Landscape colour photo of a pair of red and white striped deckchairs on a stoney beach

JusticeWatch: LV over the summer

Holiday claims
‘False tummy bug and whiplash claims’ were a direct result of legal aid cuts back in the 1990s, according to Sally Hughes, a correspondent in the Guardian’s letter pages. She was responding to an article entitled Why Brits got the bug for holiday sickness scams.

Legal aid was only available if they met the then Legal Aid Board criteria for legal merit. ‘As a result they were cost neutral for the taxpayer because the losing party was obliged to pay costs,’ Hughes explained. PI was taken out of the legal aid scheme by a Conservative government ‘oblivious to the need to keep legal aid within general legal practice and to maintain and subsidise a broad spectrum of legal assistance for people who were financially barred from enforcing their rights in the courts’.

‘As the supreme court strikes down the government imposed four-figure fee for applicants to the employment tribunal (introduced apparently to help employers escape the burdens of litigation), are we finally turning back to the road to making the real, independent legal professions accessible to the just about managing?’
Sally Hughes

Touch sensitive?
Lady Justice Hallett berated a barrister who complained about a judge that she had showing ‘an unfortunate over-sensitivity’ and lacking an ‘understanding of the role of the judge in managing a jury trial’.

The LegalFutures site reported how the vice-president of the Court of Appeal’s criminal division said that while Her Honour Justice Kaul QC should not ‘have expressed her feelings about counsel’s behaviour in front of their clients, the judge did not allow her “undoubted exasperation” to affect the fairness of the trial’. It was reported that one ground of appeal on behalf of two of the four defendants in R v Barkauskas [2017] EWCA Crim 1210 was that the judge demonstrated ‘disproportionate hostility to the defence to the extent that the defendants were deprived of a fair trial’.

Hallett LJ said it was a ‘sad fact’ that the relationship between the defendants’ barrister and judge ‘deteriorated significantly’. ‘Many of the defence applications were totally unmeritorious, bad points were taken and much court time wasted,’ she said. ‘Some of the submissions suggest a lack of proper respect for the court. [One counsel’s] complaints about the judge’s favouring others such as the jury or co-defending counsel indicate an unfortunate over sensitivity, lack of objectivity and lack of understanding of the role of the judge in managing a jury trial. We do not expect counsel to behave or react in this way.’

Retrograde step
Judges were joining the growing opposition to plans for longer court sitting hours, also on the LegalFutures site. Responding to the chief executive of the court service Susan Acland-Hood’s recent blog (as reported on LegalVoice here), Judge Ticehurst, the resident judge at Taunton Crown Court, called the plans ‘misconceived and takes no account whatsoever of the realities of trials or other work in the Crown Court,’ he wrote. ‘… We are already struggling with a lack of staff. Is HMCTS going to be able to recruit and fund more staff and/ or pay them overtime to cover the new hours?’

Meanwhile, Judge Blair QC ‘rubbished’ Acland-Hood’s assertion that ‘expensive buildings’ were kept empty before 10am and after 4:30pm. Judges and court staff usually start work at 8.30am and sometimes from as early as 7am, he said, while he usually leaves work at 5.40pm. ‘Where are you going to recruit a second set of judges and staff from in order to do the second shift?’ he asked. ‘This is the most retrograde step in terms of diversity in my memory.’

‘I will be very reluctant to sit a very early or very late shift,’ said one deputy district judge. ‘And what’s more I will think twice in future about applying for any full-time position if my employment is going to require me to sit all hours. I anticipate that these proposals will further deepen the recruitment crisis for the judiciary and will set back strides being made to improve the diversity of the judiciary.’

The Law Society president Joe Egan also blogged they were not convinced that there was ‘strong and reliable evidence that flexible hours would mitigate the current problems with the court system’. ‘We are concerned that defendants appearing late in the day may be more likely to receive harsher sentences,’ he wrote. ‘Our submission to HMCTS highlighted our concerns about intimidation or retribution that could occur more easily at night.’

Legal aid evangelist
‘I’m probably the most tenacious person you’ll ever meet,’ reckoned Jenny Beck, ‘serial campaigner and access-to-justice evangelist’. She was speaking to the Law Society Gazette’s editor Paul Rogerson.

As well as being co-chair of the Legal Aid Practitioner’s Group, Beck is chair of the Law Society’s Access to Justice Committee. ‘I’ve got a fundamental, deep-seated belief in fairness,’ Beck said. ‘Trying to influence policy and improve accessibility for the most vulnerable people in society was always what I was going to do.’ The lawyer runs Beck Fitzgerald, a family firm she set up last year; prior to that she was at the Co-operative Legal Services and before that managing partner at TV Edwards.

‘LASPO is a complete and utter disaster. It has completely failed in the objectives that the government set for it, as identified by the Commons justice select committee.’
Jenny Beck

Makes you want to weep
‘I have been a student of the prison system since I first entered it in 1957,’ began a powerful article by the Guardian’s veteran prison correspondent Eric Allison. ‘I was around when a bread and water diet was part of the punishment process, and even had a taste of it. And I lived through major prison riots in Parkhurst, Hull and Strangeways, circa 1990.’

But, continued Allison ‘hand on heart, I have never seen the system in such a chaotic and dangerous state as it is now. Where to begin in chronicling the deep malaise? Soaring death rates, from homicidal, self-inflicted and natural causes; violence levels at an all-time high; prisons awash with drugs; and overcrowding and understaffing the norm in many jails.’

‘I said I could see no hope of change. Before the last election, the government promised to launch a new prison and courts bill in the Queen’s speech, promising sweeping reforms. Post-election, it was dropped without explanation. Instead, we had an open letter from the new justice secretary, David Lidington, making vague commitments to “effective rehabilitation”, without any guidance as to how he intended to achieve the same, apart from promising a much-needed influx of prison staff. Oh – and a commitment to 10,000 more prison places. Clearly, the sensible thing to do with a failing, bloated prison system is to lock more people into it. It makes you want to weep.’
Eric Allison

Pro bono
Pro bono was ‘not a substitute for legal aid’, the solicitor-general said at the launch of a new initiative to ‘promote and coordinate’ lawyers’ voluntary efforts. The panel comprises the Law Society, Bar Council, Advocates for International Development and the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives and met for the first time last month. Robert Buckland MP praised the legal profession’s response to the Grenfell Tower fire in June. ‘It just shows lawyers in such a positive light, being part of the community in which they serve,’ he said.

Buckland apparently also chaired the first meeting of a newly established public legal education panel. Members include the Society, Citizenship Foundation, Bar Council, Magistrates’ Association, Solicitors Regulation Authority, Ministry of Justice, Judicial Office, Citizens Advice and the Law Centres Federation.

‘Our aims are bold,’ Buckland said. ‘We will be able to provide high-quality public legal education which has a significant social and economic reach.’

LegalVoice over the summer
We will be taking a break from Monday August 14 – back at the end of the month. Enjoy the summer.

 

About Jon Robins

Jon is a journalist and has written about the law and justice for the national papers and specialist press for more than 15 years. Jon is a visiting journalism lecturer at Winchester University, a visiting senior fellow in access to justice at the University of Lincoln and patron of Hackney Community Law Centre. He has won the Bar Council’s legal reporter of the year award twice (2015 and 2005). Jon is editor and co-founder of LegalVoice

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