Martin Partington: Spotlight on the Justice System

Keeping the English Legal System under review

Posts Tagged ‘access to justice

Fees in Immigration and Asylum appeals: Government proposals

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In May 2016, I noted here that the Government had published a consultation paper on proposals for new fees, to be charged in cases being brought to the Immigration and Appeals Chambers of both the First Tier and Upper Tier Tribunal.

The fees were to be set at a level which would enable the Government to recover the full cost of running those tribunals. Huge increases were proposed.

As might be anticipated, the overwhelming number of those responding to the Consultation were against these proposed changes, arguing that the new fees would act as a significant barrier to access to justice in such cases.

As might also be anticipated, the Government has – in the main – not been persuaded by the arguments made against the proposed fee increases.

In its response to the consultation, published in September 2016, the Government has announced that it will be proceeding with the proposed changes as soon as possible, though the precise dates are not yet determined.

For the full summary of responses to the consultation and the Government statement on polucy development, see https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/553387/proposals-imm-asylum-chamber-consultation-response.pdf

 

Written by lwtmp

September 23, 2016 at 10:38 am

Posted in chapter 6

Tagged with ,

Review of the Courts and Tribunals estate: consultation

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On 16 July 2015, the Government published proposals for reviewing the numbers of courts and tribunals buildings, with as view to amalgamating some and closing others.

At present (and despite recent closures) Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service still operates 460 courts and tribunal hearing centres across England and Wales. The estate costs taxpayers around half a billion pounds each year, and at present, much of it is underused. For example, in 2014, over a third of all courts and tribunals were empty for more than fifty per cent of their available hearing time.

The new consultation puts forward proposals that aim to reduce this surplus capacity. It proposes the closure of 91 court/tribunal buildings. These represent 16% of hearing rooms across the estate which are, on average, used for only a third of their available time. That is equivalent to fewer than 2 out of 5 days in a week. Indeed, the majority of these courts are not used for at least two thirds of their available time, and one in three are not used three quarters of the time.

The arguments against closure tend to fall into two categories. First, is that courts are often landmark buildings, whose closure will adversely affect specific communities. The second, is that closure will reduce the ability of users to get to court for hearings. On the latter point, the Government notes:

1. Attending court is rare for most people. It will still be the case that, after these changes, over 95% of citizens will be able to reach their required court within an hour by car. This represents a change of just 1 percentage point for Crown and magistrates’ courts and 2 percentage points for County Courts. The proportion of citizens able to reach a tribunal within an hour by car will remain unchanged at 83%.

2. To ensure that access to justice is maintained, even in more rural locations, the Government is committed to providing alternative ways for users to access court/tribunal services. That can mean using civic and other public buildings, such as town halls, for hearings instead of underused, poorly-maintained permanent courts.

3. In my view by far the most important argument is that the Government argues that it is reforming the courts and tribunal service so that it meets the needs of modern day users. As it brings in digital technology for better and more efficient access to justice (which hitherto has been pitifully slow), fewer people will need to physically be in a court.

The full consultation is at https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/proposal-on-the-provision-of-court-and-tribunal-estate-in-england-and-wales. The Consultation runs until early October 2015.

On the question of amalgamation of existing buildings, the Government states that it is not consulting on these matters but will be liasing with stakeholders in the places affected.

Written by lwtmp

July 26, 2015 at 3:09 pm

Revolution in the Justice system?

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On 23 June 2015, the Lord Chancellor delivered a major speech on his vision for the development of the Justice system. Mr Gove is not shy of taking on existing established practices – witness his battles with the teachers when he was Secretary of State for Education under the Coalition Government.

In his speech, entitled What does a one nation justice policy look like? he argues that the justice system is in need of fundamental reform if is it to deliver access to justice to ordinary people.

A potentially very important difference between what he was trying to do in the world of education and what he now seeks to do to the justice system is that for the latter, much of the initiative for reform is coming from the judiciary itself. They see the need for better use of court facilities, fundamental investment in IT which would enable much legal work to be done without attendance at courts, support for new ideas – in particular in civil justice – endorsing proposals recently set out by Justice in its report Civil Justice in an Age of Austerity. (see this blog, entry for 5 May 2015)

First reactions to the Lord Chancellor’s speech can be heard in a special edition of the BBC programme Law in Action which was broadcast on the same day. The discussion – by Sir Stanley Burnton, Dame Hazel Genn and Keir Starmer – provides a useful basis for understanding what may start to unfold in the justice system over the next five years

What is absolutely certain is that anyone starting the study of law should be aware of what is in the pipeline – things are likely to change pretty quickly.

To read the speech go to https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/what-does-a-one-nation-justice-policy-look-like

To hear the Law in Action Broadcast go to http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b05zktnf#auto

The Centre for Justice Innovation, whose work is mentioned in the programme has a website at http://www.justiceinnovation.org/

Litigation (crowd) funding – a new approach

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Litigation funding is normally associated with high value commercial cases. Litigation funders provide the financial resources for high cost litigation and commercial arbitration on the basis that they will receive a return on their investment – often a percentage of damages recovered or agreed. Litigation funders will not take on personal injury cases or consumer cases because the damages involved are (usually) too low

But an article in the Sunday Times 21 June 2015 caught my attention. Under the headline Man, 87, sues care home for right to kiss his wife it was reported that an 87 year old man was seeking to establish a right to kiss his wife, who lives in a care home suffering from dementia.

At the end of the article it was stated that the man’s lawyers were working pro bono but also they were seeking to raise £4000 for legal fees through a new company called CrowdJustice.

Launched on 25 May 2015, CrowdJustice seeks to raise modest sums – up to £5000 – to help defray costs in cases which the company thinks have some social importance, such as the treatment of the elderly and vulnerable or have a wider community impact.

An example of the latter is the case being brought by a Colombian man, Gilberto Torres, who is  fighting a legal case before the UK High Court in order to end the impunity of British oil companies’ actions abroad. He claims that

Me and my family have had our lives destroyed because I tried to take a stand when I saw human rights and environmental abuses being committed to protect the interests of BP in Colombia, where I worked as an engineer. I was kidnapped and tortured in retribution, and now we’ve been forced to leave Colombia and live in exile. Help us get our lives back, and help expose in court the human rights violations committed by fossil fuel companies abroad.

At the moment, CrowdJustice is taking cases on an invitation-only basis. But it inviting those who think they may have a case that affects their community to get in touch.

The website states:

When someone has a court case that they feel passionate about and that affects others in their community, they can set up a Case Page on CrowdJustice that explains what the case is about and why they need help funding it. That person – the Case Owner – sets a deadline and funding target of the amount they need to raise to help offset the costs of taking their case forward. It’s up to you to support them, help spread the word and make pledges to help them meet the funding target.

Only when the funding target is met do the pledges get collected and backers’ cards get charged. If the funding target is not met, the pledges made do not get collected.

When a case is successfully funded, a Case Owner will keep in touch and update backers about the latest developments in a case.

Unlike litigation funding, those who invest in these community cases will not usually see any return on their investment (unless they have pledged more than £1000, where they may receive a percentage of the sum pledged back). Any surplus  at the end of a case is paid to the Access to Justice Foundation.

This is an innovative approach to the challenge of enabling access to justice in cases of potential social importance. For more details go to https://www.crowdjustice.co.uk/

For more details on the very different work of commercial litigation funders go to the home page of the Association of Litigation Funders of England and Wales at http://associationoflitigationfunders.com/.
This site gives links to the member companies who are offering litigation funding in commercial cases.

Impact of fees on the work of Employment Tribunals – post implementation review

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When fees were introduced in the Employment Tribunals, in July 2013, the government made a commitment to review their impact. On 11 June 2015, the Government announced the start of that review.

The original objectives of the policy were:

  • to transfer some of the cost from the taxpayer to those who use the service, where they can afford to do so
  • to encourage the use of alternative dispute resolution services, for example, ACAS conciliation
  • to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the tribunal

The review will consider how effective the introduction of fees has been at meeting the original objectives, while maintaining access to justice.

The review will also consider the effectiveness of the new fee remissions scheme, which was introduced in October 2013.

The review will take into account a wide range of evidence including:

  • tribunal data on case volumes, case progression and case outcomes]
  • qualitative research on the views of court and tribunal users
  • the general trend of the number of cases appearing at tribunals before the fees were introduced
  • any consequences arising as a result of an improved economy on the number of people being dismissed
  • to what extent there has been discouragement of weak or unmeritorious claims
  • whether there has been any impact because of changes in employment law; and other reasons for changes in user behaviour

The terms of reference for the review can be seen at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/employment-tribunal-fees-post-implementation-review

The review is expected to be completed later in the year. The Government states that it will consult on any proposals for reforms to the fees and remissions scheme.

This exercise is likely to generate some controversy given the significant decline in the numbers of cases now being taken to the Employment Tribunal.

Written by lwtmp

June 16, 2015 at 2:39 pm

Efficiency in the Criminal Justice system – pleas online – minor motoring offences

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In February 2015, the Government announced that – from March 2015 – it would be possible for those charged with minor motoring offences to plead online.People charged with summary motoring offences, like speeding, failing to identify the driver or using a vehicle without insurance, are now able to use the website to respond to charges against them.

The new digital system means defendants will be able to make their plea from any suitable device 24 hours a day through the secure website.

The service is offered as an alternative to a postal plea or attending court and was developed with court users to meet their needs. It was trialled in the Greater Manchester are before being rolled out nationally.

The ‘make a plea’ site is at https://www.makeaplea.justice.gov.uk/

The announcement is at https://www.gov.uk/government/news/digital-make-a-plea-system-means-people-can-choose-where-and-when-they-plead

Written by lwtmp

May 5, 2015 at 8:04 pm

Co-operative Legal Services: Podcast with Christina Blacklaws

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Co-operative Legal Services was the first large organisation to be authorised by the Solicitors Regulatory Authority as an Alternative Business Structure. In this podcast, I talk to Christina Blacklaws, Head of Policy of Co-operative Legal Services.
She explains how the Co-op wanted to move into the legal services market by building on advice services they had for many year provided to their members. There is still a lot of emphasis on helping people to help themselves. But they wanted to be able to offer full legal services for members (and other members of the public) on issues that affect their daily lives, for example moving house, consumer matters, employment matters, family matters, housing matters, probate issues.
The new service is based in the fundamental values of the Cooperative movement.
3 hubs – in Manchester, Bristol and London – are supported by other staff in the Co-op – e.g. in their banks. They also work with other agencies, e.g. Shelter.
She argues that they key to their service is transparent pricing: each issue brought to the service is broken down into segments and clients pay for those segments of the service that they want.
She also argues that the structure of Co-operative Legal Services is an attractive environment for staff; there are opportunities for staff to develop legal skills to enable them to develop their full potential as lawyers.
To hear what Christina has to say go to http://fdslive.oup.com/www.oup.com/orc/resources/law/els/partington13_14/student/podcasts/Blacklaws.mp3

For more information about Co-op Legal Services go to http://www.co-operativelegalservices.co.uk/

Written by lwtmp

January 23, 2014 at 10:24 am