Monday Message 06.06.16
Mark Fenhalls QC
Public Accounts Committee Report
Please read (at least) the summary of the report of the Public Accounts Committee published on Friday 27th May: Efficiency in the criminal justice system. It is of course possible that you missed this first time, but it is well worth a look.
The report reflects cross-party recognition by the PAC that the cuts inflicted on the CJS, the prosecution and defence, in the last few years have gone too far and have been counter-productive. It underpins and sustains all the arguments that we (and the Bar Council) have been making on many fronts for several years now. Many of you who have read it have observed with just a hint of irony… “who would have known? Imagine if they had just asked us…”
As we wait for the Government’s policy proposals to the autumn consultation, the core premise of everything we argue is based on the premise that advocates and litigators must be remunerated fairly and proportionately for the actual hard work they do. Only then we have a fair system for everyone – public, witnesses, defendants, professionals – that can drive out the misconduct and distortions that we all know about.
Nominations for Vice Chair
We seek nominations for the election for the Vice Chair, whose term will run from September 1st for one year. In recent years the role we play has changed significantly and it is not something to be undertaken lightly. If you know anyone who interested, then please invite them to email or call me if they want to discuss what is involved.
The eternal issues of fee reform, crown court capacity and listing are the subject of constant work, but these remain topics for another message. The last of these in particular, listing, causes more distress, irritation and waste than almost any other topic and merits far more time and space than I have this week. What comes next relates to the DCS, so if you are unfazed (or unmoved) by anything technological, feel free to skip to the bit at the end.
In the spring we asked for evidence of what was not working. Many of you responded and your input has been invaluable. We have used all the material you sent to provide evidence to HMCTS, the senior Judiciary and the CPS. This should be a continual process and so if problems are persisting / new ones are arising, please keep writing.
Inevitably (happily) some matters are now out of date. Thus, for example, I gather that Chester Crown Court PCU wifi went live on 6th May and so I hope that problem has fallen away. Any readers of past messages who have Apple products will have worked out how to download the VLC player to use click-share rather than the standard Apple player. The online PTPH form appears to have been a significant improvement on what went before. I have not had any complaints about the new authorisation letter system (in the South East) for access to prisons and court cells with your tablet. Hopefully national roll-out follows soon.
Below I have tried to take the key points identified with technology and the DCS and summarise the responses we have had. But I am not going to refer to those examples where there has been “user error” by someone on behalf of the prosecution or the defence. I am not going to repeat what I wrote in the message several weeks ago about the importance of courts enforcing the CPRs on the Crown as to what should be served well in advance of a PTPH. Nor am I going to address failings on both sides about invitations. So, in summary this is my top ten of what we are learning…
- Please tell Judges/ Courts if papers are being loaded by any party in the wrong areas of DCS – the worst problem appears to have been mistakes made in loading papers that should appear in the common file in a section to which only one defendant had access. Maintaining the file structures is going to be critical to the functionality of the system. This is going to be critical in any multi-handed cases of any complexity. The early adopted courts are more attuned to this problem.
- Multi-handed cases. We await news of a planned project to sort out the problem of multiple forms.
- Please use cjsm. If you do not you may be breaking the Data Protection Act by sending Sensitive Personal Information across the open internet, unprotected. Cjsm may sometimes (often?) cause you to curse, but it may be the only thing that prevents lawyers from being fined by the ICO for a serious data breaches.
- Everyone knows that cjsm does not work as well as commercial systems. Problems with cjsm webmail capacity are well known to the MoJ and users have been repeatedly asked to use the POP3 connection and not the cjsm webmail portal. See HERE for more information. I gather that the secure email system is being replaced and a new system is being designed to be in place for early 2017.
- The MoJ has tried to make its policy towards use of mobile devices and cjsm more rational. Everyone knows that the early bar on mobiles was bonkers. This was changed some time ago. You can find more information here:
- If you have inadvertently been granted access to someone else’s case by user error elsewhere, remove yourself immediately. You would not dream of picking up someone’ else papers in chambers and it is no more that the electronic equivalent of putting correspondence or papers that have been misfiled in your pigeonhole. (NB DCS Guidance Materials).
- HMCTS Super User Training was delivered to a minimum of 3 to 4 HMCTS Staff per court and the Super Users were given training materials to train all other HMCTS Admin staff, so there always ought to be people available to help. In addition to the DCS Training Materials, both HMCTS and CPS have their own (more detailed) training resources, defence/advocate materials HERE. In addition, there is a DCS Training page on GOV.UK.
- Notifications. This is a vexed subject. There is a notification system on DCS, the little Bell on the DCS Home Page. (Guidance Here), but it could do with improvement. I am told you can delete notifications but several people who are not tech-challenged say they cannot work it out. As soon as someone tells me how to do it, I will let you all know. A related problem comes with how you find out who has posted what and when on the system. Some courts need separate notification. Frustrating those this may be, please just keep soldiering on.
- If the wifi “goes down” or drops out in any court please report immediately to the BT PCU helpline/ desk. Page 9 of the PCU Guidelines and posters in every court will point you to the BT PCU Helpdesk. ([email protected]).
- Uploading spreadsheets. This is possible. To ensure that a document is inserted into an evidence bundle as a placeholder page (and not be scanned as a PDF), save the file name you are uploading with ”-ph-“ prefix. An example file name would be “-ph- very large spreadsheet.xls”. The document will be inserted into the bundle as a single placeholder page and not scanned as separate pages and presented as a PDF. The complete file will still be available for download and open in its original file format (MS Excel). The steps to download the original file are to navigate to the index page for the case and click on “Original Document” button.
There was a terrific conference at Oxford University on Saturday entitled “Criminal Justice in an Age of Austerity”. Delegates were treated to a fascinating day full of ideas, set against the background that society’s demands of what the CJS should do have changed so much. In the words of one junior tenant who attended and wrote to me afterwards:
“Gone are the days of the law being a blunt instrument, where punishment of offenders was the only goal. We now have expectations of support for victims, focus on rehabilitation and education within our prisons, more sensitive police investigations and specialist treatment of vulnerable witnesses and defendants alike, to name but a few.”
Criminal justice gets ever more complex, as society demands more from it, but it lacks the resources to do it all to the standard that the public rightly demands.
We remain committed to doing all we can to persuade the MoJ to abandon bad policy and to make changes that will achieve these goals. If society wants these things, there is of course a price that it will have to pay.