Monday Message 29.06.20

Chair’s Update:
Caroline Goodwin QC

 

 

 

PUTTING JUSTICE FIRST:

We salute the Criminal Bar; We applaud its resolve; We recognise its self-less approach. In a time of huge uncertainty where barristers have had no income for three months, have received no government bail-out and have difficult choices ahead, it would have been so easy to capitulate and say “oh go on then, it doesn’t really matter” and that is precisely what you have not done.

The Criminal Bar Association ballot results are a testament to the unity of the profession against the scrapping of jury trials, where the dismantling of the criminal justice system was far easier than confronting the government created problem, where regime after regime has taken an axe to the budget. It beggar’s belief that the removal of 800 years of quality justice for the public and delivered by the public is contemplated as “inconvenient” and might be removed at the click of someone’s fingers.

The Criminal Bar Association is united in its rejection of the idea of the scrapping of the jury system and is united in helping plans to open many more courts in extra buildings beyond the existing court state. Surely, we can stop wasting our time on this subject?

Headline results from the ballot of practising criminal barristers:

  • 92.24% turnout rejecting further government cuts to jury trials while helping open new buildings for courts to get the criminal justice system back on its feet for the public.
  • Record turn-out equalled that of last year’s CBA ballot over action on fees.
  • 95%, the vast majority of criminal barristers, back a government proposal to open many more buildings on top of a maxing-to-capacity of the existing court estate for criminal hearings.
  • Only 6% of the 2423 members who responded / would consider supporting a proposal to temporarily reduce jury numbers.

Full results of the CBA ballot can be found here.

TOOLS IN THE BOX OR SPANNER IN THE WORKS:

We know that the Lord Chancellor who appeared before the Criminal Justice Select committee last week is not in favour of the removal of juries. That he wants to do the right thing. The right thing is to let us get on with our jobs. The spanner in the works is Treasury. Every aspiration, every aim below needs financial assistance.

BLACKSTONE COURTS –
WE CAN DO AND WILL DO:

We desperately need more buildings from which to work. We need imagination and a “can do” attitude from those who are involved in the reconnoitre of the buildings. We can “sweat” the estate, but we also need the resources, put on the table to fund those additional buildings.

We have welcomed innovation and have been we have been helping from the off, because we know that this is without doubt what we should be doing and have been so doing. We support the utilisation of buildings across the estate and the obtaining of more. We are part of that solution but let us get on with it. We do not under-estimate in anyway, that this is for HMCTS and the CBA, a massive logistical operation to re-allocate court space across jurisdictions, but we are all helping. It can be done and will be done.

WHAT IS THE COURT ESTATE CAPACITY?

Each time there is an amendment to social distancing, or we have an improvement in our ability to protect ourselves from this disease, there will be an impact upon our ability to operate in the space that we have available or can access. It must have seemed obvious to all of us last week when there were the announcements from the government as to the changes, that there would be some impact, perhaps not as much as some would like but certainly some impact and in an improved way. We have asked for the modelling that is available now and that which will be worked up with the changes in mind. There are tests being undertaken in Leeds as to the use of screens.  We also need to remind ourselves that as HMCTS come back to an increased compliment of staff, that the remainder of the closed courts or those which were suspended will also come back on line. All of this helps, it is not a perfect science, but the reduction from 2 m ought to have some impact. When we have information, we will pass that on.

MAXIMISING THE COURT ESTATE:

Mrs Justice McGowan, is leading a team which will be reviewing the use of the court estate as it is being deployed at the moment. We need to maximise every bit of space. This is a practical exercise and this team will be looking at the entirety of the court estate. The visits start next week with visits to courts in the North East as a potential.

We need to remind ourselves that there is a lot of understandable caution, but, the sharing of ideas as to court layouts is an area which once discussed can yield results.  I have been told that I can say in terms that If there is a problem in the area in which you practice eg there are not enough trial courts in buildings which seem obviously capable of conducting trials or  you have a workable solution, let us know or if you know of a building close to the court which could be used as a form of venue, please send in details. Do not be shy in coming forward with solutions and ideas.

Send your suggestions in here

STAGGERED HOURS –
RECOGNITION OF THE ISSUES/JUDICIAL WORKING GROUP:
The bar has survived on next to nothing by way of income since March and whilst we have been grateful for the assistance given to us by the CPS together with the limited amendments made by the LAA, it has and will remain tough. Your views as to weekend working were clear in the survey. We do not and will not support as we have said before anything that affects in a negative the already stressful life of being a barrister. The resources that are ordinarily available are not.  The concerns are well documented, I am not going to rehearse them again. Any amendments to the working day which seek to maximise the use of the court estate needs to be done carefully and with consideration. There is without doubt a recognition of these challenges. We know that there are those who want to get back to work, those who need to get back to work, those who cannot because of shielding, or other practical personal reasons. There are many competing issues.
With all of that in mind, there has been put together a judicially led group, chaired by HHJ Menary QC, Resident Judge of Liverpool. The CBA are part of this group, Louise Oakley and myself, together with Mike Duck QC, Leader of the Midlands circuit and other stakeholders, who make up the working elements of a crown court operation. This group will be transparent in what it is considering and will be cascading out for views, various suggestions. The first step is to make sure that the court is being used to the maximum of its capacity. How many of us went to court last year and saw only 2 or 3 courts sitting in a building where the remainder lay empty. It was demoralising to see the doors closed on half the courts. There is no point altering the day when you can open up other courts. Which leads me to..
RECORDERS AND SITTING DAYS:

You know we went on ad nauseum last year about sitting days. We need to see Recorders sitting. Why are they not sitting now, dealing with POCA cases which are being routinely taken out on the basis that there is no Judge?

Come on, there is here a simple solution to that type of case? Set the Recorders to work, open up the other courts and if such a hearing can be done remotely…..DO IT!

So the Criminal Bar has its shoulder to the wheel, pulling alongside HMCTS, but goodwill is exhaustible and we cannot run forever on vapours. Now MOJ must go to Treasury and ensure that they “pay up”, to keep us all aboard so that cases do not sink by the wayside, never mind ourselves.

HMCTS Q and A:
We now have a date for this session it will be 4 pm on Thursday 9th July 2020.We are extremely grateful for the team from HMCTS.

Please submit your questions.

You may want to ask about:

  • listing and how engaged the listing officers are going to be in the coming months
  • what is the courts capacity?
  • what is the road map to get justice back on its feet.
  • what are the aims of addressing the backlog, given we have always run with a backlog?
  • How many Nightingale courts are planned, when will they come online?
  • How is it proposed to get multi defendant trials going?

Please send in your question and book your place

LAST BUT BY NO MEANS LEAST –
EVERYTHING THAT CAN BE DONE IS BEING DONE:

Today, we had a meeting with the Lord Chief Justice and the President. From the emails I see, I know that you often do not feel it, but without doubt they recognised the problems and issues that we as barristers face. It was a fantastic and much appreciated opportunity to speak with them. We are actually very lucky in that we have, during this Covid 19 been able to engage with the SPJ and the DSPJ, addressing the practical problems we have faced. Answers and solutions do not magic themselves up. They need working through and today just added another dynamic facet to that discussion. What I can say from that meeting, is that knowing the problems that our system faces, namely delayed hearings, custody time limits needing additional extension, etc, that everything that can be done to address this crisis within our system as it stands now, is being done. I have no hesitation when I write that. We have diarised another meeting in a fortnight to keep an eye on progress.

If you want me to raise something, please email me. Communication is the leveller here. We have a difficult and important job, where people depend on us.

CLAR 2:

We have a meeting this week with MOJ, CLAR 1 is presently being addressed, but we have as I have indicated CLAR 2 to commence. I am extremely grateful to Chris Henley QC who is our fees Tzar. He is presently working through all of our previous papers on this. He thought he had got away !!!!

FILM OF THE WEEK:

HELLRAISER – WHY? Because there has been limited access to a hairdresser and this, I warn you all, can have a profound impact upon one’s mood!!!!

Stay safe,  onwards and upwards

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