Friday, 3 June 2011

In the news ...


A "you can stay" solution has been adopted so that thousands of "asylum seekers" have been granted a permanent stay in the U.K.   This situation, described by The Times 2nd June as a debacle, is revealed in a report by the House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee - see "UK Border Agency failing to control immigration, says MPs" and see Home Affairs Select Committee 9th Report - "Work of the UK Border Agency - November 2010 to March 2011."   The Immigration Minister (Mr Damian Green MP) denied that the agency had operated an amnesty, adding that asylum seekers who had been in the country for a long time had to be given the right to stay."  Even the Select Committee report acknowledges that the longer a case is left uncompleted, the more likely it is that the applicant will have married or had children born in the UK, leading to a greater probability that settlement will be allowed for family reasons" - (see the Committee Report section on Legacy Cases - as they are called ).  The UK Human Rights blog also looked at this report - "Effective "amnesty" in UK asylum system, says report."

Care Quality Commission

An urgent review is to be conducted into the "inhumane" abuse of people with "learning difficulties" at a residential hospital and why it was not picked up by the Care Quality Commission.  This arises from a Panorama investigation showing staff punching and taunting vulnerable adults at Winterbourne View, Bristol (owned by Castlebeck).  Four members of staff were arrested and, it is understood, are now on bail.  A statement from the Care Quality Commission is available.  Stephen Dorrell MP, chairman of the Commons Health Committee, said that a scheduled hearing with the CQC will now focus on the organisation's failings in this case.  Lord Brian Rix writing in The Times (2nd June) said - "As a civilised country, we pride ourselves on the care and support we offer to vulnerable members of our society.  That abuse of this kind still exists is a damning indictment of how some people with a learning difficulty are treated, even where they should be afforded the most protection."  Lord Rix is President of Mencap.

There are considerable legal difficulties in relation to the whole area of "care homes" for the elderly and the vulnerable.  The UK Human Rights Blog has an excellent article looking at some of these difficulties - "Panorama at Winterbourne Park ..."

The powers of the Commission stem from the Health and Social Care Act 2008  The Commission enjoys considerable powers relating to registration of service providers and to inspection and enforcement.

The courts

It seems that many courts are now standing idle leading to longer pre-trial delays.  Her Majesty's Courts and Tribunal Service (HMCTS) is, on the orders of government, implementing
swingeing financial cuts.  Even the larger court centres are trimming back on hearings and it is reported that it can take up to a year to get cases to trial.  Custody time limits require such cases to be given priority over cases where defendants are on bail.  There is little doubt that justice will suffer from this since victims require cases to be dealt with as speedily as possible and the memories of witnesses will fade.

The huge closure of Magistrates' Courts programme is on-going.  A judicial review of the Ministry of Justice closure proposals for certain Magistrates' Courts has been taken to the High Court  - e.g. Sittingbourne in Kent.   The High Court intends to hear all the applications prior to handing down a single judgment.

Justice Bill imminent

It is understood that the government will present its "Justice Bill" in the week beginning Monday 6th June.  This will almost certainly include proposals for huge reductions in legal aid.  It will be interesting to see whether the actual proposals are on the "face of the Bill."  This is perhaps unlikely since the bill is more likely to hand further regulation-making powers to Ministers.  It is to be hoped that MPs get into the detail of just what is proposed and they might consider ensuring that any new powers to make subordinate legislation are subject to adequate Parliamentary Controls such as "affirmative resolution" procedure.

It is particularly difficult to see why the "cuts to justice" programme has to be so severe given that our country is able to allocate enormous sums of money in overseas aid - not to mention the military action regarding Libya.  Around £1 bn was pledged to India which is a rapidly growing world economy and which can afford a Space Programme.  The Overseas Aid programme is defended by the Prime Minister - (see The Telegraph 27th May) - and the government wishes to legislate that 0.7% of the Gross Domestic product be spent in this way.   The importance of well-targeted overseas aid should not be underestimated but spending somewhat less on overseas aid and a little more on some of the pressing issues at home is probably necessary.  See the website of the Department for International Development 

Cuts to legal aid have the potential to render millions of people effectively without rights.  Without access to justice, much injustice will prevail and the decisions of officials will become harder to challenge.  Access to Justice is a fundamental element for a civilised society committed to the rule of law - see the Sound Off for Justice website which is aimed at securing at least some reduction to the government's plans to axe legal aid.

Legal aid cuts - protesters demand justice - The Guardian 3rd June

Given that Royal Assent for the Fixed Term Parliaments Bill is imminent, it may be that the general public will not get a say on all of this until 2015.

Addendum 4th June:  Solicitor's Journal 3rd June - "LEGAL AID PROTESTS AS GOVERNMENT PREPARES TO UNVEIL BILL"

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