Tag Archive | "Transform Justice"

Justice denied


Transform Justice is a national charity campaigning for a fairer, more humane, more open and effective justice system. It was set up in 2012 by Penelope Gibbs, a former magistrate who had worked for five years to reduce child and youth imprisonment in the UK.

A new report, Justice Denied, produced by Transform Justice, suggests that a combination of legal aid cuts, complex bureaucracy and inadequate support and information for defendants have led to a surge in people appearing in court without a lawyer. Now all this is not new, but what this report does is to examine in detail the effect on the justice system as a result of slashing legal aid.

Penelope Gibbs described the rise in unrepresented defendants as a “travesty”, and warned that justice was in danger of being denied to some on modest incomes who did not qualify for legal aid. “People who are denied legal aid are often not wealthy. They get little information to prepare for court and are thrust into an adversarial and complex process which even those who are represented find hard to follow. No wonder they end up pleading guilty when in fact they have a reasonable defence, or getting a longer sentence.”

There are no official figures for the number of unrepresented defendants in magistrates courts. But this report cites a wealth of evidence, including a survey by the Magistrates Association, official data from the MoJ, freedom of information responses, an online poll of lawyers, surveys of prosecutors, judges and magistrates and fieldwork carried out at courts – as proof that more people are appearing in court without legal representation.

“I have prosecuted trials against unrepresented defendants. It is a complete sham and a pale imitation of justice”, a prosecutor reported. Another prosecutor said: “The magistrate probably thinks if [someone] is stupid enough to represent himself he’s probably guilty… Going unrepresented certainly hinders any defendant, without a shadow of a doubt.” A third prosecutor said “I could count on the fingers of one hand how many have actually understood the charges.”

The report states: “Interviewees had witnessed unrepresented defendants not understanding what they were charged with, pleading guilty when they would have been advised not to, and vice versa, messing up the cross-examination of witnesses, and getting tougher sentences because they did not know how to mitigate.”

One prosecutor suggested that sometimes unrepresented defendants do not realise the strength of their case and “are bullied by the clerks and bench into pleading guilty.” A magistrate was also concerned: “They are told by the clerk if you plead guilty at the earliest opportunity the court will be more lenient than if you plead not guilty and are found guilty in the long run, so it’s a bit of a game of poker in this respect, and I think…that’s wrong.”

The report found that the impact on court staff, judges and advocates of dealing with unrepresented defendants is immense – cases are taking longer, and explanation skills and patience are being tested. A magistrate said: “You definitely take it slower because you want to ensure they understand what’s being said…You always have to keep on repeating to them what they are meant to be doing – they forget.”

Does it save money? Not according to one prosecutor: “It makes the whole system more expensive, because more hearings are required and longer time is needed to explain the system.” The absence of a cost benefit analysis means we don’t know for certain.

In one example given to the charity behind the report an unrepresented defendant remained silent during his appearance via video link from a police station. Only after he had been sent to prison did it emerge that he was deaf. Is that justice?

The full text of the report can be found at:

http://www.transformjustice.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/TJ-APRIL_Singles.pdf

Posted in Civil Liberties, Criminal JusticeComments (0)


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