Tag Archive | "Criminal Justice"

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.”

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Review into racial bias in the criminal justice system


Last January the Labour MP for Tottenham, David Lammy, was asked by David Cameron to head a new government review into discrimination against black and ethnic minority people (BAME) in the criminal justice system.

Cameron said: “If you’re black, you’re more likely to be in a prison cell than studying at a top university. And if you’re black, it seems you’re more likely to be sentenced to custody for a crime than if you’re white. We should investigate why this is and how we can end this possible discrimination.” He said the review would address “possible sentencing and prosecutorial disparity”.

Introducing the review, Lammy said: “We know that there is disproportionate representation in the criminal justice system – the question is why. Over the course of the next year my review will search for those answers, starting with an open call for evidence to get to grips with the issues at hand.

“There is clearly an urgent need for progress to be made in this area, and the evidence received through this consultation will be crucial in identifying areas where real change can achieved.”

The review will address issues arising from the CPS involvement onwards, including the court system, in prisons and during rehabilitation in the wider community, to identify areas for reform and examples of good practice from the UK and beyond. There would be a consultation exercise. Offenders, suspects and victims were urged to share their experience of possible racial bias in the criminal justice system.

Questions in the consultation would include why respondents think black defendants are more likely to be found guilty by a jury, face custodial sentences and report a worse experience in prison than white defendants. Despite making up just 14% of the population of England and Wales, BAME individuals currently make up over a quarter of prisoners. Those who are found guilty are more likely to receive custodial sentences than white offenders.

Latest figures also show that BAME people make up a disproportionate amount of Crown Court defendants (24%), and those who are found guilty are more likely to receive custodial sentences than white offenders (61% compared to 56%).

The call for evidence closed six weeks ago, with more than 300 responses from groups and individuals in the criminal justice system.

Although the final report is not due until next summer, Lammy has determined to focus much of his report on the makeup of the judiciary, where 5% of members are from a BAME background. He said: “It is definitely the case there are some areas of criminal justice where there is a significant amount of ethnic minority lawyers. They are just not making their way to the judiciary. There are barriers [to applying] or they are not successful when they do apply.

“Relative to other professions, we have in our country a bank of BAME lawyers. What we have not seen is progress to the bench. That is what I want to look at very closely.”

Greg Foxsmith, president of the London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association, said: “For years we have acknowledged the problem of convert or subliminal discrimination. The challenge for Lammy and for all of us in the justice system is to find a way that actually tackles the problem, and ensures that justice is not just blind, but colour-blind, providing equality of outcome for all.”

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Goodbye to new legal aid contracting regime


It’s a bit like the failing football manager syndrome. The chairman of the club vigorously defends the current occupant until he has a replacement lined up. Then out goes the old manager with glowing praise and thanks.

In a written ministerial statement this afternoon, justice secretary Michael Gove, having given fulsome praise to his unlamented predecessor, said he had decided ‘not to go ahead with the introduction of the dual contracting system’. He will also suspend, for a period of 12 months from 1 April, a second fee cut which was introduced in July last year.

Under the dual contracting system, two types of contract were to be awarded to criminal legal aid firms.

  • An unlimited number of contracts for ‘own client’ work based on basic financial and fitness to practise checks – in others words continued payment for representing existing and known clients.
  • And a total of 527 ‘duty’ contracts awarded by competition, giving firms the right to be on the duty legal aid rota in 85 geographical procurement areas around the country, with between 4 and 17 contracts awarded in each. In other words, these contracts would allow a limited number of firms the chance to represent new entrants to the criminal justice system.

Gove said: “The dual contracting model was a carefully designed initiative from my department that aimed to meet concerns expressed by the legal profession about price competition. But over time, opposition to this model has been articulated with increasing force and passion by both solicitors and barristers.”

He said: “These arguments weighed heavily with me, but the need to deliver reductions in expenditure rapidly, and thus force the pace of consolidation, was stronger. Since July 2015, however, two significant developments have occurred.

“Firstly, thanks to economies I have made elsewhere in my department HM Treasury have given me a settlement which allows me greater flexibility in the allocation of funds for legal aid.

“Secondly, it has become clear, following legal challenges mounted against our procurement process, that there are real problems in pressing ahead as initially proposed.

“In addition, a judicial review challenging the entire process has raised additional implementation challenges.”

The Legal Aid Agency will extend current contracts so as to ensure continuing service until replacement contracts come into force later this year and more details will follow in due course.

One reason Mr Gove has earned the respect of his political opponents is his willingness to reverse many of Grayling’s least effective decisions, such as the restriction on books for prisoners, the proposed young offenders prison, the Saudi Arabia prisons deal and abolishing the much criticised criminal courts charge.

And now the demise of this half baked dual contract fiasco. What a waste of money and what a waste of time and effort. Don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

Law Society president Jonathan Smithers said: “It is clear that a competitive approach to the provision of criminal legal aid services is not appropriate. The assurance that there will be no competitive tendering in the future gives practitioners greater certainty for the future.’

LCCSA president Greg Foxsmith said: “We sincerely hope the MoJ learn lessons from this sorry affair, and we are ready and willing to work constructively with Mr Gove to replace “two-tier justice” with sustainable legal aid provision that provides justice for all.”

Posted in Criminal Justice, Legal AidComments (0)

‘Legal aid contracting process flawed’ claims whistleblower.


As firms are receiving notification of the results of their crime tenders in a process of slow torture, a former insider at the Legal Aid Agency (LAA) has alleged that the contract procurement process has been botched. Freddie Hurlston, who worked as a bid assessor for the agency between July and September this year, has told the ‘Law Gazette’ of a serious catalogue of alleged flaws in the procedure of awarding contracts.

He was previously head of criminal justice system initiatives at the LAA. He said many of the staff assessing the bids were from Brook Street temporary staff agency on around £9.30 an hour and had no knowledge of legal aid or previous experience of public sector procurement. He said the ‘very limited’ training did not cover specific issues for each question in the procurement exercise or what to look out for when awarding points.

The agency received around 1,000 bids. Hurlston said there were 17 questions in each bid and the questions were sub-divided into three or four parts leading to a total of around 50,000 answers to be assessed. “It was clear after a few days of assessment that there were insufficient staff to assess all the questions with any quality,” he said.

Hurlston said daily performance figures were publicly posted, and members of the team who did not meet the daily target rate were sacked, “placing pressure on quantity rather than quality on the other members of the team to the detriment of the assessment process.”

Staff were also recruited from across the LAA to “assist with the increasingly frantic effort to assess the responses” by the end of September, “leading to around 50 people working on assessing the bids, many of them with little or no training.”

Hurlston said an official from the Cabinet Office raised concerns about the validity of the assessment process at a meeting on 1 October. He said he raised his concerns with LAA chief executive Matthew Coats on 6 October by email but has not received a response.

“The LAA did not follow good practice when assessing the bids and, as a consequence, the results may be unfair to some firms,” he said.

The Law Society has emphasised the need for the LAA to address the concerns about the contract procurement process raised by Freddie Hurlston. Law Society president Jonathan Smithers said: “It is vital that the LAA fully addresses the concerns raised …regarding aspects of the tender process. We have requested a full response from the LAA supported by evidence which demonstrates that the evaluation of the tenders was conducted robustly, fairly and appropriately on the merit of the bids.”

A spokesperson for the agency said: “The LAA strongly denies these allegations. We have followed a robust and fair process in assessing duty tender bids. We have taken additional time to notify bidders precisely to make sure these important decisions are right. Assessors received a comprehensive training package to ensure transparent, consistent and fair treatment of all applicant organisations. The assessment process has been subject to careful moderation and management at all stages.”

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. Judicial review is another option, but the Society said. “It should be noted that even if a judicial review were to be successful, it would not follow that the contract decisions would change.”

JR procedure is inevitable. Just a matter of time.

Posted in Criminal Justice, Legal AidComments (0)

Liverpool lawyers defy bar chiefs


Barristers and solicitors in Merseyside yesterday agreed to forgo work in opposition to legal aid cuts due to be implemented next week

After a meeting involving over 100 barristers and solicitors in Merseyside, representing every chambers in the city and the vast majority of solicitors, individual firms said that they would not undertake any legal aid work under the rates introduced on Wednesday 1 July. The move could bring criminal courts in the north-west to a grinding halt within days. Read the full story

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Gove doesn’t care either: Next steps for the criminal legal aid market


Yesterday Shailesh Vara, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Courts and Legal Aid, presented a written statement to the House of Commons to confirm next steps for the criminal legal aid market.

He said: “There is a pressing need to ensure our criminal justice system performs more efficiently” and “there is no doubt we still have a generous system compared to other countries. The continuing need to reduce the deficit means that we must make further progress. We must secure greater efficiencies whilst maintaining a high quality service and guaranteeing that everyone accused of a crime has the same access to a legal aid lawyer as they do now.” Read the full story

Posted in Criminal Justice, Legal AidComments (0)

Criminal Bar Association vote for direct action


The election results will have brought little joy to legal aid and criminal lawyers.

Although none of the parties, other than the Greens, had promised to reverse all the £600m of legal aid cuts inflicted by the coalition government, Labour had pledged to halt the deeply unpopular tendering process for duty solicitors covering police stations and magistrates courts, as well as reviewing a scheduled 8.75% cut in the fees they receive. The party also indicated it would improve access to legal aid for victims of domestic violence and overturn restrictions on judicial review. Read the full story

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