Martin Partington: Spotlight on the Justice System

Keeping the English Legal System under review

Archive for the ‘Chapter 11’ Category

Preventing digital exclusion

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A great deal of effort is currently being put into finding ways of using IT to deliver legal services, whether in the form of: providing legal advice and assistance to those who need it;  conducting various types of legal activity/process on-line; dealing with disputes online.

In general, the modernisation of the practice and procedure of the law through IT is to be welcomed. At the same time, there are concerns that some of the most vulnerable in society may be excluded from this brave new world. They may not have easy access to computers, or the ability to use them. In rightly encouraging digital solutions, at the same time policy makers need to ensure that the most vulnerable are not left behind.

In a recent policy paper, the human Rights group JUSTICE has drawn attention to the importance of ensuring that people are not excluded from the rapidly developing digital legal world.

In their report Preventing digital exclusion from online justice (published in June 2018), they analysed the potential issues that those engaged in the reform of legal procedures need to bear in mind.

The report makes a number of recommendations, directed primarily at HM Courts and Tribunals Service. They include:

  • Greater investment in “trusted faces” in “trusted places” i.e. services already providing digital support and internet access.
  • Considering the specific challenges of providing support to the digitally excluded, especially hard to reach cohorts – including testing Assisted Digital services in regions where the internet may be difficult to access. (Assisted Digital envisages a flexible mix of telephone, webchat, face-to-face, and paper-based support services. HMCTS is commissioning a programme of work to evaluate what types of support and in what combinations works best.)
  • Paying specific attention to highly digitally excluded groups, like homeless people and detainees.
  • Designing online justice services with an independent “look and feel” to reflect the constitutional independence of the courts.
  • Maximising the benefits of the “multi-channel” approach – helping people move with ease between digital access, phone assistance, face-to-face assistance, and paper.
  • Ensuring online justice services cater for the most affordable and ubiquitous mode of digital interaction: mobile technology.
  • Conducting end-to-end pilots of online justice services, learning from hearing and enforcement stages what is required at earlier stages.
  • Researching how people behave in an online environment and choices between Assisted Digital channels.
  • Collecting and making available the widest range of data possible to support research by external experts.

Internationally, there is a great deal of experiment going on with different forms of communicating advice and assistance. There are being kept under review by Professor Roger Smith who, with funding from the Legal Education Foundation, provides – among other things – an annual review of development in the use of IT to increase access to justice. He also writes a blog which looks in mor detail at specific initiatives relating to trying to improve access to justice – not just through the use of new technologies but also new ways of funding them such as crowd funding.

For those interested in how the application of new technologies might change ways in which the delivery of legal services are undertaken, this is an outstanding resource – full of links to detailed initiatives. At the same time, the need for realism in potential impacts is also stressed. It is important not always to believe the hype surrounding new applications.

The JUSTICE report is at https://justice.org.uk/new-justice-report-on-preventing-digital-exclusion/.

The Annual Reviews of digital delivery of legal services can be found at https://www.thelegaleducationfoundation.org/digital/digital-report.

Roger Smith’s blog on developments in Law, technology and Access to Justice is at https://law-tech-a2j.org/publications/

Also relevant is the report, published in July 2018, from the Centre for Justice Innovation, which also looks at public attitudes towards the greater use of IT in the justice system.

See http://justiceinnovation.org/portfolio/just-technology-emergent-technologies-justice-system-public-thinks/

 

 

 

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Going digital – piloting video hearings

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The Transforming our Justice System reform programme has flagged the possibility of much more use of digital technology in the processing and handling of disputes. Following the announcement at the beginning of February 2018 that it is now possible to start divorce proceedings on-line (see this blog for 2 Feb 2018), we now have a new announcement about how cases might be heard using new technologies

This development, announced on 15 February 2018, concerns the piloting of video hearings in the Tax Tribunal. This initiative will be rolled out in a measured way, with potential participants being asked whether they would like their cases to be dealt with on-line.

It seems that the Tax Tribunal has been chosen for this experiment as it is presumed that many tax cases turn on rather complex points of law, rather than major disputes on questions of fact which might require the presence of parties in the same room.

This new announcement builds on another pilot, which ran in the autumn of 2017 in which a number of case management hearings in the Immigration and Asylum Chamber were dealt with through video hearings. The results of these seem to have been very positive and demonstrate that such issues can be dealt with more efficiently on-line without compromising standards of justice.

HMCTS do seem to be taking a measured approach to these developments, wanting to bring all those involved – judges, practitioners and litigants – with them, to ensure that these developments do meet user needs.

Further announcements will emerge in the months ahead.

To read more about the video Tax Hearing pilot, see https://www.gov.uk/government/news/video-hearing-pilot-launched.

For the HMCTS blog on these developments go to https://insidehmcts.blog.gov.uk/2018/02/15/video-hearings-can-make-a-difference-for-court-and-tribunal-users/

 

 

Written by lwtmp

February 21, 2018 at 11:28 am

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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Work of the Equality and Human Rights Commission: podcast with Nony Ardill

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The Equality and Human Rights Commission is the body given the statutory mandate to challenge discrimination, and to protect and promote human rights. As it states on its website:

“We live in a country with a long history of upholding people’s rights, valuing diversity and challenging intolerance. The EHRC seeks to maintain and strengthen this heritage while identifying and tackling areas where there is still unfair discrimination or where human rights are not being respected.”

To get a clearer idea about how the Commission goes about its work, I have been talking to Nony Ardill, a Senior Lawyer with the Commission. She provides a fascinating account of the ways in which the Commission works with other agencies to fulfill its (very challenging) mandate.

To hear the podcast, go to http://global.oup.com/uk/orc/law/els/partington14_15/student/podcasts/NonyArdill.mp3

To read more about the work of the Commission, go to http://www.equalityhumanrights.com/

Written by lwtmp

November 13, 2014 at 4:00 pm

Filming in the Court of Appeal

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Not exactly like the OJ Simpson trial in the US, but a very small next step has been taken in giving the media direct access to proceedings in Court. From 5 October 2013, five courtrooms at the Royal Courts of Justice – which houses the Court of Appeal – have been wired to allow broadcasting to take place.

Cases will not be shown in full. Rather, the broadcasters – BBC, Sky, ITV and Press Association – will be able to film proceedings from only one court room on any given day. They will agree which courtroom and will inform the judiciary the day before.

They will be able to show the footage for the purpose of news reporting only – i.e. not streamed live. All costs associated with filming within the Court of Appeal have been met by the broadcasters involved.

Advocates’ arguments, and the judges’ summing up, decision and (in criminal cases) sentencing remarks may be filmed.
Victims, witnesses and defendants will not be filmed.

In general I welcome this modest development. I do hope that when further decisions about broadcasting proceedings are taken, consideration will be given to alternative procedures, like tribunals or other forms of alternative dispute resolution, which the ordinary citizen is far more likely to encounter in real life.

Further information is at https://www.gov.uk/government/news/landmark-day-for-justice-television-broadcasting-in-courts-goes-live

Written by lwtmp

November 7, 2013 at 9:59 am

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

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