Martin Partington: Spotlight on the Justice System

Keeping the English Legal System under review

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Reform of the Parole Board

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The Warboys affair, in which the Parole Board recommended the release from jail of a London taxi driver who had been convicted of a number of rapes and who was suspected of involvement in other offences, caused public outcry in January 2018. It lead to the resignation of the Chair of the Parole Board, Prof Nick Hardwick. And the Secretary of State for Justice, David Gauke, was clearly anxious that there should be changes to the ways in which the Parole Board worked (somewhat disingenuously, as the Parole Board itself had  for sometime been arguing for change).

A review of the Parole Board was announced in January 2018 (see this blog for 24 January 2018). The review was asked to look at the following issues:

  1. the law, policy, guidance and practice relating to challenges to Parole Board decision-making
  2. the transparency of Parole Board decision-making
  3. victim involvement in Parole Board hearings
  4. arrangements for communicating with victims

The result of this review was published on April 28 2018. It can be found at https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/703534/review-of-the-law_policy-and-procedure-relating-to-parole-board-decisions.pdf

The Government has made a number of important announcements which will affect the ways in which the Parole Board undertakes its work going forward.

In particular, Rule 25 of the Parole Board Rules – which currently prohibits publication of details of parole board decisions – will be amended in favour of much greater transparency.

In addition, the Government has announced that it will make immediate changes to how it communicates with victims, as well as looking at how more victims can be offered the Victim Contact Scheme (VCS).

A more fundamental change proposed is that there should be created, within the Parole Board itself, a mechanism for the reconsideration of decisions taken by the Board, that would remove the necessity of parties having to launch expensive proceedings in the Courts for judicial review. The precise ways in which the reconsideration process should work have not  yet been finalised, but  a Consultation Paper setting out various options and suggestions has been published with views sought by the end of July 2018. It is anticipated that reconsiderations would in general be chaired by judges who are members of the Parole Board.

See https://consult.justice.gov.uk/digital-communications/reconsideration-of-parole-board-decisions/

There has also been published the terms of reference for a full review of the Parole Board Rules, with the specific object of trying to improve the transparency of the work of the Board.

See https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/review-of-the-parole-board-rules

The speed with which these first decisions have been taken is an indication of the political pressure to respond to the outcry created by the Warboys case. Further details, in particular on the proposed reconsideration process, will be considered here in due course. It is worth observing that the Secretary of State’s strategy can be delivered entirely through changes to regulations, which will not require parliamentary time.

 

 

 

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Written by lwtmp

April 30, 2018 at 4:25 pm

Posted in Chapter 5

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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

 

 

 

Written by lwtmp

April 4, 2018 at 3:19 pm

Disclosure of evidence: planning for change – first steps

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In July 2017, the Inspectorates of the Crown Prosecution Service and Constabulary published a very critical report on the failure of police and prosecution services to apply the rules relating to the disclosure of evidence held by police/prosecutors to defence teams. (I noted the report here in November 2017).

Since then, it seems that the issue of the failure of the police and prosecution to disclose evidence to defence lawyers which might undermine or weaken the prosecution case has received almost daily attention in the mass media. A number of well publicised cases have emerged in which those accused of serious crimes (in particular rape) have found out only at a late stage that evidence which undermines the case against them is available.

A number of reasons have been advanced for these failures. For example, it is argued that the current law was put in place before the arrival of mobile phones and the vast amounts of electronic data that is generated on phones and tablet.

It is also argued that police and prosecutors lack the resources to comb through all this information to see what might by relevant.

This is an extremely serious issue which goes to the heart of the criminal justice system. People must feel that the system is fair and that those who run it are complying with the rules.

Clearly both the police and CPS are taking this issue seriously. The first tangible step has recently been taken. At the end of January 2108, a plan was published  by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) and the College of Policing.  This sets out measures designed to improve practice in this area.

These first steps include:

  • Reviewing disclosure training with the College of Policing
  • Developing a cadre of specialist and experienced disclosure experts in every force
  • Providing all multimedia evidence from the CPS to the defence digitally
  • Putting in place specific improvement plans for each force and CPS area
  • Setting up a system for the CPS and police to better identify and deal with cases with significant and complex disclosure issues.

This will not be the last word on this subject. Much work has to be done to ensure that all those engaged in the criminal justice system actually act in accordance with the statutory rules on disclosure. But it is an important first step.

The text of the plan can be found at http://www.npcc.police.uk/Publication/National%20Disclosure%20Improvement%20Plan%20January%202018.pdf

Written by lwtmp

February 1, 2018 at 11:12 am

Parole Board – review of procedures

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The decision by the Parole Board to release the London Cab Driver John Warboys – who had been convicted of raping a number of his customers – has generated a great deal of publicity. Many of the challenges in that case arose from the fact that Warboys had been sentenced to an Indeterminate Sentence, which meant that he could continue to be detained after the period set by the judge as punishment for his crime, where it was anticipated that his release would be a danger to the public. (The law relating to such sentences was changed by the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012.)

The Government has now announced that there is to be a review of the practices and procedures of the Parole Board. This is to include a review of how the work of the Board impacts on the victims of the crimes committed by those the Board is considering for release.

The terms of the reference are as follows:

This review will consider the case for changes in law, policy and procedure in relation to Parole Board decision-making. It will include an examination of the transparency of the process and reasons for parole decisions, and how victims are appropriately engaged in that process. It will take account of the interests of justice, public confidence in the system and the impact on victims. The review will draw on the views and experience of victims, practitioners and international best practice.
The review will focus on the following areas:
1. The law, policy, guidance and practice relating to challenges to Parole Board decision making, specifically whether there should be a mechanism to allow parole decisions to be reconsidered.
2. The transparency of Parole Board decision making, including:
whether the outcomes of Parole Board decisions should be published or otherwise
disclosed;
whether the reasons for those decisions should be published, and if so to what extent; and
whether there are any other changes that should be made in order to contribute to greater transparency.
3. Victim involvement in Parole Board hearings:
to review the relevant entitlements outlined in the Victims’ Code to determine whether improvements should be made to how victims are currently involved in and contribute to Parole Board hearings;
what improvements should be made to how their involvement is facilitated.
4. Arrangements for communicating with victims:
to review whether the current entitlements for victims who qualify under the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004 for the Victim Contact Scheme are adequate, including in relation to Victim Personal Statements and licence conditions;
to review whether improvements can be made to the way that the scheme operates in practice, in particular the process by which victims are notified of their entitlements and of decisions; whilst respecting the victim’s preference for how they are contacted;
to consider the question of ongoing contact with victims who are eligible for the Victim Contact Scheme but have previously opted out; and
whether there need to be new entitlements or procedures for victims not covered by the statutory scheme.
Interestingly in its own Press Release, the Parole Board observes: “Justice needs to be seen to be done and the Canadian model for victim contact could provide a good starting point.”
As far as I  am aware, decisions have not yet been taken as to who should lead this review, nor the time line for the completion of the review. I will endeavour to keep you posted on such developments.
The terms of reference are at https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/674955/pb-review-terms-of-reference.pdf
The Parole Board Press statement is at https://www.gov.uk/government/news/parole-board-welcomes-independent-review-of-victim-contact-and-extended-terms-of-reference-for-review-of-parole-processes

 

 

Written by lwtmp

January 24, 2018 at 12:46 pm

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

Children Across the Justice Systems

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This was the title of an extremely important and interesting lecture, given by Sir James Munby, President of the Family Court, to the Howard League for Penal Reform at the end of October 2017

What, it might be asked, was our leading family judge doing talking to those whose interest is in the criminal justice system?

Sir James used his lecture as an opportunity to argue for a new approach to the treatment of young people who come into contact with the criminal justice and penal systems. He sets out with admirable clarity what he sees as the main problems with  current arrangements, including:  the very complex set of institutions with which the young offender may come into contact; the huge variety of government departments – both central and local – charged with developing and delivering policy in relation to young offender; and the inconsistency of approach of different agencies towards how young offenders and their families should be dealt with.

Sir James argues that, in this context, family justice and criminal justice should be brought together. Specifically, he argues that the role of the Family Drug and Alcohol Court should be expanded to enable it to take on cases which are currently dealt with in the Youth Court.

He recognizes that such a development would represent a big policy change and could not come into being in the short-term. He therefore also proposes interim measures that might go someway towards meeting the objective he has outlined.

So far as I am aware,the Government is not currently contemplating such a major change, but I think Sir James offers ideas that should be carefully considered.

The lecture is available at https://www.judiciary.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/speech-pfd-children-across-the-justice-systems.pdf

Written by lwtmp

November 8, 2017 at 12:47 pm

Making it Fair: The Disclosure of Unused Material in Volume Crown Court Cases

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In July 2017,  HM Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate and HM Inspectorate for Constabulary published a joint report on the disclosure of unused evidence. Based on the analysis of a number of sets of court papers, the report reveals very poor compliance with the relevant rules.

The report states: “Disclosure is one of the cornerstones of the criminal justice system and disclosure of unused material is a key component of the investigative and prosecution process. …Every unused item that is retained by police and considered relevant to an investigation should be reviewed to see whether it is capable of undermining the prosecution case or assisting the defence case. If either factor applies it must be disclosed to the defence.’

This inspection by HMCPSI and HMIC identified a number of issues which are contributing to widespread failures across the board by both police and prosecutors.

  • Police scheduling (the process of recording details of sensitive and non-sensitive material) is poor and this, in turn, is not being challenged by prosecutors.
  • Police are routinely failing to comply with guidance and requirements when completing and recording data, such as the non-sensitive disclosure schedule (known as MG6C).
  • The College of Policing is supposed to provide training on disclosure. [But] Many officers admitted they lacked confidence in their role and responsibilities as disclosure officer.
  • Prosecutors are expected to reject substandard schedules and there was little evidence of such challenge occurring, with a culture of acceptance prevailing.
  • There was also poor decision-making by prosecutors on the Criminal Procedure and Investigations Act (CPIA) test for disclosure. In 54% of cases prosecutors simply endorsed schedules without recording their reasoning.
  • There were further failings in maintaining a complete audit trail of actions and decisions setting out the prosecution disclosure process.
  • There was poor supervision of standards, although where police forces have introduced quality control mechanisms this was found to improve the quality of data.
  • The exchange of information and documents between the police and CPS is often hindered rather than helped by technology, with a number of police systems presenting problems.

The report set out a strict timetable for change.

Immediately:

all disclosure issues relating to unused material to be identified at the charging stage.

Within six months:

the CPS to comply with the Attorney General’s Guidelines on Disclosure, with an allocated prosecutor reviewing every defence statement and giving prompt guidance to police;

police forces to improve supervision of unused material;

CPS Compliance and Assurance Team to begin dip sampling;

all police forces to establish role of dedicated disclosure champion of senior rank;

a system of sharing information between CPS Areas and Headquarters to monitor performance;

CPS and police to develop effective communications processes.

Within 12 months:

the College of Policing to introduce a disclosure training package;

the CPS and police to review digital case management systems.

The full report is available at http://www.justiceinspectorates.gov.uk/cjji/inspections/making-it-fair-the-disclosure-of-unused-material-in-volume-crown-court-cases/

Written by lwtmp

November 6, 2017 at 3:00 pm