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Expert Witness : Criminal

Criminal advocacy report prompts swift responses and measured reflection

Picture of Bill Jeffrey for Your Expert Witness storyThe market in criminal advocacy is not working competitively or in such a way as to optimise quality, according to an independent report published on 7 May. The report, Independent Criminal Advocacy in England and Wales, is the product of a review commissioned by Justice Secretary Chris Grayling and undertaken by former civil servant Sir Bill Jeffrey.

With crime falling and criminal proceedings simpler, says the report, there is less work for criminal advocates to do, with more advocates than even a few years ago. Yet the report found disquiet among judges about the capabilities of some of the advocates appearing before them.

Its specific recommendations include improved advocacy training for solicitors, encouragement of the Criminal Bar to be willing to adjust its way of doing business, to enable it to compete for legal aid contracts, and the timely assignment of advocates.

It also draws attention to the longer term implications if current trend towards the use of solicitor advocates and away from the Criminal Bar continues. Sir Bill is clear that it would be neither feasible nor desirable to wind the clock back on rights of audience. Solicitor advocates are a valuable and established part of the scene; but if the Bar’s share of the work continues to decline, as the current generation moves to retirement, the supply of top-end advocates to undertake the most complex trials would be in doubt.

Last Updated on Sunday, 29 April 2018 09:20


Audit office publishes review of changes to criminal justice system

Picture of Reading Prison from Geograph for Your Expert Witness storyOn 7 March the National Audit Office published its ‘landscape review’ of the changes that have been implemented to the criminal justice system over the past months.

The Criminal Justice System: Landscape Review examines whether current reforms of the criminal justice system are addressing the issues identified by the spending watchdog in past studies on, for example, the prison estate, police technology, bought-in services and financial management.

It draws on NAO value-for-money studies and audits of financial statements and documentary evidence in the public domain to highlight the many challenges to an efficient system.

In a statement the NAO says: “Major changes are being made to the criminal justice system at the same time as significant reductions in resources. At the end of March 2013, for example, the number of police officers was some 127,000 – or 10% lower than three years earlier.”

A two-year programme of reform was set out in the White Paper Transforming the CJS, which was published last summer. The changes include reforming the prison estate by closing old and inefficient prisons, such as Reading Prison (pictured), while investing in modern prison accommodation, and the establishment of the Criminal Justice Board. A minister has also been appointed with responsibility for Policing and Criminal Justice.

The reforms have been intended to address many of the systemic problems by understanding the causes. In particular, says the report, efforts are being made to reduce the demand in the system by tackling those offenders with the highest rates of reoffending and improve the use of new technology for sharing information between partners. The NAO, however, says it is too early, however to comment on whether they will be effective.

“There remains, however,” it says in its statement, “much to be done to tackle inefficiency and reduce the multiple points of failure within the system. Potential initiatives include replacing the manual transfer of data with well-designed digital transfers between agencies; and developing a strategic approach to improving the collection rate of fines and confiscation orders, both to offset running costs and to demonstrate that crime does not pay.”

The review concludes that the effects of multiple, concurrent changes are difficult to model but are likely to be significant. Although organisational changes can be implemented relatively quickly, implementing deeper changes to working practices, system developments and cultures will take months and years.

In addition, if the system is to achieve real efficiencies and planned cost savings, then departments, agencies and local criminal justice partners need to implement as a priority an agreed and coherent plan to address problems with the flow of information.

Le donne si eccitano più degli uomini e, sessualmente, si annoiano prima.

Last Updated on Sunday, 29 April 2018 09:20

Legal Aid Agency warns advocates about keeping records

Picture of Blind Justice on teh Central Criminal Court doe Your Expert Witness storyAll criminal advocates should keep an on-going work log to ensure their special preparation and wasted preparation claims are properly supported, according to a statement by the Legal Aid Agency issued on 6 January. Keeping an accurate, running log of preparatory work is an established requirement under other payment schemes, the agency said; however, the expansion of fixed and graduated fee schemes has led some advocates to mistakenly believe that such work logs are no longer required.

Last Updated on Sunday, 29 April 2018 09:20


New criminal offence for jurors tops the list of Law Commission recommendations

Picture of Prof David Ormerod for Your Expert Witness storyOn 9 December the Law Commission published recommendations to reform elements of the law governing contempt of court. The Commission’s recommendations included introducing a new statutory offence for jurors who intentionally seek information beyond the evidence presented in court. It follows recent high-profile reports of jurors searching the internet to find out information about defendants and cases.

The recommendation is that jurors who search for information beyond what is presented as evidence in court should be prosecuted for a criminal offence rather than dealt with by the contempt of court procedure. Currently, the report says, jurors receive instructions from the trial judge on what they should not do. If they breach those specific instructions they are in contempt of court. But the precise limits on what they can do are set by each judge in each case. That, says the Commission, leads to inconsistency and can generate confusion. It also means that the judge is responsible for setting the boundaries of what is, in all but name, a criminal offence. The Law Commission’s recommendations mean that the limits of what jurors can do are laid down by Parliament in statute.

Last Updated on Sunday, 29 April 2018 09:21


Witnesses of crime need help to remember accurately

CCTV picture of a bank robber for Your Expert Witness storyThe memory of people who have witnessed or been victims of crime is prone to errors which law officials must take into account when proceeding with criminal cases, according to research to be presented at an event as part of the Economic and Social Research Council’s annual Festival of Social Science on 6 November.

“I was once caught up in a bank robbery and as soon as the perpetrators left a lot of people in the bank started talking about what had happened,” recounts Dr Anne Ridley from London South Bank University, an expert in the field of eyewitness memory.

“I knew that this was bad, as discussing an event after it has happened with other people who were there can corrupt your memory – making you believe that you have seen something when actually you have just been told about it.”

Last Updated on Sunday, 29 April 2018 09:21