JusticeWatch: Breaking point

Breaking point
The latest criminal court statistics ‘sparked alarm among lawyers’  over ‘appalling’ crime detection rates and a growing backlog of cases, reported Jemma Slingo for the Law Society’s Gazette (here).

According to the MoJ stats, the number of Crown court receipts and disposals ‘have fallen steadily over the past three years. While receipts rose slightly this quarter (3%) compared to last year, disposals fell by 4% to 25,720.’ ’The overall downward trend in the Crown court workload over the past three years is in line with year-on-year decreases in the number of individuals dealt with in the criminal justice system in England and Wales,’ stated the MoJ. ‘There has been a general decrease in the number of offences for which the police issue a charges/summons over the past three years along with a fall in the number of indictable offences being dealt with at the magistrates’ court which has a direct impact on the flow of cases into the Crown court.’

‘These statistics come as no surprise: our criminal justice system is at breaking point. It simply does not have the resources to function effectively,’ said Simon Davis, president of the Law Society.

Richard Atkins QC, chair of the Bar Council, reckoned many courts were ‘sitting empty and now these latest figures suggest that trials coming to Magistrates’ courts and Crown courts are at their lowest levels since records began’. ‘This would be good news if not for the fact, as the police have recently admitted, crime detection rates are appalling,’ he added.

Charm offensive
Court sitting days had been cut by ‘almost 15%, from 97,400 in 2018-19 to 82,300 in 2019-20’, wrote Caroline Goodwin QC, chair of the Criminal Bar Association in her Monday Message. ‘We have a backlog of cases, listing dates for trials are being put further and further back and yet court rooms are sat empty. It is a crisis. Crime is on the rise.’

She accused the government of ‘iron fist policy unyielding, inflexible and downright unworkable, a single objective being to save money no matter what the cost or consequences’. ‘The charm offensive of using language and hyperbole that says that complainants of crime are being looked after is completely undermined by the fact that courts are not being opened up to hear their cases,’ she argued.

‘The basic result of the reduction in sitting days is that cases that have a trial date are simply not being reached. Complainants, witnesses and defendants, never mind the professional inconvenience, are being let down. Counsel is literally on a zero hours contract when a listed trial is vacated.’
Caroline Goodwin QC

Read ‘em and weep

LAA review
The Law Society’s Gazette also revealed that Labour would order a review of the Legal Aid Agency if it wins power (here). Shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon  promised the review would  be ‘fully independent’ and chaired by Steve Hynes, former director of Legal Action Group. ‘The legal aid lawyers I meet, they always tell me about the LAA being a mess, bureaucratic, inconsistent and inaccessible,’ Burgon told a ring event at the Labour Party conference. ‘There is too much bureaucracy and delay, too much time spent on unnecessary administration.’

Burgon also announced that public funding for all early legal help would be restored within the first 100 days of a Labour government. The party has also pledged £18m for 200 social welfare lawyers and another £20m towards a network of ‘people’s law centres’ – see last week’s JusticeWatch (here).

Students at the University of Salford will advise the public on employment disputes, housing problems and family matters from this autumn and the University of Bolton will also run a free legal centre to combat the ‘huge gap’ in local legal support (here).

Legal Access Challenge
‘A chatbot for people with learning difficulties, tools to help women protect themselves from domestic violence, and data-supported advice on employment disputes are among the eight finalists of the Legal Access Challenge,’ reported Legal Futures.

Picked from 117 entries, they will each receive £50,000 in funding to develop their ideas over the next six months, with the two winners receiving a further £50,000 each next March.

The challenge, run in partnership by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) and Nesta Challenges with government money, aims to broaden access to legal help for individuals and small businesses through technology.

The eight finalists are:

  1. Doteveryone and Resolver: MyDigitalRights is a free and independent one-stop shop for people to exercise their digital rights and access systems of redress when online services fail to respect them.
  2. Formily: A  web application that breaks down Form E and FDA disclosure documents for litigants in family financial remedy proceedings, and helps users to complete them through ‘plain English’ questions and easy-to-understand guidance.
  3. Glow:a public facing platform enabling individuals and SMEs to efficiently take legal action against organisations in the form of Group Litigation Orders.
  4. Mencap: a legal chatbot will deliver early legal help and advice around community care and welfare benefits, directly to people that need it most. 
  5. Organise: an anti-harassment app to help employees record and challenge workplace harassment.
  6. RCJ Advice: FLOWS is at the proof-of-concept stage with the three main tools which will enable women and children to protect themselves from violence, gain court-orders, access legal aid and navigate court-processes and the front line workers who assist them be more confident in using legal remedies.
  7. Resolve Disputes Online (RDO):Disputes cost small and medium sized enterprises millions of pounds in lost revenue, legal costs and opportunity cost. Disputes are a costly distraction for running a business and the emotional and cultural stresses can also be significant.
  8. Solomonic: AI technology that analyses 1,000s of previous employment tribunal judgments, applies data analytics to such cases and then packages the information into an SaaS ‘Litigation Friend’ platform.

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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