, which make judicial or quasi-judicial decisions, and are not currently subject to the supervision of the President of Welsh Tribunals, should be brought under the supervision of the President.
  • The Administrative Court should have the power to stay court proceedings whilst the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales investigates a complaint. The Ombudsman should have the power to refer a point of law to the Court.
  • The Welsh Tribunals Unit should have structural independence and the Welsh tribunals should be used for dispute resolution relating to future Welsh Legislation.

5. Family justice: children

  • The law relating to children and family justice in Wales should be brought together in one coherent legal system aligned with functions in relation to health, education and welfare.
  • Pending further research and the development of a long-term strategy, an all Wales approach to family justice should be developed and led in Wales through the Family Justice Network for Wales and the Local Family Justice Boards. The approach should be followed by all local authorities for dealing with child protection referrals with the objective of avoiding care proceedings when family support would be more appropriate.
  • It should be a matter of routine practice prior to the first hearing in care proceedings to examine the feasibility of problem-solving and the form it might take, with a view to finding what steps short of taking a child into care can be put in place.
  • The voice of the child should be heard at every stage of the proceedings.
  • Family Drug and Alcohol Courts should be established in Wales
  • There should be vigorous support for a programme of research to underpin reform of Welsh family justice and associated preventative services. The overarching aim should be the reduction in the numbers of children taken into care and the provision of far better evidence of the impacts of intervention on family life.
  • A carefully thought through long-term policy for reducing the numbers of children taken into care should be developed after the conclusions of the research and then implemented.
  • Legal advice should be available to each parent in private family law disputes prior to the commencement of proceedings up to a maximum fixed amount in each case

6. Delivering justice: locality and structure

  • A strategy for Wales for provision of proper physical and digital access to justice before the courts, tribunals and other forms of dispute resolution should be drawn up and determined in Wales based on the needs of the people of Wales

7. The legal sector and the economy of Wales

  • The Welsh Government should, in close consultation with the legal professions, provide fully-funded legal apprenticeships to enable people to qualify as legal professionals in Wales.
  • There should be greater transparency about the level and distribution of expenditure on external legal services by the Welsh Government, each Welsh local authority and all other public bodies in Wales.
  • The procurement of barristers’ services should be reformed to help build the capacity of the Bar in Wales.
  • The Welsh Government should develop and implement as soon as possible our proposed strategy to reinvigorate the rural and post-industrial legal sector in Wales. It should provide strong support for investment in technology, especially in post-industrial and rural Wales.
  • The Welsh Government must provide clear leadership and support for the legal services sector. This should be targeted, user-friendly, flexible and attractive to potential inward investors especially with establishing a technology-based nearshoring centre as an objective.
  • The Welsh Government, legal professionals in Wales, the Law Society, the Bar Council, other professional bodies and academia should work in partnership. They should develop and promote the capabilities of the legal sector, promote South Wales as a legal centre and increase the export of legal services.

8. Knowledge, skills and innovation

  • Welsh law schools must reassess their undergraduate programmes to take advantage of the scope for comparative studies and transferable qualifications.
  • Law tech must be taught to all students and the professions across Wales.
  • All university and college education providers in Wales should teach Welsh law as part of the ordinary undergraduate syllabus and work together to produce the necessary material. The place of Welsh law and the distinctiveness of the law in Wales should be properly reflected in professional and continuing legal education and training. Wales specific data should be collected and published on a sufficient scale to enable disaggregation, with a view to proper evidence-based policy development and as a basis for research.
  • The Welsh Government should lead the development and implementation of an action plan to promote and support public legal education, particularly for children and young people.

9. The Welsh language

  • All justice bodies should be subject to the Welsh Language Measure 2011. The Bar, CILEx and the Law Society should provide courses on using Welsh in the workplace, similar to those used by the Judicial College. Digital services that are being introduced must be accessible, free help must be available and all must be available in Welsh at the same time as the English version.
  • Professional legal education for those wishing to practise in Wales must be available in the Welsh language with the phased introduction of the availability of all professional examinations in Welsh.  Welsh law schools must collaborate on Welsh medium legal education, especially as regards the provision of teaching materials. All coroner services should be available in the Welsh language.

10. Recommendations on devolution of justice

  • There should be legislative devolution of justice. Restrictions and reservations governing the Assembly’s power to legislate on all forms of justice, including policing and offender management and rehabilitation, should be removed, so that it corresponds more closely with the position of the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Scottish Parliament In tandem with the removal of reservations and restrictions on the Assembly’s powers, responsibility for executive functions in relation to justice in Wales should be transferred to the Welsh Government.
  • Devolution of justice must be accompanied by a full transfer of financial resources, including all identifiable administrative and capital resources relating to Wales.

11. Recommendations to be implemented under the current scheme of devolution

  • Clear and accountable leadership on justice in the Welsh Government must be established under the current scheme of devolution. The Assembly should take a more proactive role in appropriate scrutiny of the operation of the justice system.
  • The Welsh Government should address policy issues relating to justice by using external experts who can report jointly with civil servants to Ministers.
  • The Welsh Government and the legal sector should develop a joint leadership programme.
  • A Law Council of Wales should be established to promote the interests of legal education and the awareness of Welsh law, to ensure proper provision of teaching the law in Welsh, and to assist students in their education and training as future practitioners.
  • The organisation of the senior judiciary in Wales should be changed to provide the necessary working relationships and leadership within Wales.  Wales should be put in a similar position to Scotland and Northern Ireland in the Supreme Court as regards the appointment of judges to the Supreme Court.

12, Recommendations for implementation with legislative devolution

  • With legislative devolution, there must be a new Justice Department in the Welsh Government led by a Cabinet Minister.
  • The office of Counsel General should continue as an office that provides independent legal advice to the Welsh Government and heads the Government Legal Service in Wales.
  • Legislative devolution will require the establishment of a Justice Committee in the Assembly.
  • Where there is overlap between the roles of local, regional and national boards, committees and partnerships, they should be merged.
  • With legislative devolution, the governance arrangements for the police should be re-examined.
  • The law applicable in Wales should be formally identified as the law of Wales, distinct from the law of England.
  • The present system where legal practitioners can practise in England and Wales and the legal professions are jointly regulated should be continued.
  • Legislation should provide for a High Court and a Court of Appeal of Wales to be established by the Assembly.
  • With legislative devolution, a Welsh Courts and Tribunals Service should be developed from the base of a Welsh Tribunals Unit reformed on the model of the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service.
  •  With legislative devolution, the Welsh Government will need to review, and keep under continuing review, the justice infrastructure for Wales.

13. Action to be taken now by the Welsh Government and the Assembly

  • The Welsh Government should begin the process of reform by listing the recommendations it will seek to implement whilst the current scheme of devolution continues. The Assembly should make arrangements to monitor and review the process of reform.

Transforming the legal system – work in progress

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I have recently published a new article on how the English Legal system has changed in the 15 years since the first edition of my book appeared in 2000. I also reflect on the changes that are likely to occur in the near future.
In summary I argue that, in this period, reform to the ELS system has occurred in 2 phases: the first during the Labour administrations led by Tony Blair and Gordon Brown; the second during the Coalition and Conservative administrations led by David Cameron.
In Phase 1, there was a great deal of institutional change: creation of the Ministry of Justice, creation of the Supreme Court and the reshaping of the tribunals and courts systems.
In Phase 2, the emphasis has been on cutting public expenditure. This has had a notable impact on reductions in the scope and funding of legal aid. Significant increases in the fees charged for taking cases to court have also been imposed.
I note that many lawyers are very unhappy with the effects of public expenditure cuts on the English Legal System. I argue, however, that such cuts could have positive outcomes if those involved in the legal system ask serious questions about whether the current way of doing things is as efficient as it could be.
In particular, I suggest that much could be done by:
• the imaginative use of Information and Communication technologies;
• making a much greater commitment to customer service in the courts and tribunals service;
• challenging the view that the county court should remain as a ‘generalist’ court, and proposing that the civil justice system should comprise more specialist courts;
• possibly making the use of ADR compulsory and part of the court system;
• thinking about the judicial function and asking whether all cases need to be dealt with in the same way;
• thinking about new sources of funding for bringing cases, and noting the development of private dispute resolution channels that offer the public free services;
• improving competition in the legal services market;
• promoting public legal education.
I also suggest that more work must be done on increasing equality of opportunity in the legal profession and the judiciary, and developing judicial careers.
I conclude by noting that whether or not these specific developments occur, the world into which those starting their legal studies will enter in a few years’ time is a rapidly changing one, and one in which there will be enormous opportunities for those energy and an interest in innovation.
The full text is available at https://martinpartington.com/transforming-the-english-legal-system-recent-changes-and-future-prospects/

Written by lwtmp

September 29, 2015 at 10:03 am

Posted in Chapter 1, Chapter 11

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Keeping up to date with legal developments

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Frances Gibb, Legal Correspondent for The Times, has – with Jonathan Ames – just launched a new daily service giving info on developments in the legal system and legal profession.

Interesting piece today by Lord Neuberger on televising court proceedings.

You can sign up, for free, at thetimes.co.uk/thebrief/signup/

Written by lwtmp

September 29, 2015 at 9:56 am

Posted in Chapter 1

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Broadcasting of court proceedings

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Broadcasting of some court proceedings has moved a step forward, following approval of plans to allow filming of the legal arguments and the final judgments in criminal and civil cases in the Court of Appeal.

Subject to the approval of the House of Lords, the Government hopes that this will start at the end of October 2013.

The government plans to permit filming to allow the broadcast of sentencing remarks in the Crown Court. However victims, witnesses, offenders and jurors will continue to be protected, and will not be part of broadcasts. The date for the launch of this has not yet been announced.

This will, of course, supplement the broadcasting of cases in the Supreme Court which is already available.

See https://www.gov.uk/government/news/one-step-closer-to-court-broadcasting

Written by lwtmp

October 22, 2013 at 11:09 am

Posted in Chapter 1, Chapter 11

Welcome to the Class of 2013

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Publication of the A level results is an occasion of high emotion. For those now in a position to be able to go on to the university and course of your choice, congratulations! For those who have not achieved as expected/hoped, commiserations. But don’t despair, there are plenty of alternative routes to your final career choice!
Those planning to study law are about to embark on a subject that is of central importance to your lives – just think of the importance of the concept of the rule of law in the modern world, and the difficulties of living in places where there is no rule of law.
The study of law is a hard discipline, requiring the development of acute analytical skills, but these days also other skills such as written and oral communication.
Those thinking of becoming lawyers will find a world that is in rapid transition, that will be quite different from what it was even 10 years ago.
Not only are rules of law subject to change – with new law being made all the time. But the institutions of the law are undergoing great change. New ways of doing legal work, new competitive challenges, new court procedures, new ways of resolving disputes.
My book Introduction to the English Legal System seeks to introduce you to think new world that is changing so rapidly. This blog is designed to enable you to keep up to date as you work your way through your course with what is happening in the wider legal world.
Oxford University Press have just published a short video in which I introduce a few of the main themes. Go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_jyo3QldQDo.
For a bit more detail go to the ‘about this book’ and the ‘about this blog’ pages – you can find links at the right hand side of the screen.
Good luck with your studies, and if you have comments you’d like to share, please get in touch by making a comment on this blog. (No spam or trash please!)

Written by lwtmp

August 15, 2013 at 10:53 am

Posted in Chapter 1

Legislation 2012-2013: end of term report

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In May 2012, I outlined those features of the Queen’s speech which I thought would impact on the English Legal System. Here is my end of term report on those measures:

Dropped
House of Lords reform, I said this was potentially the ‘big one’ in terms of constitutional change and political controversy. But my observation that ‘it is far from certain that sufficient political consensus will be created to make its enactment an inevitability’ proved accurate – it fell at the first fence and now seems firmly in the long grass.

Incomplete
1. The Children and Families Bill designed to amend the law on adoption and bring into law changes to the Family Justice system recommended by the Norgrove report, did not complete its Parliamentary passage and has been carried over into the 2013-2014 session.

2.The draft Local Audit Bill, which was designed to abolish the Audit Commission, got a pretty hostile reception from the ad hoc Parliamentary Committee that undertook a pre-legislative scrutiny of the draft. See http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201213/cmselect/cmdraftlocaudit/696/69602.htm. However, the Government made it clear that it would proceed with the bill. See https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/192495/29073_Cm_8566_v0_4.pdf. A Local Audit and Accountability Bill has been announced in the Queen’s Speech 2013 to take this proposal forward.

Completed
1. Most important for the English Legal System, the Crime and Courts Act 2013 gives statutory authority for the creation of the National Crime Agency. It provides for the creation of a single family court, which will change the infrastructure currently in place. It also amends some of the current provisions relating to the making of judicial appointments and provides for the televising of some court proceedings.
2. The Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013 implements proposals which seek to ensure that more employment disputes are resolved by conciliation. It also abolishes the Competition Commission and Office for Fair Trading and replaces them with a Competition and Markets Authority.
3. The Electoral Registration and Administration Act 2013 aims to make it easier for people to register to vote.
4.The Groceries Adjudicator Act 2013 formally creates the new scheme for adjudicating disputes between consumers and the ‘big name retailers’ – another area of disputes taken from the courts. (There are over 60 industry adjudication schemes already in existence in the UK – many of them not well understood but doing work of resolving disputes that otherwise might have gone to courts). Although the Act did not receive Royal Assent until April 2013, Christine Tacon was appointed to the post in January 2013.

Comment

It is perhaps a consequence of Coalition Government that the passage of legislation is not as predictable as when a single political party is in Government. Even so, most of the key measures, apart from House of Lords Reform, have made progress. It should of course be noted that major policy changes – effected by legislation passed in previous years – came into effect. These include: the reform of legal aid; fundamental change to the health service; changes to social welfare and benefits.

Written by lwtmp

May 11, 2013 at 7:54 am

Citizenship education in the National Curriculum – implications of the current consultation

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I always thought that one of the important aspects of the National Curriculum was the introduction of citizenship education. When done well, it teaches young people to understand, challenge and engage with the main pillars of our democracy: politics, the economy and the law. It has also led to some quite brilliant and inspiring project work. Citizenship education is central to how young people can be given the confidence to engage and navigate the law and legal processes.

However, the Department for Education is now conducting a review of the National Curriculum and has issued a consultation document for public comment. Of most interest are the proposals for citizenship education in key stages 3 and 4.

The proposed new curriculum removes the explicit reference to ‘political, legal and human rights, and the responsibilities of citizens’, present in the current curriculum leaving only a vaguer reference to the ‘precious liberties of the citizens of the United Kingdom’.

Other references to ‘influencing decisions affecting communities…’ and ‘strategies for dealing with disagreement and conflict’ have also been removed; although there is now an explicit reference to the ‘importance of personal budgeting, money management and a range of financial products and services’.

The consultation closes on April 16 2013, so if you are moved to comment you’ll need to act fast. You can get further information from the Citizenship Foundation, who have provided a handy critique and guide to proposed changes.
See http://www.citizenshipfoundation.org.uk/main/news.php?n1056

In addition, campaign group Democratic Life has an online response form that you can use. It is pre-filled with thoughts about the citizenship curriculum, which you can leave in or edit as you see fit. It is sent automatically to the Department for Education’s consultation team, and a copy is sent to you.

See http://www.democraticlife.org.uk/

Written by lwtmp

April 12, 2013 at 4:10 pm

Posted in Chapter 1, Chapter 11

Public legal education – the Canadian experience

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The April Newsletter from Law for Life: the Foundation for Public Legal Education contains a link to a really excellent study on the development of Public Legal Education in Canada – a country far in advance of experience here. Written by Clare Shirtcliff, who works for Advicenow, an independent, not-for-profit website providing good quality information on rights and legal issues for the general public in England and Wales, it reports on a number of extremely interesting initiatives that have been taken in a number of Canadian provinces.
The paper considers a number of issues:
1 how to support self-representing litigants;
2 doing public legal education and out reach work;
3 examining how social media can be used for PLE; and
4 considering where the funds for PLE can come from.
It is a really interesting and clearly written paper which should provide a lot of thought for those in the UK who accept the importance of PLE as a part of the English Legal System landscape.
Find out more about Law for Life at http://www.lawforlife.org.uk/

Written by lwtmp

April 12, 2013 at 3:56 pm