Martin Partington: Spotlight on the Justice System

Keeping the English Legal System under review

Archive for the ‘Chapter 4’ Category

Equal treatment: Guidance from the Judicial College

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It should go without saying that, particularly in the legal arena, those who take part in proceedings before courts and tribunals need to feel that they have been treated equally.

This is, of course, easier said than done, as David Lammy’s report on the Criminal Justice System, published in 2017 showed. (See this blog 29 Sept 2017). But for many years first the Judicial Studies Board and now the Judicial College have offered guidance to judges (and by extension to others involved in the justice system) about the best ways to try to ensure that people are treated fairly.

Much of this focusses on the language that judges and others involved in the justice system use generally (for example in relation to litigants in person) and in relation to those from specific sectors of society, who may be defined by their religion, their ethnicity, their sexual orientation, mental or physical disabilities, their gender.

In February 2018, the Judicial College published an on-line updated revision to its ‘Equal Treatment Bench Book’. Bench books were originally devised as a handy guide to key issues which could sit on the judge’s desk, available for him to refer to it that seemed necessary.

I am not sure whether this particular Bench Book can be used in this way. For one thing, it is very long – well over 400 pages. And the issues raised are such that I would have thought judges would need to have considered them before a case or other proceedings have started. (It would not be desirable for a judge to stop in the middle of a sentence in order to look up how a particular person should be addressed.)

But I don’t agree, as some comments in the press have suggested, that the Equal Treatment Bench Book is an example of political correctness gone mad. It seems to me to be an honourable attempt to raise questions and address issues that arise in practice but that many judges may not have thought about before. (Indeed, I think there are some parts of the book that would be of interest to a wider readership.)

I set out the link to the text here, and invite readers to take a look at the Book and come to their own view on its value.

See https://www.judiciary.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/equal-treatment-bench-book-february-v6-2018.pdf

 

 

 

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Written by lwtmp

April 4, 2018 at 3:19 pm

Practitioners and academics: new alliances

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In my book Introduction to the English Legal System, I argue that legal academics play an important role in the development of our understanding of the law and that their role should be given more recognition than it sometimes has had in the past. (See Chapter 9, section 9.10).

Recently, however, my interest has been stimulated by stories in the professional legal press concerning a rather different collaboration between the world of legal practice and the academic world.

A number of firms, particularly those engaged in personal injury litigation, have been working with academic statisticians  and ‘decision scientists’ to try to understand what are the variables that are in play when litigation is under consideration and thus trying to understand better the risks of taking particular cases on and to predict better the potential outcome of issues that are being litigated. This may help practitioners to decide whether a case should settle, or be fought through to trial.

The firms concerned think this may be beneficial both for small value large volume groups of claims, as well as high value claims. One finding that has emerged from this work is that the models that are being used  suggest that the upper level of the Judicial College Guidelines on damages for different types of injury is almost irrelevant in most cases.

It is possible that this approach might also be used by the Courts and Tribunals service to analyse cases that pass through the courts. It might help, for example, in making determinations on which cases might be suitable for the small claims track or the fast track in the allocation of civil disputes in the county court – a possibility hinted at by Sir Ernest Ryder in a recent speech where he said:

Digitisation will, if we are sensible, provide us with the opportunity to gather data on the operation of our justice systems in ways that we have often been unable to before. It provides us with the opportunity to make our justice systems more adaptive; but again, only after proper scrutiny and discussion.

It seems to me that these initiatives will grow in number in the near future. What will be needed is proper evaluation of these tools to see whether they do in fact assist in both legal and judicial practice, and how they might be developed.

For press reports on these initiatives see https://www.legalfutures.co.uk/latest-news/hodge-jones-allen-embraces-predictive-modelling-pi-work; and https://www.legalfutures.co.uk/latest-news/leading-law-firm-joins-forces-lse-professors-find-ways-predict-litigation.

Sir Ernest Ryder’s speech is at https://www.judiciary.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/ryder-spt-open-justice-luxembourg-feb-2018.pdf

 

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

Controlling trolling? A job for the Law Commission

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Although the Law Commission’s 13th Programme of Work was announced only in December 2017, the Commission has already had those plans amended by the Government asking whether changes to the law are needed to ensure that internet trolling can be controlled. More specifically the government has asked the Law Commission to review the laws around offensive communications and assess whether they provide the right protection to victims online.

This is a serious problem. Research shows that nearly a third of UK internet users were on the receiving end of trolling, harassment or cyberbullying in 2017.The Commission will  review  the current laws and set out how they apply to online communications. Its work be informed by developing Government policy in the Government Digital Charter. (See https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/digital-charter published in January 2018.)

Among issues to be addressed are the following:

  • How the Malicious Communications Act 1988 deals with offensive online communications

  • How the Communications Act 2003 deals with online communications

  • What “grossly offensive” means and whether that poses difficulties in legal certainty

  • Whether the law means you need to prove fault or prove intention to prosecute offensive online communications

  • The need to update definitions in the law which technology has rendered obsolete or confused, such as the meaning of “sender”

  • How other parts of the criminal law overlap with online communications laws

It is intended that thw work should be undertaken swiftly. A consultation paper is expected within 6 months.

For further detail see https://www.lawcom.gov.uk/government-asks-law-commission-to-look-at-trolling-laws/

 

Written by lwtmp

February 10, 2018 at 11:51 am

Reshaping the Court estate: a further consultation

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The programme of transformation of the justice system depends on the closure of a significant number of existing court buildings and reinvestment of the savings of running costs and the capital receipts from buildings that have been disposed of in a smaller but more efficient court estate.

In January 2018, Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service published a Consultation Paper setting out the basic principles on which detailed plans are now being developed. At the same time there were 5 more specific papers setting our proposals for closing courts in a number of areas, including Cambridge, the Thames Valley, London and Lancashire. There is nothing particularly new in this paper, though it does give interesting accounts of a number of initiatives currently on-going to deliver new ways of working in courts and tribunals.

The key aims are that there should be

  • more videolinks and virtual hearings;
  • digital service delivery, with a major reduction in the use of paper files;
  • flexible opening hours;
  • improved service delivery with much more work being undertaken online.

The number of court buildings will be reduced from around 530 buildings (a decade ago) to a total of 239 buildings in 2018. It is accepted that this will lead to some increase in travel time to reach those buildings, but the vast majority will still, according to HMCTS figures, still be within 2 hours travelling distance. As much work will in future be delivered without the need for lawyers and parties to be present in court, it is argued that this will further mitigate any inconvenience. What will be important will be to ensure that cases listed for a particular day are actually dealt with on that day.

The Consultation Paper reminds readers that the transformation policy is designed

  • to enable existing and new buildings to be much more flexible in the ways in which they can be used;
  • to ensure better public facilities – e.g. waiting rooms, rooms for clients to consult with their advisers;
  • to ensure that the vulnerable are able to feel confident about using court facilities;
  • to include of modern ICT to enable more work to be done online
  • to support the needs of all the professionals who use the courts;
  • to move towards an estate that provides dedicated hearing centres, while seeking
    opportunities to concentrate back office functions in a smaller number of centres where they can be carried out most efficiently.

There will be resistance to some of these ideas. For example, the Bar has already argued against more flexible opening hours. It is said that this could be discriminatory against women barristers who may find it hard to take cases outside traditional working hours. While this is an issue that must be addressed, such arguments fail to acknowledge the fact historically the Court Service has only paid lip-service to the idea of delivering a service to court users. Many parties to litigation may find it more convenient to attend hearings outside of 10-4, Mondays to Fridays. The transformation programme provides a challenge to those who work in the courts to consider how they can deliver the service that clients want, when they want it.

The Consultation runs until 29 March 2018. The documentation can be found at https://consult.justice.gov.uk/digital-communications/transforming-court-tribunal-estate/

 

Written by lwtmp

January 19, 2018 at 12:18 pm

New Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice: David Gauke MP

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In the good old days, Lord Chancellors came and went comparatively infrequently. Unlike their possibly more ‘political’ colleagues, Lord Chancellors seemed to float above the hurly-burly of day-to-day politics.

The reforms to the post of Lord Chancellor, introduced by the government of Tony Blair, resulted in major changes to the role and thus the office holder.

No longer did they have to be in the House of Lords. They no longer had to be professionally qualified as lawyers. In the last 2 and a half years, there have been no fewer than 4 Lord Chancellors.

The latest appointee, in January 2018, is David Gauke. Unlike his immediate predecessors, he is qualified as a Solicitor and has had experience of private legal practice.

I do not anticipate major changes of policy to arise from this new appointment. The Ministry of Justice is engaged in major programmes of work on the justice system, the prison system, legal aid – among others. What I think is needed is a period of stability to ensure that these important initiatives are actually delivered.

For further information see https://www.gov.uk/government/ministers/secretary-of-state-for-justice

You can read the Lord Chancellor’s speech at his swearing in ceremony at https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/lord-chancellor-swearing-in-speech-david-gauke

You can see him deliver this speech at https://www.judiciary.gov.uk/announcements/live-stream-swearing-in-of-the-new-lord-chancellor-the-right-honourable-david-gauke-mp/

Written by lwtmp

January 16, 2018 at 12:26 pm

Posted in Chapter 4

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Law Commission: 13th Programme announced

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After delay resulting from the calling of the General Election in May 2017, the Law Commission has just (14 December 2017) announced its latest programme of law reform projects which it intends to take forward over the next three years.

The list is an interesting one containing a wide variety of topics.

A number of these can be see to be a response to technological change. Projects on Automated Vehicles, Electronic Signatures, Intermediated Securities or Smart Contracts would not have been on such a list, even three years ago (when the 12th Programme was published).

The general area of property law attracts a number of projects. These include: Modernising Trust Law for a Global Britain, Registered Land and Chancel Repair Liability, Museum Collections, Residential Leasehold, and Unfair Terms in Residential Leasehold.

There is a number of projects that will examine  how current processes, which affect the public, might be reformed. These include: Administrative Review, Employment Law Hearing Structures, and Simplifying the Immigration Rules.

Controversial issues concerning both the start and end of life are reflected in proposals to review Surrogacy and A Modern Framework for Disposing of the Dead.

In addition to these new projects, the Law Commission will continue to work on items brought over from the 12th Programme of work, including work on Sentencing, and Search warrants.

The Law Commission also lists a number of other topics which is considered for inclusion but which do not appear in the current programme.

Further details of all these projects can be found at https://www.lawcom.gov.uk/project/13th-programme-of-law-reform/

 

 

 

Written by lwtmp

December 14, 2017 at 12:14 pm

Posted in Chapter 3, Chapter 4

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