A good day at Court
It was a highly dramatic and tension filled day at the high Court on Wednesday. Yvonne Pattison and I attended the disclosure hearing along with our legal team, while the National Executive Committee met a few miles away with Chris Winters in charge all waiting anxiously for breaking news.
You will by now have seen the update that we published yesterday and all of your Officers and Officials share your frustration that we cannot be as fulsome with our reporting as we would all wish, due to the complex legal restrictions that we and the defendants are bound by.
It's now in the public arena that the adjudication on disclosure went in our favour on our requests for some key documentation on Transforming Rehabilitation that we have been seeking sight of in order to better inform our case. Mr Justice Irwin was clearly more impressed by the submissions on behalf of Napo from Helen Mountfield QC aided by Chris Buttler, than he was by the defendants claims that our disclosure submission should be struck out in its entirety as (in their view) it was not in the public interest, and because it was (again in their view) entirely politically motivated.
This latest setback for the Secretary of State (which we gather he is not taking too well) could have been avoided a long time ago of course. It would have been altogether easier for all parties had the Government adopted a more reasonable approach to the issue of what ought to be transparent when a reform of such major importance is being pushed through at such speed.
I accept that this can only give you all a mere flavour of the exchanges that have taken place so far in and out of the Court. Nevertheless, I hope it demonstrates why Napo has been so determined to secure what we need to allow those who will decide the outcome of the JR application every opportunity to do so with the full details in front of them.
A good day then for Napo members, and indeed a good week; but still some tough ones await us and will include masses of hard work and lots of long hours as we pore over the disclosures that we expect to arrive by close of play, and those that will follow next week.
It's not often I am short of a word or two but as I close this posting I cannot adequately describe how proud I am to stand shoulder to shoulder with you all in this huge struggle. Your support, including the fantastic messages of encouragement we are regularly receiving, is giving us all the strength to see this through.
I have no idea if the General Secretary still paces the floor at Chivalry Road demanding to know the identity of the author of this blog, but regular readers will be aware that it has not been an entirely harmonious relationship with Napo and it will have to be left to historians to decide if it's existence has been ultimately helpful or not in the fight against TR.
It should go without saying that I'm absolutely delighted to see a case being prosecuted through the courts at long last and would make this point - maybe it's time those who somewhat understandably became disillusioned with Napo in recent months reconsidered their position and re-joined.
There was much talk and some enthusiasm at one time for a 'fighting fund' being set up in support of a legal challenge, but it came to nothing. It strikes me that there could be no better way of demonstrating support than filling out an application form. Just a thought.
The Guardian has grim news regarding criminal legal aid:-
Legal aid contracts for on-call criminal solicitors to be slashed by two-thirds
On-call, duty contracts for criminal solicitors to attend police stations and courts will be slashed from 1,600 to 527 in England and Wales, the Ministry of Justice has confirmed. The announcement that ministers intend to go ahead with restructuring the profession, despite being defeated in a judicial review of the initial consultation, was greeted with dismay by solicitors.
Fresh invitations to tenders for the new contracts have been sent out by the Legal Aid Agency in the expectation that the criminal law market will be forced to undergo a process of merger and consolidation. Savings will be made, the LAA believes, by solicitors’ firms combining to make economies of scale to compensate for 17.5% cuts in fees being introduced in criminal cases.
Responding to the news, Andrew Caplen, president of the Law Society, said: “We are extremely disappointed with this announcement. In our view the scheme fails to meet the ministry’s own objectives of ensuring that criminal legal aid must be sustainable with enough solicitors doing criminal duty work. “Some areas of the country could be left with no legal representation for anyone accused of a crime, depriving vulnerable members of the public from access to justice. We are very concerned that the ministry has not taken into account the views of the overwhelming majority of our members who responded to the consultation, or to the independent consultants who raised concerns about the economic impact on the supplier base.”
Jon Black, president of the London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association, said: “This is a really depressing day. The MoJ has shown that it’s hell-bent on forcing through these cuts whatever the warnings, whatever the price to society and justice. “Civil courts are imploding under the strain of legal aid cuts. The criminal courts are going the same way. By the time the public is really aware of the effects of this attack on our criminal justice, it will be too late,” he said.
“This carve-up of solicitor contracts in police stations and magistrates’ courts, combined with yet more cuts will cause terrible collateral damage. A fair defence for those who aren’t wealthy will become a lottery. As firms start to close or cut corners to keep afloat we’ll see plummeting standards of defence and miscarriages of justice. It would seem that the government is unconcerned by this. But no one should be hoodwinked, it’s too high a price to pay.”Again from the Guardian, another judge speaks out:-
Appeal court judge ‘horrified’ at number of litigants without lawyers
A court of appeal judge has said she is “horrified” at the number of unrepresented litigants and warned that the delays caused will “clog up” the justice system. Dame Elizabeth Gloster’s forthright comments were delivered at the launch of a report that exposed low morale within the legal profession and found that 83% of lawyers believe justice is no longer accessible to all.
The study, by the law firm Hodge Jones & Allen, interviewed more than 500 senior solicitors and barristers, concluding that nearly two-thirds (61%) fear there is little trust in the fairness of the judicial process. Entitled Innovation in Law, the report assessed changes brought about mainly through the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO) – which sliced £350m a year out of the civil legal aid budget – and considered ways in which the system might be improved.
More than 80% of the lawyers said the situation was worse than five years ago, 87% believed that wealth is a more important factor in access to justice than it previously was and 79% said increases in court fees were making it harder for people to bring cases. As many as 69% of the lawyers questioned said they would not recommend the legal profession as a career.And another reported in the Mirror:-
Brutal Coalition cuts are putting justice at risk, claims top judge
A top judge has slammed the Coalition for putting justice at risk with its brutal programme of cuts. Judge Gordon Risius said “almost every part of the system” has been damaged by cuts to legal aid, the Crown Prosecution Service and probation. And he tore into the “almost daily” problems caused by private contractors failing to provide enough dock officers to guard defendants.
Judge Risius, who retires as the top judge at Oxford Crown Court in a few months, raged: “The rule of law and the criminal justice system is very much under threat.”Courts continue to close, despite well-argued campaigns to save them. This from the Spalding Guardian:-
Court closed after consultation sham
Lord Chancellor Chris Grayling closed Spalding Magistrates’ Court on Tuesday following a public consultation that was branded a “sham”. The court was de-listed on December 19 – with all work sent to other courts – but the official closure is the final death blow.
Criminal Defence Associates Lawyer Rachel Stevens said the Lord Chancellor was only interested in achieving the outcome that suited the civil service. Speaking on Tuesday, Miss Stevens said: “The consultation process has been a complete sham and a waste of time. “The reasons given today for the decision to close the court are, verbatim, the arguments put forward by the court service when they asked for representations.Finally, I continually hear depressing news regarding increasing numbers of judges who are willing to sentence for quite serious matters without the need for full probation reports. The Recorder of a major northern city apparently feels there's no problem and it's much quicker and cheaper to weigh off a manslaughter charge on an FDR. It's so short-sighted and unprofessional. I cannot help but wonder if we've been wasting our time over the years and if they ever really understood the purpose of a full PSR.