Martin Partington: Spotlight on the Justice System

Keeping the English Legal System under review

Archive for the ‘chapter 6’ Category

Courts and Tribunals (Judiciary and Functions of Staff) Act 2018

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In June 2018, I noted the arrived of the Courts and Tribunals (Judiciary and Functions of Staff) Bill. It has now completed its Parliamentary process and became law at the end of 2018.

The aims of the legislation remain unchanged. The Act contains measures that are essential to enabling the judiciary to respond to the changing demands of a reformed courts and tribunals system and delivering better services to users.

The Act also introduces much greater flexibility to the deployment of judges. It  also frees up judges’ time to focus on more complex matters by allowing suitably qualified and experienced court and tribunal staff to be authorised to handle uncontroversial, straightforward matters under judicial supervision.

The measures in the Act will also increase the efficiency of the courts and tribunals.

For further details see https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/courts-and-tribunals-judiciary-and-functions-of-staff-bill

 

 

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Written by lwtmp

March 16, 2019 at 10:28 am

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 that 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.

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.

 

 

 

 

Reforming the parole board: new announcements

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In April 2018 I noted here the fact that the Government was planning to take steps to reform the ways in which the Parole Board goes about its work. In March 2019, the Government has published the conclusions it has reached so far on this work. The principal features of the new approach are:

  1. The Government will change the Parole Board Rules to create a new reconsideration mechanism so if there is a seriously flawed decision it can be looked at again without the need for judicial review. This is the most important change in the current round of reform proposals.
  2. The Parole Board will publish new Standard Practice documents which will make more transparent the considerations and approaches to decision making that should normally be followed
  3. Improved engagement and communication with victims will be delivered through changes to the Victim Contact Scheme, the commitments in the Victims Strategy published on 10 September 2018 (see this blog November 29 2018) and a revised Victims’ Code following consultation in 2019.
  4. The Government will replace the current Prison Service Instruction on the parole process with a new Policy Framework which will make improvements to timeliness and efficiency as well as ensure the published instructions are up-to-date and support the other reforms.
  5. A new Operational Protocol between the Parole Board and HM Prisons and Probation Service will be published which will clarify and make more open everyone’s roles and responsibilities; support better joint working; and reduce duplication.
  6. Provision will be made in the Rules for prisoners with mental health needs and learning difficulties, who lack mental capacity, to ensure a fair hearing, including the appointment of suitable representation if necessary.
  7. A Rules Committee will be created to oversee future Rule changes, ensuring the rules keep pace with wider developments, with input from key stakeholders including victim representatives.
  8. A further Review of the Parole Board will examine the future constitution of the Parole Board and whether more fundamental reform requiring primary legislation is needed.

Further information about these proposed reforms can be found at https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/775844/review-of-the-pb-rules-and-rm.pdf

A separate paper sets out in more detail how the proposed reconsideration mechanism will work. This is potentially an important change; its operation will need to be kept under review to ensure that it is an effective means of seeking reconsideration without the need for judicial review proceedings.

For further detail see https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/reconsideration-of-parole-board-decisions-creating-a-new-and-open-system

 

 

Written by lwtmp

March 6, 2019 at 1:33 pm

The Modernisation of Tribunals – report from the Senior President of Tribunals

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When he published his Annual Report in 2018, the Senior President of Tribunals promised that there would be a second report, devoted to the issue of the reform of the tribunal system, in the context of the overall courts and tribunals modernization programme.

This second report has now been published. It reports on the outcome of a consultation and a series of engagement meetings which took place around the country under the general heading of Judicial Ways of Working.

It is not an easy report to summarise, but the headline conclusions are:

  1. Judges will shape and lead reform in each of our jurisdictions to ensure that the rule of law is safeguarded and, in particular, that effective access to justice is improved.
  2. New process or the use of digital tools should never lead to less fair procedures or less effective access to justice.
  3. Judicial decision making should be no less open to public scrutiny than it is at present, that is, the careful balance we strike between open justice and the privacy of an individual’s personal information is maintained.
  4. We must ensure that systems are designed to meet the needs of the people who use them, for example how digital access is facilitated for the digitally excluded (a new service known as Assisted Digital). Different types of assistance are currently being tested.
  5. Tribunals led the way in the use of Case Officers before the modernisation programme began. A new generation of tribunals case workers has been trialled as part of the modernisation programme and a career structure has been developed for all ‘Authorised Officers’. Different models with differing levels of responsibility will work in each Tribunal. How and where authorised officers are used will be determined by each jurisdiction but subject to the overall protection of permissions contained in Rules and Practice Directions.
  6. Implementing change is a specialist task. There will be identified HMCTS managers and teams who are responsible for delivering successfully piloted projects in each jurisdiction. The Delivery of Change will depend on the agreement of an ‘end-to- end’ model for each jurisdiction.
  7. There is work to be done to agree the important features of the hardware and software that will be used to support us.
  8. Necessary funding for Digital Training has been obtained. Its provisions will be overseen by the Judicial College and judge trainers. The training will be available to judges and non-legal members and will include opportunities for authorised officers as well.
  9. Where video hearings are to be enhanced and fully video hearings tested, great care is being taken to make sure the system is designed with the needs of judges and users front and centre.
  10. The work towards a Tribunals Estates Strategy which considers each building in the Tribunals estate is an immense task but is nearly complete. The strategy and the principles which will determine how the leasehold estate is managed and how we plan for the future is expected to be agreed by February 2019. There is acknowledgement that some judges and members are currently in unsuitable accommodation; there is acceptance that provision for the Tribunals should in no way be inferior to that provided for the courts and a real desire to ensure that modernisation secures improvements to the working environment.

This is adapted from the summary in Annex E of the report, which is available at https://www.judiciary.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/6.5332_JO_Modernisation-of-Tribunals-2018-Report_v3.pdf

Judicial Ways of Working

Written by lwtmp

February 28, 2019 at 2:56 pm

Administrative Justice Council – new website

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In 2019, the Administrative Justice Council launched its new website. Go to https://ajc-justice.co.uk/ for further information.

Understanding Courts – a report from JUSTICE

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In January 2019, the Human Rights Group JUSTICE published the report, Understanding Courts. It was the work of a group chaired by  Sir Nicholas Blake.

The central message of the report – which builds on other reports published over the last few years by JUSTICE – is that going to court can be a confusing, intimidating and disempowering experience for lay people, whether as parties, witnesses or jurors. This is only compounded for people who are unrepresented, and for otherwise vulnerable people.

This report argues that, in the context of the current programme of reform of courts and tribunals, lay people should be put at the heart of court processes. The objective is to encourage meaningful access to justice through effective participation.

There are 41 recommendations in the report which focus on what effective participation should mean in practice. In broad outline, the key issues are that

  • lay people should be informed about what will happen at their hearing through advance information provided by multiple means;
  • court professionals should recognise that lay people should be their primary focus and adapt their approach accordingly;
  • case management should ensure that lay people understand processes and assists with that understanding;
  • legal jargon and confusing modes of address should be avoided, using plain English alternatives;
  • there needs to be a change in professional culture that can otherwise exclude lay people;
  • there should be appropriate adaptations to enable participation by children and those with a disability; and
  • there should be support for all users who need it.

It is an interesting report, which deserves to be taken seriously. But I have the specific comments to make.

1 Tribunals have long espoused the key principles set out in this report. There is mention in this report that the user focus of tribunals needs to be brought into the court system. If this report has the effect of stopping (court) judges regarding tribunals as second class courts, rather than as first class dispute resolution forums, then it will have served a useful purpose.

2 There are many recommendations in the reports about ensuring that information provided by courts is user-friendly and up to date. This again is welcome but this is a message that has been developed on many occasions over recent years. Now is the time to get down to the hard work of developing user-friendly information and forms that really do enable individuals to improve their access to justice – using the potential of IT to the full.

3 If the change of culture recommended in the report is to be fully realise this has a significant implication for the training, not just of the judiciary, but also of court staff and other legal professionals. The recent spate of press stories about bullying judges is extremely worrying – it is hard to see how a bullying judge would have the empathy or patience to adopt the approach outlined in this report. Judges already in post will need as much training in the interpersonal skills required to change court culture as those coming new to the role.

The full report is available at https://justice.org.uk/our-work/areas-of-work/what-is-a-trial/

 

 

 

 

Resolving Housing Disputes: proposal for a Housing Complaints Resolution Service

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The last two blog items have considered proposals for making the disputes resolution activities of the county court and the property tribunal in relation to housing matters work more coherently. But for many people, the very idea of going to a court (or tribunal) is daunting.

Increasingly, governments use non-court avenues for redress, where this can be done cost-effectively and in a way which promotes access to justice – in the broad sense of access to a service that will take an independent look at a dispute and resolve it. The outstanding example is in the field of financial services, where the Financial Services Ombudsman offers a dispute resolution service across the financial services sector.

In relation to housing disputes, the problem is rather different. There are a number of different complaints handlers – so many, in fact, that members of the public often don’t know which route to resolution to take.

The Government has been concerned about this issue for sometime. In January 2019, the Secretary of State announced that he would be bringing forward legislation to create a single Housing Complaints Resolution Service which will become the single port of entry – for both owner occupiers and renters – with disputes they wish to have resolved.

From broken boilers to cracks in the wall, the new Housing Complaints Resolution Service will potentially help millions by providing a straight-forward way of getting help when faced with unresolved disputes about problems with their home – such as repairs and maintenance.

One feature of the new service is that all Private Landlords – who currently do not have to belong to a redress scheme – will be required to sign up – with penalties for failure to do so.

In addition the government has announced that there will be a New Homes Ombudsman, to resolve complaints about the condition of new homes.

These changes will not happen overnight – they will require legislation. The details of the Housing Complaints Resolution Service will be developed with a new Redress Reform Working Group made up of representatives from across the sector, working with industry and consumers.

I will keep an eye on these developments as the details emerge.

For further detail, including links to background papers see https://www.gov.uk/government/news/james-brokenshire-announces-overhaul-of-broken-housing-complaints-system

 

Written by lwtmp

February 8, 2019 at 5:32 pm