Martin Partington: Spotlight on the Justice System

Keeping the English Legal System under review

Posts Tagged ‘criminal proceedings

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/

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Written by lwtmp

November 27, 2016 at 1:35 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

Review of Efficiency in the Criminal Justice System

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Just before the 2014-15 Parliamentary session came to an end, the Government announced that it had accepted in principle all the recommendations made by Lord Justice Leveson on improving efficiency in the Criminal Justice system. (See entry in this blog in January 2015).
Particular emphasis was placed on changes that might be brought about with no or very little public expenditure.
The announcement was made in a letter from the Lord Chancellor to Lord Justice Leveson.
See https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/government-response-to-sir-brian-levesons-review-of-efficiency-in-criminal-proceedings

Written by lwtmp

May 4, 2015 at 3:29 pm

Review of Efficiency in Criminal Proceedings

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The results of the inquiry by Lord Justice Leveson into the efficiency of criminal proceedings was published in January 2015.

His task was to come up with recommendations that could be implemented without legislative change.

In summary, he recommends:

  • the greater use  of  video and other conferencing technology across the system (including courts and prisons) particularly featuring remote hearings in the Crown Court, which would lead to a better service for all those involved and reduce both delay and cost (para. 40-50);
  • facilitating the use in court of evidence gathered by police on video cameras mounted on their bodies or helmets (para. 58) and a streamlined approach to other evidence which has been captured electronically,  such as interviews of child witnesses (achieving best evidence) and interviews with defendants (para. 250);
  • more flexible opening hours in magistrates’ courts to accommodate those who cannot attend hearings during normal office hours (para. 54);
  • tighter case management by judges, including, in appropriate cases, the provision of timetables for evidence and  speeches (para. 274, 281);
  • that contracts awarded to those responsible for delivering prisoners to court should require greater efficiency so that prisoners appear on time and do not delay proceedings (para. 214).
  • that there should be funding available to pay for the inevitable cost of changing from the current systems to the more efficient ones (para. 320).

There is also an interesting chapter (chapter 10) on other changes that might be contemplated, but on which, because they would require legislation, he does not make recommendations. These include the controversial question of whether the ways in which defendants can opt for jury trial should be changed.

The full report can be found at http://www.judiciary.gov.uk/publications/review-of-efficiency-in-criminal-proceedings-final-report/

Written by lwtmp

February 3, 2015 at 1:09 pm