Tag Archive | "Greg Foxsmith"

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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Crime Contingency Contracts

Following justice secretary Michael Gove’s January decision to scrap a controversial ‘two-tier’ contracting regime, for which firms competed to secure one of 527 duty provider contracts, replacement contracts were expected to come into force later this year.

The Legal Aid Agency (LAA) is now offering to extend current contingency contracts, which were due to expire on 10 January 2017, to 31 March 2017. Providers have until 30 June to accept the offer.

The LAA said: “This extension is needed so that we can:

  • allow the tender process and mobilisation period to be completed so providers can prepare for a new crime contract in 2017
  • ensure continuity of crime services from 11 January 2017 to the start date of the replacement crime contract Letters will be issued to all Crime Contingency Contract holders shortly. Providers will have until 23.59 on 30 June to accept the contract extension. “Any providers who do not accept the extension will retain a contract to the current end date of 10 January 2017.”

The LAA also announced that it had entered into a three week consultation with representative bodies on the content of the 2017 Standard Crime Contract on 8 June 2016. A spokesperson for the agency confirmed that the representative bodies are the Law Society, Bar Council, Legal Aid Practitioners Group and Advice Services Alliance.

As reported in the ‘Gazette’, a Law Society spokesperson said: “We are expecting the contract to be largely uncontroversial, mainly reflecting changes proposed in the draft 2015 contracts when the Legal Aid Agency drafted “own” and “duty” contracts for the two-tier arrangements.

“The Society has been working with the practitioner groups and the LAA to try to find a mechanism to mitigate the problem of “ghost” duty solicitors by tightening up the rules to ensure that only those currently active in criminal law can act as duty solicitors.”

Also quoted in the ‘Gazette’, Zoe Gascoyne, chair of the Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association, regretted the fact that the CLSA and the LCCSA were not statutory consultees. LCCSA president Greg Foxsmith said the association has “made the case for duty solicitor slots to remain with individual solicitors, rather than firms,” adding “with over 1,000 members in London desperate to know what the provisions of the proposed new contracts [are], it is bizarre that the LCCSA is not consulted but instead the Bar Council is invited to comment.”

One may ask why this last minute rush to deal with a well flagged matter. Could it be that the all consuming hustings for the referendum has led politicians, of all colours, to take their eyes off the ball of routine government business. Be grateful that we have a diligent, highly professional civil service to see that essential business is maintained.

Posted in Criminal Justice, Legal AidComments (0)

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)

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