Martin Partington: Spotlight on the Justice System

Keeping the English Legal System under review

Posts Tagged ‘criminal justice system

Making it Fair: The Disclosure of Unused Material in Volume Crown Court Cases

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In July 2017,  HM Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate and HM Inspectorate for Constabulary published a joint report on the disclosure of unused evidence. Based on the analysis of a number of sets of court papers, the report reveals very poor compliance with the relevant rules.

The report states: “Disclosure is one of the cornerstones of the criminal justice system and disclosure of unused material is a key component of the investigative and prosecution process. …Every unused item that is retained by police and considered relevant to an investigation should be reviewed to see whether it is capable of undermining the prosecution case or assisting the defence case. If either factor applies it must be disclosed to the defence.’

This inspection by HMCPSI and HMIC identified a number of issues which are contributing to widespread failures across the board by both police and prosecutors.

  • Police scheduling (the process of recording details of sensitive and non-sensitive material) is poor and this, in turn, is not being challenged by prosecutors.
  • Police are routinely failing to comply with guidance and requirements when completing and recording data, such as the non-sensitive disclosure schedule (known as MG6C).
  • The College of Policing is supposed to provide training on disclosure. [But] Many officers admitted they lacked confidence in their role and responsibilities as disclosure officer.
  • Prosecutors are expected to reject substandard schedules and there was little evidence of such challenge occurring, with a culture of acceptance prevailing.
  • There was also poor decision-making by prosecutors on the Criminal Procedure and Investigations Act (CPIA) test for disclosure. In 54% of cases prosecutors simply endorsed schedules without recording their reasoning.
  • There were further failings in maintaining a complete audit trail of actions and decisions setting out the prosecution disclosure process.
  • There was poor supervision of standards, although where police forces have introduced quality control mechanisms this was found to improve the quality of data.
  • The exchange of information and documents between the police and CPS is often hindered rather than helped by technology, with a number of police systems presenting problems.

The report set out a strict timetable for change.

Immediately:

all disclosure issues relating to unused material to be identified at the charging stage.

Within six months:

the CPS to comply with the Attorney General’s Guidelines on Disclosure, with an allocated prosecutor reviewing every defence statement and giving prompt guidance to police;

police forces to improve supervision of unused material;

CPS Compliance and Assurance Team to begin dip sampling;

all police forces to establish role of dedicated disclosure champion of senior rank;

a system of sharing information between CPS Areas and Headquarters to monitor performance;

CPS and police to develop effective communications processes.

Within 12 months:

the College of Policing to introduce a disclosure training package;

the CPS and police to review digital case management systems.

The full report is available at http://www.justiceinspectorates.gov.uk/cjji/inspections/making-it-fair-the-disclosure-of-unused-material-in-volume-crown-court-cases/

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Written by lwtmp

November 6, 2017 at 3:00 pm

The treatment of, and outcomes for, Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) individuals in the criminal justice system: the Lammy Review

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At the beginning of 2016, David Lammy MP was asked by the then Prime Minister David Cameron to review the workings of the criminal justice system, with the object of seeing whether the system worked fairly, in particular in relation to BAME individuals. (The review was noted in this blog in February 2016; its interim findings were noted here in November 2016)

The final report of the review was published in September 2017.

The bare statistics tell a familiar story. Thus the study found, for example:

  • the fact that BAME individuals are disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system costs the taxpayer at least £309 million each year;
  • the proportion of BAME young offenders in custody rose from 25% to 41% between 2006 and 2016, despite the overall number of young offenders falling to record lows;
  • the rate of Black defendants pleading not guilty in Crown Courts in England and Wales between 2006 and 2014 was 41%, compared to 31% of white defendants. (This means they lose the possibility of reduced sentences and it raises questions about their level of trust in the system.);
  • the BAME proportion of young people offending for the first time rose from 11% in 2006 to 19% a decade later;
  • there was an identical increase in the BAME proportion of young people reoffending over the same period.

Lammy looked at what happens in a number of other countries to see whether we could learn from experience elsewhere.

Two specific examples may be noted.

  1. Taking inspiration from youth justice in Germany, Lammy argues that rigorous assessments of a young offender’s maturity should inform sentencing decisions. Those judged to have low levels of maturity could also receive extended support from the youth justice system until they are 21.
  2. He also called for ‘Local Justice Panels’ to be established, taking inspiration from New Zealand’s Rangatahi courts, where local people with a direct stake in a young offender’s life are invited to contribute to their hearings. These panels would normally deal with first-time offenders given community sentences, include key figures such as teachers or social workers, and hold local services to account for a child’s rehabilitation.

Lammy made a number of innovative recommendations for judges, prosecutors and prisons.

For example, he proposed that a ‘deferred prosecution’ model  be rolled out, allowing low-level offenders to receive targeted rehabilitation before entering a plea. Those successfully completing rehabilitation programmes would see their charges dropped, while those who did not would still face criminal proceedings. (Such a scheme has already been piloted in the West Midlands, with violent offenders 35% less likely to reoffend. Victims were also more satisfied, feeling that intervention before submitting a plea was more likely to stop reoffending.)

He recommended that all sentencing remarks made by judges in the Crown Court should be published. He argued that this could help to make justice more transparent for victims, witnesses and offenders. It would also  start to address the ‘trust deficit’ between BAME individuals and the justice system, which Lammy argues  has contributed to Black and Asian men and Asian women being over 50% more likely than their White counterparts to enter a not guilty plea.

He also argues the UK should learn from the US system for ‘sealing’ criminal records, claiming ex-offenders should be able to apply to have their case heard by a judge or independent body, such as the Parole Board, where they could prove they have reformed. The judge would then decide whether to ‘seal’ the record, having considered factors such as time since the offence and evidence of rehabilitation. If the decision goes the applicant’s way, their record will still exist, but the individual would not need to disclose it and employers would not be able to access it. Lammy hoped this would help the people affected to become more employable.

Lammy accepts that there are other wider social issues that must be addressed as well; but he argues that the recommendations he makes could do much to build greater trust in the criminal justice system, reduce reoffending and improve outcomes for victims.

Whether or not these recommendations will lead to actual changes on the ground is too early to say. The fact that two Prime Ministers strongly supported the review might suggest that there would be some political impetus for follow-up. But, given other political priorities, I would not expect a rapid response from Ministers.

The Press Release, with links to the report can be found at https://www.gov.uk/government/news/lammy-publishes-historic-review

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Written by lwtmp

September 29, 2017 at 9:58 am

Efficiency in the Criminal Justice System: the view of the National Audit Office

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In March 2016, the National Audit Office published a very interesting and pretty hard hitting report on efficiency in the Criminal Justice system – or rather inefficiency. Set against the programme for the Transformation of our Justice System that was announced by the Government in the summer 2016, the contents of the NAO need to be remembered. In essence it argues that the current reform programme will not be adequate to drive out inefficiency, and ensure better value for money.

I set out here an edited version of the Summary Chapter of the report which gives the headline issues that need to be dealt with.

Key findings of the National Audit Office:

1 Performance

  • Delays are getting worse against a backdrop of continuing financial pressure.
  • There have been some improvements in the management of cases since 2010-11. But two-thirds of cases still do not progress as planned, creating unnecessary costs.
  • Trials that collapse or are delayed create costs for all the participants, including the CPS, witnesses and HMCTS. (In 2014-15, the Legal Aid Agency (LAA) funded defence counsel to the tune of £93.3 million for cases that were not heard in court).
  • Delays and collapsed trials also damage the public’s confidence in the system.
    Giving evidence in court as a witness or victim can be a difficult and stressful process. The uncertainty caused by delays and collapsed trials exacerbates this.

2. Addressing the causes of inefficiency

The Ministry and CPS are leading an ambitious reform programme but this will not address all the causes of inefficiency.

  • The court reform programme’s scope is far-reaching. It includes rationalising and modernising the estate to enable more efficient digital working and the roll-out of a single digital case management system accessible by all parties. Better IT infrastructure and a modernised estate would provide the tools for a more efficient, less paper-based system, but are not sufficient to address all the causes of inefficiency in the system.
  • Inefficiencies are created where individuals and organisations do not get things right first time, and problems are compounded because mistakes often occur early in the life of a case and are not corrected.
  • There can be multiple points of failure as cases progress through the system but these are often not identified until it is too late. (A 2015 inspection found that 18.2% of police charging decisions were incorrect. Incorrect charging decisions should be picked up by the CPS before court, but 38.4% of cases were not reviewed before reaching court. The system’s reliance on paper also builds in inefficiency).
  • The system as a whole is inefficient because its individual parts have strong incentives to work in ways that create cost elsewhere.
  • As there is no common view of what success looks like, organisations may not act in the best interests of the whole system. (For example, courts staff seek, under judicial direction, to ensure they are in use as much as possible by scheduling more trials than can be heard so that there are back-ups when one trial cannot proceed. This is both a cause and a result of the inefficiencies in the system, and leads to costs for other parts of the system, for example witnesses who spend a day waiting to give evidence for a trial that is not then heard, and who may then be more likely to disengage from the process).
  • There is significant regional variation in the performance of the system, suggesting that there is scope for efficiency gains. (A victim of crime in North Wales has a 7 in 10 chance that the trial will go ahead at Crown Court on the day it is scheduled, whereas in Greater Manchester the figure is only 2 in 10. The large variation in performance across the country means that victims and witnesses will experience very different levels of service.)
  • If the performance in those Local Criminal Justice Board areas with the highest rate of cracked trials was equivalent to the best-performing quartile, 15% more cases would proceed as planned, saving a minimum of £4 million in CPS costs, as well as those costs incurred by other organisations.
  • There are some mechanisms to identify and share good practice, but awareness and use of these varies. Our case study visits identified a range of innovative approaches that made a positive impact on the system. These included implementing an appointment system for the approval of search warrants, which saved a significant amount of police time, and creating a dedicated videoconferencing court. But there is varied awareness and use of mechanisms to identify and disseminate learning from these initiatives.

3 Conclusion on value for money

  • Reducing inefficiency in the justice system is essential if the increasing demand and reducing funding are not to lead to slower, less accessible justice. Although the bodies involved have improved the management of cases, around two-thirds of criminal trials still do not proceed as planned on the day they are originally scheduled. Delays and aborted hearings create extra work, waste scarce resources and undermine confidence in the system.
  • Notwithstanding the challenges of improving the efficiency of a system designed to maintain independence of the constituent parts, there are many areas where improvements must be made. Large parts of the system are paper-based and parties are not always doing what they are supposed to do in a timely manner.
  • The system is not currently delivering value for money.
  • The ambitious reforms led by the Ministry, HMCTS, CPS and judiciary are designed to tackle many of these issues by reducing reliance on paper records and enabling more flexible digital working. They have the potential to improve value for money but will not address all of the causes of inefficiency.
  • More also needs to be done to explore and address the wide regional variations in performance, and to create incentives that encourage all parties to operate in the best interests of the system as a whole.

Recommendations

a The Criminal Justice Board should agree what ‘good’ looks like for the system as a whole, and the levels of performance that each part of the system can commit to deliver to achieve this. It should report publicly on whether these levels of performance are being met. While it is important that the different parts of the system are not able to unduly influence individual cases, this cannot preclude agreement over the level of service that each element of the system should provide. Whenever possible, these measures should focus on quality and align with the system’s overarching aims.
b The Criminal Justice Board should regularly review performance at a level sufficient to identify good practice. Unlike many other areas of government, there is granular performance data available for many aspects of the system. Identifying and exploring regional variations in performance will highlight innovative practice, as well as giving organisations across the system incentives to improve.
c The Criminal Justice Board should establish mechanisms to increase transparency and encourage feedback through the system. This is particularly important where one element of the system has a direct but discretionary impact on another. (For example, when magistrates’ courts refer ‘either way’ cases to Crown Court they should be able to find out how many of these cases were ultimately sentenced within magistrates’ court powers. This would allow them to judge whether they are sending the right cases.)

Note. The Criminal Justice Board, is a cross-governmental group chaired by the Justice Secretary. It includes ministers and officials from the Ministry of Justice (the Ministry), its executive agency HM Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS), the Home Office, the Attorney General’s Office and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS). It also includes representatives of police forces, police and crime commissioners and senior members of the judiciary.

Source: https://www.nao.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/Efficiency-in-the-criminal-justice-system.pdf

Reassessing the use of the dock in criminal trials

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In July 2015, JUSTICE, the Human Rights Group published an interesting paper on the use of the dock in the criminal trial process. It has not perhaps had the attention it deserves, but its recommendations should be considered in the context of the Transformation of our Justice System currently being taken forward.

I reproduce here the Press Release published at the time which admirably summarises the arguments.

The use of the dock for adult defendants in our criminal courts is unquestioned. Secure docks – with high walls made of glass panels – are most common, although some defendants will be held in open, wooden docks. While some courts will allow the defendant out of the dock in narrow circumstances, this is a far from uniform practice. Despite their use being an accepted norm, particularly among the legal profession, the dock has not always been so embedded within the courtroom.

The established use of docks was not cemented until as late as the 1970s, while the secure dock now in use did not arrive until 2000. Even today, there is no statutory requirement or judicial authority requiring their use in our courts. Rather, it is simply recommended Ministry of Justice policy that they be available in all criminal courts. The rationale for these increased security measures in recent decades has not been documented in the public record.

JUSTICE is concerned that the use of the dock impacts upon the defendant’s right to a fair trial, in particular: effective participation in one’s defence; preserving the presumption of innocence; and maintaining dignity in the administration of justice. These rights have long been protected by our domestic legal system, the European Convention on Human Rights and international human rights law.

Notably, a number of other jurisdictions, including those that share our common law heritage, have abandoned the use of the dock. These jurisdictions offer useful examples of discreet and humane alternatives, which are used on a case-by-case basis. Available statistical evidence for the Netherlands and the United States demonstrates security incidents rarely occur, and the same can be expected of England and Wales.

Moreover, the adverse impact of the dock on the defendant’s right to a fair trial has been explicitly recognised by appellate courts in both the USA and Australia; in fact, the rejection of the dock in the USA is safeguarded by reference to constitutional guarantees the findings of a recent experimental study in Australia aimed at assessing the prejudicial impact of the dock on juries further support JUSTICE’s concerns.

In light of our legal obligations to secure the right to a fair trial in practice – and taking into account the experience of comparative jurisdictions – JUSTICE calls for reconsideration of the use of the dock in our criminal courts. At a time when HM Courts and Tribunal Service is reviewing the use of its estate, attention should be given to how our courtrooms are designed, by reference to actual need, rather than tradition.

Recommendations

  1.  There should be a presumption that all defendants sit in the well of the court, behind or close to their advocate;
  2. Open docks should no longer be used and defendants should sit with their legal team;
  3. Where security concerns exist, a procedural hearing should be held to satisfy the court that additional security is required;
  4. In cases where there is no security risk, defendants should also sit with their legal team;
  5. We invite the Lord Chief Justice to consider issuing a practice direction with regard to the above recommendations;
  6. We invite HM Courts and Tribunal Service, the Ministry of Justice and other appropriate agencies to explore alternative security measures to the dock, mindful of the need for such measures to be concealed from the judge/jury and comfortable for the defendant; and
  7. We invite the Ministry of Justice and other relevant agencies to review prisoner escort custody contracts to ensure appropriate security can be supplied to the courtroom.

The report is at https://justice.org.uk/in-the-dock/

Written by lwtmp

November 27, 2016 at 1:35 pm

Transforming the English Legal System: Criminal Justice

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The Consultation Paper, Transforming our Legal System, states, in relation to the Criminal Justice system that, first, the criminal courts should be more flexible. This will be achieved by:
i. Aligning the criminal courts: Magistrates’ courts and the Crown Court deal with
different levels of criminal offence, but they must work better together to provide a
more efficient service. We are working with the judiciary on structural and
procedural changes that will give the senior judiciary clearer oversight of, and
flexibility to manage, judicial leadership in the criminal jurisdiction. This will enable
the Crown Court and magistrates’ courts to operate more closely together –
stronger leadership and alignment will improve court performance for everyone
involved. To support this, we will bring the structures of the courts closer by
reforming existing local justice areas and making it easier to transfer cases between
the Crown Court and Magistrates’ Court when appropriate – starting in the right
place will make the process simpler and easier for victims and defendants.
ii. Making it easier for vulnerable and intimidated witnesses (including victims) to give
evidence: We will roll out the use of pre-trial cross-examination in Crown Court
trials, allowing vulnerable and intimidated witnesses to pre-record their cross-
examination, meaning the witness does not always need to attend the trial itself. A
pilot found that this procedure meant witnesses gave evidence in half the time it
would take at trial. We believe that expanding this will reduce distress for victims
and witnesses and improve their overall experience of the justice system.
Second, the Government wants courts to do more to address offender behaviour. It is proposed that this should be done by:
i.Introducing problem solving courts: We are exploring the opportunities for problem
solving methods further with the judiciary and collecting the evidence base. We are
continuing to trial this approach in locations across the UK.
ii. Using out of court disposals: We will use out of court disposals in appropriate cases,
to help change offenders’ behaviour at the earliest possible opportunity– with swift
and certain consequences for offenders who do not comply with the conditions
attached.
Thirdly, the Government is seeking to improve process and technology for more efficient and digital justice. It plans to do this by
i. Streamlining process: We are making changes to the way cases progress through
the criminal courts, including removing unnecessary appearances in court (such as
first appearances in magistrates’ courts for cases which can only be tried in the
Crown Court), introducing a more efficient process to allocate cases to the Crown
Court or magistrates’ courts and allowing simple decisions to be made via a new
online system.

ii. Using technology to make processes more efficient: We will increase the use

of video link and telephone and video conferencing technology to make
hearings easier and more convenient for all, including victims and witnesses
and criminal justice system agencies. We will work with the police to hold bail
hearings by video link from police stations to reduce the need for some
offenders to be held in police cells overnight. In appropriate cases offenders
will be able to plead guilty, be convicted and sentenced all on the same day by
live video link from police stations.
iii. Introducing a new collaborative IT system: The Common Platform is already
being developed to provide a single case management IT system for use
throughout the Crown Court and magistrates’ courts. It will provide access to
case material and information to many agencies within the criminal justice
system as well as the defence, victims and witnesses. Many current paper and
court-based processes will be moved online, saving time and increasing
efficiency for all court users.
iv. Enabling online convictions and fixed fines: For certain routine, low-level
summary, non-imprisonable offences with no identifiable victim, we propose to
introduce a system which resolves cases entirely online. Defendants would log
on to an online system to see the evidence against them before entering a
plea. If they plead guilty, they can opt in to (and can always opt out of) the
online system which allows them to view the penalty, accept the conviction
and penalty, and pay their fine. Cases would be resolved immediately and
entirely online, without the involvement of a magistrate.

Many of these proposals build on initiatives already started. However, the suggestion for more problem solving courts is potentially quite innovative and could lead to significant change to the ways in which the criminal courts have historically operated.

See chapter 2: https://consult.justice.gov.uk/digital-communications/transforming-our-courts-and-tribunals/supporting_documents/consultationpaper.pdf

 

Written by lwtmp

October 5, 2016 at 9:54 am

More criminal trials to be heard in the magistrates’ court

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Early in 2016, there was an announcement that more criminal cases would be dealt with in the magistrates’ courts, rather than being sent to the Crown Court.

The source for this announcement was not a new piece of legislation, redrawing the boundaries between cases heard in these two courts. Rather, it was the announcement that, from 1 March 2016, the Sentencing Council was issuing ‘definitive guidance’ on how cases triable either way – i.e. summarily (in the Magistrates’ Court) or on indictment (in the Crown Court) were to be allocated.

One of the key recommendations of the Leveson Review of Efficiency in Criminal Proceedings was

“Magistrates’ Courts must be encouraged to be far more robust in their application of the allocation guideline which mandates [emphasis added] that either way offences should be tried summarily unless it is likely that the court’ssentencing powers will be insufficient. The word “likely” does not mean “possible” and permits the court to take account of potential mitigation and guilty plea, so can encompass cases where the discount for a guilty plea is the feature that brings the case into the Magistrates’ jurisdiction. It is important to underline that,provided the option to commit for sentence is publicly identified, the decision to retain jurisdiction does not
fetter discretion to commit for sentence even after requesting a pre-sentence report”.
The Sentencing Council consulted on a change to their guidance on allocation and have provided new guidance which comes into effect on 1 March 2016.
The guidance states:
1. In general, either way offences should be tried summarily unless:
• the outcome would clearly be a sentence in excess of the court’s powers for the offence(s) concerned after taking into account personal mitigation and any potential reduction for a guilty plea; or
• for reasons of unusual legal, procedural or factual complexity, the case should be tried in the Crown Court. This exception may apply in cases where a very substantial fine is the likely sentence.
Other circumstances where this exception will apply are likely to be rare and case specific; the court will rely on the submissions of the parties to identify relevant cases.
2. In cases with no factual or legal complications the court should bear in mind its power to commit for sentence after a trial and may retain jurisdiction notwithstanding that the likely sentence might exceed its powers.
3. Cases may be tried summarily even where the defendant is subject to a Crown Court Suspended Sentence Order or Community Order.
4. All parties should be asked by the court to make representations as to whether the case is suitable for summary trial. The court should refer to definitive guidelines (if any) to assess the likely sentence for the offence in the light of the facts alleged by the prosecution case, taking into account all aspects of the case including those advanced by the defence, including any personal mitigation to which the defence wish to refer.
Where the court decides that the case is suitable to be dealt with in the magistrates’ court, it must warn the defendant that all sentencing options remain open and, if the defendant consents to summary trial and is convicted by the court or pleads guilty, the defendant may be committed to the Crown Court for sentence.
It is estimated that a significant number of cases will in future be retained in magistrates’ courts as a result of this guidance.
The Sentencing Council makes bold claims for the new guideline, stating:
The guideline aims to bring about a change in culture and will inevitably provide some challenges, but the Council is confident from the responses to the consultation that the guideline will be welcomed by sentencers and will play a role in ensuring that justice is delivered fairly, swiftly and efficiently in more cases.
The press notice is at http://www.sentencingcouncil.org.uk/news/item/sentencing-council-issues-definitive-allocation-guideline/
The link to the guideline is at http://www.sentencingcouncil.org.uk/publications/item/allocation-guideline-revised/

Written by lwtmp

January 21, 2016 at 6:40 pm

Rise in numbers of private prosecutions?

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The principal prosecution authority in the English Legal System is the Crown Prosecution Service. Private prosecutions, brought by individuals, have been rare. But two recent news items, reported in the Times Newspaper suggest that we may be witnessing an increase in private prosecutions.
On 2 September 2015 it was reported that some of the families caught up in the terrible refuse lorry accident in Glasgow last year were contemplating bringing criminal proceedings against the driver.
On 3 September 2015, there was an interesting feature also suggesting that private prosecutions might be on the interest, in particular where allegations of serious corporate fraud were involved. The key issue made in the article was that the reason why private prosecutions might be on the increase might be reductions in funding for the CPS which meant that they did not have the resources to take on serious cases.
It is hard to judge from a single newspaper article whether this really is a trend; and it is certainly not possible to say whether the suggested reason – public expenditure cuts – is the principal reason why this is happening. However, the two items – taken together – perhaps lay down a marker that this is an issue which needs to be kept under review.
Although I have argued elsewhere that not all cuts to public expenditure are necessarily harmful, if those cuts are preventing the CPS from doing its job of bringing to court cases that fall within its code of practice, this would seem to extremely worrying and an issue on which there should be proper research.
For the article see: http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/law/article4545615.ece

Written by lwtmp

September 14, 2015 at 3:51 pm