Tag Archive | "London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association"

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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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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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

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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

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The Horns of a Dilemma


Criminal legal aid solicitors are at risk of breaching regulatory requirements whatever they do.

On one hand they are having to deal with the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), which is reminding them of their professional obligations while they are involved in their ‘difficult commercial dispute.’ Read the full story

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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

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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

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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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Legal aid reforms and the election


According to the ‘Law Gazette’, lord chancellor Chris Grayling may not be able to proceed with his controversial legal aid reforms, even if he emerges victorious from a challenge heard in the Court of Appeal last week.

The Law Society and practitioner groups the Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association and London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association are appealing against Chris Grayling’s decision to press ahead with two-tier contracts for criminal legal aid. Government plans could result in some of the most vulnerable people being denied access to legal representation when they are accused of a crime. Read the full story

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