Martin Partington: Spotlight on the Justice System

Keeping the English Legal System under review

Posts Tagged ‘criminal justice

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

 

 

 

 

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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

Disclosure of Evidence: Justice Committee report

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It is a fundamental principle of the criminal justice system in England and Wales that the prosecution must disclose unused evidence to the defence. Following considerable press publicity given to criminal trials  in which this principle has not been observed – leading to lengthy delays in a case being brough to trial, in some cases leading to a defendant being sent to prison for a crime he did not commit – the Justice Committee in the House of Commons took a look at the issue.

In July 2018 they published their report. In it they make no recommendations to change the law. Indeed, the confirm that the principle of disclosure is an important one to ensure a fair trial. What they do say is that those working in the criminal justice system must take their responsibilities in relation to disclosure more seriously.

The Committee notes that in early December 2017 the Government announced that the then Attorney General would conduct a review of disclosure. While the Attorney General has since changed, the Committee expects that this review will conclude.

The Committee also notes that the Crown Prosecution Service, National Police Chiefs’ Council and College of Policing  published a “National Disclosure Improvement Plan” in January 2018. (Noted in this blog 1 Feb 2018)

The Justice Committee’s recent report in effect builds on these initiatives. It states, in summary that there needs to be:

  • a shift in culture towards viewing disclosure as a core justice duty, and not an administrative add-on;
  • the right skills and technology to review large volumes of material that are now routinely collected by the police; and
  • clear guidelines on handling sensitive material.

Finally, the Government must consider whether funding across the system is sufficient to ensure a good disclosure regime. The Committee notes that delayed and collapsed trails that result from disclosure errors only serve to put further strain on already tight resources.

The Committee plans to return to this issue both when the Government publishes its response to the report, and when the Attorney General’s review is completed.

The report can be seen at https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201719/cmselect/cmjust/859/85902.htm

 

 

Written by lwtmp

October 2, 2018 at 10:48 am

Disclosure of evidence: planning for change – first steps

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In July 2017, the Inspectorates of the Crown Prosecution Service and Constabulary published a very critical report on the failure of police and prosecution services to apply the rules relating to the disclosure of evidence held by police/prosecutors to defence teams. (I noted the report here in November 2017).

Since then, it seems that the issue of the failure of the police and prosecution to disclose evidence to defence lawyers which might undermine or weaken the prosecution case has received almost daily attention in the mass media. A number of well publicised cases have emerged in which those accused of serious crimes (in particular rape) have found out only at a late stage that evidence which undermines the case against them is available.

A number of reasons have been advanced for these failures. For example, it is argued that the current law was put in place before the arrival of mobile phones and the vast amounts of electronic data that is generated on phones and tablet.

It is also argued that police and prosecutors lack the resources to comb through all this information to see what might by relevant.

This is an extremely serious issue which goes to the heart of the criminal justice system. People must feel that the system is fair and that those who run it are complying with the rules.

Clearly both the police and CPS are taking this issue seriously. The first tangible step has recently been taken. At the end of January 2018, a plan was published  by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) and the College of Policing.  This sets out measures designed to improve practice in this area.

These first steps include:

  • Reviewing disclosure training with the College of Policing
  • Developing a cadre of specialist and experienced disclosure experts in every force
  • Providing all multimedia evidence from the CPS to the defence digitally
  • Putting in place specific improvement plans for each force and CPS area
  • Setting up a system for the CPS and police to better identify and deal with cases with significant and complex disclosure issues.

This will not be the last word on this subject. Much work has to be done to ensure that all those engaged in the criminal justice system actually act in accordance with the statutory rules on disclosure. But it is an important first step.

The text of the plan can be found at http://www.npcc.police.uk/Publication/National%20Disclosure%20Improvement%20Plan%20January%202018.pdf

Written by lwtmp

February 1, 2018 at 11:12 am

Paying for criminal defence advocacy

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Relations between Government and the Criminal Bar have not, in recent years been characterised by a great deal of warmth and mutual understanding. Indeed, criminal barristers went on strike recently against what they regarded as unfair policy on legal aid remuneration.

I am sure it would be overstating things to say that peace has now broken out between the Government and the Criminal Bar.  But a new Consultation Paper on the remuneration of criminal defence advocates (including solicitor advocates) has been published which seems to be the fruit of close working relationship between the two sides.

Certainly the chairman of the Bar Council has welcomed the paper’s publication and has urged advocates to support the recommendations set out in the paper.

One of the key aims of the new proposals is to try to ensure that payments reflect actual work done by advocates on behalf of their clients.

The proposals also seek to reflect the changing nature of criminal trial practice as the criminal courts’ efficiency programme continues to develop.

The proposals also aim to give a sense of career progress to those who undertake criminal defence advocacy. Pay should be higher as experience is gained and more serious cases are undertaken.

The recommendations are not based on any increase in the amount of money available for paying advocates; but they are designed to be a rational response to the changing face of criminal advocacy and to take a fresh look at a payments system that was last looked at 20 years ago.

The details of the consultation – which runs till early March 2017, are at https://www.gov.uk/government/news/proposals-to-reform-criminal-defence-advocates-pay-published

Written by lwtmp

January 23, 2017 at 12:03 pm

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

Lammy Review: racial bias in the criminal justice system

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In this blog, I noted (Feb 2016) the appointment of the MP for Tottenham, David Lammy, to lead a review of racial bias in the criminal justice system. He has now published his ’emerging findings’ in a letter he has sent to the Prime Minister. His final report is expected in 2017. The Press Release states:

The review commissioned an analysis paper looking at disproportionality in the criminal justice system. One finding was that for every 100 white women handed custodial sentences at Crown Courts for drug offences, 227 black women were sentenced to custody. For black men, this figure is 141 for every 100 white men.

Among all those found guilty at Crown Court in 2014, 112 black men were sentenced to custody for every 100 white men .

The disproportionality analysis also found that, among those found guilty, a greater proportion of black women were sentenced to custody at Crown Court than white women.

 

Other notable findings highlighted today from the disproportionality analysis and the wider Lammy review include:

  • Of those convicted at Magistrates’ Court for sexual offences, 208 black men and 193 Asian men received custodial sentences for every 100 white men.

  • BAME defendants are more likely than their white counterparts to be tried at Crown Court – with young black men around 56% more likely than their white counterparts;

  • BAME men were more than 16% more likely than white men to be remanded in custody;

  • BAME men were 52% percent more likely than white men to plead ‘not guilty’ at crown court;

  • In prisons, BAME males are almost five times more likely to be housed in high security for public order offences than white men, and

  • Mixed ethnic men and women were more likely than white men and women to have adjudications for breaching prison discipline brought against them – but less likely to have those adjudications proven when reviewed.

  • 51% of the UK-born BAME population agree that ‘the criminal justice system discriminates against particular groups’, compared to 35% of the UK-born white population;

  • 41% of youth prisoners are from minorities backgrounds, compared with 25% ten years ago, despite prisoner numbers falling by some 66% in that time;

  • The number of Muslim prisoners has almost doubled in the last decade.

The next stage for the review will be to examine the reasons for these figures and to explore whether they reveal bias in the system against those from BAME groups.

It has also been announced that Lammy will – as part of this exercise – take a closer look at diversity in the judiciary and the numbers of judges from BAME groups.

The details of the emerging findings are at https://www.gov.uk/government/news/lammy-review-emerging-findings-published

 

Written by lwtmp

November 23, 2016 at 11:33 am