Monday Message 18.04.16
Mark Fenhalls QC
Lost in the System? And at what cost to the rest of us?
Recently the former Home Secretary, David Blunkett, reportedly expressed his regrets about “indeterminate sentences” that he had championed in the CJA 2003. Practitioners know how the numbers mushroomed and how thousands of prisoners languished behind bars with no hope of access to any of the courses, re-education, support or review procedures that ought to have been made available in prison.
A BBC report recently said “waiting lists for both the courses and parole hearings mean that even though IPP has now been abolished, more than 5,500 IPP prisoners remain within the system, with nearly two-thirds over their tariff.”
As ever the easy bit was passing legislation that encouraged Judges into passing longer and longer sentences. As ever the politicians were less enthusiastic about actually providing the necessary resources, or managing the system, so it could function.
Does anyone keep a similar count in relation to the numbers incarcerated under ss37 / 41 of the Mental Health Act I wonder? I was told a story last week about a man who has been detained under these provisions since 2004. His crime was to commit an abh on a police officer for which a prison sentence might be, at most, in the region of 18 months. He is, I gather, detained in a private secure hospital that charges the public purse well over £200,000 per year. The only people who ever report on his state of health and whether it is necessary to keep him in such conditions are doctors from that institution who have a financial interest in him staying exactly where he is.
CPS Panel renewals
Last week you will have received your letters telling you about the renewal of the scheme during this year. Broadly speaking the hope is that most of you who have worked regularly for the CPS over the duration of the last panel will be invited on to the new panel scheme in the next few weeks. Anyone who is aggrieved about not being invited can appeal and such matters should be sorted out during the next couple of months. Anyone who needs to re-apply (either because they just have not done enough CPS work in the last few years to warrant the invitation or because they want to upgrade) will do so in September.
The autumn is also when specialist panels will be “refreshed”. I am not going to rehearse what you will already have read, but urge you not to leave it too late to think about your applications.
“Delivering Justice in a Digital Age”
This is the title of a joint report by HM Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate and HM Inspectorate of Constabulary published last week. It attracted the usual “imminent car crash” headlines. As ever the actual report makes for more nuanced reading.
It is also a good way to actually learn about the objectives of the CJS Efficiency Programme and the CJS Common Platform Programme and to assess what has been achieved and what more remains to be done over the next few years. It is also a reminder of just how complex the whole task is. At the core perhaps is the great challenge of replacing or updating ageing and creaking IT systems in different parts of the CJS and making sure that each system can “talk to each other” effectively.
But there are practical points of a more prosaic nature. I was told last week that some well-meaning individual had removed some inexpensive and functioning DVD players from a court room because they thought (wrongly) that these would now be redundant. Trial counsel now is pulling out her proverbial hair because she is expected to be able to play the ABE interview through “click-share” on her laptop (which does not have a DVD drive). But this means she now can’t use her laptop to make notes while the ABE is playing… This is exactly the sort of thing that once identified can be sorted. But you do have to tell us and stop assuming that everyone else already knows about the particular hitch you have encountered.
If anyone is feeling at sea, there is another DCS training day at the Old Bailey on 25th April. HHJ Lucraft QC will be running sessions in court one at 08.45 – 09.30 & 16.30 – 17.30.
A few weeks ago some of you rightly complained that the IT policy for HMP Birmingham did not provide for lawyers’ computers (or Apple products at all) to be admitted. When this flaw was brought to their attention NOMS swiftly acknowledged that the prison was not complying with the national standards. That has addressed and there is a new system in place. Hopefully this has helped. The “High Security Prison Estate”. remains more troublesome, but efforts continue.
I am delighted to be able to report that the banning cuff-links from HMP Belmarsh has been reversed. Contrary to what some thought, this was not a “late April fool’s joke”.
NOMS wrote to me this morning saying that:
As from the 11th April 2016 all social and legal visitors CAN wear cuff links when entering Belmarsh, but they are subject to the same searching requirements as watches, they must be removed and go through the XRAY machine then returned to the person to be able to wear.
It shows what can happen if you actually tell us what is going wrong. And how refreshing that someone actually listened, saw sense and changed something. Keep the examples flowing please.
The London Legal Walk
There will be a CBA team undertaking this walk on 16thMay in support of free legal advice charities in the south east. Patrons of the charity and the walk range include the President of the Supreme Court and the Lord Chief Justice. This is not because the south east is the only place where there is a problem – far from it – but because this is where this charity happens to operate. The CBA will be making a donation. If you have a similar event in your part of the country that you want us to support, please let us know.
The European Criminal Bar Association – a plug
The ECBA was set up in 1997, following a joint initiative between the Deutscher Anwaltverein (German Bar Association) and Rock Tansey QC on behalf of the CBA.
The first conference in May that year was at the European Commission of Human Rights in Strasbourg. The theme was: “Are the rights of the accused to a fair trial being undermined?”. The subjects discussed at the Conference were: ‘the role of the media in the criminal process, pre-trial disclosure, police powers of surveillance, telephone tapping and bugging, the right to silence, the right to confront witnesses, the admissibility of illegally obtained evidence, and entrapment.’ I’ll leave you to decide how much or how little things change over the years.
This year conferences are being held in Vilnius (next weekend) and Lisbon in the Autumn. If you stuck in a list or on a train today for a few minutes, please take a look at website. Even if you do not decide to join, it is well worth noting the range of action taken by the Association to maintain the basic legal rights of individuals all across Europe.
SEC August course – another plug – scholarships available
The Keble residential course takes place during the bank holiday week in August. It is said, by those who know, to be the most demanding and intensive of any advocacy course in the UK. The course is aimed at advanced practitioners and would benefit anyone above 3 years and up to 10 years call. But it might also be of interest to anyone returning to the Bar after an extended break. If you are an SEC member and are interested, please look at the website and contact your Inn to see what scholarships you might wish to apply for.