Friday, 23 August 2013
Roundup ~ Friday 23rd August
The court service and the judges:
University College London has a Constitution Unit which has published an interesting article relating to the future of the court service. The article raises some questions which the judiciary need to be considering as the future of the court service is decided in the coming months - What's next for the court service? The struggle between the judiciary and the executive.
On 26th March 2013, a low key written ministerial statement appeared before the House of Commons from the Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling, declaring that he had asked staff to ‘explore proposals for the reform of the resourcing and administration of our courts and tribunals.’ Lodged between announcements that student loans were to be sold off and the reprivatisation of the East Coast mainline, it wasn’t until two months later when The Times splashed that one of the proposals was the full privatisation of Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunal Service (HMCTS) that it attracted any attention.
A plan for a cheaper more effective justice system has been published by PolicyExchange which describes itself as the 'UK's leading think tank' - an educational charity seeking to develop new policy ideas with a view to improving public services etc. Its work has not been without influence within government - e.g. the idea for elected Police Commissioners. Policy Exchange sees the criminal justice system as one of the most expensive in the world, operating with over-centralised agencies generating high-cost and ineffective services. Many of the ‘customers’ of the criminal justice system are touched by a plethora of different agencies and government departments, but there is no clear strategic leadership locally that can cut through the duplication and solve the social problems that contribute to such high demand. The paper goes on to say that the election of Police and Crime Commissioners is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to change the balance of power in a system currently bereft of local control, financial responsibility or democratic accountability.
Interesting ideas here but likely to be viewed as a step too far given that Police and Crime Commissioners are still in their infancy and have not been exactly without controversy.
An article in Legal Futures looks at the role of the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA)and the proposed Price Competitive Tendering (PCT) process. The legal profession is generally opposed to the PCT plans put forward by the Secretary of State for Justice. However, the SRA will consider fast-tracking alternative business structure (ABS) applicants who want to bid for the government’s proposed criminal legal aid contracts.
Maybe it is necessary for the SRA to be pragmatic and prepare for the day when - (as seems likely) - PCT is pushed forward by the government. (The government is currently considering responses to their Transforming Legal Aid paper but, so far, there are no signs of any major reversal of policy). However, PCT cannot be resisted if the legal profession is not as one on the issue. A house divided against itself cannot stand.
Attack on justice:
Another interesting article tells how the Ministry of Justice's Legal Aid Policy Team is made up - The attack on British justice: who is on the demolition squad
The author (Jon Mack) wrote:
Lately I asked the Ministry of Justice how many staff were employed in the Legal Aid Policy team that is working to radically alter the landscape of publicly-funded criminal justice in England and Wales. And how many of those staff were legally qualified? The answer came back: only one of the Ministry of Justice’s 35-strong Legal Aid Policy team is legally qualified.
It would be impossible to imagine the government changing the way of working for GPs without consulting the Royal College of General Practitioners. It would be inconceivable that the policy team would not have medically trained staff seconded to it, or working with it in an advisory capacity. But it seem that is exactly what is happening in the Legal Aid Policy Team. Samuel Johnson described remarriage as ‘the triumph of hope over experience.’ The MoJ hasn’t had many triumphs recently, but it seems that its belief in its own capability is triumphing over the experience of a great many practitioners willing to provide advice free of charge.
If a reminder were needed that access to justice continues to be under attack the see Criminal Defence Barrister and The Telegraph asks Are Britain's barristers living on borrowed time?
Swingeing cuts to legal aid, a shake-up to the legal system allowing solicitors to represent clients in court and – if the Lord Chancellor, Chris Grayling has his way – the outsourcing of criminal defence to firms run by companies such as Tesco or HGV hire firm Eddie Stobart means that the criminal bar is fast going the way of red telephone boxes: relics of another era, destined for extinction.
Concerns about Liberty in the UK:
For those concerned with government and the desire of some Ministers to increase their powers, the Paul Bernal blog has published Four fears for authoritarians: fear of a strong, independent, determined press; fear that people will learn what they are doing; fear that people are hiding things from them; fear that people can learn too much.
It's though provoking stuff coming close to the revelation that the UK has a Middle East base working on internet surveillance. According to reports it has cost a mere £1 billion.
The Council of Europe has weighed into the David Miranda situation (HERE) with Secretary General Thorbjørn Jagland writing to the United Kingdom government to request information following two recent incidents which raised concerns about free expression and the media. Jagland refers to the reported detention by police at Heathrow airport of David Miranda and also to the reported destruction of computer hard drives at the Guardian, apparently under the instruction of government officials.
Criminal Law and Justice reports that the age limit for jurors is to rise to 75 and see the government's announcement. The MoJ said raising the current age limit of 70 would make the criminal justice system more inclusive, reflecting modern society and increases in life expectancy. Under the Government’s plans, those selected for jury service who are aged between 70 and 75 would be expected to serve, but could be excused on a discretionary basis if they can provide a good reason. In Scotland, jurors over the age of 71 can apply to be excused as of right.
This move is bound to raise questions as to the retirement age (70) for judges and magistrates.
UK Supreme Court - appeals:
Casecheck has a list of cases in which permission to appeal to the Supreme Court has been granted.
Court News UK:
Judge orders defendant to remove veil ... an interesting story in the light of events a few years back when a Magistrate dealt with a similar situation - Veil row magistrate reprimanded.
Family Lore - Friday review: Good news, bad news, no news.
Marilyn Stowe - Family Division President says legal aid cuts 'disconcerting'
UK Human Rights - They paved Plantagenet 'n put up a parking lot - David Hart QC
UK Criminal Law Blog - A view from ... the Magistrates' Court bench: The appointment and role of a JP