Tuesday 13 October 2015

Sir Brian Leveson ~ Caroline Weatherill Lecture

Sir Brian Leveson (President of the Queen's Bench Division) has delivered an interesting lecture in the Isle of Man.  The full text of the lecture is available via the Judiciary website - Caroline Weatherill Lecture - Justice for the 21st century - 9th October 2015.

Dividing the lecture into 3 parts, Sir Brian looked at the changing nature of the judiciary; the separation of the judiciary from politics and, finally, the the need to underpin any technological developments with principles of due process.

On the nature of the judiciary, Sir Brian expressed views about how diversity in judicial appointments is likely to change in the next few years.  He noted the increasing number of female judicial appointments since year 2000.  He went on to comment that ...

" ... in the five years to come, there are a large number of inevitable appointments, even assuming that every judge continues until his or her compulsory retirement date. In that period, all nine of the English members of the Supreme Court will fall to be replaced as will four Heads of Division and at least 12 members of the Court of Appeal. That is 25 appointments. In addition, there will be many appointments to the High Court. For my part, I anticipate that a substantial number of these appointments will be of women and that progress will also be made in the area where we do not do anything like as well, namely in relation to black and ethnic minority practitioners."

Judiciary - Diversity Statistics 2015

One the separation of the judiciary from politics he sought to identify areas where serving judges are entitled to speak out but he concluded that serving judges should stay quiet about the "highly sensitive and political issue" of reform relating to human rights.

Finally, he considered what is involved in what the 1534 edition of Magna Carta* referred to as "due process".  Due process included matters such as the right to an independent and impartial tribunal; effective access to justice (including a right to receive privileged legal advice); due notice of proceedings and their content; a fair hearing; equality of arms; open justice and reasoned judgments.  Those principles need to underpin any reforms involving the use of technology within the court system.

He is firmly against televising criminal trials ....

"As for trials, I am aware that the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal allow cameras into
court to record legal argument and judgment; I would not extend that facility to trials but to elaborate requires another lecture and I fear I have trespassed on your patience sufficiently.  Suffice to say that I have little doubt that the presence of cameras would alter the dynamics of a trial and put undue pressure on witnesses many of whom will be reluctant participants in the court process. Examples of televising such trials, in my view, fully support that concern and risk converting through editing what is intended simply to be law in action into an action movie, inevitably providing a compressed picture of a complex process."


* 1534 - the date of the first full English translation of Magna Carta

The extent to which the English legal system truly embraces all those aspects of "due process" is debatable. For instance, there can be little doubt that restrictions to or removal of legal aid has, in practice, diminished access to the courts for the citizen.  Similarly, the imposition of court fees.  Some aspects of due process are embodied within the European Convention on Human Rights (e.g. right to a fair trial under Article 6).

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