Friday, 4 October 2013

The start of the 2013-14 Legal Year

Michaelmas Law term is now under way and will last until 20th December.  The legal year began with the traditional Judges' Service and the Lord Chancellor's Breakfast though this is the first time that I can recall when there has been some publicly stated objection to the holding of the service - see Joshua Rozenberg - The Judges' annual church service is expensive and inappropriate.  I am traditionalist in nature and felt that something was lost when wigs and gowns generally disappeared in the Supreme Court.   It would be good to find a way of continuing with some form of multi-faith service but will that be possible in our increasingly secular nation?   Lord Neuberger (President of the Supreme Court) has said that he would regret it very much if the service came to an end - 'I think it is an occasion where we get together, it is an occasion which is of some solemnity but some splendidness, and it has a unifying factor.'  Cost is of course another factor and it seems inappropriate to be spending money on such events when legal aid is being severely cut.

Earlier this year, Lord Neuberger
commented critically on the government's legal aid proposals, closed court hearings (dubbed by the media as 'secret courts') and human rights threats - Independent 5th March   There is little sign of the government listening.

The government has extended to 1st November its (second) consultation on Transforming Legal Aid - Ministry of Justice and  Law Society Gazette.  Those who have already sent in a response would do well to check it against the somewhat altered consultation document.  The government has argued we have one of the most expensive legal aid systems in the world.  This claim is challenged by an article in The Guardian 3rd October - MoJ's misleading evidence on the cost of the legal system

A good piece on the impact of legal aid cuts is A View from the North - Robing Room Table.   Please read it.  Here is a report on a meeting at Camden Town Hall organised by the London Criminal Courts Solicitors Association - Justice: Closing Down Sale - everyone must go!

It's interesting that the Bingham Centre has launched an independent review of the Administrative Court.  This follows on from the government's plans to curtail access to judicial review which is, of course, one of the means by which a citizen can ensure that decisions affecting him are in accordance with the law.

The new Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales - Sir John Thomas - has received the traditional peerage and was sworn in.    Lord Thomas has begun with issuing a set of revised practice directions for criminal proceedings - [2013] EWCA Crim 1631.   The new directions take effect on 7th October and begin by stating:

'The presumption of innocence and an adversarial process are essential features of English and Welsh legal tradition and of the defendant's right to a fair trial. But it is no part of a fair trial that questions of guilt and innocence should be determined by procedural manoeuvres. On the contrary, fairness is best served when the issues between the parties are identified as early and as clearly as possible. As Lord Justice Auld noted, a criminal trial is not a game under which a guilty defendant should be provided with a sporting chance. It is a search for truth in accordance with the twin principles that the prosecution must prove its case and that a defendant is not obliged to inculpate himself, the object being to convict the guilty and acquit the innocent.'

Further, it is not just for a party to obstruct or delay the preparation of a case for trial in order to secure some perceived procedural advantage, or to take unfair advantage of a mistake by someone else. If courts allow that to happen it damages public confidence in criminal justice. The Rules and the Practice Direction, taken together, make it clear that courts must not allow it to happen.'

Two paragraphs which could, and doubtless will, produce a lot of discussion!  Criminal Procedure Rules continue in force with their overriding objective to deal with cases JUSTLY - HERE

The previous Lord Chief Justice (Lord Judge) delivered his final judgment in the Court of Appeal (Criminal Division) in the case of R v Farooqi [2013] EWCA Crim 1649 (Lord Judge, Treacy LJ and Sharp J) where the LCJ began with a stinging rebuke regarding the conduct of defence counsel - 'We have all contributed to the writing of this judgment of the Court, which arises in melancholy circumstances as a result of flagrant misconduct and alleged professional incompetence by one of the advocates at trial, Mr Lawrence McNulty, leading counsel for Munir Farooqi (Farooqi).'  What is particularly noteworthy is that despite this 'flagrant misconduct', the Court of Appeal actually dismissed Farooqi's appeal.  On the face of it, in such circumstances one might have expected the court to have allowed the appeal and ordered a retrial with different defence counsel (even though that would have been particularly costly).   For a truly incisive analysis of the Farooqi decision see Dan Bunting's blog - What's a Judge to do?   Further commentary at Legal Cheek

Across in Parliament Square is the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom.  It has only one female justice - Lady Hale of Richmond.   Her Ladyship has put forward her view about increasing diversity in the judiciary - The Guardian 2nd October.   Lady Hale has called for the appointment of another female judge to the UK's highest court before she retires but she stops short of 'positive discrimination' to achieve that outcome.

Another government policy is the so-called 'bedroom tax' which is working injustice on a lot of people.  A useful collection of First Tier Tribunal decisions relating to this tax may be found at Nearly Legal. 

I am delighted that CharonQC is back blogging after a spell of absence whilst recovering from an unfortunate accident earlier this year.   It is also good to see John Bolch - author of the Family Lore blog - is now also contributing to the Marilyn Stowe blog.  His carefully considered and well-written posts are more than welcome.

1 comment:

  1. Leave it alone. Let this tradition flourish when Chris Grayling and Joshua Rozenberg and you and I are long gone and forgotten.