Martin Partington: Spotlight on the Justice System

Keeping the English Legal System under review

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Efficiency in the Criminal Justice System: the view of the National Audit Office

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In March 2016, the National Audit Office published a very interesting and pretty hard hitting report on efficiency in the Criminal Justice system – or rather inefficiency. Set against the programme for the Transformation of our Justice System that was announced by the Government in the summer 2016, the contents of the NAO need to be remembered. In essence it argues that the current reform programme will not be adequate to drive out inefficiency, and ensure better value for money.

I set out here an edited version of the Summary Chapter of the report which gives the headline issues that need to be dealt with.

Key findings of the National Audit Office:

1 Performance

  • Delays are getting worse against a backdrop of continuing financial pressure.
  • There have been some improvements in the management of cases since 2010-11. But two-thirds of cases still do not progress as planned, creating unnecessary costs.
  • Trials that collapse or are delayed create costs for all the participants, including the CPS, witnesses and HMCTS. (In 2014-15, the Legal Aid Agency (LAA) funded defence counsel to the tune of £93.3 million for cases that were not heard in court).
  • Delays and collapsed trials also damage the public’s confidence in the system.
    Giving evidence in court as a witness or victim can be a difficult and stressful process. The uncertainty caused by delays and collapsed trials exacerbates this.

2. Addressing the causes of inefficiency

The Ministry and CPS are leading an ambitious reform programme but this will not address all the causes of inefficiency.

  • The court reform programme’s scope is far-reaching. It includes rationalising and modernising the estate to enable more efficient digital working and the roll-out of a single digital case management system accessible by all parties. Better IT infrastructure and a modernised estate would provide the tools for a more efficient, less paper-based system, but are not sufficient to address all the causes of inefficiency in the system.
  • Inefficiencies are created where individuals and organisations do not get things right first time, and problems are compounded because mistakes often occur early in the life of a case and are not corrected.
  • There can be multiple points of failure as cases progress through the system but these are often not identified until it is too late. (A 2015 inspection found that 18.2% of police charging decisions were incorrect. Incorrect charging decisions should be picked up by the CPS before court, but 38.4% of cases were not reviewed before reaching court. The system’s reliance on paper also builds in inefficiency).
  • The system as a whole is inefficient because its individual parts have strong incentives to work in ways that create cost elsewhere.
  • As there is no common view of what success looks like, organisations may not act in the best interests of the whole system. (For example, courts staff seek, under judicial direction, to ensure they are in use as much as possible by scheduling more trials than can be heard so that there are back-ups when one trial cannot proceed. This is both a cause and a result of the inefficiencies in the system, and leads to costs for other parts of the system, for example witnesses who spend a day waiting to give evidence for a trial that is not then heard, and who may then be more likely to disengage from the process).
  • There is significant regional variation in the performance of the system, suggesting that there is scope for efficiency gains. (A victim of crime in North Wales has a 7 in 10 chance that the trial will go ahead at Crown Court on the day it is scheduled, whereas in Greater Manchester the figure is only 2 in 10. The large variation in performance across the country means that victims and witnesses will experience very different levels of service.)
  • If the performance in those Local Criminal Justice Board areas with the highest rate of cracked trials was equivalent to the best-performing quartile, 15% more cases would proceed as planned, saving a minimum of £4 million in CPS costs, as well as those costs incurred by other organisations.
  • There are some mechanisms to identify and share good practice, but awareness and use of these varies. Our case study visits identified a range of innovative approaches that made a positive impact on the system. These included implementing an appointment system for the approval of search warrants, which saved a significant amount of police time, and creating a dedicated videoconferencing court. But there is varied awareness and use of mechanisms to identify and disseminate learning from these initiatives.

3 Conclusion on value for money

  • Reducing inefficiency in the justice system is essential if the increasing demand and reducing funding are not to lead to slower, less accessible justice. Although the bodies involved have improved the management of cases, around two-thirds of criminal trials still do not proceed as planned on the day they are originally scheduled. Delays and aborted hearings create extra work, waste scarce resources and undermine confidence in the system.
  • Notwithstanding the challenges of improving the efficiency of a system designed to maintain independence of the constituent parts, there are many areas where improvements must be made. Large parts of the system are paper-based and parties are not always doing what they are supposed to do in a timely manner.
  • The system is not currently delivering value for money.
  • The ambitious reforms led by the Ministry, HMCTS, CPS and judiciary are designed to tackle many of these issues by reducing reliance on paper records and enabling more flexible digital working. They have the potential to improve value for money but will not address all of the causes of inefficiency.
  • More also needs to be done to explore and address the wide regional variations in performance, and to create incentives that encourage all parties to operate in the best interests of the system as a whole.

Recommendations

a The Criminal Justice Board should agree what ‘good’ looks like for the system as a whole, and the levels of performance that each part of the system can commit to deliver to achieve this. It should report publicly on whether these levels of performance are being met. While it is important that the different parts of the system are not able to unduly influence individual cases, this cannot preclude agreement over the level of service that each element of the system should provide. Whenever possible, these measures should focus on quality and align with the system’s overarching aims.
b The Criminal Justice Board should regularly review performance at a level sufficient to identify good practice. Unlike many other areas of government, there is granular performance data available for many aspects of the system. Identifying and exploring regional variations in performance will highlight innovative practice, as well as giving organisations across the system incentives to improve.
c The Criminal Justice Board should establish mechanisms to increase transparency and encourage feedback through the system. This is particularly important where one element of the system has a direct but discretionary impact on another. (For example, when magistrates’ courts refer ‘either way’ cases to Crown Court they should be able to find out how many of these cases were ultimately sentenced within magistrates’ court powers. This would allow them to judge whether they are sending the right cases.)

Note. The Criminal Justice Board, is a cross-governmental group chaired by the Justice Secretary. It includes ministers and officials from the Ministry of Justice (the Ministry), its executive agency HM Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS), the Home Office, the Attorney General’s Office and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS). It also includes representatives of police forces, police and crime commissioners and senior members of the judiciary.

Source: https://www.nao.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/Efficiency-in-the-criminal-justice-system.pdf

Reassessing the use of the dock in criminal trials

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In July 2015, JUSTICE, the Human Rights Group published an interesting paper on the use of the dock in the criminal trial process. It has not perhaps had the attention it deserves, but its recommendations should be considered in the context of the Transformation of our Justice System currently being taken forward.

I reproduce here the Press Release published at the time which admirably summarises the arguments.

The use of the dock for adult defendants in our criminal courts is unquestioned. Secure docks – with high walls made of glass panels – are most common, although some defendants will be held in open, wooden docks. While some courts will allow the defendant out of the dock in narrow circumstances, this is a far from uniform practice. Despite their use being an accepted norm, particularly among the legal profession, the dock has not always been so embedded within the courtroom.

The established use of docks was not cemented until as late as the 1970s, while the secure dock now in use did not arrive until 2000. Even today, there is no statutory requirement or judicial authority requiring their use in our courts. Rather, it is simply recommended Ministry of Justice policy that they be available in all criminal courts. The rationale for these increased security measures in recent decades has not been documented in the public record.

JUSTICE is concerned that the use of the dock impacts upon the defendant’s right to a fair trial, in particular: effective participation in one’s defence; preserving the presumption of innocence; and maintaining dignity in the administration of justice. These rights have long been protected by our domestic legal system, the European Convention on Human Rights and international human rights law.

Notably, a number of other jurisdictions, including those that share our common law heritage, have abandoned the use of the dock. These jurisdictions offer useful examples of discreet and humane alternatives, which are used on a case-by-case basis. Available statistical evidence for the Netherlands and the United States demonstrates security incidents rarely occur, and the same can be expected of England and Wales.

Moreover, the adverse impact of the dock on the defendant’s right to a fair trial has been explicitly recognised by appellate courts in both the USA and Australia; in fact, the rejection of the dock in the USA is safeguarded by reference to constitutional guarantees the findings of a recent experimental study in Australia aimed at assessing the prejudicial impact of the dock on juries further support JUSTICE’s concerns.

In light of our legal obligations to secure the right to a fair trial in practice – and taking into account the experience of comparative jurisdictions – JUSTICE calls for reconsideration of the use of the dock in our criminal courts. At a time when HM Courts and Tribunal Service is reviewing the use of its estate, attention should be given to how our courtrooms are designed, by reference to actual need, rather than tradition.

Recommendations

  1.  There should be a presumption that all defendants sit in the well of the court, behind or close to their advocate;
  2. Open docks should no longer be used and defendants should sit with their legal team;
  3. Where security concerns exist, a procedural hearing should be held to satisfy the court that additional security is required;
  4. In cases where there is no security risk, defendants should also sit with their legal team;
  5. We invite the Lord Chief Justice to consider issuing a practice direction with regard to the above recommendations;
  6. We invite HM Courts and Tribunal Service, the Ministry of Justice and other appropriate agencies to explore alternative security measures to the dock, mindful of the need for such measures to be concealed from the judge/jury and comfortable for the defendant; and
  7. We invite the Ministry of Justice and other relevant agencies to review prisoner escort custody contracts to ensure appropriate security can be supplied to the courtroom.

The report is at https://justice.org.uk/in-the-dock/

Written by lwtmp

November 27, 2016 at 1:35 pm

Prison Reform

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One reason to regret the departure of Michael Gove MP as Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor – following the outcome of the Brexit referendum – was that he did not have the chance to follow through his ideas to improve the rehabilitation functions of prisons. His successor, Liz Truss MP, has taken up the mantle of prison reform. Following the announcement in the Queen’s Speech that there would be a Prisons Bill, the Government in November 2016 published a White Paper setting out in some more detail its proposals.

They include, and have been summarised in the Press Release:

Safe and secure prisons:

  • Creating a new network of ‘no-fly’ zones to block drones flying dangerous illicit items into the prison estate, the fitting out of prisons with cutting edge technology to block illegal mobile phones; and testing offenders for drugs on entry and exit from prison;

Raising standards:

  • Rating prisons on their ability to run safe and decent regimes which reform offenders, cut crime, and keep streets safe – showing which prisons are making real progress in getting prisoners off drugs and into education and employment
  • Enshrining in law what the public and Parliament can expect prisons to deliver– making sure prisons operate under a rigorous system of accountability, scrutiny and support, and holding the Secretary of State to account for their performance;

Empowering governors:

  • Giving every single governor greater authority to run their prison the way they think best – moving power from the centre and into the hands of hard-working, trusted staff to deliver lasting improvements and equip offenders with the tools to lead a better life on release.

Stronger accountability and scrutiny:

  • Overhauling accountability and giving greater bite to the inspection regime so action is taken swiftly – and seriously – where prisons are failing in their duties – including a new emergency trigger for the Justice Secretary to take direct action, with sanctions including the issuing of formal improvement plans to ultimately replacing the leadership of the prison

These measures, which will require legislation, will be supplemented by a major programme of prison building,  closing old prisons and replacing them with modern buildings.

In the view of many, the chances of success in reducing reoffending rates (which currently run at about 50%) will only be achieved if the prison population is reduced, so that the education, that Michael Gove was so keen to promote, can actually be provided. Indeed, the Lord Chief Justice, in evidence to the Justice Select Committee in November 2016, argued (as other senior judges have done before him) that more could be done by making community sentences more onerous, and keeping prisons for the most serious offenders.

The Prison Reform White Paper , Prison Safety and Reform, may be read at https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/565014/cm-9350-prison-safety-and-reform-_web_.pdf

 

Written by lwtmp

November 23, 2016 at 12:26 pm

Lammy Review: racial bias in the criminal justice system

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In this blog, I noted (Feb 2016) the appointment of the MP for Tottenham, David Lammy, to lead a review of racial bias in the criminal justice system. He has now published his ’emerging findings’ in a letter he has sent to the Prime Minister. His final report is expected in 2017. The Press Release states:

The review commissioned an analysis paper looking at disproportionality in the criminal justice system. One finding was that for every 100 white women handed custodial sentences at Crown Courts for drug offences, 227 black women were sentenced to custody. For black men, this figure is 141 for every 100 white men.

Among all those found guilty at Crown Court in 2014, 112 black men were sentenced to custody for every 100 white men .

The disproportionality analysis also found that, among those found guilty, a greater proportion of black women were sentenced to custody at Crown Court than white women.

 

Other notable findings highlighted today from the disproportionality analysis and the wider Lammy review include:

  • Of those convicted at Magistrates’ Court for sexual offences, 208 black men and 193 Asian men received custodial sentences for every 100 white men.

  • BAME defendants are more likely than their white counterparts to be tried at Crown Court – with young black men around 56% more likely than their white counterparts;

  • BAME men were more than 16% more likely than white men to be remanded in custody;

  • BAME men were 52% percent more likely than white men to plead ‘not guilty’ at crown court;

  • In prisons, BAME males are almost five times more likely to be housed in high security for public order offences than white men, and

  • Mixed ethnic men and women were more likely than white men and women to have adjudications for breaching prison discipline brought against them – but less likely to have those adjudications proven when reviewed.

  • 51% of the UK-born BAME population agree that ‘the criminal justice system discriminates against particular groups’, compared to 35% of the UK-born white population;

  • 41% of youth prisoners are from minorities backgrounds, compared with 25% ten years ago, despite prisoner numbers falling by some 66% in that time;

  • The number of Muslim prisoners has almost doubled in the last decade.

The next stage for the review will be to examine the reasons for these figures and to explore whether they reveal bias in the system against those from BAME groups.

It has also been announced that Lammy will – as part of this exercise – take a closer look at diversity in the judiciary and the numbers of judges from BAME groups.

The details of the emerging findings are at https://www.gov.uk/government/news/lammy-review-emerging-findings-published

 

Written by lwtmp

November 23, 2016 at 11:33 am

Transforming the English Legal System: Criminal Justice

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The Consultation Paper, Transforming our Legal System, states, in relation to the Criminal Justice system that, first, the criminal courts should be more flexible. This will be achieved by:
i. Aligning the criminal courts: Magistrates’ courts and the Crown Court deal with
different levels of criminal offence, but they must work better together to provide a
more efficient service. We are working with the judiciary on structural and
procedural changes that will give the senior judiciary clearer oversight of, and
flexibility to manage, judicial leadership in the criminal jurisdiction. This will enable
the Crown Court and magistrates’ courts to operate more closely together –
stronger leadership and alignment will improve court performance for everyone
involved. To support this, we will bring the structures of the courts closer by
reforming existing local justice areas and making it easier to transfer cases between
the Crown Court and Magistrates’ Court when appropriate – starting in the right
place will make the process simpler and easier for victims and defendants.
ii. Making it easier for vulnerable and intimidated witnesses (including victims) to give
evidence: We will roll out the use of pre-trial cross-examination in Crown Court
trials, allowing vulnerable and intimidated witnesses to pre-record their cross-
examination, meaning the witness does not always need to attend the trial itself. A
pilot found that this procedure meant witnesses gave evidence in half the time it
would take at trial. We believe that expanding this will reduce distress for victims
and witnesses and improve their overall experience of the justice system.
Second, the Government wants courts to do more to address offender behaviour. It is proposed that this should be done by:
i.Introducing problem solving courts: We are exploring the opportunities for problem
solving methods further with the judiciary and collecting the evidence base. We are
continuing to trial this approach in locations across the UK.
ii. Using out of court disposals: We will use out of court disposals in appropriate cases,
to help change offenders’ behaviour at the earliest possible opportunity– with swift
and certain consequences for offenders who do not comply with the conditions
attached.
Thirdly, the Government is seeking to improve process and technology for more efficient and digital justice. It plans to do this by
i. Streamlining process: We are making changes to the way cases progress through
the criminal courts, including removing unnecessary appearances in court (such as
first appearances in magistrates’ courts for cases which can only be tried in the
Crown Court), introducing a more efficient process to allocate cases to the Crown
Court or magistrates’ courts and allowing simple decisions to be made via a new
online system.

ii. Using technology to make processes more efficient: We will increase the use

of video link and telephone and video conferencing technology to make
hearings easier and more convenient for all, including victims and witnesses
and criminal justice system agencies. We will work with the police to hold bail
hearings by video link from police stations to reduce the need for some
offenders to be held in police cells overnight. In appropriate cases offenders
will be able to plead guilty, be convicted and sentenced all on the same day by
live video link from police stations.
iii. Introducing a new collaborative IT system: The Common Platform is already
being developed to provide a single case management IT system for use
throughout the Crown Court and magistrates’ courts. It will provide access to
case material and information to many agencies within the criminal justice
system as well as the defence, victims and witnesses. Many current paper and
court-based processes will be moved online, saving time and increasing
efficiency for all court users.
iv. Enabling online convictions and fixed fines: For certain routine, low-level
summary, non-imprisonable offences with no identifiable victim, we propose to
introduce a system which resolves cases entirely online. Defendants would log
on to an online system to see the evidence against them before entering a
plea. If they plead guilty, they can opt in to (and can always opt out of) the
online system which allows them to view the penalty, accept the conviction
and penalty, and pay their fine. Cases would be resolved immediately and
entirely online, without the involvement of a magistrate.

Many of these proposals build on initiatives already started. However, the suggestion for more problem solving courts is potentially quite innovative and could lead to significant change to the ways in which the criminal courts have historically operated.

See chapter 2: https://consult.justice.gov.uk/digital-communications/transforming-our-courts-and-tribunals/supporting_documents/consultationpaper.pdf

 

Written by lwtmp

October 5, 2016 at 9:54 am

Transforming the English Legal System

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September 2016 saw the publication of an extremely important Consultation Paper, which sets out ideas on how the courts and tribunals system in England and Wales should be reformed.

Its proposals are based on three principles, that the reformed system should be proportionate, accessible and just.

The Paper states:

To deliver a system that is proportionate and tailored for the complexity and
seriousness of individual cases, [the Government is] taking a consistent approach across jurisdictions [i.e., criminal, administrative, family and civil], including:
i. More use of case officers for routine tasks: Judges spend too much of their time
dealing with uncontroversial, routine or straightforward matters which could just as
effectively be dealt with by court staff under judicial authorisation. Where it is
appropriate, specially trained staff will be able to carry out some of this work to
help justice move faster.
ii. More decisions made “on the papers”: Where a case is relatively straightforward or
routine, representations will be made online in writing for a judge to consider
outside of a traditional court room, without the need for a physical hearing,
meaning a more convenient experience for everyone involved.
iii. More virtual hearings: Where a judge needs to listen to the parties make their
arguments, it will be possible in many cases to hold the hearings over telephone or
video conference, without the need for the parties to travel to a court building.
There will still be an important place for physical court hearings for criminal trials
and other serious or complex cases, but where they are appropriate, virtual
hearings offer an easy and convenient alternative for everybody.
iv. More cases resolved out of court: In appropriate cases, we will encourage parties
to settle their disputes themselves, without the intervention of the courts.
The Government wants to make legal processes more accessible and easier for to use, with many  services moving online – for example:
i. Putting probate applications online: Dealing with probate affairs can be difficult and
complicated at a time when people are often coping with bereavement. We are
digitising the probate system to allow the entire process to be managed online,
from application to resolution, making it an easier and faster process when cases
are uncontested.
ii. Managing divorce online: Work has already begun to allow divorce applications to
be made and managed online, removing some of the bureaucracy from often
stressful and lengthy proceedings and simplifying cumbersome administrative
processes.
iii. Digitising applications for Lasting Powers of Attorney: Allowing people to make
arrangements for a time in the future when they may not be able to make
decisions by themselves is a helpful but often emotionally stressful process.
Applications have been partially digitised since 2014, resulting in fewer application
forms being returned because of errors. We will build on this by making the system
fully digital to deliver a quicker service.
Across the board, the Government wants to simplify forms and make processes more
straightforward so they are easier for everyone to understand. Many of these changes are designed to bring the justice system up to date for the modern world and take advantage of advances in technology to provide a faster,more accessible service for users of the courts and tribunals.
It is important, however, any unintended effects of this technology are taken into account to make sure that the system remains just. Thus the Government intends to:
i. Provide a system that works for everyone: Digital and online processes are easy
and efficient for many people, but the justice system must also work for people
who do not or cannot access services online. We must provide an alternative route
of access for every service that moves online. ..
ii. Continue to ensure open justice: It is a core principle of our justice system that
justice is open. “It is not merely of some importance, but of fundamental
importance that justice should not only be done, but should be manifestly and
undoubtedly seen to be done,” as Lord Chief Justice Hewart said in 1924. The
principle of open justice will be upheld and the public will still be able to see and
hear real-time hearings, whilst we continue to protect the privacy of the vulnerable.
Most of these changes build on initiatives that are already underway. What is important about this new Consultation Paper is that it is being jointly promoted by the Lord Chancellor, the Lord Chief Justice and the Senior President of Tribunals.
I set out in separate blog items the sections of the Paper on each of the different parts of the justice system.
The paper is not open for consultation for long. To read the paper and find the questions to which the government is seeking answers go to https://consult.justice.gov.uk/digital-communications/transforming-our-courts-and-tribunals

Written by lwtmp

October 5, 2016 at 9:31 am

Reforming prisons

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One of the most intractable issues in the criminal justice system is enabling prisons do more to try to draw offenders away from a life of crime and to become more productive and engaged citizens.

In the Queen’s Speech, delivered on 18 May 2016, the announcement of a new Prisons Bill was made. The details are not yet available but at the heart of the reforms are proposals to significantly improve educational opportunities for inmates – and to give Prison Governors more autonomy over how they run their prisons.

Accompanying the text of the Queen’s speech was an announcement that in the short-term 6 pilot ‘trailblazer’ reform prisons would be established to test the effectiveness of new approaches. The intention is that 5000 prisoners should be in the reform prisons by the end of 2016.

The importance of education of prisoners was emphasise in a review, published at the same time by Dame Sally Coates.

For further (preliminary) information on reform prisons see https://www.gov.uk/government/news/biggest-shake-up-of-prison-system-announced-as-part-of-queens-speech

The Coates report can be found at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/unlocking-potential-a-review-of-education-in-prison

The big challenge, noted by many commentators, is how such reforms can be made effective given the large numbers of people currently detained in prison. Many think that it will be essential for numbers in jail to be reduced if those who would really benefit from the reform proposals are to be helped.

 

Written by lwtmp

May 20, 2016 at 5:56 pm