Martin Partington: Spotlight on the Justice System

Keeping the English Legal System under review

Posts Tagged ‘criminal justice system

Sentencing Act 2020 given Royal Assent

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On 22 October 2020, the Sentencing Act 2020 received the Royal Assent. A commencement date has not yet been set, but once it is, the Sentencing Code – which the Act contains – will come into force.

I have considered the content of the Code at https://martinpartington.com/2020/07/21/enacting-the-sentencing-code/

This is a significant achievement, undertaken by the Law Commission, which hopefully will bring greater clarity to the rules which the courts must apply when they sentence those convicted of crimes.

A press notice is at https://www.gov.uk/government/news/sentencing-code-granted-royal-assent

Written by lwtmp

November 4, 2020 at 10:32 am

Covid-19 and the English Legal System (15) – Criminal Justice in existential crisis?

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On Friday 30 October 2020 a research consultancy, Crest, published a report Impact and legacy of Covid-19 on the CJS: Modelling overview. Using existing data to model future developments, the report set out what it regarded as the possible impact of Covid-19 on the Criminal Justice System.

The rather sober title of the report was not matched by the press release Crest drafted to draw attention to its study. This was headed “A perfect storm: why the criminal justice system is facing an existential crisis”. This apocalytic vision certainly caught the eye of some journalists – which is of course the reason why I am now writing about it now.

And the report is a really important one, which underscores the urgent need for the Government to get on with the appointment and work of the promised Royal Commission on the Criminal Justice system. (See https://martinpartington.com/2020/07/13/royal-commission-on-the-criminal-justice-system-details-awaited/)

The report starts by reminding readers that, even before Covid-19, the CJS was facing a number of long-standing problems: decreasing charge rates, worsening court timeliness and an estimated backlog in the courts of c.104K
cases, prisons and probation operating at full capacity. Covid-19 has added to those pressures. The report also predicts a future of increased pressure, the consequence of the likely rise in long term unemployment due to the economic impact of Covid, leading to more crime, and the 20,000 increase in police officer numbers, leading to more detection and the need to process more people through the system.

The research team’s modelling suggests, that without any action, the Crown Court backlog is projected to increase from c.45.5K in 2019 in to c.195.5K (x4) in 2024. and the magistrates’ court backlog is projected to increase from c.58.6K in 2019 to 580.3K (x10) in 2024.

Current responses by Government – e.g. making more courts covid-safe and opening Nightingale Courts in a number of town – just do not cut the mustard, in Crest’s view. Much more dramatic action is needed.

The principal criticism contained in the report is that there is currently no ‘whole-system’ view of the challenges facing the CJS. Different parts of the system work in isolation from other parts.

For example: the 20K police uplift will lead to a rise in pressure on the court backlogs; if the courts increase their outflow in sentenced cases, there will be a rise in pressure on prisons and probation.

Furthermore, assuming equilibrium is achieved in courts, suspended sentence orders are projected to increase by 24%, post-release supervision caseload will increase by 30% and community sentence orders are projected to increase by 14% by 2024. This will put extreme pressure on a probation service which was already underperforming.

There is, in the report’s view, inadequate recognition within Government of the interdependencies of each part of the criminal justice system.

The Crest report states that

“to bring the backlog back to pre-Covid levels will require a change in more than just capacity.
Options include:
● increasing the speed with which cases are dealt with: e.g. increasing the efficiency of listing, decreasing victim attrition, decreasing cracked trials etc.
● decreasing the amount of cases entering the court system by increasing effective out of court disposals
● decreasing the amount of police recorded crime originally entering the CJS through effective crime prevention programmes.”

I think some would argue that this list of options is not an original one. All these ideas have been discussed within the CJS, and achieving the outcomes suggested in the report is not easy. But what this report has very effectively done is highlight precisely the challenges that the now increasingly delayed Royal Commission must address. It should be a matter of urgency for the Government to get the Commission up and running.

The Crest Report is available at https://www.crestadvisory.com/post/covid-19-and-the-criminal-justice-system

Jury trials – a case for change?

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One response to the difficulties of running jury trials in the current Covid-19 world, where social distancing is crucial yet difficult to achieve in a crowded courtroom, has been that – at least temporarily – alternatives to juries should be tried.

The Lord Chancellor has set his face against this idea. Indeed, most people who even float the idea that jury trials should be abolished tend to be treated with scorn.

Nevertheless, it is worth noting that there is the occasional voice to be heard, suggesting that jury trial is not all that it is cracked up to be.

In this context, readers of this blog might be interested in a book, published in 2019, by the late Louis Blom-Cooper QC who suggested that criminal trials might be run differently.

In Unreasoned Verdict, Blom-Cooper argues that:

The system of jury trial has survived, intact, for 750 years. This book explains the nature and scope today of jury trial, with its minor exceptions. It chronicles the origins and development of jury trial in the Anglo-Saxon world, seeking to explain and explore the principles that lie at the heart of the mode of criminal trial. It observes the distinction between the professional judge and the amateur juror or lay participant, and the value of such a mixed tribunal. Part of the book is devoted to the leading European jurisdictions, underlining their abandonment of trial by jury and its replacement with the mixed tribunal in pursuance of a political will to inject a lay element into the trial process. Democracy is not an essential element in the criminal trial.

The book also takes a look at the appellate system in crime, from the Criminal Appeals Act 1907 to the present day, and urges the reform of the appellate court, finding the trial decision unsatisfactory as well as unsafe.

Other important issues are touched upon – judicial ethics and court-craft; perverse jury verdicts (the nullification of jury verdicts); the speciality of fraud offences, and the selection of models for various crimes, as well as suggested reforms of the waiver of a jury trial or the ability of the defendant to choose the mode of trial. The section ends with a discussion of the restricted exceptions to jury trial, where the experience of 30 years of judge-alone trials in Northern Ireland – the Diplock Courts – is discussed.

Finally, the book proffers its proposal for a major change in direction – involvement of the defendant in the choice of mode of trial, and the intervention (where necessary) of the expert, not merely as a witness but as an assessor to the judiciary or as a supplemental decision-maker.

I think it highly unlikely that there will be any change in the foreseeable future. But that does not mean that arguments against the ways in which juries are currently used should not at least be considered and debated to see whether there might be alternative arrangements that might work better and more fairly.Source: adapted from publisher’s notice at https://www.bloomsburyprofessional.com/uk/unreasoned-verdict-9781509915224/

Written by lwtmp

October 10, 2020 at 2:12 pm

Reviewing the Criminal Injuries Compensation scheme

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Despite all the headline attention being given to the Covid-19 pandemic and measures being taken to mitigate some of the effects of the disruption to courts and tribunals that it has caused, the Ministry of Justice continues to undertake other work which does not attract the same public attention.

The issue considered here relates to a consultation on the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme, which was announced in July 2020.

The Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme (the Scheme) is a statutory scheme that exists to compensate victims of violent crime in Great Britain. Its core purpose is to recognise, through compensation, the harm experienced by victims injured as a result of violent crime, including physical and sexual assault as well as domestic terrorist attacks. The Scheme was last reviewed in 2012.

The cross-Government Victims Strategy of September 2018 included undertakings to do more for victims at every stage of the criminal justice system. As part of this, the Government committed to engaging in a comprehensive review of the Scheme. The terms of reference were published in December 2018. The review has examined whether the Scheme remains fit for purpose, reflects the changing nature of violent crime and effectively supports victims in their recovery.

In July 2020, the Government published a Consultation Paper on proposals for dealing with problems that those with experience of the working of the scheme made to the review. The Consultation is open until 9 October 2020. One of the issues specifically addressed is the lack of awareness of the scheme on the part of victims of crime.

It is likely that detailed amendments to the scheme will eventually emerge from this process. However major overhaul of the scheme seems unlikely.

The details of the consultation are at https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/criminal-injuries-compensation-scheme-review-2020

Written by lwtmp

August 24, 2020 at 3:33 pm

Royal Commission on the Criminal Justice system – details awaited

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In the Queen’s Speech, delivered in December 2019, it was announced that the Government would establish a Royal Commission to review and improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the criminal justice process. Little has been heard of this proposal since then. However, in recent meetings with the House of Commons Justice Committee, the Lord Chancellor made it clear that he has been given the resources needed to enable the establishment of the Commission.

At present – and no doubt reflecting other more pressing priorities driven by Covid 19 – no further information is available. It is, however, likely to be a broad-ranging inquiry, not only limited to the operation of the courts, but taking other aspects of the criminal justice system into account as well.

A separate consultation on the Criminal Legal Aid scheme closed in June 2020. The results of that inquiry are likely to be published towards the end of 2020. A number of interim changes to the criminal legal aid scheme were announced in February 2020.

For the Queen’s Speech, December 2019, see https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/queens-speech-december-2019

The announcement of the consultation on Criminal Legal aid is at https://www.gov.uk/guidance/criminal-legal-aid-review

Reaction of the Law Society is at https://www.lawsociety.org.uk/en/topics/criminal-justice/criminal-legal-aid

Covid 19 and the English Legal System (6): the Criminal Justice crisis [stop press]

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The huge backlog of criminal trials, resulting from the Covid 19 pandemic, is clearly very worrying for those responsible for managing the Criminal Justice system/

Two specific ideas for dealing with this have been floated in recent days.

In evidence to the House of Commons Justice Committee to be given on 23 June 2020, the Lord Chief Justice is likely to be promoting his favoured idea, that trial by a 12 person jury should be replaced by a trial judge sitting with two assessors.

The Human Rights Group JUSTICE has been conducting experiments using a virtual jury – in which 12 jury members join a virtual hearing online.

I declare an interest. I am a member of the Council of JUSTICE. Last Friday I watched an extract from the 4th virtual trial, which was being held on a pilot basis. I was extremely impressed and many of those who engaged in the process commented on the realism of the proceedings.

JUSTICE argues that this experiment should be expanded and that virtual jury trials should be used much more widely. These should be seen as preferable to the introduction of trials heard by judges sitting just with 2 assessors. Those who agree with this view are asked to convey their thoughts to the Justice Committee, inviting them to take their comments into account in their deliberations.

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

The JUSTICE work on the impact of Covid 19 can be found at https://justice.org.uk/our-work/justice-covid-19-response/

 

 

 

Written by lwtmp

June 22, 2020 at 5:46 pm

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.

Transformation: Courts and Tribunals, 2022: HMCTS and MoJ respond to the Public Accounts Committee

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I noted in 2018 the critical report from the National Audit Office (see this blog June 2018) and the subsequent report (which I labelled ‘brutal’) from the Public Accounts Committee (see this blog October 2018) on the courts and tribunals transformation programme.

Well, now the Ministry of Justice and HM Courts and Tribunals Service have come back with a series of replies, setting out the progress that has been made with the transformation programme, and setting out targets for the following 6 months.

Between November 2018 and February 2019, MoJ and HMCTS published no fewer than 6 reports, each one responding individually to the six principal criticisms made by the Public Accounts Committee.

The most fundamental question is whether the timeframe for the delivery of the transformation programme is being adhered to. The report on Recommendation 1 – which deals with this question – acknowledges that parts of the programme have not yet been started while listing a substantial body of completed work.

Other responses deal with:

  • the impact of the transformation programme on users;
  • engagement with stakeholders;
  • the financial implications of the transformation programme on the wider justice system;
  • evaluating the impact of the reform programme on access to justice and the fairness of the justice system; and
  • balancing the portfolio of change projects to ensure that there is some flexibility and an ability to respond to financial pressures.

Interestingly, less than a month after the publication of the latest of these reports a Press Release in March stated that at least some aspects of the Transformation programme will not be completed until 2023. (See https://www.lawgazette.co.uk/news/breaking-hmcts-delays-1bn-courts-reform-by-a-year/5069501.article)

There is a lot of detail in the reports. They can be found by going to https://www.gov.uk/government/news/response-to-public-accounts-committee-transforming-courts-and-tribunals

This links to each of the six individual responses.

In January 2019, the Justice Select Committee announced that it too would be conducting an inquiry into the Courts and Tribunals Reform programme. See https://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/justice-committee/inquiries/parliament-2017/court-and-tribunals-reform-inquiry-17-19/

It is right that such a major reform programme should be carefully scrutinised by MPs. They can help to ensure that the transformation, that I think is needed, is delivered.

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

Supporting Exonerees

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The adverse impact of being wrongfully convicted of a crime that you have not committee is obvious. But once the wrongful conviction comes to light, how should the state deal with those now exonerated. This detailed issues was the subject of a special report by JUSTICE, the Human Rights Organisation, in April 2018. (I am a member of the JUSTICE council but was not involved in this report.)

Way back in 1982, JUSTICE published a report, Compensation for Wrongful Imprisonment. Unfortunately, little has changed since then. Exonerees still do not receive the support they need to return to a normal life and are not properly compensated. A number of recent cases of wrongful conviction highlight the need to continue to address the issue and argue for change.

The new report makes it clear that, although monetary compensation may well be important, it is not just a question of money. Other types of support are needed as well.

The report makes 14 recommendations including:

  • Better management of the transition from incarceration to release.
  • The need for specialist psychiatric care for exonerees.
  • The setting up of a residential service to provide practical and welfare support to exonerees.
  • An independent body to determine whether applicants are eligible for compensation.
  • Automatic compensation for wrongful imprisonment, subject to certain exceptions.
  • An apology and explanation of the failure that leads to a quashed conviction and, where necessary, a public inquiry.

The full report is available at https://justice.org.uk/our-work/areas-of-work/criminal-justice-system/supporting-exonerees-ensuring-accessible-continuing-and-consistent-support/


 

Written by lwtmp

July 11, 2018 at 2:20 pm