‘Monday’ Message 06.08.19

Chair’s Update:
Chris Henley QC

 

 

Criminals ‘to literally feel terror’? Really?

This week the incoming Home Secretary announced her arrival in the new cabinet of all the talents by promising to make criminals ‘literally feel terror’ at the thought of committing offences. Well, yes. Similar promises were made about making radical improvements to the state of prisons within a year, a little over 12 months ago. The words were fine, the aspiration laudable, and no doubt sincerely meant, but today so dangerous has HMYOI Feltham become that there is currently a stop on any further teenagers being sent there. The ‘fine words’ failed to stem a further deterioration in the unsafe and miserable conditions. Conditions there are described as having plunged over the last 6 months in the latest Chief Inspector’s inspection report

So too with the Home Secretary’s words, which are so far off being squared with the reality that it is a challenge not to laugh. At the weekend in the middle of the day in central London it took four minutes for a 999 call reporting an assault on a vulnerable woman to be answered. The voice that eventually came down the line apologised for the delay and their inability to send anyone; its not much of an exaggeration to say there is almost no one there any more.

Reported crime has been rising rapidly over the past 8 years, yet prosecutions have fallen by 45% during the same period; from 895,000 cases prosecuted in the Crown and Magistrates Courts in 2011/12 to just 495,000 in 2018/19. Serious fraud prosecutions are in catastrophic decline. The police are not just struggling to cope, they are not coping. Only 7.8% of reported crime results in a charge within 12 months of the initial report. You will have read the report last week about the serious assault case in Truro which had taken 2 years 9 months to reach its conclusion. The Judge described the delay as a ‘disgrace’, and evidence that the system was ‘beyond the point of collapse’. He felt compelled in the circumstances to suspend the custodial sentences.

The police and the CPS are being denied the resources they desperately need to keep us safe. It’s not a pretty picture. However politically expedient the rhetoric of ‘instilling terror’ we are years away from instilling a degree of mild nervousness.

We know from our daily experience in the criminal courts that the chronic lack of resources and the relentless squeeze on sitting days means that victims, witnesses and defendants are being treated atrociously. I have written before about the way in which cases are taken out of the list so late, or listed for trial in completely unrealistic circumstances so are inevitably stood out because there aren’t enough Judges being made available.

In one very busy city court centre two new Judges have recently been appointed. Have the number of allocated sitting days been increased to given meaning to the appointments? This would obviously require an allocation of an extra 300 or 400 sitting days. Of course this hasn’t happened. In fact, only 7 extra days have been allocated to that court centre. So Judges on full-time salaries will be idle, not by any choice of theirs. It must be so demoralising for the Judges who are being told to stay at home or take ‘paper days’ which they haven’t asked for and don’t need. We continue to receive reports on a daily basis from you, in all parts of the country, of cases being put back until next year through lack of capacity. It blights your professional lives, and disrupts and impoverishes your personal lives.

Surely it would be better to pack in the rhetoric, acknowledge honestly the pitiful state of things, and come up with a coherent plan, backed by substantial investment, to begin the task of rebuilding the Criminal Justice System?

The Fee Reviews:

Much more positively the CPS has been holding meetings on every circuit to consult on changes to fees. The MoJ has been doing the same. Prosecutors will see very significant immediate changes to their incomes from 1st September. You know the headline improvements. The final comprehensive manual of guidance (which will become scheme D), including the necessary changes to the definition of ‘a trial’ and ‘the first day of a trial’, will be published before the end of the month. The MoJ team has been working hard on plans to remunerate us for the review of unused material for the first time. Work on enhancing payments for cracks, and for complex, evidence heavy cases will follow. We are meeting regularly with them to assist in this important work.

Please send your thoughts or examples to the following email addresses:

[email protected] or [email protected]

Archbold v Blackstones – the rematch: 

Keen students of the criminal courts’ annual version of the Charity Shield will know that two years ago Blackstones interrupted Archbold’s years of runaway success, in controversial circumstances. Many were critical of some crucial refereeing decisions. Last year’s result was a high scoring draw with copies of both books being supplied to all courtrooms across the country. However, this year it has been decided that there will be lots of mini leagues. Let me explain. The CBA has been forwarded this year’s decision letter of the Chair of the Judicial Library Committee. Judges will be given a choice of which book they would like to use and it will then be ordered for them. Resident Judges will keep the score. This seems like an eminently reasonable decision. But the question that has been asked is where does this leave practitioners. Are they now required to buy both books? Supporters are often taken for granted and some of you are feeling a little the same, particularly the more junior, who find the cost of one daunting enough. Our advice is that you can only be expected to buy one, and you should be entirely free to choose as well. In a properly funded system both basic texts would be on every bench. It is not for you to solve this problem.

Finally:

My time as Chair is almost complete. A large part of me will miss it. But it’s important that the position is regularly refreshed. Caroline will be excellent. It’s a huge commitment but I’ve learned a great deal. Amongst other things I have learned that one very senior Judge ‘hates’ these messages. He told me so himself. At least he reads them! And, no, I didn’t believe him. How could he? But I have been thinking and before my time is finished I will set out some thoughts; not just a rehash of the most obvious stuff. There will also be a final book giveaway.

Anyway on that general theme, I have chosen a poem which deals with a man searching for meaning in the twilight of his life, a refresh, a personal revolution (what has that got to do with me??). It includes the words ‘deferential, glad to be of use, politic, cautious, meticulous, full of high sentence but a bit obtuse’. Maybe? Probably not. It’s the Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by T.S.Eliot.

Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherised upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question…
Oh, do not ask ‘What is it?’
Let us go and make our visit.’

[You can find the rest]

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