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MA ENEWS 11 July 2019

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11 July 2019
MA ENEWS 11 July 2019

MA Awards 2019

Nominations are now open for the 2019 MA Awards on Saturday 19 October! 

We want to celebrate the success and dedication of our branches and individual members, so please get in touch and let us know who you’d like to nominate for the categories below. Nominations close at midnight on 1 September 2019, so please make your submissions before then.

Please use this nomination form to make your nominations and send it to ‘FREEPOST THE MAGISTRATES ASSOCATION’ (please remember not to write the full address on the envelope as this incurs a charge to the MA) or email the form to us at events@magistrates-association.org.uk

The awards that will be based on reports and returns from branches are:

MIC Education Award

Awarded to the branch which has made the most visits to primary schools, secondary schools and higher education establishments.

MIC Community Award

Awarded to the branch which has made the most visits to community groups (U3A, village hall groups, summer fairs etc).

The awards that will be based on nominations from members are:

Inclusion and Social Value Award (NEW!)

Awarded to the member who has done the most to promote the MA and the magistracy to diverse or underrepresented communities, furthering outreach and public knowledge of the magistracy and criminal justice.

MIC Innovation Award

Awarded to the branch which has created and incorporated something new and innovative to their MIC programme.

MIC Presenter of the Year Award

Awarded to the MIC Presenter who has gone the extra mile at a local level to present and educate on the justice system.

Employer Award

This award is based on members nominating their employers for supporting them in their role as a magistrate.

Branch Officer of the Year Award

Awarded to the branch committee member who is dependable, reliable, progressive and driven towards making their branch and the MA the best they can be.

Retired Member of the Year Award

Awarded to the retired member who has made the most substantial contribution to their branch and the MA, as a whole.

Special Recognition Award

Awarded to the individual member who the panel believes has made a lasting contribution at either branch or national level, and who is truly exceptional in going above and beyond what would ordinarily be expected. 

Branch of the Year Award - Kindly sponsored by Richard Guy JP

Awarded to the branch that the panel believes has gone above and beyond, in communication, training, fundraising and representing its branch/branch members, and is a credit to the MA nationally. Once again, we would like interested branches to nominate themselves for this award, please get in touch and tell us why your branch should win.

Submit your motions for the MA AGM

VotingHave you – as an individual or branch – got something that you would like to see the MA’s members discuss? If so, you can help us to identify new policy priorities and improve what we do by putting forward a motion for discussion at this year’s AGM on 18 October in Stratford-upon-Avon.

The Board of Trustees requests clear, concise motions on interesting topics for consideration. Remember that you will need a proposer and a seconder. Please email your submission, including details of the proposer and a seconder, to MA Chief Executive Jon Collins by Thursday 15 August. Please also contact Jon if you have any questions about the process or what is required.

For more details about this year's Annual Conference and AGM, plus how to attend, please click here.

MA survey on immaturity of those who appear in adult criminal court

Young adult going into cellThe MA has received funding from the Barrow Cadbury Trust to undertake a project into the lack of maturity among 18-24 year olds who appear as defendants or offenders in criminal court, how it may affect behaviour and how it should be dealt with as a potential mitigating factor. The purpose of the project is to carry out research to assess magistrates' understanding of this issue, then develop resources to help magistrates better understand the concept of maturity, its impact on offending and courtroom behaviour, and its implications for sentencing and other court decisions.

For the first phase of the research project, we are asking members who sit in adult criminal court to complete this survey exploring magistrates’ experience of immaturity in relation to both how it affects defendants' opportunities to effectively and fairly participate in proceeding and in relation to sentencing 18-24 year olds, where lack of maturity is raised as a mitigating factor. The survey is for any magistrate who currently sits in adult crime court: it takes five minutes to complete and can be found here.

‘Lifeline’ community treatment pilots to steer offenders away from crime

Hands held forward with 'drug free' written on themThe government has announced that current community sentence treatment pilots will be rolled out to nine more courts in two new areas, enabling vulnerable offenders in the criminal justice system to be offered targeted treatment to boost rehabilitation and reduce reoffending. Through the new pilots, more offenders will be diverted towards community sentences where they will receive treatment for mental health, drug or alcohol issues, which are often deemed to be the root cause of offending behaviour. The full press release can be found here.

Pilots have already seen an almost 250% increase in those referred for mental health treatment within 18 months, and a higher rate of compliance with the term of an order (just 8% failed to comply with their requirements). The approach will now be rolled out to new sites in London and Greater Manchester.

The MA is extremely supportive of the Community Sentence Treatment Requirement (CSTR) programme, as it provides magistrates with more community options which can support vulnerable offenders to address problems which might be linked to offending behaviour. We hope there will be full roll-out soon, so that these requirements are available for all magistrates.

The focus on ensuring people get the right care at the right time will be integral to the forthcoming Health and Justice Plan. This comes 10 years on from the landmark Bradley Report, which set out a comprehensive plan to reduce reoffending and improve public health for vulnerable offenders. The MA sit on the Bradley Group, which looks at implementation of the recommendations set out in the original report. The group recently published a ten year update and the MA’s comment on the updated report can be found here.

Clinks have published a useful report looking at service users’ views on CSTRs, which can be found here. A short summary of the report can be found here.

New consultation on reform proposals for the family division

Sir Andrew McFarlaneThe Rt Hon Sir Andrew McFarlane introduces this consultation by saying that on becoming President of the Family Division a year ago, it was apparent that the family court was experiencing ‘an unprecedented and, on current resources, unsustainable volume of cases relating to children’. Both public law and private law applications have been rising, in some instances by up to 25%, while at the same time austerity measures (including restricting the scope of legal aid) have put pressure on everybody working in the family justice system. The President highlights the challenges in dealing with cases promptly, especially with the statutory time limits on public law care proceedings of 26 weeks. He has therefore decided that either the number of cases needs to be reduced, or a way found to allow courts to deal with them more efficiently while still prioritising just decision-making. Two working groups looking at public law and private law respectively were set up, and asked to put forward recommendations. Their focus was on the processes within the system, rather than amending or reforming the substantive law that underpins the family justice system.

Two reports have now been published, and comments are invited on the proposals within them. The proposals by both groups are ‘aimed at improving the ability of the system, and those who work within it, to apply the existing law as it relates to children’. The Private Law report covers numerous topics, with 10 questions and 30 recommendations in all. The Public Law report is even larger, and doesn’t set out specific questions but includes 57 normal recommendations, 16 Longer Term Change recommendations and seven Appendices with various draft templates and guidance documents. The consultation period closes on 30 September. The MA Family Court Committee will be looking at the proposals in depth over the summer, and if members have any comments they wish to share, then please email Jo Easton.

New rules permitting the exercise of judicial functions by authorised court officers

Magistrates' Court Coat of ArmsAt the end of last year, the Courts and Tribunals (Judiciary and Functions of Staff) Act 2018 became law, permitting all but a few judicial functions to be delegated to authorised officers. The details of which functions this should include, and what qualifications or training would be required for authorised officers, have been set out by the Criminal Procedure Rules Committee (CPRC). The CPRC consulted on the proposed changes and the MA produced this response, setting out some of our concerns.

The MA welcomed the clarification and consistency that these rules will bring, as well as the stated aim of the CPRC to maintain the status quo by providing for existing practice within the rules. However we did point out that the rules as drafted could inadvertently lead to a huge change in practice, as currently different areas delegate different tasks to legal advisers, but with the new rules all areas could delegate all the tasks listed. Although many of the tasks listed were clearly administrative, and therefore would be appropriate for legal advisers, we argued that it was not appropriate for legal advisers to be carrying out tasks that could be done by a bench, if magistrates are available.

The CPRC has put forward two alternative approaches to drafting the rules as they relate to magistrates’ courts. The first approach is to create a list of functions that cannot be carried out by authorised officers, meaning that officers would be able to deal with anything except for those functions listed. The second approach is to set out functions that can be carried out by authorised officers, meaning that only functions on the list would be permitted. The MA believe the latter approach would be preferable to ensure consistency and clarity.

The CPRC has also argued that there is no need for there to be an option for judicial reconsideration of a decision of an authorised court officer in a magistrates’ court as parties can apply to vary any direction given without a hearing, and where circumstances have changed a decision can be varied under Section 8A of the Magistrates Court Act 1980. The MA believes it is important for magistrates to be able to vary a direction without an application or evidence that circumstances have changed to ensure that they can guarantee fairness of decision-making. 

New Sentencing Council guidelines on arson and criminal damage

THand holding lit matchhe new guidelines on Arson and Criminal Damage issued by the Sentencing Council ensure that sentencers take account of the economic or social impact of damage to national heritage assets or public amenities. They also highlight the importance of considering not just physical harm but also the psychological effects of any damage. The MA welcomes these new guidelines as very useful for magistrates when dealing with these offences.

We are very pleased to see that the final version of these guidelines clearly states that sentencers should consider requesting reports to assess whether an offender has a mental disorder or other vulnerability which may impact on their culpability. In our response to the Sentencing Council consultation on the draft guidelines, we asked that liaison and diversion services be specifically mentioned, and we welcome this inclusion in the final guideline.

We were also pleased that the Sentencing Council removed from the final guideline a statement included in the draft guidelines saying that any mitigation for an offender’s responsibility being diminished due to a mental disorder or learning disability should be given reduced weight if an offender ‘exacerbates a mental disorder by voluntarily abusing drugs or alcohol, or by voluntarily failing to follow medical advice’. We pointed out that self-medication with alcohol or drugs can be due to a lack of diagnosis or adequate health support, and that sentencers already considered whether the sentence should be aggravated if committed under the influence of drugs and alcohol.

We also welcome the greater consistency provided across the guidelines, with all of them including an acknowledgement that if an offender demonstrates a determination to address their addiction, this should be considered as a mitigating factor.

Another point we raised in our response was the possible lack of distinction between ‘intention’ and ‘recklessness’ in relation to culpability levels, and we are pleased to see the consequential changes in the final documents ensure not only greater clarity but also consistency across the guidelines.

HM Court and Tribunals Service interview on fully video hearings project

Giving video evidence in courtAn interview with Sue Newfield, Service Manager for the Fully Video Hearings Project, has described how HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) see full video being used. Newfield explained that the appropriateness of using fully video hearings will always be a judicial decision and that while they may be useful for progress and preliminary hearings, they will not be used for jury trials. HMCTS is clear that the potential benefits include reducing travel time and costs and the ability to hold urgent hearings with geographically distant participants.

While the MA has welcomed the use of technology to increase efficiency as well as providing alternative ways for vulnerable parties to participate in hearings, physical access to a hearing is an established part of ensuring a fair and transparent process and should always be available. The MA has previously raised a number of concerns about fully video hearings, some of which were referenced in the interview.

Firstly, our primary concern with fully video hearings relates to the potentially negative impact on transparency, which is a fundamental part of the justice system. The interview states that ‘there will be no change to open justice’, but it does not set out clear details of how they can achieve transparency equal to that offered by hearings held in open court.

Secondly, the MA has asked about the technology for fully video hearings, and the interview explains how the technology to be used in courts is being tested. However, other court users will access the hearing from home or their office, so they would be using laptops or mobile phones without specialist equipment, just a device with a microphone and camera. This raises questions about ensuring security and the reliability of the connection.

Thirdly, we have raised concerns about parties engaging with the hearing seriously if not attending in person, and Sue Newfield makes it clear the bench will be responsible for making sure everyone knows it is a formal process, even if everyone is attending via video. However, simple issues such as ensuring parties are not being coached may not be possible.

New guidance for bench chairs on involvement with their local criminal justice board

Judicial Office logoNew guidance has been issued for bench chairs, with the approval of the Senior Presiding Judge, on involvement in local criminal justice board sub-groups. It notes that resident judges, with their leadership function for the judiciary in the crown courts and magistrates’ courts, are best placed to represent the judiciary at local criminal justice boards (LCJBs) and that it would not be appropriate for bench chairs to be full members of LCJB sub-groups because they are operational in nature.

The guidance adds, however, that there will be occasions where there would be benefits from bench chairs attending a meeting of a LCJB sub-group as an observer or in an advisory capacity. Occasional attendance as an observer would, for example, provide bench chairs with a greater insight into the work of the various criminal justice agencies and how they work together to develop initiatives and resolve problems. The bench chair may be able to provide judicial insight into the effectiveness of processes or services and the impact on courts. In addition, where new initiatives are being developed there may be benefits in the bench chair attending to provide insight into the needs of the judiciary and the likely impact of proposed changes on the courts.

Any invitation to attend a LCJB sub-group should be referred to the Judicial Delivery Group (JDG) for consideration. Any attendance will be on the understanding that the bench chair attends in an observer/advisory capacity only, that individual cases or decisions will not be discussed, and that decisions on listing or the need for guidance are matters for the Judicial Business Group or relevant JDG.

The guidance, with relevant annexes included on pages 3-10, is available here.

Family court statistics January to March 2019

Young boy, arms outstretched with father and mother as though balanced in each handThe statistics showed that between January and March 2019:

  • Overall 66,340 new cases started, which is an increase of 5% from the same timeframe in 2018.
  • 13,677 private law cases started, up 12%.
  • The number of domestic violence remedy order applications increased by 15%.
  • The number of domestic violence remedy orders made increased by 10%.
  • 1,324 adoption applications were made, up 1%.
  • 1,331 adoption orders were issued, which is an increase of 3%.
  • The average time for a care or supervision case to reach first disposal was 33 weeks, which is an increase of more than three weeks.
  • 42% of cases were disposed of within 26 weeks, down 7%.
     

The data also showed an alarming decrease in the legal representation of parties in family court:

  • In cases involving domestic violence, 2,033 cases were disposed of where neither party had legal representation, which was an increase from 1,623 in the same quarter in 2018. Obviously the significant increase in these cases may account for this, but during the same time frame, the number of cases where both parties were represented decreased from 536 to 511, which could be a worrying trend.
  • In private law, there were 8,494 cases where neither party was represented, which was an increase from 7,242. However, there was also an increase in the number of cases where both parties were represented from 3,942 to 4,298. This may be partly due to the significant increase in the number of private law cases being dealt with during this timeframe.
  • In public law, there were 5,966 cases disposed of where both parties had legal representation, which had decreased from 6,382. Applicants in these cases will almost always have legal representation, but the cases where they were the only ones with legal representation increased from 6,199 to 6,899.

Ministry of Justice single departmental plan 2019-2022

Ministry of Justice entranceThe Ministry of Justice’s single departmental plan 2019-2022 outlines its objectives as follows:

  • Ensure access to justice in a way that best meets people’s needs
  • Support a flourishing legal services sector
  • Provide a transparent and efficient court system
  • Ensure that prisons are decent, safe and productive places to live and work
  • Protect the public from harm caused by offenders
  • Reduce rates of reoffending and improve life chances for offenders
  • Provide excellent functional services
  • Support delivery of EU Exit
     

There are several points of interest in the plan, including proposals to set out a long-term vision for the future of legal aid and to review the legal aid means test, as well as introducing legislation to protect domestic abuse victims, including prohibiting the direct cross-examination of victims by their abuser in family court proceedings. The Ministry of Justice also outlines plans to lead an effective and coordinated criminal justice system and to improve the way that victims and witnesses are supported. This will include reviewing the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme and consulting on parts of the Victims' Strategy.

The court reform programme is to be completed with the delivery of fully transformed end to end probate and divorce services and a digital civil money claims service. An additional £22 million is to be invested in the probation system, supporting 500 additional staff in community rehabilitation companies (CRCs). Current improvements to the probation system will be delivered, including the replacement of CRC contracts with new arrangements. The plans include cross-departmental working to address the causes of reoffending by increasing the number of offenders who enter stable accommodation on release from prison, delivering the Female Offender Strategy and ensuring all offenders get the mental health and substance abuse treatment they need.

Finally, the plan commits to developing options that will reduce the use of short prison sentences and increase the use of community and alternative sentences, as well as implementing a new Release on Temporary Licence policy framework.

Law Commission publishes response to Automated Vehicles consultation

Automated vehicles graphicThe Law Commission has published a response to their consultation on automated vehicles. The consultation was the first stage of the Commission’s review of the regulatory framework for the safe development of automated vehicles in the UK, which considers the legal regulation of automated road vehicles. As a result of the responses, the Law Commission identified five overarching themes which emerged from the consultation:

  • Putting active travel first: public policy should encourage active travel such as walking and cycling, and changes should not make streets less accessible to non-motorised users
  • The safety of all vulnerable road users: automated vehicles should be trained to act safely around all vulnerable road users, and should cater for the needs of disabled drivers and pedestrians
  • International standards: minimum requirements for automated vehicles should be set through an international system
  • Connectivity: automated vehicles need to be able to interact with infrastructure, other vehicles and emergency services
  • Managing data: it should be determined how data produced by automated vehicles would be stored and shared, particularly with insurers and following a collision
     

The following points made in the MA's response were referenced:

  • That the safety of those in the vehicle and the public is paramount, so a robust safety assurance scheme should be implemented as a priority.
  • Our concern that the proposed Accident Investigation Branch would only investigate ‘high profile’ incidents, and that the police and other investigation agencies must be able to gather all relevant information. The response recognised that there is a need to provide the police with specialist help, both to investigate individual accidents and analyse patterns of cases to identify root causes.
     

The Commission’s second consultation paper will consider automated vehicles alongside and as part of the public transport network, and will explore the regulation of automated vehicles without a user-in-charge, as well as the range of powers available to local regulators to manage automated vehicles operating in their areas.

Ministry of Justice blueprint for new model for probation

Probation worker with clientFollowing the initial announcement in May by the Justice Secretary David Gauke, introducing fundamental changes to the probation service, a blueprint document has now been published. The document clarifies that the new model will divide the work of probation into three strands with the National Probation Service (NPS) taking full responsibility for offender management, and two possible ways in which private sector organisations can be involved in providing community sentence options.

The new document provides agreed objectives for the new model, and some indication on how it is expected to work in practice. All offender management responsibility is being brought back into the remit of the NPS, which will be restructured into 10 regions (possibly 11 if Greater Manchester becomes a distinct region) and Wales. All unpaid work and accredited programmes will be delivered by an Innovation Partner, one for each region. All rehabilitative interventions must be commissioned by the NPS and delivered by private or third sector organisations, who can bid for the commissions once they have been accepted as partners through a dynamic framework arrangement. The aim of the dynamic framework is to allow the NPS and other commissioning bodies to purchase rehabilitative and resettlement interventions in England and Wales from a range of prequalified suppliers. All providers must apply to be accepted as part of the framework nationally, but once they are accepted, they can bid for tenders for regional or local geographical areas. Innovation Partners will also be able to bid to provide rehabilitative interventions.

At this stage, there is still a lot of detail still to be announced, but the MA has identified a few areas of concern, especially relating to whether the reforms will ensure increased availability of community options for different cohorts. The aim is to provide a more tailored and locally responsive approach that engages directly with smaller providers. However, the process by which providers apply and are approved to be on the panel of providers is not clear; the bureaucracy levels may be key challenges for engagement with small-scale providers. In addition, if Innovation Partners can bid for providing rehabilitative interventions, there is a danger that the small-scale, local providers will not be able to compete if the Innovation Partners are competing to deliver rehabilitative interventions.

Recruitment to policy committees

Could you help shape MA policy?

Join our team graphicThe MA is inviting members to apply to join one of our policy committees and play a key role in the MA’s policy work.

The MA's policy committees are at the heart of the MA’s work to ensure that magistrates play a leading role in the national policy-making process. They support the development of MA policy positions and inform our engagement with key stakeholders and our responses to consultations and calls for evidence from parliamentary select committees or other inquiries.

We are looking for members to sit on our policy committees so if you would like to contribute to our work and influence national legislative and policy decisions please consider applying!

There are no vacancies on the Family Court Committee this year but the other three committees are recruiting:

  • The Adult Court Committee, which is looking for three new members
  • The Training Committee, which is looking for at least one new member
  • The Youth Court Committee, which is looking for one new member
     

Members who want to apply to join a policy committee should complete and submit an application form, which is available here. Members of policy committees must be sitting magistrates.

The deadline to submit an application is 6 September 2019. Successful candidates will be appointed at this year's AGM on 19 October 2019.

Use your expertise in housing to become a part-time judge

Housing graphicMagistrates Association members with the relevant experience may be interested in applying to be a fee-paid professional member of the First-tier Tribunal, Property Chamber.

Professional members take an active role in Tribunal hearings by sharing their specialist knowledge and expertise.

You can apply if you have substantial experience in housing, housing conditions or matters relating to landlord and tenant relationships.

Professional members are expected to sit for a minimum of 30 days a year. There are 11 vacancies in London, the Midlands and South East.

Applications opened on 10 July, find out more on the Judicial Appointments Commission website

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