Martin Partington: Spotlight on the Justice System

Keeping the English Legal System under review

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Changing the Court and Tribunal estate – revised principles 2019

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Introduction

The court and tribunal estate has changed significantly since 2010. In making its changes, the Ministry of Justice applied a number of key principles: maintaining access to justice, delivering value for money, and ensuring operational efficiency. Savings achieved are being used to finance reform of the Courts and Tribunals service. The reform programme will change the ways court and tribunal services are delivered. In particular, improved technology will be designed to enable people to access justice in simpler, easier and swifter ways. Provision for hearings in courtrooms will remain essential for the delivery of justice, but fewer interactions with the court and tribunals system are likely to happen in a courtroom.

Nonetheless, court closures are controversial. Many involve much-loved local historic buildings. Many complain about the time needed to get to an alternative court/tribunal building if an existing venue is shut. In 2018, the Ministry of Justice launched a consultation on the principles in should adopt in relation to any further closures it might argue are necessary. In ‘Fit for the Future: Transforming the Court and Tribunal Estate’, published in May 2019, the Government set out its response to this consultation.

The Government has stated “We need to consider further court closures in the context of our modernisation approach, which will ensure that we provide fair and proportionate access to justice. We expect an increase in the number of people using remote access to the courts which will reduce the use of court and tribunal buildings in the future. We make a commitment that we will not act on that assumption by proposing to close courts unless we have sound evidence that the reforms are actually reducing the use of those buildings.”

Travel time

The issue that worried respondents most was how the time of travel to and from court was being assessed. The Ministry had proposed that the benchmark should be an ability to get there and return home within a day. Respondents argued this was too vague. The Ministry of Justice has responded: “ We have therefore enhanced our principles to make it clear that we expect journeys to court to be reasonable, and set out that for the overwhelming majority of users a reasonable journey would be one that allowed them to leave home no earlier than 7.30am, attend their hearing, and return home by 7.30pm the same day, and by public transport where necessary. We have also set out in much greater detail how we will measure this, what other factors we will consider – for example, the circumstances of users including those that are vulnerable, and the mitigations we can apply when users have difficulty attending court.”

Court/tribunal buildings design

While people were broadly positive about proposals regarding the design of court and tribunal buildings, there was a clear message that the security of those who use and work in our courts and tribunals needs to be paramount, along with ensuring suitable facilities for vulnerable users. The Court and Tribunal Design Guide (published at www.gov.uk/government/publications/court-and-tribunal-design-guide) provides a flexible room design which includes enhanced security standards and provides for the needs of vulnerable victims and witnesses.

Digital support officers

Digital Support Officers will support the introduction and longer-term support for digital services in local courts, as well as support which will assist users who do not wish or are unable to access online services. This development was broadly welcomed. There were concerns regarding the resourcing of these services. The Ministry has stated that it “will ensure that the right number of staff support these activities.”

Future closures

The Ministry expects that increased use of digital services will mean that fewer court and tribunals hearings will be needed in a traditional courtroom setting, and therefore fewer buildings will be needed. However, “we are committed to having clear evidence that these reductions are happening before we decide to close any further sites.”

Revised estates principles

“• Everyone who needs to access the court and tribunal estate should be able to do so. Journey times to court should be reasonable and take into account the different needs and circumstances of those using the courts. Mitigations are available for those who experience difficulty attending court.

  • We want to make sure that our buildings are in the best condition possible for those that use them and that they can be maintained at a reasonable cost to the taxpayer.
  • We will focus on the provision of multijurisdictional centres which are able to provide flexible access for the people who use our courts and tribunals. We will harness the power of technology to offer enhanced access and greater flexibility.”

Comment

Revised statements of principle will not prevent future controversy. Indeed, at the end of October 2019, the Justice Select Committee issued a very critical report on the whole court reform programme in general and the court closure programme in particular. There have been many critical comments in the professional legal press.

My own view is that the court/tribunal reform programme will, in time, be an improvement on the present system. However as all those who come into contact with courts and tribunals will have to adapt to the new system, there will be nervousness ahead of proposed changes that have not yet been implemented.

The item is adapted from https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/fit-for-the-future-transforming-the-court-and-tribunal-estate which sets out both the original consultation paper and the Government’s response.

The Justice Committee critique is at https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201920/cmselect/cmjust/190/19003.htm

Reviewing the Criminal Legal Aid fee schemes

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There is increasing recognition that the criminal legal aid scheme is not delivering an adequate service for the Criminal Justice system. Practitioners have long argued that cuts have gone too far; there have been strikes, threats of strikes and last minute deals cobbled together to try to stop the wheels falling off the bus completely.

In December 2018 the Government announced that there would be a more fundamental review of the criminal legal aid scheme.

More detail about the scope of the review was announced in March 2019. Thus the review will consider criminal legal aid throughout the life cycle of a criminal case, including:

  • pre-charge advice at the police station, advice and advocacy services in the Magistrates’ Court and Youth Court, and advice and advocacy for prisoners
  • advice and litigation services in the Crown Court through the Litigators’ Graduated Fee Scheme (LGFS)
  • advocacy services in the Crown Court through the Advocates’ Graduated Fee Scheme (AGFS)
  • litigation and advocacy services for very high cost Crown Court cases though the Very High Cost Case (VHCC) Scheme

The review will also consider wider changes to the justice, social, economic, business and technological landscape that are impacting on the criminal legal aid system – including, but not limited to:

  • Her Majesty’s Court and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) reform, including the digitisation of the criminal trial process;
  • the Attorney General’s review of disclosure of evidence, and the need to prevent trials collapsing because of failure to disclose evidence; and
  • wider modernisation work being pursued by the Home Office and the police.

The Government has stated that the overall objectives of the review are:

(1) To reform the criminal legal aid fee schemes so that they:

  • fairly reflect, and pay for, work done
  • support the sustainability of the market, including recruitment, retention, and career progression within the professions and a diverse workforce
  • support just, efficient, and effective case progression, limit perverse incentives, and ensure value for money for the taxpayer
  • are consistent with and, where appropriate enable, wider reforms
  • are simple and place proportionate administrative burdens on providers, the Legal Aid Agency (LAA), and other government departments and agencies
  • ensure cases are dealt with by practitioners with the right skills and experience

(2) To reform the wider criminal legal aid market to ensure that the provider market:

  • responds flexibly to changes in the wider system, pursues working practices and structures that drive efficient and effective case progression, and delivers value for money for the taxpayer
  • operates to ensure that legal aid services are delivered by practitioners with the right skills and experience
  • operates to ensure the right level of legal aid provision and to encourage a diverse workforce.

The plan is to produce a report by the end of Summer 2020.

As part of this peogramme the Crown Prosecution Service has  been undertaking work to develop proposals for the remuneration of prosecution lawyers. It plans to finish this work by the end of September 2019.

As interim measures, the CPS has proposed changes to fees payable to prosecutors to be implmented from 1 Sept 2019. In addition, the Ministry of Justiice has agreed with the Criminal Bar Association and the Bar Council that the elements of the review will be accelerated:

  • consideration of the issue of unused material;
  • fees paid for cracked trials; and
  • uplifts in paper-heavy cases.

The intention is for interim proposals to be made by the end of September. The impact of the prorogation of Parliament and the possibility of a General Election may alter these timings.

Details about these developments may be found at:

For the overall review https://www.gov.uk/guidance/criminal-legal-aid-review#history

For the CPS work see https://www.cps.gov.uk/cps/news/proposal-between-crown-prosecution-service-ministry-justice-attorney-general-criminal-bar

 

 

Written by lwtmp

September 19, 2019 at 12:09 pm

Unduly lenient sentences: scheme extension

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For many years, the victims of a number of serious crimes have been able to make an application to the Solicitor General that the sentence imposed in their case was too lenient. Crimes such as murder, robbery, and a range of terror offences were covered by the scheme.

If the Solicitor General agrees he/she may refer the case to the Court of Appeal for a reconsideration of the sentence. In 2018, around 100 convicted criminals had their sentences increased under this scheme.

In its Victims Strategy, published in November 2018, the Government stated that it would review the scheme to see whether it should be extended to more offences.

The Government has announced (September 2019) that there should be an extension of the scheme to 14 further offences, including offences of controlling and coercive behaviour, as well as child sexual abuse offences, such as those involving the taking, distributing and publishing of indecent images of children and abusing a position of trust with a child.

Implementation of these decisions requires the approval of secondary legislation which is expected in the autumn 2019.

Further details of the changes is at https://www.gov.uk/government/news/more-victims-able-to-challenge-unduly-lenient-prison-sentences.

The Victims Strategy 2018 was noted in this blog on 29 November 2018

Written by lwtmp

September 19, 2019 at 9:58 am

New Victims’ Commissioner appointed

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In June 2019, Dame Vera Baird replaced Baroness Newlove as the Victim’s Commissioner. Her appointment is for 3 years.

See https://www.gov.uk/government/news/dame-vera-baird-appointed-as-new-victims-commissioner

Written by lwtmp

September 16, 2019 at 12:10 pm

Posted in Chapter 5

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Dealing with domestic abuse: draft Bill published

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Given all the time and attention devoted to Brexit, it is perhaps not surprising that important policy initiatives have not been achieving the publicity they deserve. A good example of this was the publication, in January 2019, of a draft Domestic Abuse Bill.

Domestic abuse is a cruel and complex crime that can affect anyone. It leaves physical and emotional scars that can last a lifetime. It also places a considerable demand on public services . Home Office research estimates the economic and social costs of domestic abuse to society to be £66 billion for victims in 2016 to 2017.

A consultation, launched in March 2018  asked questions on policy should develop to d achieve 4 main objectives:

  • promote awareness – to  raise public and professional awareness
  • protect and support – to enhance the safety of victims and the support that they receive
  • transform the justice process – to prioritise victim safety in the criminal and family courts, and review the perpetrator journey from identification to rehabilitation
  • improve performance – to drive consistency and better performance in the response to domestic abuse across all local areas, agencies and sectors.

Following the consultation, the Government has defined 9 measures that require legislative change – which is the focus of the draft Bill. They are:

  • create a statutory definition of domestic abuse
  • establish the office of Domestic Abuse Commissioner and set out the commissioner’s functions and powers
  • provide for a new Domestic Abuse Protection Notice and Domestic Abuse Protection Order
  • prohibit perpetrators of domestic and other forms of abuse from cross-examining their victims in person in the family courts (and prevent victims from having to cross-examine their abusers) and give the court discretion to prevent cross-examination in person where it would diminish the quality of the witness’s evidence or cause the witness significant distress
  • create a statutory presumption that complainants of an offence involving behaviour that amounts to domestic abuse are eligible for special measures in the criminal courts
  • enable high-risk domestic abuse offenders to be subject to polygraph testing as a condition of their licence following their release from custody
  • place the guidance supporting the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme on a statutory footing
  • ensure that, where a local authority, for reasons connected with domestic abuse, grants a new secure tenancy to a social tenant who had or has a secure lifetime or assured tenancy (other than an assured shorthold tenancy), this must be a secure lifetime tenancy
  • extend the extra-territorial jurisdiction of the criminal courts in England and Wales to further violent and sexual offences.

As the Bill has been published in draft, it is unlikely to become law until 2020 at the earliest.

For further detail see https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/domestic-abuse-consultation-response-and-draft-bill

The Home Office research is at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/the-economic-and-social-costs-of-domestic-abuse

Information on the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme and related guidance (which was updated in December 2016) is available at https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/575361/DVDS_guidance_FINAL_v3.pdf

 

 

Written by lwtmp

March 15, 2019 at 10:27 am

Criminal Injuries Compensation: Abolition of the ‘same roof’ rule

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At the end of February 2019, the Government announced that it was introducing a measure to amend the criminal juries compensation scheme. The amendment would abolish the rule that a victim could not claim compensation under the scheme where he/she lived under the same roof at the perpetrator.

The ‘same roof rule’ was part of the original scheme introduced in 1964 and was intended to ensure perpetrators would not benefit from compensation paid to victims they lived with.

It was amended in October 1979 so future victims could claim compensation if they no longer lived with their attacker and were unlikely to do so again. However, as is common with many changes to the law, this was not made retrospective – which meant some victims may have missed out on compensation if they were a victim of a violent crime before the law change.

A statutory instrument, laid in Parliament on 28 Feb 2019, will remove the pre-1979 rule completely – enabling more victims access to compensation.

Ministers had recognised the rule’s unfair impact on victims of crimes such as child sexual abuse. The move will amend the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme so that all victims abused by someone they lived with can reapply for compensation – regardless of when the attack took place.

It will mean that victims who may not have come forward because of the rule, or were previously denied awards under it, will be eligible to claim compensation – with awards being made to those who meet the Scheme’s other criteria.

The ongoing review of the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme, which will report later in 2019, will look at, among other things, concerns around the eligibility rules, the definition of ‘violent crime’, and the type of injuries that are covered.

See press announcement https://www.gov.uk/government/news/access-to-compensation-scheme-for-victims-who-lived-with-their-attacker

 

 

 

Written by lwtmp

March 14, 2019 at 4:57 pm

Transformation: Courts and Tribunals, 2022: HMCTS and MoJ respond to the Public Accounts Committee

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I noted in 2018 the critical report from the National Audit Office (see this blog June 2018) and the subsequent report (which I labelled ‘brutal’) from the Public Accounts Committee (see this blog October 2018) on the courts and tribunals transformation programme.

Well, now the Ministry of Justice and HM Courts and Tribunals Service have come back with a series of replies, setting out the progress that has been made with the transformation programme, and setting out targets for the following 6 months.

Between November 2018 and February 2019, MoJ and HMCTS published no fewer than 6 reports, each one responding individually to the six principal criticisms made by the Public Accounts Committee.

The most fundamental question is whether the timeframe for the delivery of the transformation programme is being adhered to. The report on Recommendation 1 – which deals with this question – acknowledges that parts of the programme have not yet been started while listing a substantial body of completed work.

Other responses deal with:

  • the impact of the transformation programme on users;
  • engagement with stakeholders;
  • the financial implications of the transformation programme on the wider justice system;
  • evaluating the impact of the reform programme on access to justice and the fairness of the justice system; and
  • balancing the portfolio of change projects to ensure that there is some flexibility and an ability to respond to financial pressures.

Interestingly, less than a month after the publication of the latest of these reports a Press Release in March stated that at least some aspects of the Transformation programme will not be completed until 2023. (See https://www.lawgazette.co.uk/news/breaking-hmcts-delays-1bn-courts-reform-by-a-year/5069501.article)

There is a lot of detail in the reports. They can be found by going to https://www.gov.uk/government/news/response-to-public-accounts-committee-transforming-courts-and-tribunals

This links to each of the six individual responses.

In January 2019, the Justice Select Committee announced that it too would be conducting an inquiry into the Courts and Tribunals Reform programme. See https://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/justice-committee/inquiries/parliament-2017/court-and-tribunals-reform-inquiry-17-19/

It is right that such a major reform programme should be carefully scrutinised by MPs. They can help to ensure that the transformation, that I think is needed, is delivered.