Posts Tagged ‘ Ministry of Justice ’


DEATH BY ONE AND A HALF THOUSAND CUTS

Written by admin
August 17th, 2019

The latest stealthy slice to be taken out of the criminal justice system comes in the form of a reduction of Crown Court hearing days.

We all know that to run a Crown Court is expensive.  We all know that to close a Crown Court will save money.  Unfortunately, closing a Crown Court means that cases are not heard, which has very little cost in financial terms but often huge costs in terms of the effect on defendants, complainants and witnesses, their emotions and their general wellbeing. It also means of course that neither Counsel nor solicitors are in a position to submit a bill, because a hearing has been postponed and the case has not been finished.  In some courts this means that the case will have to be put off for another eight or nine months, awaiting a trial slot. This inevitably means that the expense of prosecuting the case and defending it is moved skilfully into another tax year.

How many Crown Court hearing days do you think have been cut from the next Crown Court year?  Perhaps you think 1,000, or maybe 2,000, maybe as many as 5,000 – but surely not as that would obviously be unjust.  Perhaps you think 7,500 or even 10,000, but yet again, surely both of those figures are utterly unbelievable.  If you were to think 15,000, in short, you would be right.  Yes, 15,000 Crown Court hearing days have been cut from the next judicial year.

That’s 15,000 days when cases could be concluded, when witnesses could be put out of their misery, when complainants could get closure, when defendants could move on with their lives, be it in custody or as free people.  That’s 15,000 days when rehabilitation might have started or punishment might have been meted out.  Thanks to the Ministry of Justice and arguably the Treasury, all of these things have to be put on hold, whilst money is lavished on health, police, the armed forces, and who knows what else.

MOJ budgets aren’t even for Christmas!

Written by admin
December 1st, 2018

Recent calculations have shown that the MOJ’s annual budget amounted to less than four days’ worth or four 365th’s of the DWP’s government allowance.

If the two departments start spending their annual budgets at midnight on New Year’s Eve at an equal rate, the MOJ will be spent up two days before the twelfth night arrives.

There can be no doubting that both departments have vital jobs to play. There can be no doubting that the call on the DWP is a much stronger one than on the MOJ, but these exciting statistics show just how small that Ministry of Justice budget really is.

Enough money to allow an equal spend for the length of your average Premiership football match would be enough to allow for an enormous improvement in the working conditions of all within the justice system.

An increase in the MOJ budget to allow an equal spend for time equivalent to one episode of Prime Suspect would be enough to ensure the proper and timely investigation of all cases presented to the Crown Prosecution Service in a twelve month period.

An increase in the MOJ budget sufficient to allow Nick Grimshaw to play three songs on his afternoon show would be enough to see a dramatic percentage increase in the legal aid budget which would allow for recruitment and retention of staff and a sensible working week for all defence lawyers.

As we approach the time for drawing up our Christmas lists for Santa, are any of the above really too much to ask for?

UNITED WE STAND, DIVIDED…

Written by admin
October 25th, 2018

UNITED WE STAND, DIVIDED WE FALL!  It could be the hook line of a 1960’s chart hit.  It could be the slogan of any number of Trade Unions.  It could be part of the anthem of any number of variously successful football teams.  In truth, it is a fair synopsis of the early summer negotiations with the MOJ in relation to advocates graduated fees.

How clearly we remember the rallying cry for HCAs & Counsel to stand together in refusing new work with rep orders dated after the 1st April.  How clearly we remember the confident assurances of the Bar that if we “stood shoulder to shoulder” we would be unstoppable.  How fervently the Bar leaders applaud us to work with them for the same goals? And now what?

What was it that the arch negotiators of the Inns of Court were able to achieve? A £15m boast – derisory in itself – that in fact was worth less than £10m by the time that inflation had eaten into it, VAT had been removed and some more astute calculations had been worked through.  A 1% increase, which turned out to be less than almost anybody else in the public sector was due to get in 2019.  Adjustments that we are going to need, not only a consultation but also a statutory instrument.  As autumn presses forward, the consultation is extended further into the future.  The statutory instrument is unlikely to find its way before Parliament until the start of the New Year.

And so, why the heading to this piece?  What is all this talk about unity and division?  It is simply this! All of the negotiating regarding changes to the hated and diabolical AGFS alterations were carried out by members of the Bar.  That’s right, not solicitors, not solicitors and barristers working hand in hand, but members of the Bar.

Of course, when it came to taking action solicitors were right there not so much side by side as leading the charge.  They were easily identifiable.  They were from named firms.  They could be reported to the SRA.  They weren’t able to hide behind their clerks or their individual choices as self-employed professionals.  When, however, it came to sitting at the negotiating table, having meetings in smoked filled rooms, stalking the corridors of power, only one half of the profession were present.  There was no unity.  There was no sense of being “united”.  And now, viewed from the autumn end of the telescope it can only be concluded that those who chose to go into battle alone did indeed fall divided and unsuccessful.

Were the representatives of the solicitors half the profession in some way frightened?  Was there an unexpected timidity on their part?  Were they too busy looking after their members’ interests in the teeth of a ferocious SRA, stoked up by members of the judiciary who themselves came from the ranks of the Bar?  No, none of the above were true.  They simply weren’t invited.  The Bar simply chose to have covert cosy meetings with the MOJ without us.

What then for the future?  As new calls ring out for strike action, refusing new work, no returns!  The solicitors have to consider whether they should again go through the humiliating sham of being called to arms only to be left in the slit trenches; or whether they should simply say from the start that the only ally is one that you can trust and with the benefit of experience, there really don’t seem to be many of them around!

THE MATHS ADD UP FOR LOONY LISTING

Written by Sian Hall
March 27th, 2018

Few can truly doubt the integrity of Crown Court Listing Departments throughout the country. Certainly, Crown Courts in Nottingham, Sheffield, Derby, Lincoln, and Grimsby all bear the hallmarks of hardworking teams of people with a good understanding trying to do their best for everyone.

Nevertheless, the fact that listing is a problem is something that cannot be doubted. This week, on one day, the firm had six trials, all removed from the list at less than 48 hours’ notice. There was undoubtedly good reason for this. The courts in which the cases were due to be heard were busy indeed throughout the rest of the week. With one exception, all of the cases went off to new trial dates in August.

In spite of howls of derision from the profession, the MOJ have stoically refused to do anything about the problem. There is scope to agree to further judge sitting days! There is scope to designate empty Magistrates’ Court facilities as temporary Crown Courts. Sadly, both of the above require extra funding.

It is not just that extra funding hits the MOJ’s current budget. In reality, there is a twofold gain for the Ministry. By not spending money on judges and extra courtrooms, they avoid unintended and unexpected expense. By ensuring that cases are adjourned for a period of four to five months equally ensure that the bills to be submitted by advocates and litigators for those matters fall into the next financial year. Indeed, there is also the third potential benefit of complainants or defendants losing the will to fight, or cases being side-tracked by new charges or new proceedings, which can lead to extra savings as trials fail to take place at all.

There can be no doubt whatsoever that delay and adjournments are the sole brothers and sisters of a financially hamstrung Ministry of Justice.

POSTAL REQUISITIONS FROM HELL

Written by Sian Hall
February 25th, 2018

The idea of people being posted and goods or services being requisitioned immediately brings back memories of old World War II movies on black and white Sunday afternoons.

In their wisdom, the Ministry of Justice and Her Majesty’s Courts & Tribunal Service decided some little time ago to replace the time served summons with a new postal requisition. The postal requisition requires somebody to attend court at a particular time on a particular date and is posted to the last known address of the would-be recipient.

With voluntary interviews away from custody suites becoming more and more common, and with defendants being called to attend at court long after they have been allegedly released under investigation, the postal requisition is now in its heyday.

Having somebody back at the police station in order to charge them and give them a new date face to face, on which they were required to attend at court, obviously had a level of direct drive certainty about it. The postal requisition has introduced endless vagaries and uncertainties into a previously quick and efficient process.

Perhaps the weirdest and wackiest use of the postal requisition is to commence proceedings against someone who is still known to be a serving prisoner. A document is posted to the individual at the prison, but it is rarely sent out along with an order calling on the prison to produce that person to court. The prisoner sits in his cell, the court wants to know where they are, and the connective tissue of the production order has never been put in place.

Now that the West Yorkshire Police are rolling out trial mobile fingerprint scanners, perhaps the day of the mobile custody suite, with all the certainty and clarity that that entails, may not be far hence and the days of the postal requisition may yet be numbered.

FLEXIBLE COURT PILOT IS PARLIAMENTARY REFLEX

Written by Sian Hall
August 28th, 2017

All of our staff who regularly work around the Sheffield Magistrates’ Court seem likely to be caught up in the government’s new flexible court pilot starting in September.

 

The proposals will see the Sheffield Magistrates’ Court opening for business at 08:00am and sitting until 6:30pm.

 

There has been a lot of focus on the effect this will have on the personal lives of court clerks, ushers, prosecutors, Defence solicitors, and those appearing before the court as witnesses or defendants.

 

Many firms fear that there will be difficulties in staffing courts at unusual times because of the contracts of employment enjoyed by well-respected, trusted, and time-served employees.

 

In a recent offer of employment we have been pleased to confirm to a new member of staff that their start time can be put back to enable a small child to be delivered to school. These sorts of arrangements that are borne out of practicality and common decency are now likely to result in the onus for covering out of hours courts falling on partners or potentially self-employed contractors.

 

In other firms we have heard that open conflict is breaking out between solicitors who are and who are not able to vary their working days to cover the court pilot.

 

All of these changes stem from nothing more than a desire by the Ministry of Justice to be seen to be keeping the use of their buildings and the systems within them under constant review. Nowhere, outside of the Ministry, has there ever been any pressure from anyone at all for the piloted changes to be introduced.  If the pilot is to come, it may be short-lived and ill-fated.

During recent months, The Johnson Partnership’s Fraud and White Collar Crime Department has been looking after clients nationwide.

As well as our local crown courts in Nottingham, Sheffield, Leicester, Derby, Lincoln and Birmingham, you might expect to find The Johnson Partnership solicitors in regular attendance at Southwark Crown Court or one of the other Greater London Fraud Centres.

At the moment, we find ourselves defending Revenue & Customs prosecutions in Preston, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Ipswich, Sheffield, Manchester and Hull.

With the growth in prosecutions by non-police and non-Revenue & Customs agencies, we have found an increased call on our White Collar Department’s specialist assistance.

Joint teams dealing with the white collar crime in Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and South Yorkshire often share staff and expertise to ensure the best service for clients, wherever they are required to appear.

We have noticed an increase in the number of clients being visited at their homes or places of work to be interviewed on a “voluntary basis” which again has necessitated staff being available in some of the most unlikely places.  Staff have recently attended lengthy interviews at the offices of their local quarrying and mining operator which are thirty miles or so from the nearest police station.

Rest-assured that wherever you are interviewed, bailed or summonsed, The Johnson Partnership can have the right person on hand to give experienced and discreet advice.

Cutting Parole Board Red-Tape

Written by Editor
February 28th, 2011

Jessica Rogers, who joined The Johnson Partnership in March 2010, has had the unprecedented accolade of having an article published in “Inside Time”, the national newspaper for prisoners.  Jessica has been successful in short circuiting the customary process for moving IPP prisoners to open prison conditions.  By making representations directly to the Ministry of Justice, rather than pursuing the usual cumbersome Parole Board process, she has met with speedy and spectacular success.

By researching and capitalising on decisions in previous appeal cases, Jess Rogers persuaded the Ministry of Justice that, in certain circumstances, it was not necessary for prisoners to wait for a lengthy evaluation of their position before they could be moved to Category D conditions.

In short, the Ministry were authorising a move where:

1.   The prisoners dossier shows that they have made significant progress in addressing all identified risk factors.

2.   There is a consensus amongst report writers that the prisoner is suitable and safe to be transferred.

3.   There are no areas of concern identified by report writers that would benefit from exploration by an oral hearing of the Parole Board.

4.   The prisoner can demonstrate that there are core benefits to be transferred to open conditions straightaway.

By actively pursuing the Ministry of Justice route, Jess has been able to achieve the best results in the shortest possible time.  The expensive, lengthy, frustrating bureaucratic Parole Board process could become a thing of the past for model prisoners with positive future plans.

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