The MA has submitted its response to HMCTS' consultation on a new structure for legal advice. The consultation envisages a new leadership structure for the most senior lawyers (Heads of Legal Operations) in HMCTS, of whom there would be seven (matching HMCTS regions). The Heads of Legal Operations would have a strategic and cross-jurisdictional role across HMCTS’ work. HMCTS also mentions the potential for two further roles in relation to lawyers working in appellate jurisdictions, and case officers with national responsibility (including Scotland), such as those in business centres.
The Association welcomes the acknowledgement that there must be a clear line of accountability for legal advisers to the judiciary, while emphasising that there must be no compromising of the principle that legal advice is independent of the executive. The MA has also said it does not support the removal of justices’ clerks’ duties from statute. We raised the issue of ensuring clarity for magistrates in respect to leadership structures, roles and advice as it is given both in and out of court.
In our response, we have also made clear that bodies such as TAAACs and JBGs should not be organised on a regional basis as a knock-on consequence of changes to the position of justices' clerk: this would be too remote. Changes in this area would need to follow on from agreed structures for magistrates' leadership, organised at the appropriate level.
We have also raised concerns about training, the proportion of workload of the new HLOs, which would relate to magistrates and the importance of specific points of contact for benches, as well as for the different bodies on which justices' clerks or deputies currently sit.
You can read the MA’s full response here.