Tuesday, 24 March 2015

The Tuesday Truth


Home Alone

According to the Corston Report in 2007about 18,000 children each year are separated from their mothers by imprisonment and it is estimated that 200,000 children under 18 are affected each year by a parent in prison. What is of concern is that Courts are not always informed of such dependants when performing a sentencing exercise. There are increasing examples of defendants appearing at court for sentence , not notifying any member of their family and then receiving custodial sentences. On occasions leaving children at school uncollected, or at home with no food or money This is unbelievable because a dependant being deprived of its sole carer is powerful mitigation but apparently there are examples of this information not being made available partly because the client is too embarrassed and simply expects to be home from court to collect the kids or worries that if they do tell someone their children will be taken into care. Occasionally it is missed by the defence advocate and even the probation service. It is conceivable I suppose for a Duty Solicitor in a busy court with a long list to work through to miss this type of information.

Putting aside our obvious sadness at the number of children affected by parents in custody there is a real problem in the system if children are left without care or arrangements because the court simply are unaware of the dependants. How can that information be missed? Are we and probation so stretched that this could happen?  Are the pressures to reform and  cut costs so great that we are losing grip of what is important?

Can pay will pay

I was delighted to learn that the Trial Advocate will now be paid the Crown Court Advocate’s fee as opposed to the Advocate who attends the first hearing in the Crown Court, usually a Preliminary Hearing or Plea and Case Management Hearing

Only recently I had an experience where instructed Counsel who had had the case for over 6 months returned it at the last minute as the trial they were in had overrun significantly and neither they or their clerks had informed me until close to the trial. Chambers could not offer me a suitable replacement and I was fortunate to find a very reliable and able Solicitor Advocate who was able to conduct the Trial. I agree with Tony Cross of the CBA that it is much fairer for the advocate who conducts the Trial to be paid the case fee and saves considerable bureaucracy and angst  at the end when the advocate entitled to the biggest portion of the fee has to chase others entitled to much less to get paid.

This is one of the many initiatives to emerge from the Leveson review. Case ownership and engagement are two features to be emphasised in Case Management. For those who have lost many months of their lives trying to speak to the appropriate person at the CPS, this should all be about to change following the “Transforming Summary Justice” Review and the Leveson Review.

As I write this I sense those reading raising their eyebrows, “Have you lost all sense of reality Harris? Isn’t this just a further reinvention of the wheel?”

Well only time will tell, but these initiatives will create rules and obligations that will require parties to engage earlier, to have proper ownership of files. This will mean advocates in trials will not be able to pick up the papers the week before but will have to be actively involved in the case management from an early stage even if it is one of 3 cases they have in a warned list that particular week

Digital Deadenders 

Notwithstanding all the senior judicial oomph going into The Leveson Review, Transforming Summary Justice and the restated commitment to move Criminal Justice into the digital age the only way in which these initiatives will have the desired benefits is for the defence to have the appropriate resources to properly participate. The investment in these initiatives will be substantial, but  leaving aside the question of where defence lawyers will find funding for IT in our increasingly zero profit world, spending vast sums of money on IT is pointless if you do not have the right personnel to take advantage of such equipment in the Courts, CPS and defence.. After all Criminal Justice is about people; the victims, the witnesses, the defendants, those who prosecute and defend, the juries and the judiciary. The whole system may be digitised in two years time but without increased funds at every level we will be working in a digital knackers yard; nice tech, shame about the content.  



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