Tag Archive | "CLSA"

Criminal Law Solicitors Association disclosure survey


As part of its campaign, with others, to ensure that both the Prosecuting authorities and the Courts comply with the Law and Criminal procedure rules, the Criminal Law Solicitors Association (CLSA) is conducting a disclosure survey.

The CLSA has long challenged what it claims to be repeated failures by prosecutors to disclose information on time, and has begun collecting examples from solicitors to present to the Ministry of Justice, the Criminal Procedure Rule Committee and the Commons justice select committee.

The laws and rules are supposed to maintain balance, fairness and efficiency in the Criminal Justice system. The survey seeks information about experience of disclosure of evidence failings, or late service by the Prosecution, and the frequency of such failure. Specifically, the attitude of the Court when the defence have brought the disclosure failure to the attention of the Court is sought and opinion on the desirability of strengthening the requirements.

CLSA pose one particular question: “At the trial or final contested hearing, where late service of documents, media or any other evidence places the defence under unreasonable logistical or time pressure would you support a strengthening of CrimPR 24.13 so such evidence can only be admitted by leave of the court in exceptional circumstances or by S10 agreement?”

According to the ‘Gazette’ the survey, which opened last Monday, has already attracted 400 responses, with 300 in the first twenty-four hours. Robin Murray, association committee member and former vice-chair, said: “The survey shows the Crown prosecution fail, on a daily basis, to do what the law requires them to, which is to serve the evidence so the defendant knows the case against them.

“When these failings are brought to the attention of the courts time and again, the courts fail to hold the prosecution to account, which means either a waste of public money because cases are adjourned unnecessarily or, far more seriously, the defence are put under pressure to proceed without reasonable notice of recently served evidence.”

One anonymous respondent in the ‘Gazette’ said: “The very mechanism that exists to give victims justice not only fails to deliver that justice but re-victimises the vulnerable all over again…There are simply not enough CPS staff or Police to process and prepare cases properly but I believe there is also an obligation on the part of the Defence to request it and they are not always as assiduous as they could be with regard to this.”

Another respondent wrote: “That the Government neither says nor does anything about this speaks volumes concerning its attitude towards justice and the rule of law in the UK. It seems to aspire to standards that wouldn’t even be acceptable in a third world autocracy.”

One more damning comment in the ‘Gazette’: “The failure of the Crown to comply with their disclosure obligation is the norm. This leads to miscarriages of justice and defendants routinely acknowledge that the magistrates’ court is no place to get justice. This has now crept into the Crown court where the defence have to constantly fight to get disclosure… In nearly every single case I have at the moment, approximately 50, the Crown have failed to comply with their disclosure obligation and I’ve had to list the case for a mention hearing.”

Posted in Criminal Justice, Legal AidComments (0)

Late night courts


Last month HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) announced that it was planning to test late night courts this month in an effort to understand how to make the system more flexible for all users.

The pilot is planned to take place in six courts over six months. Under the scheme, Crown courts at Newcastle and Blackfriars will be open until 6pm, civil courts in Brentford and Manchester until 7pm and magistrates’ courts in Sheffield and Highbury, London, until 8.30pm.

A spokesperson for HMCTS was reported as saying: “We are exploring flexible operating hours in six pilot courts to test how we can improve access to justice for everyone by making the service more convenient for working people. These pilots will help us understand how flexible hours affect all court users and will be fully evaluated before any decision is taken on rollout.”

Then came the announcement of a general election and the trial was postponed. It is a fair bet that the majority of the legal profession hope that the postponement is permanent.

The Law Society pointed out that the pilot will rely on the assistance of lawyers who have already been subject to public funding cuts and a flood of civil justice reforms in recent weeks, and warned that any proposal would require robust evaluation to assess the impact.

The Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association (CLSA) said that the announcement of the pilot scheme had been met with anger by criminal practitioners, saying that the absence of defence practitioners from the planning group “is staggering when you consider that they are essential to the smooth running of the justice system. To exclude the very people who ensure that defendants are properly represented and that justice is done is most concerning.”

The CLSA go on to say: “The prison service is currently in crisis and will be faced with dealing with prisoners having to be conveyed and booked into the prisons of an evening. The probation service will need to make officers available at extra cost as will HMCTS, the Crown Prosecution Service, mental health services and social services. Access to justice will be restricted as the “project” has seemingly failed to consider how legal representation will be made available.”

A leading chambers, Garden Court North Chambers has warned the government that remaining goodwill from barristers is running at ‘dangerously low levels.’ In a statement released this month the Manchester set condemns the idea and warns that ministers should no longer rely on lawyers to toe the line.

The Chairman of the Criminal Bar Association (CBA) said the scheme is “misconceived, impractical, an inefficient use of time and inimical to anyone with care responsibilities.” Such schemes have been trialled before and none ended well. He went on to say that the scheme will mean barristers having to work in court far later than they presently do with a serious knock on effect on their ability to prepare that evening for the next day’s cases.

The view of the CBA is that the scheme threatens to have a serious impact on the family lives of barristers who already work long hours. Many have direct childcare responsibilities which make working until 7pm or later in court completely impractical. As the bulk of childcare falls on the shoulders of women lawyers this scheme is likely to be discriminatory.

The future of this proposal is now dependent on who becomes lord chancellor. The record of recent incumbents of that post does not bode well.

Posted in Criminal Justice, Law UpdatesComments (0)

New legal aid contracts


Criminal defence solicitors will find out this week from the Legal Aid Agency if their firms have won one of a reduced number of contracts to provide 24-hour cover at police stations or whether they are among the 500 expected to go out of business.

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Justice said applicant organisations will be notified about their tender outcomes ‘around the end of this month’. Though there is no right of appeal to a contract decision within the tender process, the Law Society has set out guidance on potential routes for challenging the LAA’s decisions. Read the full story

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Justice secretary offers to suspend latest cut in fees


Justice secretary Michael Gove has offered to suspend the latest 8.75% legal aid fee cut imposed on criminal law solicitors.

A second 8.75% fee cut was introduced on 1 July, which prompted thousands of solicitors to boycott legal aid work under the new rate. The boycott was called off in August.

Gove’s conciliatory gesture follows a fresh round of talks last week between Ministry of Justice officials, the Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association (CLSA), the London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association (LCCSA). and the Big Firms Group. A member of the Criminal Bar Association attended as an observer. Read the full story

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Deadline for legal aid bid survey extended by three weeks


The London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association (LCCSA) has asked firms to confirm their willingness to withdraw their bids for the government’s new contracts to provide 24-hour cover at police stations, to commence on 11 January next year, “if sufficient bidding firms in that area indicated they would do the same.”

It has also asked for confirmation from bidders which it said “have already reached a decision to refuse their tender offer” as well as firms that have not submitted bids. Read the full story

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Lawyers suspend legal aid action


On Friday 21 August Bill Waddington of the Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association (CLSA) and Jon Black of the London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association (LCCSA) issued a joint statement.

It stated: “For 52 days Solicitors and Barristers across the country have stood firm against the second cut. In recent weeks, the leaders of the Practitioner Groups have had the opportunity to engage with the MoJ and by so doing, have been able to provide ideas for long term savings as a direct alternative to a cut in rates. Read the full story

Posted in Criminal Justice, Legal AidComments (0)

Legal aid contract bids could be withdrawn


As the MoJ prepares to announce the outcome of its tender process for new legal aid contracts, the London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association (LCCSA) said some firms would be willing to withdraw their bids should others be willing to do the same.

In a message to members, the LCCSA committee said: “Many of us felt compelled to submit a bid for a contract but did so with little, if any, enthusiasm. In the past six weeks members have told us that, given the right circumstances they would withdraw their bids.

“We understand from informal soundings in meetings with London members that there is a belief that the great majority of solicitor firms who have submitted bids would withdraw them if they could be confident that other firms would act in a similar manner.”

The LCCSA has asked firms to confirm their willingness to withdraw their bids “if sufficient bidding firms in that area indicated they would do the same.” The practitioner group has also asked for confirmation from bidders which it said ‘have already reached a decision to refuse their tender offer’ as well as firms that have not submitted bids. The deadline for responses is 28 August.

“Subject to the degree of progress made in discussions with [the government], we may at any time contact all those indicating an intention to withdraw their bid or refuse an offer, to seek reconfirmation of their intention and to seek authority of the managing partner/director as to whether the firm consents to their name and/or their response being disclosed and to whom such information may be disclosed,” the LCCSA said.

Representatives from the Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association (CLSA), London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association (LCCSA) and the Big Firms Group (BFG) met ministry officials again this week.

The CLSA and LCCSA said the groups presented four options for the ministry and Legal Aid Agency to consider ‘in terms of alternative savings’ to the second fee cut. “It is right to say that these proposals were very well received and that there was a recognition of a financial benefit long term and not just over a three-month period,” the groups said.

“The three organisations made it clear that if the lord chancellor was to suspend the cut on a long-term basis that they would continue with engagement to suggest other substantial savings not limited to the legal aid budget.”

The nationwide legal aid boycott is expected to continue and justice secretary Michael Gove is to be briefed on the four savings options next week. Though the CLSA and LCCSA’s statement suggested progress on the fee cut, the MoJ made it clear that the lord chancellor will continue to press ahead with plans to reduce the number of contracts for solicitors providing 24-hour cover at police stations from 1,600 to 527.

The CLSA and LCCSA welcomed the ministry and LAA’s suggestion that, should current talks resolve in a ‘satisfactory outcome’, the government ‘would want to continue the engagement with the associations in respect of other matters.

Photo courtsesy of Commons Wikimedia

Posted in Criminal JusticeComments (0)

Barristers join legal aid boycott


The nationwide boycott over the government’s legal aid cuts gathered momentum as criminal barristers officially joined solicitors in their protest. A ballot by the Criminal Barristers Association (CBA) saw a narrow majority of 55% in favour of the action.

The CBA met last Monday evening and reaffirmed its support for the protest. A spokesperson said: “The members of the CBA voted in July to take action against the latest cut in legal aid fees by adopting no returns and not taking instructions.” Read the full story

Posted in Legal AidComments (0)

News from the front


On the second day of nationwide protests against new contracts and fee cuts it was announced that criminal solicitors voted overwhelmingly in favour of individual direct action over the government’s legal aid cuts. Read the full story

Posted in Criminal Justice, Legal AidComments (1)

Big firms support legal aid protest action


The Big Firms Group, an alliance of over 30 large criminal legal aid firms that do around 25% of criminal legal aid work, said it would support individual direct action after a meeting held last week. Members of the Big Firms Group have sought advice from Blackstone Chambers’ Dinah Rose QC on the action.

Bill Waddington, chair of the CLS, said the Big Firms Group’s decision sends out the ‘strongest signal’ that the legal profession has had enough of the government’s legal aid policy, which he said was driving legal aid firms and their staff into financial ruin. Read the full story

Posted in Criminal Justice, Legal AidComments (0)

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