Martin Partington: Spotlight on the Justice System

Keeping the English Legal System under review

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When Things Go Wrong: the response of the justice system: a report from JUSTICE

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When Things Go Wrong: Grenfell

On 24 August 2020, JUSTICE, the Human Rights Group published an important report on the principles that should be applied when establishing public inquiries when some catastrophic event has occurred.

At present, a tragic incident may result in a range of concurrent legal processes: criminal investigations, disciplinary hearings and civil claims may be initiated that share identical subject matter with an inquiry, inquest or both. These overlapping processes can be confusing for those involved: at worst, layers of legal duplication can fuel the pain of loss. From the perspective of those caught up in the aftermath of the disaster – including victims, witnesses and alleged wrongdoers – the process can be agonisingly protracted. Further, survivors and their families often speak of alienation, mistreatment and whitewashing by the very bodies set up to identify the wrongs they have suffered. Their accounts suggest that inquest and inquiry processes are often highly adversarial and potentially retraumatising. And those with the most at stake may understandably fear that nothing will change once the processes conclude.

A Working Party of JUSTICE, chaired by Sir Robert Owen, asked whether there were ways to overcome these perceived deficiences. It considered:

  • timely justice: how elements of current fact-finding processes and investigation might be integrated to reduce duplication and delay;
  • transparency and responsibility: how investigations, inquiries and inquests can be better coordinated to embed best practice, promote certainty and ensure inclusion of bereaved people and survivors; and
  • fairer outcomes: how inquiry hearings can be improved with regard to procedures, evidence and effective participation.

The report made 54 recommendations under the following broad heads:

  • The framework – They recommended new State and independent bodies to provide oversight and facilitate information-sharing – a Central Inquiries Unit within Government, a full-time Chief Coroner and a special procedure inquest for investigating mass fatalities as well as single deaths linked by systemic failure, able to consider closed material and make specific recommendations to prevent recurrence.
  • Opening investigations – Greater collaboration between agencies, in order to build a cross-process dossier, which would reduce the multiple occasions that bereaved people and survivors have to recount traumatic events and ensure that they are fully informed throughout the process.
  • Procedure – Processes for appointing inquiry chairs and panels, for establishing the terms of reference and for providing information and relevant documents to core participants need to be more structured and transparent. Drawing on previous JUSTICE working parties on accessibility, we recommend that bereaved people and survivors are placed at the heart of the process – in choice of hearing space; improved communication and questioning by professionals and signposting to support services. Aside from the legal formalities, the report also called for widespread use of commemorative “pen portraits” and therapeutic spaces for bereaved and survivor testimony.
  • A statutory duty of candour, including a rebuttable requirement for position statements, which would help foster a “cards on the table” approach. Directing the inquiry to the most important matters early on could result in earlier findings and reduced costs.
  • Accountability and systemic change – An independent body should lead oversight and monitoring of the implementation of inquest and inquiry recommendations, whose review could aid scrutiny by parliamentary committees.

Source: Adapted from https://justice.org.uk/our-work/system-wide-reform/when-things-go-wrong/


Written by lwtmp

September 7, 2020 at 4:55 pm

Posted in chapter 6

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Independent Review of Administrative Law

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In an earlier blog (13 July 2020), I noted the House of Lords Library paper on the proposed Constitution, Rights and Democracy Commission, an idea contained in the Conservative Party manifesto for the 2019 General Election.

Although no further steps towards the creation of the Commission have been announced, at the end of July 2020 the Government announced that it was establishing an independent review of administrative law to look in particular at judicial review – the power of the courts to review and where necessary overturn a decision made by Goverment.

Governments frequently complain that the use of judicial review can prevent them from taking decisions they think are necessary. Defenders of judicial review argue that the principle of the rule of law demands that executive/administrative actions can only be taken if they are authorised by law.

The Independent Review, chaired by Sir Edward Faulks QC, a former Minister of State for Civil Justice, has been asked to examine a number of questions relating to judicial review.

The Terms of Reference for the Review state that the Review should

  • examine trends in judicial review of executive action,  in particular in relation to the policies and decision making of the Government;
  • bear in mind how the legitimate interest in the citizen being able to challenge the lawfulness of executive action through the courts can be properly balanced with the role of the executive to govern effectively under the law;
  • consider data and evidence on the development of JR and of judicial decision-making and consider what (if any) options for reforms might be justified.

More specifically the review has to consider:
1. Whether the amenability of public law decisions to judicial review by the courts and the grounds of public law illegality (an area of law developed by the judges) should be codified in statute;
2. Whether the legal principle of non-justiciability  (i.e. that certain types of decision cannot be reviews in the courts) requires clarification and, if so, the identity of subjects/areas where the issue of the justiciability/non-justiciability of the exercise of a public law power and/or function could be considered by the Government;
3. Whether, where the exercise of a public law power should be justiciable: (i) on which grounds the courts should be able to find a decision to be unlawful; (ii) whether those grounds should depend on the nature and subject matter of the power and (iii) the remedies available in respect of the various grounds on which a decision may be declared unlawful; and
4. Whether procedural reforms to judicial review are necessary, in general to “streamline the process”, and, in particular: (a) on the burden and effect of disclosure in particular in relation to “policy decisions” in Government; (b) in relation to the duty of candour, particularly as it affects Government; (c) on possible amendments to the law of standing – i.e. deciding who can bring an action by way of judicial review; (d) on time limits for bringing claims, (e) on the principles on which relief is granted in claims for judicial review, (f) on rights of appeal, including on the issue of permission to bring JR proceedings and; (g) on costs and interveners (the ability of bodies not parties to an action to intervene in the action by providing specialist advice or assistance).

The Review has been asked to report by the end of 2020. Recommendations will be considered by the Lord Chancellor and the Chancellor for the Duchy of Lancashire, Michael Gove.

Although the announcement does not state this, the creation of this panel is, at least in part, a result of the decision of the Supreme Court in R (on the application of Miller) (Appellant) v The Prime Minister (Respondent) [2019] UKSC 41. The issues in the case were noted in this blog on 24 September 2019. Although it was argued that the Prime Minister’s use of the prerogative to prorogue Parliament (i.e. bring a Parliament to an end prior to the holding of a General Election) was non-justiciable – i.e. it could be reviewed by the Court, the Supreme Court rejected this argument and found exercise of the power was justiciable. Further, there the effect of the Prime Minister’s decision was to prevent all Parliamentary activity for 5 weeks, this was far more than necessary to prepare for a General Election and so went beyond the scope of his prerogative power and was unlawful.

The announcement of the review and links to the Terms of Reference are at https://www.gov.uk/government/news/government-launches-independent-panel-to-look-at-judicial-review

The Supreme Court decision in the Miller case is at https://www.supremecourt.uk/cases/uksc-2019-0192.html

Covid 19 and the English Legal System (13): Justice Committee reports on the impact on the Courts and on the Legal Profession

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I have noted before that a number of Parliamentary Committees are examining aspects of the impact of Covid 19. The Justice Committee is in the middle of publishing a series of reports on this question. The first two of these, on Courts and on the Legal Profession have been published (30 July 2020 and 3 Aug 2020).

Both reports are, inevitably, in the nature of interim reports – given that we are still in the middle of a crisis, the outcome of which is far from clear.

The first report, on the Courts, takes up the widespread criticism that there were already considerable backlogs and unacceptable delays in the criminal justice system which have been exacerbated by the arrival of Covid 19.

The Committee notes that measures being put in place to improve the performance of the Crown Courts include a possible increase in the number of sitting days and the opening of the (temporary) Nightingale Courts – specially adapted spaces in which criminal trials can be dealt with.

As regards Magistrates’ Courts,  the Committee found that the end of May 2020, there were 416,600 outstanding cases in the magistrates’ courts, which is the highest backlog in recent years. (The backlog previously peaked at 327,000 outstanding cases in 2015.) By mid-June, the figure was even higher. HMCTS has promised a ‘recovery plan’; the Committee states that it looks forward to seeing it.

By contrast with the criminal justice system, the civil, administrative and family systems have fared relatively better. Much of this has been the result of the ability of the courts and tribunals service to move hearings online. The Committee repeats concerns raised elsewhere, for example about enabling those who find it hard to use IT to participate, and that some types of family dispute are hard to deal with online.

The Committee stresses the importance of HMCTS undertaking proper evaluations of the impact of these new procedures on users of the system. It also emphasises that changes in practice arising out of the need to respond to the pandemic should not be adopted on a permanent basis, without more evaluation and consultation.

The Justice Committee report on the impact on the legal profession is not as general as its title might suggest. It focusses primarily on the impact on legal aid practitioners and other advice agencies, arguing that they continue to need financial support if the provision of services – particularly in criminal cases – is not to be lost.

The Committee’s report on the impact of Covid 19 on the Courts is at https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm5801/cmselect/cmjust/519/51905.htm

Their report on the impact of the pandemic on the legal profession is at https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm5801/cmselect/cmjust/520/52003.htm

 

 

 

 

 

 

Video Hearings Process Evaluation

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One of the many developments included in Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) Transformation programme is greater use of remote hearings. Two researchers at the London School of Economics were commissioned to make an independent evaluation of the use of remote hearings. Their findings were published on 29 July 2020.

The report examined the development, implementation, and user experience of the video hearings service and platform across four different hearing types in the civil, family, and tax jurisdictions: Set Aside Judgments, First Direction Appointments, Short Notice Hearings, and Basic Tax Appeals. These were issues which judges in the pilot centres (Birmingham and Manchester) thought suitable for remote hearings.

Methods involved a combination of observation, semi-structured interviews, and analysis of HMCTS documentation. However, the sample of hearings studied was small – just 23 in total.

Some of the research findings might have been predicted: some hearings were subject to technical glitches; judges did not have all the kit (especially a second screen) they would like; they probably needed some more training.

From my perspective, the most interesting findings of the research related to the user experience. The summary states:

Most users commented on the convenience of having a video hearing and the time and cost it saved them. Some users also reported reduced stress and anxiety due to being able to take part in a hearing from their home or from their solicitors office.

Legal professionals felt the cases selected for the pilot were appropriate and also recognised this option as a benefit for parties.

Users reported finding their video hearing easy, effective and straightforward. However, some recognised a challenge with communicating over video and felt that it might be difficult for people who are not familiar with or do not have
access to the suitable technology.

Users maintained the view that pre-hearing support was highly valuable and helped them navigate the technology on the day of their hearing. All users were highly satisfied with how the judge managed the hearing and the formality of the hearing.

Users who experienced technological issues did not report these as unmanageable and thought that judges dealt with any disruption effectively.

The cases used for this research were all dealt with pre-Covid-19. Since then the pace of change has increased and there has been a considerable rise in the numbers of cases being dealt with remotely. An evaluation of this new digital landscape will be published in due course.

While some may wish this, a return to the pre-Covid days is unlikely. A key challenge, however, will be to support those who find the technologies hard to manage; this has to be faced by those seeking to put more hearings on line.

The report, written by Meredith Rossner and Martha McCurdy, may be found at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/hmcts-video-hearings-process-evaluation-phase-2-final-report

 

Written by lwtmp

August 1, 2020 at 12:53 pm

Transformation of the Justice System: reports on the progress of the HMCTS reform programme

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It is a some time since I wrote about the great Transformation of the Justice system programme that was launched in 2016. It is quite a challenge to follow the progress of the reform programme. I thought it would be useful to bring together the principal documents which relate to the project which will fundamentally reshape the justice system for years to come.

  • The Transformation of the Justice system project was formally launched in a joint statement issued by the Lord Chancellor, the Lord Chief Justice and the Senior President of Tribunals in September 2016.

See https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/transforming-our-justice-system-joint-statement

Initially planned for completion in 2021, the end date is currently set back to December 2023, though many parts of the programme have been completed. The principal features the programme can be seen in the following diagram.

The PAC report resulted in six separate responses from the Government, details of which are at https://www.gov.uk/government/news/response-to-public-accounts-committee-transforming-courts-and-tribunals. (see this blog 10 March 2019)

  • One issue, raised in both the above reports,  related to the adequacy of HMCTS engagement with stakeholders. HMCTS responded by commissioning an independent audit of stakeholder engagement which was published in October 2019. See https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/hmcts-stakeholder-perception-audit-report-2019. A further progress report on stakeholder engagement was published in January 2020. (It can be found by googling HMCTS Engaging with our external stakeholders 2020 which leads to a Report published in Jan 2020.)

This has not to date led to a further report from the Public Accounts Committee.

HMCTS issued a response to this report in the form of a Press Release, which is available at https://www.gov.uk/government/news/hmcts-response-to-justice-select-committee-report-on-court-and-tribunal-reforms

I hope that this blog entry, listing key documents and reports relating to the transformation project will be useful for those wanting to get an overview of the project and its progress. I will endeavour to keep readers up with more specific developments as they occur. For the moment, many of these have become intertwined with arrangements that have been made to adjust the work of the courts and tribunals to the effects of the Covid 19 pandemic.

Covid 19 and the English Legal System (8): guidance on new working practices

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As readers of this blog will already be aware, I have been considering the impact of the Covid 19 pandemic on the English Legal System. There will, I am sure, be many more blog entries to come.

For those not involved on a daily basis in the work of courts and tribunals, it can be hard to get an overview of what is happening.

An invaluable source of information is available on the Judiciary website which brings together the vast range of advice and guidance on how courts and tribunals should be working in the current environment. Some of this advice is general – applying across the board; other advice relates to specific jurisdictions.

Access to the guidance, which is updated when necessary, is available at https://www.judiciary.uk/coronavirus-covid-19-advice-and-guidance/

Covid 19 and the English Legal System (7): steps to recovery

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Since March 2020, the Government has worked closely with the judiciary and others to ensure the justice system continues to perform its vital role while keeping court and tribunal users safe.

To achieve this, Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service has rapidly expanded the use of technology to allow hearings to be conducted by phone and video.

HMCTS also temporarily closed around half of its buildings to focus effort and resources more effectively. The most urgent cases have been prioritised by the judiciary to ensure public safety, protect the vulnerable and safeguard children.

Having responded to the immediate crisis, HMCTS is now focusing on how to recover its operations to increase courts and tribunals capacity to deal both with normal workloads across jurisdictions and outstanding cases.

HMCTS has recently published a progress report to update those interested on its recovery plans. It sets out in a short booklet format the areas of working being undertaken in the short and medium terms.

It assumes that the need to continue to maintain social distancing as far as possible will continue, at least into 2021. It also emphasises that the programme of reform of Courts and Tribunals is continuing. Lessons from the experience of new ways of working, resulting from the need to meet the challenge of Covid 19, must be learned as the broader reform programme unfurls.

The Progress update is at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/court-and-tribunal-recovery-update-in-response-to-coronavirus

The update has been accompanied by a statement from the Lord Chief Justice and the Vice President of Tribunals, available at https://www.judiciary.uk/announcements/courts-and-tribunals-recovery/

See also a blog from the Head of HMCTS at https://insidehmcts.blog.gov.uk/2020/07/01/coronavirus-recovering-in-our-courts-and-tribunals/

 

Judicial review and Covid-19: reflections on the role of crowdfunding

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This is an interesting item on the use of crowdfunding to pursue issues arising out of the Covid 19 pandemic. it raises some interesting questions about whether this form of litigation finance is appropriate in all circustances.

UKAJI

Judicial review and Covid-19: reflections on the role of crowdfunding

IMG_20200604_123218Sam Guy – MA Social Research student and incoming ESRC-funded PhD candidate at the University of York

The Government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic has been subject to significant numbers of judicial review challenges, many of which have been financed using crowdfunding. These cases, and the public’s responses to them, illuminate some of the opportunities and threats posed by this resource as a form of judicial review funding.

Crowdfunding as responsive collective action

There are at least two benefits of crowdfunding that have become particularly apparent in the pandemic. Firstly, it can offer a quick and expedient method for claimants to raise money towards potentially otherwise unaffordable litigation. The current environment for public interest judicial reviews is one of scarce state funding and high costs risk. Into this context, crowdfunding provides an alternative, democratised source of funding. As a result…

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Written by lwtmp

July 2, 2020 at 11:19 am

Report of the Commission on Justice in Wales: summary of recommendations

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I have just published a short blog on the constitutional changes being made in Wales. As part of that, I mentioned the publication of the Commission on Justice in Wales, whose report was published in October 2019. I think it is an extremely interesting document, for two main reasons.

  1. There are a number of specific ideas in this report which should be considered more actively for implementation in England as well.
  2. It offers a holistic set of proposals for a distinct Justice system for Wales. I have long thought that justice policy in England was made in a piecemeal way. This report provides a model of what a comprehensive Justice Policy in England might look like.

Of course, it is easier for a new government to engage in forward planning at a time when its responsibilities are limited. But the ways in which different parts of the English legal system have been dealing with Covid 19 have often been innovative and imaginative. I would argue that this provides an opportunity, for those willing to seize it, for thinking about what a coherent modern justice policy for England might look like.

Anyway, I offer this summary, adapted from the Commission’s report as something that those interested in Justice policy in England might also like to consider.

Source: Commission on Justice in Wales at https://gov.wales/commission-justice-wales

Commission on Justice in Wales: Summary of recommendations

1. Information, advice and assistance

  • The funding for legal aid and for the third sector providing advice and assistance should be brought together in Wales to form a single fund.
  • Criminal legal aid policy and delivery should be based on the approaches to public defender schemes adopted by the Nordic nations.

2. Criminal justice: reducing crime and promoting rehabilitation

  • A new Wales Criminal Justice Board should be created. It should set an overall strategy for Wales including responsibility for ensuring the rights of victims are respected and there is proper delivery of services to victims.
  • The Police, Crown Prosecution Service, the judiciary and HM Prison and Probation Service should each publish a strategy in respect of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic people in Wales and report annually on the strategy to the Assembly.
  • Policing and crime reduction policy, including drug abuse and mental health related issues, should be determined in Wales so that it is aligned and integrated with Welsh health, education and social policy.
  • Problem-solving courts should be established in Wales along the Northern Ireland model.
  •  Youth justice policy should be determined and delivered in Wales. The age of criminal responsibility should be raised to at least 12 years old.
  • A comprehensive network of services and centres as alternatives to custody should be established rapidly. An integrated and whole system approach to offender management should be established with a single rehabilitative strategy in Wales.
  • Needs assessments of Welsh offenders should be conducted to identify the range of interventions required in both prisons and the community.

3. Civil justice

  • Digital court services and other dispute resolution services that are being developed and introduced must be fully accessible to people throughout Wales.
  • Dispute resolution before courts, tribunals, alternative dispute resolution and ombudsmen, as well as dispute resolution in respect of administrative law, should be promoted and coordinated in Wales through a body chaired by a senior judge.
  • The feasibility of a low cost and effective resolution method for civil disputest hrough the use of a comprehensive ombudsmen scheme, taking into account the online court, should be examined.

4.  Administrative justice and coroners

  • All public bodies, ombudsmen and other tribunals which have been established under Welsh law or by the Welsh Government, which make judicial or quasi-judicial decisions, and are not currently subject to the supervision of the President of Welsh Tribunals, should be brought under the supervision of the President.
  • The Administrative Court should have the power to stay court proceedings whilst the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales investigates a complaint. The Ombudsman should have the power to refer a point of law to the Court.
  • The Welsh Tribunals Unit should have structural independence and the Welsh tribunals should be used for dispute resolution relating to future Welsh Legislation.

5. Family justice: children

  • The law relating to children and family justice in Wales should be brought together in one coherent legal system aligned with functions in relation to health, education and welfare.
  • Pending further research and the development of a long-term strategy, an all Wales approach to family justice should be developed and led in Wales through the Family Justice Network for Wales and the Local Family Justice Boards. The approach should be followed by all local authorities for dealing with child protection referrals with the objective of avoiding care proceedings when family support would be more appropriate.
  • It should be a matter of routine practice prior to the first hearing in care proceedings to examine the feasibility of problem-solving and the form it might take, with a view to finding what steps short of taking a child into care can be put in place.
  • The voice of the child should be heard at every stage of the proceedings.
  • Family Drug and Alcohol Courts should be established in Wales
  • There should be vigorous support for a programme of research to underpin reform of Welsh family justice and associated preventative services. The overarching aim should be the reduction in the numbers of children taken into care and the provision of far better evidence of the impacts of intervention on family life.
  • A carefully thought through long-term policy for reducing the numbers of children taken into care should be developed after the conclusions of the research and then implemented.
  • Legal advice should be available to each parent in private family law disputes prior to the commencement of proceedings up to a maximum fixed amount in each case

6. Delivering justice: locality and structure

  • A strategy for Wales for provision of proper physical and digital access to justice before the courts, tribunals and other forms of dispute resolution should be drawn up and determined in Wales based on the needs of the people of Wales

7. The legal sector and the economy of Wales

  • The Welsh Government should, in close consultation with the legal professions, provide fully-funded legal apprenticeships to enable people to qualify as legal professionals in Wales.
  • There should be greater transparency about the level and distribution of expenditure on external legal services by the Welsh Government, each Welsh local authority and all other public bodies in Wales.
  • The procurement of barristers’ services should be reformed to help build the capacity of the Bar in Wales.
  • The Welsh Government should develop and implement as soon as possible our proposed strategy to reinvigorate the rural and post-industrial legal sector in Wales. It should provide strong support for investment in technology, especially in post-industrial and rural Wales.
  • The Welsh Government must provide clear leadership and support for the legal services sector. This should be targeted, user-friendly, flexible and attractive to potential inward investors especially with establishing a technology-based nearshoring centre as an objective.
  • The Welsh Government, legal professionals in Wales, the Law Society, the Bar Council, other professional bodies and academia should work in partnership. They should develop and promote the capabilities of the legal sector, promote South Wales as a legal centre and increase the export of legal services.

8. Knowledge, skills and innovation

  • Welsh law schools must reassess their undergraduate programmes to take advantage of the scope for comparative studies and transferable qualifications.
  • Law tech must be taught to all students and the professions across Wales.
  • All university and college education providers in Wales should teach Welsh law as part of the ordinary undergraduate syllabus and work together to produce the necessary material. The place of Welsh law and the distinctiveness of the law in Wales should be properly reflected in professional and continuing legal education and training. Wales specific data should be collected and published on a sufficient scale to enable disaggregation, with a view to proper evidence-based policy development and as a basis for research.
  • The Welsh Government should lead the development and implementation of an action plan to promote and support public legal education, particularly for children and young people.

9. The Welsh language

  • All justice bodies should be subject to the Welsh Language Measure 2011. The Bar, CILEx and the Law Society should provide courses on using Welsh in the workplace, similar to those used by the Judicial College. Digital services that are being introduced must be accessible, free help must be available and all must be available in Welsh at the same time as the English version.
  • Professional legal education for those wishing to practise in Wales must be available in the Welsh language with the phased introduction of the availability of all professional examinations in Welsh.  Welsh law schools must collaborate on Welsh medium legal education, especially as regards the provision of teaching materials. All coroner services should be available in the Welsh language.

10. Recommendations on devolution of justice

  • There should be legislative devolution of justice. Restrictions and reservations governing the Assembly’s power to legislate on all forms of justice, including policing and offender management and rehabilitation, should be removed, so that it corresponds more closely with the position of the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Scottish Parliament In tandem with the removal of reservations and restrictions on the Assembly’s powers, responsibility for executive functions in relation to justice in Wales should be transferred to the Welsh Government.
  • Devolution of justice must be accompanied by a full transfer of financial resources, including all identifiable administrative and capital resources relating to Wales.

11. Recommendations to be implemented under the current scheme of devolution

  • Clear and accountable leadership on justice in the Welsh Government must be established under the current scheme of devolution. The Assembly should take a more proactive role in appropriate scrutiny of the operation of the justice system.
  • The Welsh Government should address policy issues relating to justice by using external experts who can report jointly with civil servants to Ministers.
  • The Welsh Government and the legal sector should develop a joint leadership programme.
  • A Law Council of Wales should be established to promote the interests of legal education and the awareness of Welsh law, to ensure proper provision of teaching the law in Welsh, and to assist students in their education and training as future practitioners.
  • The organisation of the senior judiciary in Wales should be changed to provide the necessary working relationships and leadership within Wales.  Wales should be put in a similar position to Scotland and Northern Ireland in the Supreme Court as regards the appointment of judges to the Supreme Court.

12, Recommendations for implementation with legislative devolution

  • With legislative devolution, there must be a new Justice Department in the Welsh Government led by a Cabinet Minister.
  • The office of Counsel General should continue as an office that provides independent legal advice to the Welsh Government and heads the Government Legal Service in Wales.
  • Legislative devolution will require the establishment of a Justice Committee in the Assembly.
  • Where there is overlap between the roles of local, regional and national boards, committees and partnerships, they should be merged.
  • With legislative devolution, the governance arrangements for the police should be re-examined.
  • The law applicable in Wales should be formally identified as the law of Wales, distinct from the law of England.
  • The present system where legal practitioners can practise in England and Wales and the legal professions are jointly regulated should be continued.
  • Legislation should provide for a High Court and a Court of Appeal of Wales to be established by the Assembly.
  • With legislative devolution, a Welsh Courts and Tribunals Service should be developed from the base of a Welsh Tribunals Unit reformed on the model of the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service.
  •  With legislative devolution, the Welsh Government will need to review, and keep under continuing review, the justice infrastructure for Wales.

13. Action to be taken now by the Welsh Government and the Assembly

  • The Welsh Government should begin the process of reform by listing the recommendations it will seek to implement whilst the current scheme of devolution continues. The Assembly should make arrangements to monitor and review the process of reform.

Covid 19 and the English Legal System (5): Parliamentary inquiries (revised)

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Those interested in how key actors in the legal world are trying to cope with the implications for the English Legal System of  Covid-19 might care to follow the work – currently on-going – of two  Parliamentary Select Committees.

The  House of Commons Justice Committee launched an inquiry into Coronavirus (COVID-19) on 31 March 2020. It is examining the impact on prisons, the probation service and the court systems. They have held three evidence gathering sessions in which they heard from a number of key witnesses, including the Lord Chief Justice, the Minister of State, key officials from Prisons and Probation, the Chair of the Magistrates Association. It is likely that the Committee will publish a relatively short report in the course of the next few weeks.

At the same time on 13 May 2020, the House of Lords Constitution Committee opened an inquiry into the Constitutional implications of Covid 19. This will be a more wide-ranging inquiry than that being held by the Commons Justice Committee.

The announcement of the inquiry states:

The Covid-19 pandemic and the Government’s measures to respond to it have significant constitutional implications, as well as health, social and economic ones. These include:

  • The ability of Parliament to hold the Government to account
  • Scrutiny of emergency powers
  • The operation of the courts

The Constitution Committee will consider these issues and other related matters as part of an umbrella inquiry into the constitutional implications of Covid-19. The Committee will initially explore questions such as:

  • What can Parliament do to maximise its scrutiny of the emergency regulations and to hold the Government to account effectively during lockdown? How are adjustments to procedures and processes working in the House of Lords?
  • What are the consequences for different ways of Parliament working on effectiveness, accessibility, fairness and transparency?
  • What emergency powers has the Government sought during the pandemic and what powers has it used and how?
  • What lessons are there for future uses of emergency powers, their safeguards and the processes for scrutinising them?
  • How has the Government used both law and guidance to implement the lockdown and what have been the consequences of its approach? How has this varied across the constituent parts of the United Kingdom?
  • What liberties has Parliament loaned the Government during lockdown? What are the processes for reviewing and returning them? Are the sunset provisions in the Acts and regulations sufficient?
  • How is the court system operating during the pandemic? What has been the impact of virtual proceedings on access to justice, participation in proceedings, transparency and media reporting?
  • How will the justice system manage the increasing backlog of criminal cases? Is it appropriate to rethink the jury system during the pandemic, and beyond, and if so how?

 

To date, the Committee has issued a call for evidence and has had a number of hearings at which oral evidence has been presented. Among the witnesses who have already given evidence is the ‘guru’ of the use of IT in the delivery of legal services, Prof Richard Susskind and the leading researcher on the justice system, Prof Dame Hazel Genn.

I suspect this report will take somewhat longer to appear than that of the Commons Committee.

In addition to these two inquiries which cover many aspects of the working of the legal and justice systems, in mid-May 2020, the House of Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee also launched an inquiry: Responding to Covid-19 and the Coronavirus Act 2020. The aim of this inquiry is set out as follows:

The Coronavirus Act 2020 was emergency legislation passed by Parliament on 25 March, to provide the Government with the powers it wanted to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic in the UK.

Under section 98 of the Act 2020, every six months there is “parliamentary review” which means that the Government must, so far as is practicable, make arrangements for the following motion to be debated and voted on: “That the temporary provisions of the Coronavirus Act 2020 should not yet expire.”

PACAC is launching an inquiry to scrutinise the constitutional and public administration aspects of the Act, with the goal of supporting and informing that debate.

It has issued a call for evidence but has not to date arranged for any meetings or hearings.

For links to all these inquiries see:

The Justice inquiry is at https://committees.parliament.uk/work/254/coronavirus-covid19-the-impact-on-prison-probation-and-court-systems/

The House of Lords Constitution Committee is at https://committees.parliament.uk/work/298/constitutional-implications-of-covid19/

The evidence of Profs Susskind and Genn is at https://www.parliamentlive.tv/Event/Index/0f0810d1-9489-4506-9108-139f6d4f221e

The PACAC inquiry is at https://committees.parliament.uk/work/310/responding-to-covid19-and-the-coronavirus-act-2020/

All evidence sessions held by Parliamentary Committees can be accessed at https://parliamentlive.tv/Commons.