Martin Partington: Spotlight on the Justice System

Keeping the English Legal System under review

Archive for the ‘Chapter 11’ Category

Proposed Constitution, Democracy and Rights Commission

leave a comment »

One proposal that caught the eye in the Conservative Party’s manifesto for the December 2019 general election was that, following the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, it would be necessary to look at “broader aspects” of the UK’s constitution. The idea was that a constitution, democracy, and rights commission should be established to examine the following issues:

  • the relationship between the government, parliament, and the courts;
  • the functioning of the royal prerogative;
  • the role of the House of Lords; and
  • access to justice for ordinary people.

Other areas would include examining judicial review and amending the Human Rights Act 1998 to balance the rights of individuals, national security, and effective government.

The Government has said that it wants to ensure a range of expertise is represented on the commission. It also wants the commission to evidence from third parties and civic society to inform any recommendations. However, there are currently limited details available on the remit, form, and composition of the commission.

Several commentators and academics have welcomed the general principle of reviewing the UK’s constitutional arrangements. However, some have expressed concern about the context of the commission, particularly coming after the Supreme Court found against the Government on constitutional issues.

Those interested in starting to think about the issues which the Commission, once established, might consider will find the Research Briefing paper, written by Charley Coleman from the House of Lords Library and published in late March 2020, to be an excellent introduction.

The briefing can be found at https://lordslibrary.parliament.uk/research-briefings/lln-2020-0089/

Covid 19 and the English Legal System (11): Civil Justice – results of the Civil Justice Council rapid survey

leave a comment »

As I have already noted here, Covid 19 has had a major impact on the ways in the courts are delivering their services. In particular, much attention has been directed towards the use of virtual or remote hearings – online paper hearings, hearings by phone and hearings by video.

The Civil Justice Council commissioned a rapid preliminary survey of how these new processes were working. The results of that survey were published in early June 2020. It was based on responses to a survey drawn from the experience of those involved in cases in a two-week period in early May 2020. The study was carried out by Dr Natalie Byrom of the Legal Education Foundation.

Obviously, such a survey can be no more than an initial glance at what is happening on the ground. Many of these preliminary findings are what might be expected:

  • many judges and practitioners were finding that they were getting on better with using new technologies than they might have anticipated;
  • they were coping despite a lack of advance training in the use of technologies;
  • the technologies themselves were often not as reliable as participants would like;
  • some types of hearing were more suited to remote hearings than others.

These are the sorts of issue that should be mitigated as all those involved in delivering new services  become better trained and more used to dealing with cases using the new technologies.

From a rather detailed report, four important points for the way ahead may be noted:.

  1. At present HMCTS does not have an effective way of capturing information details about what types of case are brought to court. For example, data is published on the numbers of possession proceedings brought by mortgage companies or landlords against residential occupiers (mostly for failure to meet payment obligations). But it is impossible to get any detailed information about the use of courts for other potential housing law issues. The report makes a strong plea that much greater effort should be made by HMCTS to identify the ‘data points’ which would provide a much more detailed picture of how the civil court system is functioning. Effective planning of future services cannot be provided without more detailed management information.
  2. There was a strong impression that video hearings were better suited for remote hearings that telephone hearings.
  3. There were inevitable concerns that litigants in person might be in difficulty using the new technologies unless adequate support was available.
  4. The survey was unable to capture what lay users of the system, in particular litigants in person, thought of these new developments. It was essential to fill this knowledge gap if the objective of HMCTS’ reforms – to provide services that users want and need – was to be met.

The survey report and related press release can be accessed at https://www.judiciary.uk/announcements/civil-justice-council-report-on-the-impact-of-covid-19-on-civil-court-users-published/

Further information about the Legal Education Foundation is at https://www.thelegaleducationfoundation.org/

 

Public legal education: news from Law for Life

leave a comment »

While the importance of public legal education is widely accepted in principle, it is left to the work of a pretty small charity, Law for life: foundation for public legal education, to continue to fly the flag for this important project.

The aims of the charity are to increase access to justice by providing everyone with an awareness of their legal rights together with the confidence and skills to assert them.

Most people struggle to cope with legal issues, and often don’t know where to go for help. Being able to cope with family and housing issues, sorting out employment and benefit matters or difficulties with goods and services is crucial. These issues are the cornerstones of everyday life that can become drivers of poverty and inequality if left unresolved.

To address these challenges Law for Life

  • publishes the online Advice Now information service that draws together the best up-to-date information about the law and rights available on the internet;
  • creates effective materials (leaflets, videos) that provide practical help on how to manage and resolve life’s legal problems;
  • delivers community-based education and training projects focussing on housing, welfare, consumer, and employment issues with an emphasis on skills;
  • offers consultancy to other organisations.

Updates on the work of Law for Life are provided in regular newsletters, the most recent of which was published on 30 June 2020.

For further details about Law for Life, see https://lawforlife.org.uk/

Advice Now is at https://www.advicenow.org.uk/

The Law for Life Newsletter is at https://mailchi.mp/42bebf74018a/8wt2tlhi1o-3120242?e=f65948d0ee

This has links to the full archive of Law for Life Newsletters.

 

 

 

 

Written by lwtmp

July 13, 2020 at 9:50 am

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

leave a comment »

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

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

leave a comment »

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

 

 

 

 

Public Legal Education: the Solicitor General’s vision

leave a comment »

In the past, the Attorney-General tried to promote the cause of Public Legal Education. This role seems now to have been delegated to the Solicitor-General.

In October 2018, the current post-holder, Robert Buckland MP launched a new ‘vision’ to which he hoped interested organisations would sign up.

The Press Release stated:

The statement creates a shared vision for the PLE community to aspire to which will help drive forward legal education initiatives. The statement reveals 7 goals for where PLE might be in 10 years’ time.

The goals are:

  1. PLE will be supported by a robust evidence base, showing what the need is and what works best.

  2. PLE will be of high quality, maintained to ensure that it remains accurate and accessible and useful for the people who need it.

  3. PLE will be universal and reach across all demographics, prioritising children, young adults and vulnerable groups

  4. PLE will be scaled up through delivery by the legal community

  5. PLE will harness technology and be delivered through innovative methods, both on and offline

  6. PLE will be embeded into public services and government departments

  7. PLE will be understood as beneficial and utlised by other sectors

Whether much can be achieved without additional investment in the development of PLE must be a moot point, but I suppose that a statement such as this is better than nothing. The statement was launched at an event organised by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Public Legal Education and Pro Bono legal work.

See https://www.gov.uk/government/news/our-vision-for-legal-education

Written by lwtmp

November 21, 2018 at 3:51 pm

Preventing digital exclusion

leave a comment »

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/

 

 

 

Going digital – piloting video hearings

leave a comment »

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

leave a comment »

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

Tagged with

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

leave a comment »

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