Friday 12 – Saturday 13 October 2018 – Manchester
The MA annual conference is fast approaching, so make sure you take the opportunity to attend and hear from the distinguished line-up of speakers, who will be addressing delegates on a range of judicial matters of particular relevance to the magistracy. We are pleased to be welcoming to the meeting:
Courts Minister Lucy Frazer QC MP, who will provide an overview of the primary issues related to court reform and the magistracy
Senior Presiding Judge Lady Justice Julia Macur DBE who has agreed to speak again to share her wealth of knowledge around current and future changes to the courts
The recently-retired former President of the Family Division Sir James Munby, who will be reflecting on the current challenges facing the family justice system and the reforms that may be required
HM Chief Inspector of Probation Dame Glenys Stacey DBE, who will share her views on topics such as community sentences, pre-sentence reports, post-release supervision and sentence confidence
There will be workshops run by the Sentencing Council on sentencing guidelines and by Talk Listen Change on domestic abuse, as well as a workshop on sentencing female offenders.
Breakfast and lunch will be provided to delegates, which will be a mixture of cold and hot food.
A special rate of £119 is available to all delegates at the Holiday Inn, however please be aware that cheaper rates may be available online.
Awards Ceremony and Dinner
Friday evening 12 October 2018
Drinks reception and three-course dinner at Holiday Inn Manchester City Centre, 25 Aytoun Street, M1 3AE
Book your place
An independent process evaluation has been published by the Ministry of Justice of a pilot of the use of fully video hearings, where all parties participate in a hearing remotely, in the First-tier Tribunal (Tax Chamber). This is the first pilot of fully video hearings conducted in England and Wales and the evaluation found that users reported 'high levels of satisfaction'.
It notes, however, that a significant amount of person-to-person support was given to users, which is unlikely to be sustainable if fully video hearings are widely rolled out, that most hearings experienced delays and technology difficulties, although most were resolved quickly, and that many users thought that a familiarity with video technology was required. In addition, some judges and HMRC representatives thought that some appellants acted less formally than they might have if they had appeared in court.
The evaluation was based on observations of the eight fully video hearings that took place in the pilot, from an initial 'pool' of 108 cases. Eleven cases were originally due to be held by video, but due to technical difficulties two ended up being conducted as telephone hearings and one was rescheduled as a physical hearing. Only two of the appellants – and three representatives – were interviewed after their hearings took place and the evaluation recognises that the people who took part in these eight hearings were probably not representative of all court users.
The Sentencing Council has published a new definitive guideline on sentencing child cruelty. It covers three offences – cruelty to a child, causing or allowing a child to die or suffer serious physical harm, and failing to protect a girl from the risk of female genital mutilation. This is the first time that there has been a sentencing guideline for the latter two offences. The guideline provides revised guidance for the offence of cruelty to a child, replacing previous guidance issued in 2008.
The guideline for cruelty to a child takes into account for the first time the developmental and emotional harm that such offences can cause to a victim. The guidelines also introduce a new aggravating factor of an offender blaming others for an offence, because cases will frequently involve one parent or guardian seeking to blame the other for what happened in order to avoid prosecution. Another factor that has been added that indicates high culpability is 'offender with professional responsibility for the victim'. The guideline also contains additional guidance in considering whether to impose custody in cases where the offender has parental responsibility and is the sole or primary carer for the victim and other children, reminding courts to consider the impact that a custodial sentence would have on the victim.
The new guideline will come into effect on 1 January 2019.
Amendments to Criminal Procedure Rules in relation to defendants with mental health problems or vulnerabilities
The Criminal Procedure Rules relating to how courts should respond to defendants with mental health problems or vulnerabilities have been amended, to come into force on 1 October 2018. The Rules amended are those governing ordering intermediaries, deciding the appropriateness of using live link when defendants may have mental health vulnerabilities and the court ordering medical reports to assess a defendant's mental health as it relates to participation in the court process and sentencing.
- CPD I General matters 3F: INTERMEDIARIES was amended to reiterate that although a court can order an intermediary to assist a defendant, this should not be done merely to improve the trial process but in response to specific vulnerabilities of the defendant (for example communication difficulties). Applications for a defendant to be accompanied by a support worker or similar should be considered if an intermediary is not needed.
- CPD I General matters 3N: USE OF LIVE LINKS AND TELEPHONE FACILITES was amended to state that in relation to deciding the appropriateness of using Live Link from a police station for first hearing, the court should consider the views of the defendant, and any mental health or other assessments. The Rules also reiterate that Live Link should only be used when 'the court is satisfied that it is not contrary to the interests of justice' Section 57C (6A) of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998.
- The Rules governing the ordering of medical reports for both the purposes of assessing a defendants' mental health in respect to participation (CPD I General matters 3P: COMMISSIONING MEDICAL REPORTS) and to inform sentencing (CPD VII Sentencing R: MEDICAL REPORTS FOR SENTENCING PUPOSES) were also amended. The new Rules note that parties should not wait for a court to order a report, but consider asking for a medical report independently if they have concerns about a defendant. The new Rules also state that in considering whether to order a report, the court should take account of views expressed by the parties' representations as well as any views from local criminal justice health service professionals. It is also noted that when asking for a report, the court should be clear about who is expected to do what by when with judicial direction as to how progress can be monitored to ensure the timetable set by the court is kept to.
The MA has responded to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) Code for Crown Prosecutors (the Code) consultation. The Code is used on a daily basis by prosecutors and the police when deciding whether or a not a suspect should be charged with a criminal offence. It is also a publicly available document, which ensures that all parties involved in the criminal justice system can access the principles underpinning CPS decisions. The updated draft follows the same approach as the previous version, in providing clear directions as to how decisions should be made, linked to overarching principles. In addition to the Code, prosecutors have access to more detailed guidance documents.
The main proposed revisions to the Code are:
- Disclosure: now included as part of Evidential Stage, and when assessing whether there is sufficient evidence to charge, prosecutors must consider the potential impact of any other material.
- Proceeds of Crime: prosecutors are instructed to consider proceeds of crime at various stages of a case.
- The Threshold Test: this has been clarified and simplified, to ensure it is only applied when necessary. Review of the Threshold Test is to be carried out earlier, by the time the prosecution case is served.
The MA agrees that the changes relating to disclosure are timely and will be useful in ensuring not just that correct decisions are made, but also that ongoing reviews of decisions are also made. We also welcome the changes in definitions and language which will increase transparency for anyone attending court. It is important that any publicly referenced document uses clear and easy to understand language. In addition, we welcome the reminder about how important Community Impact Statements can be and the right of victims to review CPS decisions, which will increase confidence in the CPS.
Transform Justice has published a new report looking at how the criminal justice system responds to incidents of domestic abuse. The report argues that there is limited evidence to suggest that criminal justice sanctions stop perpetrators from reoffending in the long-term, and questions the government's current focus on harsher sentences and more restrictive civil orders as a way to protect victims.
Although acknowledging the mixed evidence around their effectiveness, the report points to the potential of perpetrator programmes as an alternative approach to changing the behaviour of offenders and calls for increased efforts to evaluate their performance and expand the use of those that work.
For cases where prosecutions are in the public and victim's interest, the report calls for improved support for victims to prevent cases collapsing, and also argues that specialist domestic abuse courts should be 'reformed and revived'.
The MA's policy team will be producing a more detailed report on the proposals shortly.
Duncan Webster JP, Bench Chair in North Yorkshire, has been appointed as the National Leadership Magistrate and head of the Magistrates' Leadership Executive (formerly the National Bench Chairmen's Forum). He will take up this position on 1 October.
In addition, the following people have been appointed as Regional Leadership Magistrates from 1 October:
- London – Alexia Fetherstonhaugh JP
- Midlands – Julia Steels JP
- North East – Joy Hamilton JP
- South East – Mary Tuckett JP
- South West – Colin Weston JP
- Wales – Stephan Hays JP
Expressions of interest are being sought for the role of Regional Leadership Magistrate for the North West region. The closing date for applications is 21 September 2018. More details are available to sitting members here.
New Victims Strategy
Last week the Government launched their new Victims Strategy. This strategy seeks to improve the victim experience across all criminal justice agencies. Measures include strengthening and promoting the Victims' Code, making the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme (CICS) more accessible, and improving the experience of coming to court for victims and witnesses. The strategy also details the provision of additional funding for victims of specific crimes, for example survivors of sexual abuse and violence, families bereaved by homicide and children who witness domestic abuse. The strategy also aims to combine and co-ordinate funding for victim support services to increase its impact.
There are the four key challenges relating to the in court aspect of the victim's journey which the strategy seeks to address. These challenges are:
- A complex court system with little information
- The practicalities of going to court
- The court environment itself being challenging
- Specialist needs are not being recognised.
A number of different measures have been proposed to try to improve the experience of victims and witnesses at court. Particular points of interest may include: a Design Guide for refurbished court buildings that makes separate entrances and waiting areas a requirement, use of a new digital platform to improve sharing of information and promote consistency, a new feedback system for victims and witnesses, continuing to promote video links for vulnerable victims to give evidence and dealing with crimes with no identifiable victims outside of the magistrates' courtroom via the Single Justice Procedure. Other relevant proposals include increasing the number of Registered Intermediaries available to police and the courts by 25% and encouraging police to explain alternative solutions to court, such as out of court disposals.
Revised guidance for criminal justice practitioners on Victim Personal Statements
Also last week, updated guidance was issued for criminal justice practitioners on Victim Personal Statements (VPS). Data has shown that only 16.5% of victims said that they were given the opportunity to make a VPS, so it is hoped that the updated guidance will help to ensure that the victim's voice is heard. The guidance provides key information about the practicalities of making a VPS, as well as addressing a number of FAQs.
12 October 2018 at 11:30-16:00, Holiday Inn Manchester City Centre, 25 Aytoun Street, Manchester, M1 3AE
All Council members should have received an email from Jon Collins regarding the next MA Council meeting, which will take place in Manchester the day before the AGM and annual conference. If you have either not received this email or have received it but are not the current post holder, then please contact the national office as soon as possible to let us know at email@example.com. We very much hope that every branch will be represented at this meeting. We think that Council has a vital role to play in informing and supporting the MA's work and we look forward to seeing representatives in October.
If you are not a Council member but there are issues that you'd like Council to discuss in October, please contact your local Council Representative. Their details are available on the MA's website here.
We are pleased to announce that the guest speaker at Council will be the Deputy Senior Presiding Judge of England and Wales, Lady Justice Thirlwall (pictured), who will discuss the reform programme.
The Independent Monitoring Board at the Heathrow Immigration Removal Centre is seeking new members to assist in their work to ensure that detainees are treated fairly. The role requires visiting 2-3 days a month and attendance at a monthly evening Board meeting. The Chair Tony Swabe is happy to answer questions on 020 8863 1763 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. The deadline is 7 October for applications via email@example.com. Sitting magistrates should consider discussing their interest in this role with their bench chair before applying.
As mentioned in previous bulletins, we have produced new promotional material to help you talk about who we are and what we do. Copies of the new recruitment pack have been sent to all branches but we want you to know that we are happy to send additional copies to any branches that require them – just contact membership by email or on 020 7387 2353.