JusticeWatch: Merry Xmas

Justice system going ‘flop-bot’
‘Another day brings another terrifying near miscarriage of justice,’ blogged Matthew Scott (aka BarristerBlogger) about the Liam Allan case.

The 22-year-old student was charged with 12 counts of rape and sexual assault but his trial collapsed after police were ordered to hand over phone records. The case was dropped after three days when the evidence on a computer disk containing 40,000 messages revealed the alleged victim pestered him for ‘casual sex’.

‘There may be those who will say, “well the system worked, he was acquitted, what’s he got to worry about?”,’ Scott wrote. ‘It is true that the system, in this particular case, just about worked, albeit Mr Allan had to endure nearly two years of anguish when a proper investigation would have cleared him within days or weeks.’

But, continued Scott, to say that his eventual acquittal shows the system was working properly would be ‘astonishingly complacent’.

‘It would be like expressing confidence in a cheaply maintained aeroplane that has flown across the Atlantic, with the navigation system going flop-bot 200 miles south of Reykjavik, two engines conking out somewhere west of Kangerlusuak (it’s in Greenland, since you ask, surrounded by high mountains, polar bears and thousands of feet of thick clouds) and a third catching fire over Baffin Island, before making a belly landing on a single engine at Gander in Newfoundland. Mr Allan made it to freedom, but he was extraordinarily lucky.’
Matthew Scott

The barrister paid tribute to prosecution counsel and former Tory MP Jerry Hayes who saw immediately that the messages destroyed the prosecution case, and invited the judge to find Mr Allan Not Guilty. ‘Despite the magnificent performance of Mr Hayes, a case like this ought to shatter any remaining illusions that the English and Welsh criminal justice,’ he wrote.

LASPO review
The House of Commons’ justice committee called on the government to ‘consider the wider consequences of legal aid reforms’ when it conducted its LASPO review, reported the Law Society’s Gazette. The MPs wrote to lord chancellor David Lidington setting out their expectations. The committee chair Bob Neill suggested the summer’s Supreme Court judgment on employment tribunal fees ‘which stressed that access to justice was a constitutional right, had changed the parameters’.

‘We would urge you to also consider the impact of the reforms on access to justice as a constitutional right and the rule of law more generally. The Supreme Court also highlighted that, to remain lawful, a financial impediment to the right of access to justice must be reasonably affordable to households on low to middle incomes; this consideration may well be relevant to the assessment of the LASPO reforms to means-testing for civil legal aid.’
Bob Neill

More of the same
The Government has refused to commit to recruiting more ethnic minority judges, reported The Independent – ‘despite the fact that just 7% currently come from a minority background’.

David Lammy had recommended a national target as a key step to increasing diversity in the judiciary. The paper reported: ‘While a number of Mr Lammy’s other recommendations have been adopted, including proposals to increase the number of BAME people in senior roles in prisons, the Tottenham MP said he was “disappointed” that the Government has refused to adopt a national target on diversity of judges, and warned ministers: “More of the same will not work”.’

‘I found that the lack of diversity within our judiciary and magistracy has a significant effect on the trust deficit that I found in Britain’s BAME communities in relation to how the justice system is perceived. My review demonstrated the lack of progress over the last decade in improving diversity amongst the judges that sit in our courts, and I am clear that more of the same will not work.’
David Lammy

Three judges from black and Asian backgrounds are suing the Ministry of Justice for race discrimination and victimisation, reported the Guardian.

It noted that recorder Peter Herbert has been involved in a long-running case against the ministry over a speech he made saying that racism could be found in the judiciary. ‘The cases put further pressure on the MoJ shortly after it refused to accept a recommendation from a report written at the request of the prime minister to set diversity targets in the judiciary.’

“We are aware of a number of BME judges and magistrates that have suffered discriminatory use of misconduct proceedings in circumstances where their white counterparts have not faced any action whatsoever,” commented Ismet Rawat, president of the Association of Muslim Lawyers, expressed concern about these cases.

Lee Jasper, co-chair of Black Activists Rising Against the Cuts, said that the British criminal justice system was ‘locked into a 19th-century vision of the world as a consequence of its inherent class and racial bias’. ‘The judiciary and Ministry of Justice claim to be committed to equality while simultaneously discriminating against black people in the dock or on the bench,’ he said.

Meanwhile the Times’s Brief reported that more ethnic minority lawyers had been promoted to the ranks of Queen’s Counsel than ever before. ‘Of the 33 ethnic minority barristers who applied for silk this year, 18 are to be promoted,’ it said. ‘That is two more successful applications than the 2017 round, when 37 lawyers applied.’

Apparently, women also improved their success rate, with 32 promotions from 50 applications, compared with 31 from 56 applications in this year’s round.

The Law Society’s Gazette reported that five solicitors took silk this year including the leading human rights lawyer Imran Khan.

Season’s greetings!

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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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