Martin Partington: Spotlight on the Justice System

Keeping the English Legal System under review

Tribunal case workers – who they are and what they do

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One aspect of the Tribunals Reform programme that has not had that much attention is the role of Tribunals Caseworkers (TCWs). The idea of tribunals employing caseworkers who could undertake some of the more routine work of the tribunals judiciary is one that has been around for some time. (Indeed it builds on the use of Registrars in other court contexts, who have long been part of the legal system.) But their use in tribunals  is now becoming more widespread as HMCTS seeks to ensure that the tribunals work as cost effectively and as efficiently as possible – key objectives for the reform programme.

The first edition of Tribunals Journal 2018, that was published earlier this year, carries an interesting collection of short articles from a number of Caseworkers, working in different tribunals contexts – including, social security, employment, and special educational needs.

One feature of their descriptions of their work is the variety of things that they are asked to do. They also provide those undertaking the role with the opportunity to acquire new skils and to enhance their career opportunities within the Tribunals service.

See further https://www.judiciary.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/tribunals-journal-edition1-2018-v2.pdf

 

 

 

 

 

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Written by lwtmp

November 27, 2018 at 4:39 pm

What does the Criminal Cases Review Commission do?

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It is hard to convey in print how the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) goes about its work. It has in recent months been trying to develop new ways of informing people – in particular prisoners – how it goes about its Review processes.

It has launched a YouTube channel which currently hosts two short films –

  1. “Not the end of the Road” directed at young prisoners;
  2. “Miscarriage of Justice – A survivor’s story” – a more general film aimed at informing prisoners and their families about how the CCRC work.

Links to both these films can be found on the CCRC’s website at https://ccrc.gov.uk/

 

Written by lwtmp

November 22, 2018 at 3:39 pm

Public Legal Education: the Solicitor General’s vision

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In the past, the Attorney-General tried to promote the cause of Public Legal Education. This role seems now to have been delegated to the Solicitor-General.

In October 2018, the current post-holder, Robert Buckland MP launched a new ‘vision’ to which he hoped interested organisations would sign up.

The Press Release stated:

The statement creates a shared vision for the PLE community to aspire to which will help drive forward legal education initiatives. The statement reveals 7 goals for where PLE might be in 10 years’ time.

The goals are:

  1. PLE will be supported by a robust evidence base, showing what the need is and what works best.

  2. PLE will be of high quality, maintained to ensure that it remains accurate and accessible and useful for the people who need it.

  3. PLE will be universal and reach across all demographics, prioritising children, young adults and vulnerable groups

  4. PLE will be scaled up through delivery by the legal community

  5. PLE will harness technology and be delivered through innovative methods, both on and offline

  6. PLE will be embeded into public services and government departments

  7. PLE will be understood as beneficial and utlised by other sectors

Whether much can be achieved without additional investment in the development of PLE must be a moot point, but I suppose that a statement such as this is better than nothing. The statement was launched at an event organised by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Public Legal Education and Pro Bono legal work.

See https://www.gov.uk/government/news/our-vision-for-legal-education

Written by lwtmp

November 21, 2018 at 3:51 pm

What happened to the Lammy Review? Tackling racial disparity in the criminal justice system

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The Lammy Review on the treatment and outcomes of BAME individuals in the criminal justice system was published in autumn 2017 (noted in this blog in September 2017). At the same time, the Government  had launched its Race Disparity Audit – the first results from which were also published in 2017.

A year on, in October 2018, the Ministry of Justice has published a policy paper on tackling racial disparity in the criminal justice system. It summarises both what has been done and how new developments may be taken forward.

The Press Release states, in part:

There is an undeniable over-representation of ethnic minorities within CJS which [the Government is] determined to challenge and change. For the Criminal Justice System to be viewed as effective and fair it needs the trust, confidence and engagement of citizens from all communities.

[This] update highlights progress across different parts of CJS, from the early stages of the system to court, prison and probation. It also explores cross-cutting work on areas such as data. The update sets out next steps and [the Government’s] continued commitment to progress in this area.

Much of the emphasis in the policy statement is on the need to get better data. But Lammy also recommended some procedural changes. One example is that he advocated for wider use of a ‘deferred prosecution’ model in which a person accused of committing an eligible crime is given an opportunity to complete specified conditions (for example rehabilitative activity, reparation to the victim and/or unpaid work) instead of being prosecuted. This could be done without being required to admit guilt.
Interim results from existing trials of similar approaches (Operation Turning Point in the
West Midlands, Operation Checkpoint in Durham) show promise for this approach to
reduce re-offending as well as achieving victim satisfaction and cost savings. This  approach also has potential to reduce disproportionality since Lammy notes that BAME
defendants are consistently more likely to plead not guilty and so face more punitive
outcomes.
The Government states that it needs further evidence  before any decision can be made to promote wider use of this model –  particularly on outcomes for BAME participants and the impact of not requiring a guilt admission.

Nevertheless, the Ministry of Justice has partnered with police forces, Police and Crime Commissioners and the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime in London to develop pilots of this model in 4 areas: London (North West Borough Command Unit), Surrey, Cumbria and West Yorkshire. We are working with these areas as well as national partners on the pilot design and sharing best practice around implementation and data collection. Although ethnicity is not a selection criterion for being offered a ‘deferred prosecution’, areas will monitor this with the aim of understanding any impact on disproportionality. We expect pilots to go live in police areas during 2019. All of the pilot areas propose to include youth.

This work fits in with the Government’s aims for youth of intervening early to divert individuals from the CJS and secure the best outcomes for BAME youth.
In addition, other ‘deferred prosecution’ initiatives are under consideration by police, inspired by this Lammy recommendation. This includes initiatives focused on specific cohorts of female offenders or drugs offences.
The Government will share insights and resources from its work with these areas,
and if they come to fruition the results will be of interest.

The Government has also decided to publish regular updates to the facts and figures relating to ethnicity. These are prepared by, the Ethnicity Facts and Figures service, part of a unit established in the Cabinet Office. The data relate to many aspects of life in the UK, including crime and the criminal justice system.

For the policy statement from the Ministry of Justice, see https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/tackling-racial-disparity-in-the-criminal-justice-system-2018

Data from the Ethnicity Facts and Figures Service  are at https://www.ethnicity-facts-figures.service.gov.uk/ from which there are links to ‘Crime Justice and the Law’.

Written by lwtmp

November 21, 2018 at 3:27 pm

Transforming Criminal Justice: progress reports

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I have already noted the report on progress with family, civil and administrative justice. This entry summarises a recent note on progress with the transformation of the criminal justice system. There are 11 projects listed which relate to criminal justice.This note sets out the main ones.

Projects supporting summary justice

  1. The Single Justice Service (SJS) contains all services delivered by the magistrates’ court which can be considered by a single magistrate. It builds upon the implementation of the Single Justice Procedure (SJP), introducedto process some 850,000 summary non-imprisonable cases per year; this involves working with prosecutors, including TV Licensing, TfL, the DVLA, the police and other non-police prosecutors such as local authorities. The purpose of the SJS is to deal more proportionately with the least serious offences, to which the majority of defendants either do not respond or plead guilty, and which almost exclusively result in a financial penalty. Subject to legislation, this may include the ability to accept a statutory fixed fine online for the most minor offences (in which case the implications of doing so will be carefully and clearly explained). The option for a hearing will remain.
  1. The SJS is underpinned by a digital system known as Automated Track Case Management (ATCM)  and is supported by the Single Justice Service Centre (SJSC). So far, the service is live for cases prosecuted by TfL (Transport for London).  Those who plead not guilty have the case transferred for a hearing in the magistrates’ court.
  1. Since 12 April 2018, defendants have been able to plead online if they choose to do so (rather than on paper). The SJSC team based in Stoke takes calls from defendants and help those who would like to plead online to do so. The ability to plead online builds on the experience of the ‘Make a Plea’ service, which has been live since August 2014, for defendants involved in summary non-imprisonable motoring offences, such as speeding and having no insurance, and has been rolled out to all 43 police forces. During 2017, over 83,000 pleas were registered through this service and it now receives around 1,600 pleas online each week.

Projects supporting hearings in the magistrates’ and Crown courts

  1. Online plea and allocation: This aim of the project is it make it possible for represented defendants (through their legal representative) to indicate a plea online, before coming to court; and for decisions on allocation to be taken outside the courtroom where that is appropriate. The aim is to support earlier engagement with the court and swifter allocation of cases, and to free up courtroom space and time currently used to hear pleas. Subject to legislation, the project will also enable indictable only cases to go straight to the Crown Court without the need for an unnecessary hearing in the magistrates’ court.
  2. Case progression project: This project aims to ensure all activities required to achieve an effective trial or sentencing hearing in the magistrates’ and Crown courts are carried out by the participants to the case in advance, and that trial and sentencing hearings can go ahead as planned. It builds on the recommendations of the Leveson report on criminal justice efficiency and will enable some case progression activity to take place outside the courtroom through online, audio and video channels.
  3. Court hearings project: This project is specifically focused on trials and sentencing hearings in both the magistrates’ and Crown courts. This project will ensure that criminal trials and sentencing hearings are enabled by the right technology and physical environment in the courtroom to ensure the smooth running of the hearings on the day, building on the increasing use of technology that we see already in the criminal courts.
  1. Video remand hearings: This service aims to transform the way in which hearings for defendants held in custody could be administered in the future, and ultimately enable suitable proceedings to be held fully by video (in other words, with the option of not just the defendant, but others appearing by video, subject to judicial agreement and discretion). The aim is to reduce the amount of time defendants are held in custody without a judicial decision, particularly the number of defendants held overnight, and to reduce unnecessary journeys. It is also an opportunity to improve processes around those appearing on video from the police station now, including improving access to early legal advice.
  1. Youth project: This project will look specifically at the needs of children and young defendants to ensure that we do not apply adult processes to children, but instead look at each stage of the process and shape a version of it that is appropriate for young people, with the right safeguards and enhancements.
  1. All these service projects are underpinned by the digital infrastructure known as the Common Platform, a shared system between the police, HMCTS and CPS and accessible by participants across the criminal justice system. This will allow earlier access to the Initial Details of the Prosecution Case (IDPC) for legal professionals; better handling of multimedia; a single, shared view of cases; and direct transmission of case results to those who ought to know.

Adapted from  HMCTS Reform Update  Autumn 2018 at https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/744912/HMCTS_Reform_Update_2_Oct_2018.pdf

 

 

 

 

Disclosure of Evidence: the Attorney-General’s review

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In November 2018, the Attorney General published the results of his review into the practice and procedures of police and prosecutors relating to the disclosure of evidence held by prosecutors to the defence, where such evidence might undermine or weaken the prosecution’s case.

The importance of ensuring that such disclosure takes place is accepted by all those responsible for criminal justice policy to be at the heard of a fair judicial process.

The Attorney-General’s review found, in common with earlier official reports, that the duty to record, retain and review material collected during the course of the investigation was not routinely complied with by police and prosecutors.

The Review makes clear that disclosure obligations begin at the start of an investigation. Investigators have a duty to conduct a thorough investigation, manage all material appropriately and follow all reasonable lines of inquiry, whether they point towards or away from any suspect. The Review found that this was not happening routinely in all cases. At the least this caused costly delays for the justice system and at worst it meant that cases were being pursued which the evidence did not support. The impact of these failings caused untold damage to those making allegations and those accused of them.

The  Review concluded that “to enable lasting change, there must be a ‘zero tolerance’ culture for disclosure failings across the police and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS)”.

Of course, this is easier said than done. Hard pressed police and prosecutors may well be tempted to take short cuts. In order to counter these temptations, the Government has taken a number of steps.

1. It has  welcomed the steps already taken by the police and CPS to address the issues through the National Disclosure Improvement Plan and will work with each to ensure they lead to long-term, effective and sustained change. HM Government intend, through the Attorney General and Home Secretary, to hold police and prosecution leaders personally responsible for this.

2. As the Review found that non-disclosure is a system-wide problem which needs a systematic response, the Criminal Justice Board, which the Attorney General sits on, will  take responsibility for strategic oversight of the collective response from all parts of the system – from police, to prosecutors to the judiciary.

3. The Review found that police and other investigators could be better supported by technological advancements when reviewing and capturing digital evidence. To address this, the Government plans to convene a ‘Tech Summit’ in spring 2019 to help all 43 police forces in England and Wales handle the increasing volumes and complexity of this type of evidence. This will build on the work of the police and help to engineer a way forward with the help of private tech companies. Through the Police Transformation Fund, the Government is already investing in national work to support policing in its wider digital transformation.

4. While the underpinning legislation thought to be still fit for purpose, the Government has concluded that the guidelines which support it need to be updated to meet the challenges of the rise of modern technology. This will happen through secondary legislation.

5. Finally, the work already started by the CPS to improve its data collection to capture the extent of the disclosure problems is essential. The Government will oversee the CPS’s delivery of a new data collection regime which is fit for purpose.

Whether or not all these initiatives will have the desired effect remains to be seen. But there is no doubt that at present practice and procedure on the ground has the potential to undermine the integrity of the criminal trial process.

Adapted from https://www.gov.uk/government/news/creating-a-zero-tolerance-culture-for-disclosure-failings-across-the-criminal-justice-system.

The full text of the review is at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/review-of-the-efficiency-and-effectiveness-of-disclosure-in-the-criminal-justice-system.

The Justice Select Committee’s report on this issue, published in July 2018, is at https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201719/cmselect/cmjust/859/85902.htm

 

Written by lwtmp

November 18, 2018 at 10:20 am

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