MA Awards, Conference and AGM 2018 – BOOK NOW!
Friday 12 – Saturday 13 October 2018 – Manchester
A complete line-up of speakers is now confirmed, to address delegates on a range of judicial matters of particular relevance to the magistracy.
We are delighted to be welcoming the outgoing President of the Family Division Sir James Munby, who will be speaking about the current challenges facing the family justice system and the reforms that may be required. Also joining us is Courts Minister Lucy Frazer QC MP, who will provide an overview of the primary issues related to court reform and the magistracy. We will also be joined by 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. Last but not least, Senior Presiding Judge Lady Justice Julia Macur DBE has agreed to speak again to share her wealth of knowledge around current and future changes to the courts.
There are workshops from the Sentencing Council confirmed and we will be announcing the other workshops and complete timings for all aspects of the event soon.
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.
Book your place
A chance for your views to be heard
Have 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 13 October in Manchester.
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 to MA Chief Executive Jon Collins by Friday 10 August.
The government has announced that, following consultations carried out earlier this year, seven courts are to be closed. They are Chorley, Fleetwood, Maidenhead and Northallerton Magistrates’ Courts and Banbury Magistrates’ and County Court, as well as Blackfriars Crown Court and Wandsworth County Court. Cambridge Magistrates’ Court will, however, remain open after the consultation on its possible closure.
It was also announced that Northallerton Magistrates’ Court will not be closed until video facilities are made available in Northallerton as recent changes to public transport timetables ‘may make it more difficult for some users in some areas to get to court, especially for early morning starts’. The MA is concerned by this as, while increasing the availability of video facilities has benefits, it should not be seen as a substitute for victims, witnesses and defendants being able to attend court in person.
Report on the impact of the magistrates’ court closures in Suffolk
This research study was commissioned by Suffolk’s Public Sector Leaders to examine the impact of the closure in 2016 of two of the three magistrates’ courts in Suffolk. The study concludes that the court closures have led to far greater generalised costs for court users residing further away from Ipswich, where the remaining court is, and are aggravating problems already present in the system, brought on, for example, by changes to legal aid. The research also suggests that non-appearances by defendants may have increased due to the courts closures.
The study notes that court closures are weakening access to ‘local justice knowledge’ due to magistrates not being able to sit in their local courts, and also suggests that the increased travel times have serious implications for judicial diversity. Working-age adults, ethnic minority candidates and disabled adults based in areas other than Ipswich are likely to face a significant cost barrier in joining the magistracy compared to those living locally. The study notes that the impact on judicial diversity was omitted from the Ministry of Justice’s impact assessment.
This report from the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) suggests that the sweeping changes proposed by the reform agenda will be extremely challenging to deliver, and that HMCTS performance to date shows that it has much to learn if it intends to do everything it plans. The PAC highlights that HMCTS has already fallen behind schedule, despite extending its timetable from four to six years, and has delivered only two-thirds of what it expected to at this stage.
The report says that HMCTS still has not shared a sufficiently well-developed plan of what it is trying to achieve. The pressure to deliver quickly and make savings is limiting HMCTS’s ability to consult meaningfully with stakeholders and risks it driving forward changes before it fully understands the impact on users and the justice system more widely.
The report is clear that HMCTS needs to ensure that the savings expected from these reforms are genuine rather than the consequence of shunting costs to other parts of the justice system, and states that without a better grip on these wider issues, there is a significant risk that HCMTS will fail to deliver the benefits it expects.
An MA summary of the report is here.
The PAC report echoes many of the concerns raised by the National Audit Office in May 2018 in Early progress in transforming courts and tribunals.
Live Streaming of Judicial Ways of Working Event video
Following the publication of the Judicial Ways of Working (JWOW) documents, there was a programme of meetings around the country to enable judicial office holders to ask questions and voice their ideas. To ensure that as many people as possible could engage with this process, the Senior President of Tribunals and the President of the General Regulatory Chamber took part in a live streaming event on 22 June 2018, to enable remote participation in a JWOW meeting. The video can be viewed here.
This report considers the disclosure of unused material in criminal cases. It confirms that the issue with failures in disclosure not only lead to miscarriages of justice (including wrongful imprisonment), but also lead to waste of both time and resources. The report references the submission made by the MA that problems relating to disclosure occur across the broad range of offences that appear before magistrates, and that problems in disclosure are a symptom of reductions in resources available to police and prosecutors.
The Justice Committee does not propose any fundamental changes to the legislation, or the principles of disclosure, as it is of the view that failings have arisen in the application of those principles by police officers and prosecutors on the ground. The report states that there needs to be:
- a shift in culture towards viewing disclosure as a core justice duty, and not an administrative add on;
- the right skills and technology to review large volumes of material that are now routinely collected by the police; and
- clear guidelines on handling sensitive material.
The report also states that the government must consider whether funding across the system is sufficient to ensure a good disclosure regime.
Last week a Westminster Hall debate was secured by Jess Phillips MP on the protection of victims of domestic abuse in the family courts.
The MA provided a briefing for those taking part, setting out our key priorities. The document stressed the need to improve the availability of special measures and legal aid for those identified as domestic abuse victims, and also called for legislation to prevent the cross-examination of victims by their alleged abusers in the family courts. Jess Phillips touched on all of these issues in her opening speech, making reference to the input she had received from the MA and other leading charities and associations.
She also discussed her concerns around the recent implementation of Practice Direction 12J, a direction which makes it clear that it should no longer be presumed that children should have contact with parents who are perpetrators of domestic abuse. The MA’s briefing on the issue was referenced, which highlighted our efforts to increase magistrate awareness of the guidance. Legal aid provision was also a key part of the discussion, and our concerns around the capital element of means-testing for legal aid were again referenced directly.
The debate went on to include a variety of contributions from across the political spectrum - including from Justice Committee member John Howell, who raised the issue of judicial training, and Shadow Minister Gloria De Piero, who called for a stand-alone victims law. The Courts Minister, Lucy Frazer, summarised proceedings and responded by reasserting the government’s commitment to tackling domestic abuse and improving support for victims. She confirmed that the government would be providing a response to its domestic abuse consultation in the autumn, and that this will include a Domestic Abuse Bill.
The MA’s full response to the government’s Transforming the response to domestic abuse consultation can be found here.
Ahead of his retirement as President of the Family Division tomorrow, Sir James Munby made a speech to the Family Justice Young People’s Board’s 6th Annual ‘Voice of the Child’ Conference giving an update on the progress made on enabling the family justice system to accommodate children who want to come to court and on meeting the needs of vulnerable witnesses and parties. On the former issue, he says that ‘nothing has been achieved. In fact, matters are even worse now than they were a year ago’, calling this ‘deeply depressing news’. On the latter, he notes that some progress has been made, with the introduction of the Rules in Part 3A and the new Practice Direction 3AA, but says that more needs to be done to provide courts with the necessary facilities and ensure they have the necessary equipment. He also criticises the failure to legislate to prevent the cross-examination of alleged victims by an alleged perpetrator, saying that ‘whether a person hearing bankruptcy cases should be called a Registrar or a Judge [an issue covered in the current Courts and Tribunals Bill] is surely of much less pressing concern and infinitely less priority than putting an end to this long-standing abuse in the family courts’.
MA National Chairman John Bache appeared on You and Yours on BBC Radio 4 on Friday 20 July to discuss court closures, the falling number of magistrates and the impact on local justice. You can listen to the programme here. Jon Collins, MA Chief Executive, appeared on BBC Three Counties Radio on the same day to discuss the use of short prison sentences and the purpose of prison. You can listen to the programme here (Jon’s contribution is at 54 minutes).
Lord Justice Tim Holroyde has been appointed as Chairman of the Sentencing Council, with effect from 1 August 2018. His appointment was made by the Lord Chief Justice with the agreement of the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, David Gauke, and is for an initial period of three years.
The Lord Chief Justice and President of the Sentencing Council, the Rt Hon The Lord Burnett of Maldon, said:
“With his extensive experience at the criminal bar and on the bench, and his three years on the Council, Lord Justice Holroyde is the ideal candidate to lead the Council through the next phase of its important work and build on its excellent legacy.”
Lord Justice Holroyde said:
“The Sentencing Council is facing a challenging and busy time as it approaches its tenth anniversary. I look forward to taking forward the ambitious work programme that will meet the Council’s goals for 2020.
“My aim is for the Council to continue to provide judges and magistrates with guidelines which promote a clear, fair and consistent approach to sentencing, but which are also accessible to the public so they can see how sentencing works and have greater confidence in the sentencing process.”
For more information click here.
The Attorney General has announced that Max Hill QC has been appointed as the next Director of Public Prosecutions. He is currently Head of Red Lion Chambers and the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, and will leave these posts to take over as Director of Public Prosecutions on 1 November 2018. He will replace Alison Saunders, who is stepping down after five years leading the Crown Prosecution Service.
Last week saw the publication of the Home Office statistical bulletin on crime outcomes in England and Wales, and the Office for National Statistics statistical bulletin for crime in England and Wales, both for the year ending March 2018.
The figures show that less than 10% of crimes reported resulted in a charge or summons - the lowest detection rate since 2015. Police closed nearly half (48%) of all cases because no suspect could be identified. The changing picture of how successfully police are catching criminals comes against a backdrop of rising crime, as overall crimes recorded by police went up 11% in the year to March. There has been a rise in theft offences, driven by vehicle-related offences, and although there has been no rise in the most common types of violent crime, some weapon offences have risen.
A summary of the crime outcomes bulletin is here and the crime statistics here.
This new report from the London Assembly Police and Crime Committee, which the MA submitted evidence to, looks at women’s experiences of the criminal justice system in London. It calls for a London-wide service that delivers access to quality specialist provision for all women who have offended, argues that increasing the provision of women’s centres for offenders and those at risk across the capital is ‘crucial’, and recommends that at least one of the government’s planned new residential women’s centre should be piloted in London.
The report also highlights concerns about the use of community sentences and sentencers’ lack of confidence in them and recommends that the Mayor of London’s planned review of community sentencing should look at the quality of the community sentences that can be provided to women, the effect of ‘speedy justice’ on the quality of sentencing decisions, the awareness among magistrates of the range and effectiveness of community sentences and how this can be improved, the potential for the use of deferred sentences to encourage engagement with specialist provision, and the use of problem-solving courts with female offenders.
Commenting on the report, the MA’s National Chairman John Bache said:
‘This timely report is right to highlight concerns about sentencers’ confidence in community sentences. Effective community sentences tailored specifically for women must be routinely made available, while courts must be properly informed about the community provision that is available in their area. This would ensure that magistrates can give community sentences with confidence, knowing that they are suitable for female offenders and will prevent reoffending and reduce crime. Magistrates should also be given the power to review the progress made by an offender serving a community sentence, to support offenders in turning their lives around while also increasing the magistracy’s confidence in their effectiveness.’
The Sentencing Council has launched a consultation on a general sentencing guideline for use when sentencing offences for which there is no existing guideline. While the Sentencing Council produces offence-specific guidelines for the most common criminal offences, many offences do not yet have a guideline. This general guideline will ensure such offences are covered until a specific guideline is produced and will provide sentencers with a clear structure to follow when sentencing offences that do not have a guideline. It aims to ensure that all relevant factors are considered and given appropriate weight in arriving at a final sentence.
Details of the consultation are available here. The MA will be responding to the consultation – if you would like to provide input into our response please contact Andrea Coady. The consultation closes on 11 September 2018.
The 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 has four policy committees - the Adult Court Committee, the Family Court Committee, the Training Committee and the Youth Court Committee - and we are looking for MA members to join all four. The 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 and committee members can make a significant contribution to our work to influence national policy on issues of importance to our members.
Recruitment is open now and applications must be submitted by 7 September. For more details on the role and how to apply, please click here.
Members of policy committees must be sitting magistrates. You don’t need to be London-based as much of our work is done online and travel expenses are covered. To find out more about membership of a policy committee or the committees’ work please contact Jo Easton, the MA’s Director of Policy and Research, by email or on 020 7387 2353.