Monday, 15 February 2010

The Lord Chief Justice expresses concerns .....

The Lord Chief Justice has published his "Review of the Adminstration of Justice in the Courts."  The Review covers the legal year 1st October 2008 to 30th September 2009.

1. Concern is raised (para. 2.12) about the use of out-of-court methods of dealing with offenders - such as fixed penalty notices, cautions and conditional cautions.  Workload in most Magistrates' Courts has reduced as a result and this prompted concerns from the Magistrates' Association.  Nevertheless, some use of out-of-court disposals can be defended on the basis that they avoid courts being clogged with thousands of minor offences.  The problem is that there has been "mission creep" and some serious matters now being dealt with in these ways - e.g. by conditional cautions.  In December 2009 the government announced a review of the use of these methods.

2. The sheer amount of new criminal justice legislation is criticised (para. 2.13).  An example from 2003 is given - 5 Acts containing 1118 sections, 68 schedules and 2268 paragraphs. Subsequent years have certainly not brought any respite.

3. Means testing in the Crown Court receives the comment from the Lord Chief Justice that it is "liable to bring about an increase in the number of defendants in person.  Unrepresented defendants invariably increase the length of trials as they seek to decipher an increasingly complex legislative regime with no professional assistance." (para 2.14).

In Magistrates' Courts, a defendant will only be granted a legal representation order (LRO) if he passes the means test AND if his case passes the interests of justice test.

Means testing in the Crown Court is being introduced nationally in the first half of 2010 - see Legal Services Commission

This is an unacceptable scheme which contains within it the potential to wreak severe financial hardship upon a person who has been acquitted.


  1. Of Interest to Some Lawyers said:
    Means testing in the Crown Court will also lead to more defendants paying for their representation which has led to the Govt (fearing a massive increase in totals paid out) ordering that costs out of central funds will be capped at legal aid rates - so that defendants forced to pay for their lawyers do not get the full cost back if acquitted.

  2. The Magistrates Association has been complaining for over a year re FPNs. Apart from the police being prosecutor, judge and jury which is an afront to a justice system it distorts the already "variable" crime statistics thrown at us every month or so. As far as I am aware FPNs are considered offences cleared up. This increases the cynicism regarding government audit; an action which devalues the democratic process. Re cautions;my very first blog last November described a case where a caution was given after a similar offence occasioned a community order... The new rules on legal aid are already being felt where I sit. With the apparently increasing numbers of non English speaking East Europeans appearing on relatively low level charges it is not now uncommon to be trying a non represented defendant with a court financed interpreter; an increasingly difficult task for legal advisers and bench chairmen.

  3. I am just an 'umble JP. Reasonably articulate and in that role not unfamiliar with the ways in which courts work. I can now not imagine the type of case which might be made against me which would encourage me to pay for legal representation. I am too well off to be able to have legal aid on a means basis, but not so well off that I could afford the costs.

    However, I am NOT a crown court procedural expert and certainly not an accomplished lawyer. So my case will undoubtedly take longer (and therefore cost the system more) than representation would deliver.

    I am unsure whether the US model of "Public Defender" would be the answer. Pay out of public funds at a known rate, so no claiming to do, win or lose. presume this could save the fees and taxation officers' costs too.....