‘Monday’ Message 21.07.20
Caroline Goodwin QC
TOO LITTLE, TOO LATE:
It feels like the Emperor’s new clothes. We were promised so much and delivered so little. The much-heralded announcement of Blackstone courts was a deeply sad disappointment. What’s happened to the 200 court rooms that we were promised only two or three months ago? A mere 10 and not all for crime is hardly going to scratch the surface.
We are not moving at pace. The following centres were not running trials on Monday 21st July 2020:
Aylesbury, Basildon, Burnley, Derby, Gloucester, Kingston, Leicester, Lewes, Lincoln, Newcastle, Newport, Salisbury, Shrewsbury, Stoke, Teesside.
At other court centres it is deminimis. The overall picture for Monday was:
241 courtrooms being utilised with 77 Trials listed. This is across an estate that has the opportunity to use up to 729 courtrooms.
Friday 17th July was not much better:
- 234 courtrooms being utilised
- 38 Trials listed
Does this sound like the court estate is being sweated? I think not!
We can do remote hearings, we can increase the use of S28, but we need to be more imaginative in the use of our court space. Just because someone has a clipboard in their hand does not mean that they are necessarily the right person with the clipboard! We would ask that HMCTS double checks those courts where it is said there are issues with space. If we need portacabins for juries in court carparks lets go and get them!
The Government needs to look at all of this first before even contemplating more draconian steps of reduction in jury numbers and counsel working different hours. We need access to more buildings and fast. This mean, penny pinching approach is going to get us nowhere.
We know Justice is not high on the political agenda, despite what they say, and this just reinforces that feeling. How is anyone going to get access to justice, if there are insufficient courts sitting? Does this government really want to be responsible for the disengagement of victims and witnesses, because if they don’t, then they are going about it the wrong way. As ever it comes down to pounds shillings and pence and a political will. There is no political will to engage with Justice.
Today (Tuesday), I am in Edinburgh watching a trial, where the jury is remotely located in a room within the court building and the judge, counsel, witnesses are in an adjacent room. John McNamara and I were shown round the set up and frankly it looked impressive. Screens for each juror split into four, but within their room three enormous additional screens streaming the proceedings. The sound appeared to be good and the view of all participants effective. Next door in the “court”, there is a huge bank of screens showing the jury. There are seats available for viewing and if needs be, such as for the press they can be given a link to watch the proceedings.
If this is a success, there are plans afoot to scale it up and perhaps move the jury physically out of the building thus freeing up more courts.
At the moment we of course say that we all need to be in a single room and of course that is our preferred choice. It will be interesting to see how the trial fares today and has been well worth the visit. The idea has been welcomed by both the defence and prosecution community. Can we thank the court staff in Edinburgh for giving up their time to show us round.
I said I would give you an update on this. The desktop exercise last Wednesday, exposed a huge number of problems, relating to timing, the obtaining of a jury so early in the morning, the opening of the court building, sufficient time for Counsel to have a conference, the need for breaks et cetera. It came as a shock that it might be seen as necessary for Counsel to have a conference every day during the course of the trial, who would have thought it!
In essence this is not going to work as per Option A or Option B.
We cannot support this and do not, but low and behold at the Friday meeting, we were told that the obvious challenges will be worked through! Good luck with that then.
Meanwhile, a more sensible approach of staggered start times during the day was suggested, all within the working day as we know it. Undoubtedly, the need to reduce footfall into buildings at given times is important and needs to be accommodated. This as a proposal is still being configured and so when there is an update on that we will let you know asap.
We have received paperwork in respect of this and are going back to LAA as to how this is to be implemented. You will recall the accelerated asks relate to paper heavy cases, unused material and cracked trials. Consequently, we need a simple method of claiming hours. It feels like the relief of Mafeking, but we are nearly there. More meetings with the MOJ and LAA this week.
ALL PARTY PARLIAMENTARY GROUP ON LEGAL AID:
There was a lively debate yesterday with this committee chaired by Karen Buck MP. It was a privilege to speak on behalf of the Criminal Bar. We made our point and we look forward to the next occasion. It is important that we appear at these hearings and that dear readers, is why the MM is out today rather than yesterday. A summary can be found on the APPG, CBA and Crimeline twitter accounts.
In these difficult and challenging times, it is actually pleasant to be able to write or something positive. We have had excellent reports from Norwich CC where HHJ Bate & the staff are to be commended for their exceptional use of CVP. No forced attendance and a slick operation as regards the use of emails the evening before. Likewise, we have had good reports about Sheffield, Aylesbury and other court centres. Joined up communication goes such a long way.
Leeds CC appears to be underway and full marks to HHJ Kearl QC for driving that forward. We know that a lot of people are pulling hard to make the system work and we are very grateful for those efforts.
If you have had a good experience at court, please send that in. Not only will it try and balance the negative ones, but if there are some good practices that we can all adopt, let us share that information.
ASSISTANCE BY THE INNS:
Chambers across the country are facing difficulty. The lack of fee income is beginning to bite and so we all have to be mindful of those around us. Whilst those on circuit will be making their own arrangements, it is good to know that the Inns of Court are still actively considering applications for assistance. Each Inn has a hardship fund complementing the BBA fund.
Checkout what your Inn is doing. You may be able to take advantage of the hardship funds for students / pupils / junior tenants.
The most recent announcement from Inner Temple expands their hardship funds to those whose previous pre-tax trading profits were in the bracket £50,000 – £70,000, falling outside the Government’s SEISS scheme.
Similarly for those chambers inside the Inns, relief continues to be available. A member of the CBA executive committee sits on the Inner Temple Covid-19 Rent Committee and we are heartened to hear of criminal and publicly funded sets being the recipients of rent waivers and interest free rent deferrals in the Temple.
As they say in the north east “shy bairns get nought”. Now is the time when your Inn may be able to help.
CBA VICE CHAIR ELECTION RESULTS:
We wish to congratulate Jo Sidhu QC of 25 Bedford Row upon being elected to the post of Vice Chair as from 1st September 2020. James Mulholland QC takes over as Chair at the same time.
We are confident that he will fulfil this role with all the skill and dedication for which he is noted. At the same time, we send commiserations to Tana Adkin QC who we have no doubt will continue to serve the CBA with customary enthusiasm and vibrancy.
We would like to thank once again Aaron for all of the hard work that he does. He fields many emails, answers many queries and pours oil on troubled waters. The man never stops! Could I ask all of you that email him or call him on the phone to encourage him to take a break….! We have been trying for months and he has been hard at it since March. We so appreciate him. So, Aaron when you read this don’t roll your eyes, take some time please!
FILM OF THE WEEK:
The Thomas Crown Affair.
I like both versions, but Steve McQueen is uber cool.
Stay safe, onwards and upward.
Caroline Goodwin QC