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CBA Monday Message 22.01.18

Chair’s Update:
Angela Rafferty QC

Another week another case stopped at the last minute. This time Oliver Mears, on bail for rape for 2 years, no evidence offered days before his trial. The judge has called for an investigation and explanation. It is the least that can be expected.  In 4 cases since December the CPS has offered no evidence at a late stage – all rape cases. We know that it could happen in any type of case and affects both prosecution and defence.

Lord Judge has sounded the alarm that public confidence in the administration of criminal justice is threatened. When a figure of this stature and command comments in this way we know that the problem has reached a critical stage.

No one has really listened to us when we reported this situation year on year.  They are listening now. This must be fixed and soon. I will continue to articulate the daily struggle we face in respect of disclosure, delays and all the other disastrous consequences of a system that is openly described by MPs as at breaking point. What else could be expected with no proper investment for years and a complete lack of proper attention to the Criminal Justice system’s importance to the rule of law and civil society?

A roundtable discussion took place at the CPS last week. The Bar was well represented and we are extremely grateful to our CBA members who took time out of court and who travelled to give their views. A talking shop may be necessary but action is more important. We will continue to engage with all attempts to fix this problem.

However we say that the CPS must face this issue squarely and with courage. The reasons for it must be properly explored and dealt with. The Criminal Cases Review Commission, in an annual report says this:

“A major cause of miscarriages of justice continues to be non-disclosure, at or before trial, of material which could have been of assistance to the defence

The annual report can be found here.

The CCRC’s letter to the Attorney General to ask them to address the problem from back in 2016 is here.

Continuing to deny the potentially catastrophic effects of these failings on individual lives and the public’s faith in the system is not an option.

Can we also repeat our request for information you can give (subject to your professional obligations and duties) about any case you know will or has collapsed due to disclosure issues and any other expressions of concern or actions (local or national) concerning disclosure failings. We are also collating any expressions of judicial concern about disclosure.

Your information will be treated confidentially and not disseminated without your permission.

Please email,: [email protected]

Court conditions
We are receiving daily reports about the dreadful conditions in court centres throughout the land. Lack of catering, lack of heating or tropical conditions, broken lavatories and lifts and leaking roofs. The list goes on and on.
We had hoped to dedicate this message to this topic. We know that you are demoralized and depressed by working conditions no corporate environment would tolerate. In courts lives are decided. It is at the very least embarrassing and shameful for our great system to be in this state.
There is nothing world class about tripping over decades old carpet on your way to the loo that doesn’t flush. It isn’t just us who endure it – witnesses and all other court users are putting up with this. Court staff cannot escape it day after day either. Please keep your reports coming in.  We are working with the Bar Council and the Circuits on this issue.

Legal aid statistics
There are worrying signs that the interests of justice test is being applied stringently and potentially incorrectly by the Legal Aid agency. Please see this story for details.

As said in the article against a backdrop of constant cuts to the legal aid budget there will be concern about statistics like these, and an explanation is required. Those who cannot afford legal aid should have their applications decided in the interests of justice and not in the interests of budgets. Can you send us any information or examples you have of this.

More evidence of a system close to or at breaking point is this report into forensic science services.

To end on a more positive note there is some room for a bit of optimism. The recent #mypathtolaw trend on Twitter shows some heartening examples of social mobility in the profession and some really interesting personal stories. Also of interest is this week’s piece in the Guardian about woman Silks.

and finally…..

Special thanks and acknoweldgment to Judy Khan QC and Ben Aina QC who spoke inspirationally at an event put on at the Old Bailey for young people thought to be at risk of becoming involved in knife and gang crime. Judy and Ben were part of a programme which included a paramedic, the Ben Kinsella Trust, youth workers and the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Cressida Dick. This is the second of these events at which Judy and Ben have taken part and they bring a unique perspective, talking about their own lives and the lives of some of the young people they have represented.

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