JusticeWatch: Cutting corners

Legal aid deserts
Legal aid cuts have seen human rights become ‘unaffordable’ for many, as reported on Politics Home. In a damning report, the Joint Committee on Human Rights said cuts and reforms to the system had left them with ‘grave concerns for access to justice, the rule of law, and enforcement of human rights in the UK’.

The MPs reckoned ‘large areas’ of Britain had become ‘legal aid deserts’. According to Nicholas Mairs, their report, which comes as the Government reviews LASPO, ‘also demands a review into eligibility criteria and to consider fully aligning it with welfare benefits’.

‘At the moment we are seeing the erosion of all of those enforcement mechanisms because of a lack of access to justice and lack of understanding of the fundamental importance of human rights and the rule of law. The Government must act urgently to address this.’
Harriet Harman, committee chair

Meanwhile in the Law Society’s Gazette, John Hyde reported that the Public Accounts Committee had ‘little confidence’ in the court service over its £1.2bn upgrade. The ‘scathing report’ raised ‘serious concerns about the government’s ability to achieve its unprecedented court modernisation’. It called the programme ‘hugely ambitious’.

‘Government has cut corners in its rush to push through these reforms,’ said committee chair Meg Hillier. ‘The timetable was unrealistic, consultation has been inadequate and, even now, HMCTS has not clearly explained what the changes will mean in practice. Our report recommends action to address these failings. But even if this programme, or a version of it, gets back on track I have serious concerns about its unforeseen consequences for taxpayers, service users and justice more widely. There is an old line in the medical profession – “the operation was successful but the patient died”.’

Disclosure crisis
Failures in disclosure had ‘persisted for far too long in clear sight of people working within the system’, the House of Commons’ justice committee has claimed – as covered in the Justice Gap (here). In a report published today calling for a clear statement from the police of a duty to follow ‘all lines of inquiry even when they point away from the suspect’, MPs found that the problems brought to the public’s attention by the Liam Allan case had been identified by at least six inquiries going back to 2011.

The MPs saw the brewing crisis as ‘symptomatic of a criminal justice system under significant strain’. As the report noted, the CPS’s expenditure fell by 27% between 2009 and 2017 and its work force fell 11% in the last three years. It also recorded that the police workforce had been slashed by more than 19% since 2010.

The MPs highlighted the impact of cuts to the legal aid scheme. They said: ‘We are particularly concerned by evidence we have heard from defence practitioners about the lack of remuneration for reviewing unused material and the impact of changes to the Litigators’ Graduated Fee Scheme in reducing payment for reviewing pages of prosecution evidence.’

The law firm Chris Saltrese Solicitors noted that defence lawyers were no longer funded to wade through unused material. ‘Many responsible defence solicitors, including Chris Saltrese, can no longer accept legally aided defence work in these complex cases where the unused material may far outweigh the evidence relied on by the prosecution,’ it added.

James Burley, an investigator at the Centre for Criminal Appeals, took issue with the MP. The CCA and Cardiff Law School Innocence Project have made the case for a new Independent Disclosure Agency which would ‘strip out all genuinely sensitive material in a case and provide the rest for the defence to review, and relieve the police and CPS of the burden’. It suggested that the committee’s ‘biggest flaw’ was to ignore the plight of the wrongly convicted due to disclosure failings. ‘Currently, they have no reliable means of learning about the existence of material wrongly withheld from them at trial,’ Burley argued.

‘Once again, the report’s recommendations amount to tinkering with a system that has time and time again proved inadequate. Clearer guidelines, improved skills and a culture shift have all been recommended before – and they haven’t worked.’
James Burley, Centre for Criminal Appeals

More here. According to the MOJ, criticisms have been levelled against the current availability of legal aid for inquests. ‘Reports have highlighted the need to examine the provision of legal aid for death in custody cases and deaths where the state may have been involved,’ it says. ‘A better understanding of cases where the state has legal representation is needed to inform discussions about equality of arms for bereaved people more generally.’

Lessons in irony
Kingsley Napley had ‘a sharp and embarrassing lesson in irony’, according to The Times’ Brief. Apparently the white collar crime firm was referred to by Tommy Robinson’s barrister in the High Court in his appeal against his sentence for contempt of court.

Jeremy Dein QC was understood to have told the court that Robinson had once been on ‘an intensive media law training course’ at Kingsley Napley.

The London Evening Standard, quoting Dein noted that the training course ‘unfortunately didn’t quite have the impact he might have hoped’.

Leigh Day
The Solicitors Regulation Authority has argued in the High Court that the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal was ‘wrong’ in clearing Leigh Day of professional wrongdoing in their pursuit of torture and murder claims against British troops in Iraq. Tim Dutton QC Dutton was opening an appeal on behalf of the SRA.

He said that senior partner Martyn Day and colleagues Sapna Malik and Anna Crowther had put public trust in the profession in ‘jeopardy’ by the way they ‘aligned themselves’ with allegations against the armed forces that turned out to be false and dishonest.

Also, Max Hill QC, Britain’s terrorism law watchdog, is the front runner to be the next director of public prosecutions.

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

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *