Martin Partington: Spotlight on the Justice System

Keeping the English Legal System under review

Archive for the ‘Chapter 9’ Category

Re-thinking legal services regulation

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I have reposted this excellent blog by Stephen Mayson, who is undertaking very important work on the need to further reform the regulatory structures for the legal professions.

StephenMayson

My interim report for the Independent Review of Legal Services Regulation in England & Wales is published today (available here).  This post is extracted from it.

While the reforms of the Legal Services Act 2007 have been mainly beneficial overall, that legislation might best be characterised as an incomplete step towards restructuring legal services regulation.

For reasons that are understandable, it did not fully follow through on some key elements of the regulatory structure.  These include: review and reform of the reserved legal activities (those few activities that must be provided by lawyers); the known regulatory gap (as a consequence of which the non-reserved activities of lawyers are regulated, but those of non-lawyers can legally be provided but cannot be regulated – to the potential detriment of consumers); and the separation of regulation from professional representative interests.

This lack of follow-through has led to increasing challenges to the integrity…

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Written by lwtmp

September 19, 2019 at 11:19 am

Encouraging Judicial Diversity

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In April 2019, the Judicial Diversity Forum launched a new initiative designed to encourage talented lawyers from the Black and Ethnic Minority community to think about applying to become a judge. The first part of this programme is a series of YouTube videos – which can be watched by anyone interest. A further part of the programme – judge-led discussion group courses – will launch later in 2019.

This is the first joint initiative of the Judicial Diversity Forum, which is made up of the Judiciary, Ministry of Justice (MoJ), Judicial Appointments Commission (JAC), The Bar Council, The Law Society of England and Wales and the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx). Forum members are committed to delivering actions that attract applicants for judicial roles from all backgrounds to achieve a more diverse judiciary.

PAJE offers participants from all legal backgrounds the opportunity to develop their understanding of the role and skills required of a judge, through a series of digital resources including 10 short online videos and four podcasts, developed by the Judicial College, which show judges talking about their work and the Judiciary.

These digital resources cover a number of topics such as judgecraft, decision-making, judicial ethics, resilience and equality and diversity.

For further information see https://www.judiciary.uk/about-the-judiciary/who-are-the-judiciary/diversity/pre-application-judicial-education-programme-paje/

The YouTube videos may be viewed at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCi3XytDJY8a3I9_vL7A_5SQ
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Judicial decision making – tackling the problem of ‘cognitive bias’

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When coming to decisions, we all have a tendency to reach decisions that are not entirely logical or free from bias. We should all aim to limit the effects of such biases. This is particularly important for those reaching decisions in a judicial setting. However, this is hard to do unless we know about the biasses that may exist and how they may be countered.

In a recent edition of Tribunals Journal (2018 No 2) Simon Ward – a medic who also sits as medical member of the First Tier Tribunal – discusses five major types of cognitive bias that exist when we are required to weigh evidence before reaching a decisions. He also considers techniques for countering these biasses.

  1. Representativeness. Similarity or resemblance to a group is used to imply representativeness of that group rather than using the real probability of membership. Applying the actual base rate rather than the perceived occurrence rate of the factor being considered, is recommended so the correct likelihood is utilised.

  2. Availability. Easily recalled or available memories or experiences are used to predict or estimate an outcome rather than the actual objective occurrence. Using measures to reduce reliance on memory such as reminders, prompts and checklists, is advocated so that accuracy is maintained.

  3. Anchoring. Salient or prominent features are preferred and given undue influence or anchored onto before evaluation is completed. Slowing down decision making to allow time to evaluate matters fully is advised so the correct weight or apportionment is applied.

  4. Confirmation. Information that confirms our own pre-existing expectations or beliefs is filtered and selected in preference to opposing or contradictory aspects. Actively seeking out alternative possibilities or positions is suggested so as to challenge and counter subjective, partisan or partial viewpoints.

  5. Optimism. Overconfident or optimistic evaluations are made of how much we know and how reliably we know it, whilst our own knowledge limits are undervalued. Comparing the current evaluation to a reference group of similar membership is recommended so as to allow calibration of the current decision

The article gives further examples of the applications of these principles and how they may be applied in practice. The lessons are, of course, important for all decision-takers, not only judges. It is an issue to which, historically, little attention has been paid in judicial training. It is very interesting that a practicing tribunal member should be seeking to share his expertise on this often misundertood issue.

The full article is at https://www.judiciary.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/tribunals-journal-edition2-2018.pdf pages 2-9.

 

 

 

 

 

Written by lwtmp

March 4, 2019 at 12:58 pm

Innovation and the use of technology in the provision of legal services

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The Legal Services Board has just (November 2018) published its latest detailed picture of levels of innovation and use of technology in legal services in England and Wales.

This report looks at the attitudes of legal services providers, sets out the benefits from innovation and considers the perceptions of the main enablers, including the impact of regulation.  The headline findings are:

  • the legal sector makes use of a variety of technologies but the use of services such as Blockchain or predictive analytics are, as yet, rare
  • overall levels of service innovation are unchanged since the first wave of the research three years ago
  • ABS, newer providers and larger providers have higher levels of service innovation.

Although putting a positive spin on the outcomes of the survey, I cannot help thinking that the LSB may actually be rather disappointed at the outcomes of the survey – given all the talk that there has been about the importance of innovation and new technologies.

My impression is that change is happening, but that it will much longer for the full benefits claimed for the use of new technologies to be realised in practice.

You can read the full report at https://www.legalservicesboard.org.uk/news_publications/LSB_News/PDF/2018/20181128_Innovation_Driven_By_Competition_And_Less_Hindered_By_Regulation.html

 

 

 

 

Changing the routes to professional qualification

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The Solicitors’ Regulation Authority has been looking at the routes to qualification for some time. It has now decided that  new scheme will be introduced in 2021. This will involved the creation of a common assessment for all would-be solicitors from autumn 2021.

The basic elements of the new scheme are that those wishing to  qualify as a solicitor will be:

  • Pass stages 1 and 2 of the Solicitors Qualifying Examination – the first stage will focus on legal knowledge and be assessed on the basis of a centralised multiple choice examination; and the second will focus on practical legal skills, such as undertaking legal research.
  • Have a degree (in any subject) or equivalent qualification.
  • Pass the character and suitability requirements.
  • Have a substantial period of work experience.

The SRA have appointed Kaplans to be the assessors for the new assessment.

This will mean that law students who are exempt from Part 1 of the current Law Society Finals if they pass a ‘qualifying degree’ will no longer have this exemption. There are currently no details about the curriculum for the new Stage 1 SQE, nor how or where it will be taught.

These proposals raise important questions, particularly for universities who have invested heavily in the provision of law degrees. One unknown is whether those who currently study for a law degree as part of the process of obtaining a professional legal qualification will in future sign up for university law degrees in the same numbers. Why would they want to study law if they still have to do an assessment after they have finished their degree studies? Much will depend on what the teaching methods for the new, unspecified, curriculum will be – will law graduates be treated differently from non-law graduates?

At the same time, universities may relish the fact that they will no longer have half of their degree courses effectively determined by external forces. They may use this freedom to devise new ways of teaching and news types of course. It does seem that the experience component of the new qualifying process could include work done for example in a University Law clinic or other legal context.

For further detail see https://www.sra.org.uk/solicitorexam/.

See also https://www.law.ac.uk/blog/understanding-the-sqe-and-what-it-means-for-me/

For a critique of the proposals see https://www.legalfutures.co.uk/latest-news/training-review-professors-criticise-rudimentary-sqe

 

 

 

 

Written by lwtmp

November 29, 2018 at 1:04 pm

Standards of Criminal Advocacy: reports from the Solicitors Regulation Authority and the Bar Standards Board

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In November 2015, I noted in this blog the critical report by Sir Bill Jeffrey on standards of criminal advocacy. I also noted the consultation paper on the subject issued by the Government.

In June 2018, the SRA and the BSB published two reports on the subject.

The first report explores the views of the judiciary on the current quality, provision and regulation of advocacy within the criminal courts. The Judicial Perceptions Report, involved in-depth interviews with 50 High Court and circuit judges.

Key findings were:

  • While judges viewed the current quality of advocacy as competent, some felt that standards were declining in some areas, especially in relation to core courtroom skills such as case preparation and dealing with some witnesses.
  • Advocates’ skills in dealing with young and vulnerable witnesses are largely improving.
  • The most commonly cited barrier to high quality advocacy was advocates taking on cases beyond their level of experience.
  • Judges were uncertain over when, and how, they should report poor advocacy to regulators.

The second report arose from a Thematic Review of Criminal Advocacy, undertaken by the SRA. It was informed by data gathering and interviews with 40 solicitors’ firms actively involved in providing advocacy by solicitors within the courts.

Key findings of the SRA’s thematic review included:

  • Firms use in-house solicitors to support the vast majority of criminal work in magistrates’ courts and youth courts (90 percent), and 29 percent of work in the Crown Court.
  • The solicitors’ advocacy market is dominated by smaller firms and increasingly ageing individuals, while the number of new entrants to the market is falling.
  • Levels of complaints regarding advocacy work are relatively low (22 recorded complaints in two years across all 40 sample firms).
  • Approaches to training are inconsistent, with its delivery often infrequent, limited or not planned.

To me, the most concerning finding is that those doing this work are aging and are not currently being replaced by younger colleagues. It may be assumed that the cuts to criminal legal aid have had an impact on this.

Building upon the findings of both reports the SRA will be undertaking further work to understand the work of solicitor advocates.   The Bar Standards Board also intends to publish its strategy for assuring the quality of advocacy shortly.

The reports can be accessed at https://www.barstandardsboard.org.uk/media-centre/press-releases-and-news/regulators-publish-reports-into-criminal-advocacy-standards/

or https://www.sra.org.uk/sra/how-we-work/reports/criminal-advocacy.page

 

 

 

Written by lwtmp

October 15, 2018 at 4:02 pm

Legal choices – website on legal service providers

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One of the recommendations made by the Competition and Market Authority 2016 report on competition in legal services was that there should be a revamp of and better promotion for the Legal Choices website. It was intended that this should be the starting point for customers needing help, information, and guidance on how to navigate the market and purchase services.

The website is run by the frontline regulators themselves (Solicitors Regulation Authority, Bar Standards Board, etc.), and aims to provide factual information about who is regulated, how they are regulated, and how to find information out about those who are regulated, their costs, and what can be expected from them by way of service. It does not sell services or products.

I have not noted its existence before – but this is an omission I now seek to rectify. It contains a great deal of useful information. It should, as the CMA proposed, be much better promoted to the wider public.

To visit the website go to https://www.legalchoices.org.uk/.

 

 

 

 

 

Written by lwtmp

October 14, 2018 at 3:14 pm