JusticeWatch: Keep calm

Keep calm
Crown courts should sit more often to deal with a backlog in cases, the head of the judiciary in England and Wales has urged –  as reported Owen Bowcott in the Guardian. The lord chief justice, Lord Burnett of Maldon, was giving his annual press office conference and called for a period of ‘calm reflection’ over Boris Johnson’s plans to look at the role of judicial review and whether judges were trespassing on political territory.

‘I don’t think it’s something people should get hysterical about,’ he said; adding that there were ‘perfectly legitimate arguments and discussions about where the boundaries of [such judicial review claims] should be’.

Burnett criticised the state of our courts saying that they had suffered ‘degradations over many years’. According to Bowcott: ‘He welcomed what he believed the MoJ was about to deliver – at least 4,700 extra sitting days for crown courts in the next financial year. ‘Large number of cases involving defendants who are not in custody are being listed further into the future,’ he said. 

‘Bold’ plans from JUSTICE
The law reform group JUSTICE has published ‘bold’ proposals to fundamentally reform the housing courts including a unified dispute system.

‘Over the past decade, homelessness has more than doubled and early legal advice and intervention to address housing problems, homelessness and associated or underlying issues has been greatly attenuated by cuts to civil legal aid,’ the group says. ‘This has caused large parts of the housing advice sector to collapse, resulting in “advice deserts”, while local authorities are struggling under the demand for homelessness assistance. Beyond this context, housing dispute resolution suffers from disaggregation: there are too many places a person might go to resolve a dispute, with adversarial processes that can be difficult to access, navigate and understand for lay people. There is also lack of coherence in regulatory application and oversight and a need for greater emphasis on early resolution and conciliatory measures.’

The report has been written by a working party chaired by Andrew Arden QC.It makes 54 recommendations including ‘a future model of dispute resolution’ (the Housing Dispute Service) which would be ‘an entirely new and distinct model for dispute resolution’. ‘It would fuse elements of problem-solving, investigative, holistic and mediative models utilised elsewhere in the justice system,’ the group says.

JUSTICE pointed out that the idea had not been accepted by all its members and ‘was opposed by the tenant lawyers we consulted’. ‘It is controversial and for many, the solution to current problems is to remedy austerity era policies,’ it said. ‘Nevertheless, the majority of the Working Party consider that the HDS could offer a better outcome for all parties to housing disputes than the current system and is worth exploring – carefully, in limited scope, against relevant criteria and with advisory input from all relevant professional groups.’

 ‘I believe passionately that only something like the HDS can actually alleviate the strain of disputes with their landlords for tenants, promise something more hopeful to the homeless and advance housing conditions through a wider consensus.’
Andrew Arden QC, chair of the JUSTICE Working Party

‘Gutter journalism’
‘TERRORIST who escaped being thrown out of Britain because it would breach his human rights was handed almost £400,000 in legal aid’, reported The Sun.

According to the red top, the figure, disclosed in an information request, meant the gang of four jailed for helping the failed July 21 2005 tube bombers ‘have had almost £5million in public funds’. ‘Gutter journalism’, reckoned Secret Barrister.


Crumbs off the table
A government offer to the criminal defence profession of an estimated £50m has been dismissed as ‘crumbs off the table’ by the Law Society who claim that the packages unfairly weighed in favour of advocates over litigators – as reported on the Justice Gap (here).

The Law Society reckoned that the reforms were not enough to secure ‘short term sustainability’ and noted that a number of firms have gone out of business over the last year. It reckoned that the deal would be worth £12-21m to litigators (a 2 to 4% increase); compared to £20-£29 million for advocates (10 to 14%) which, it points out, is on top of a similar sum received last year. The CPS has been given an interim increase of 10% with the promise of further reviews. ‘There has also been a significant cash injection for the CPS, which is now recruiting hundreds of new lawyers, the vast majority of whom are leaving defence practice to take up these roles, and cannot be replaced,’ it added.

Richard Atkinson of the Society’s criminal law committee called last week’s  legal aid settlement ‘an insult’ in The Times’ Brief newsletter. It was an ‘existential moment’ for defence lawyers and ‘utterly failed to meet the justice system’s needs’. More here. 

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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