Tag Archive | "criminal proceedings"

Extended court sittings

A new pilot scheme from HM Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS) will introduce extra sittings at civil, crown, and magistrates’ courts to increase the number of cases seen each day.

The pilots are expected to begin in May, in six courts over six months. The six pilot courts are: Newcastle and Blackfriars Crown court; Sheffield and Highbury Corner magistrates’ court; and Brentford County Court and Manchester Civil Justice Centre. The plans will see the crown court sit until 18:00, civil courts until 19:00, and magistrates until 20:30.

The ‘Gazette’ reports that a spokesperson for HMTCS said: “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.”

The HMCTS spokesperson said flexible operating hours are just one aspect of the government’s plans to transform the justice system, which include increased use of virtual hearings. “We are investing over £1bn to reform our courts to deliver swifter justice, that is modern, more accessible and better meets the needs of all court users. 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,” the spokesperson said.

The Bar Council has urged HMCTS to ensure that the impact on parents, and women in particular, is built into the evaluation criteria used to test the success of the pilots.

Quoted in ‘Solicitors Journal’, the chairman of the Bar, Andrew Langdon QC, said the biggest impact of these changes will fall on women barristers. “These arrangements will make it almost impossible for parents with childcare responsibilities to predict if they can make the school run or to know when they will be able to pick children up from the child-minders,” he said.

He added: “Childcare responsibilities still fall disproportionately to women, many of whom do not return to the profession after having children. It is hard to see how these plans sit with the government’s commitment to improving diversity in the profession and the judiciary. The profession and the judiciary must reflect the communities they serve. We need measures that will help women stay in the profession, rather than make it even more difficult to be a mother and a barrister at the same time.”

Richard Miller, head of justice at the Law Society, said that previous experiments did not find sufficient benefits. “An effective pilot would have to maintain a clear focus on impact – whether on members of the public using the court service or professionals providing advice and representation. This includes advising people making or defending civil claims, those involved in criminal proceedings or family court services,” he said.

He added: “We welcome the assurance this pilot will be subject to a robust evaluation before any decision is taken to roll out the scheme. We look forward to getting more detail from HMCTS – both about the pilot and about how they will evaluate it.”

Posted in Civil Law, Criminal Justice, Law UpdatesComments (0)

Solicitor Profile: Carl Woolf on Digital Working

As recently as February 2013, Justice Minister Damian Green empathised that there was a specific failure to exploit technology in the legal sector. Carl’s strong business orientation is at the forefront of his practice and he particularly relies on technology within the courtroom environment. The notion of Digital Working is something he embraces and he recognises the link to cutting firm expenditure.

The Justice Secretary’s recent announcement bringing forward the implementation of Best Value Tendering is not welcomed in quite the same light. “Tendering for contracts is an absolute nightmare for everyone”, he says, and this will inevitably result “in the lowest possible price for the service.” He quotes on speculation likening Eddie Stobbart Law operating a Crime ‘Tesco Law’ service and its worrying implications for smaller practices. He also recognises the trend emerging of ‘safety in numbers’ to fight against the emergence of a potential Eddie Stobbart Law firm.

“One has to wonder what incentive there will be to promote justice and quality as opposed to price and profit”, Carl asks.
But he also accepts that digital working will definitely help to cut costs. “If you can have typists that work from home, if solicitors don’t need their travel expenses paying because they can go to a court closer to their home and access their files, dictation and email via iPad then that will hopefully save us substantial amounts.”

The importance of tablet devices in day to day criminal proceedings is empathised more. Carl states he is using his iPad in his current trial to access digital case files via his remote access case management system. All of his papers are scanned and emailed over to his iPad. He rarely drags around big volumes of books and case papers because “everything is there in a convenient bundle”, but only on the proviso “as long as you have a power source.” In 2013 he has not carried one hard copy book because their digital working allows for electronic copies to be accessed.

Visit Meldrum Solicitors – www.meldrumsolicitors.com

Posted in Law Updates, Legal ITComments (0)

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