JusticeWatch: Seasons greetings

A symbol of swashbuckling womanhood
Lawyers fell over themselves to pay tribute to the, er, Beyoncé of the legal profession – Lady Brenda Hale retires next month. ‘Clearly, she is a woman who cannot see a glass ceiling without breaking through it,’ said Lord Reed, the incoming Supreme Court president. 

‘All these achievements, and the personality that lies behind them, have made Brenda an inspiration to women and especially to women lawyers,’ he continued; adding that her now famous spider broach was ‘a symbol of swashbuckling womanhood’.

‘My Lady, it seems to me that far more significant than the fact that you are a woman is the fact that you are a feminist, and a frank and fearless feminist. On many occasions you have challenged the clever and kindly men who have surrounded you, both in the judiciary and at the Bar, forcing them to question, often for the first time, the assumptions, the stereotypes and the perspectives that they’ve used all their lives. For too many years, you have been a single-handed antidote to the ubiquitous male lens through which the law has traditionally been viewed, and we women of the bar have cheered you on.’
Dinah Rose QC, Blackstone Chambers

Shameless profiteering
The High Court yesterday ruled the £1,012 fee for children to register as British citizens ‘unlawful’. Campaigners are calling on ministers to ‘act quickly’ to end its practice of ‘shameless profiteering’ through the imposition of £1,012 fee on children to register as British citizens. In a landmark case taken by the Project for the Registration of Children as British Citizens and backed by Amnesty International UK (covered here on the Justice Gap), the court found a ‘mass of evidence’ showing that the charge was a barrier to children from registering citizenship leaving them feeling ‘alienated, excluded, “second-best”, insecure and not fully assimilated’ into UK.

Domestic violence
Legal aid changes to make it easier for domestic abuse victims to access legal aid may have contributed to a record number of people seeking help, as reported in the Law Society’s Gazette (here). Ministry of Justice figures for July to September show that 7,876 applications were made for a domestic violence remedy order, up 23% on the same period last year and the highest quarterly figure since 2009 when statistics were first published. There were 8,839 domestic violence orders, up 18% from last year and also a record high.

Wasted opportunity
In the last three years the number of rape prosecutions collapsed by more than half despite the fact that there has been a 43% rise in the number of allegations made to the police (as reported in the Justice Gap). However the CPS inspectorate claims not to have discovered evidence of cherry-picking easier cases.

The watchdog’s new report published follows concerns that prosecutors were operating undisclosed conviction targets – as reported on the Justice Gap here. ‘Since 2016 there has been a substantial increase in rape allegations, while the number of rape prosecutions has fallen significantly – which indicates there is a serious problem,’ said HM Chief Inspector, Kevin McGinty. ‘The CPS has been accused of only choosing easy cases to prosecute, but we found no evidence of that in our report. While the CPS needs to improve the way it works with the police, the CPS is only a small part of a larger systemic problem in the criminal justice process in dealing with complex cases.’

Sarah Green, director of the End Violence Against Women Coalition, called the new findings ‘profoundly disappointing’. ‘It recognises that the statistics – on many thousands of rape allegations and prosecutions – alone raise huge questions about justice being done, but it insists there is quality CPS decision making,’ she said. ‘At the same time the report refers to its own survey of CPS managers saying their units are not well staffed.’

According to Green, the report betrayed ‘a huge lack of curiosity’ as to what the problem actually was. ‘Rape is a difficult crime to evidence and prosecute – no one has said otherwise – but it is also an enormous volume crime and it does enormous harm. It cannot remain a mystery or in the ‘too difficult box’.’

She called the report ‘dry’ pointing to its assertion that that CPS decision-making was ‘not risk averse’. ‘This flies in the face of the reality that since the HMCPSI 2016 report there has been a 42.5% rise in the report of rape allegations to the police and a 22.6% decline in the number of rape cases by charged by the CPS,’ she added.

Harriet Wistrich, director of the Centre for Women’s Justice, said that her group was ‘inundated with examples of compelling cases of rape prosecutions being dropped by the CPS or by the police who say there is no point in referring consent cases to the CPS any more’. ‘Altogether a wasted opportunity to shine a light on this crisis,’ she said.

A brighter future
The number of children arrested in England and Wales has reduced by more than 70% in the last eight years, according to research published by the Howard League for Penal Reform (also reported in the Justice Gap).

In 2010 almost 250,000 children aged 17 years and under were arrested across England and Wales; each year the number has declined year on year to just over 70,000 arrests in 2018. The report also revealed that during the same period, the number of children in prison was also reduced by 63%. Arrests of primary school-age children (10 and 11 years old) in 2018 also showed a significant reduction of 38% compared to 2017 – a total of 383 arrests.

‘Tens of thousands of children can look forward to a brighter future without their lives being blighted by police contact and a criminal record,’ said Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League. ‘Police forces up and down the country have diverted resources to tackling serious crime instead of arresting naughty children. This will make communities safer, and the Howard League is proud to have played its part. Building on this success and reducing the number of arrests still further would allow even more children to thrive.’

Astonishing costs
A High Court judge has expressed ‘astonishment’ at a costs estimate of £74,000 for a one-day hearing dealing with an application in an inheritance dispute (also in the Gazette). Mr Justice Francis was hearing an application for interim provision pursuant to section 5 of the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependents) Act 1975. The judge said it would ‘not be proportionate for so much money to be spent on this issue and it is very sad indeed that the parties have been unable to settle today’s application’. He stressed that ‘if this were a commercial deal rather than a family row, they would not have spent this amount of money on this litigation because it would not be commercially sensible to do so…’

Merry Xmas and a happy New Year!


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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