JusticeWatch: Worse than LASPO?

Business as usual
People should come to court as usual unless they or a member of their party has or potentially has the coronavirus,’ HM Courts & Tribunals said today – as reported in the Law Society’s Gazette by Monidipa Fouzder.

‘We know how important it is for all court users – professional and public – to have confidence that they are using a building that is clean and safe. NHS advice is for people to wash their hands with soap and water, which is available in all courts and tribunals. Given the importance of handwashing at the moment, our cleaners will give extra attention to checking bathrooms and handwashing facilities.’

Meanwhile, the Gazette also reported that Court of Appeal family cases are to be livestreamed for the first time this year as the government and senior judiciary seek to ‘bring the public gallery into the 21st century’.  The decision was taken following the success of a pilot livestreaming other Court of Appeal civil cases, which began in 2018. 

Neil Russell, a partner at London firm Seddons, ‘sounded a note of caution’: ‘While justice should be open so that it can be seen to be done, there is a risk that focusing the lens of publicity on the cases in the Court of Appeal may be going too far when transcripts of the judgements are already available. [Livestreaming] could discourage litigants, which would be counter-productive for justice. However, as Supreme Court cases are already livestreamed, there does not seem to be a valid reason not to extend this to the Court of Appeal as well, but this should not set a precedent for extending to the lower courts.’

Worse than LASPO
Lawyers damned proposals for radical reform of the housing courts as ‘fundamentally misconceived’, ‘wrong in principle and unworkable in practice’ and without any support from the profession – wrote Julia Wynn for the Justice Gap (here).

Last week, the law reform group JUSTICE launched the report of a working party chaired by Andrew Arden QC calling for reform of the courts and the introduction of a unified dispute service. ‘The proposals prompted a furiously worded dissenting opinion from the main representative body in the sector, the Housing Law Practitioners Association (HLPA),’ Wynn wrote.

‘In summary we consider that the HDS (housing dispute service) is fundamentally misconceived proposition which is wrong in principle and unworkable in practice,’ the HLPA said. ‘To the best of our knowledge, it is not supported by a single tenant/homeless persons solicitors’ firm, organisation, charity, or law centre. It does not understand or reflect the realities of representing vulnerable people with housing problems. It fails to grapple with the inherent imbalance of power in the landlord/tenant and local authority/homeless person relationship.’

‘I do not doubt that the JUSTICE Working Party and its contributors, some of whom I know personally, have the best intentions in proposing the HDS,’ write Derek Bernardi, a housing lawyer from Camden Community Law Centre also for the Justice Gap. ‘However, I cannot help but feel it is in many ways an acceptance of defeat; an acknowledgment that our legal aid system is becoming increasingly obsolete, and so an alternative system is needed.’

‘We – lawyers and advice workers – simply cannot accept this. We have every reason to be proud of our progressive legal aid system, and must never tire of fighting for it to be strengthened and improved.’
Derek Bernardi

The proposals were ‘worse than LASPO’, according to Sue James of Hammersmith & Fulham Law Centre. Housing solicitor Vicky Fewkes, of Ealing Law Centre, told the Law Society’s Gazette that JUSTICE’s proposals  ‘fundamentally misunderstand the power imbalance between our clients and their landlords and are incredibly naïve. Frontline law centre lawyers were only consulted at the very last minute and we felt we could not sign up to this report. We are here to protect our clients’ rights and I see nothing in these proposals that will help to protect the most vulnerable in society’.

Disclosure failure
The trial of a trafficking ring that was alleged to have supplied drugs to “chemsex” parties collapsed after a detective failed to disclose crucial evidence to defence lawyers – reported The Times. It was reported that Detective Constable Jane Walker may now face prosecution after Judge Shani Barnes ‘lamented her actions as “cavalier” and “disinterested” as she dismissed cases against six alleged drug runners’. Ms Walker failed to disclose digital evidence that could have assisted lawyers representing defendants accused of operating a drug ring in Brighton and London, the judge found. 

Judge Barnes dismissed two trials where seven people were charged with supplying drugs for sex parties. ‘Proceedings collapsed last year, but the transcript of the judge’s comments have now been disclosed to The Times,’ it was reported.

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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