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Legal profession is at war with itself and the medical experts can’t agree, either

Your Expert Witness blog logoThe dispute over paying for criminal advocacy continues to drag itself into more and more phases. With the Bar having withdrawn from the fray over legal aid cuts – however temporarily – solicitors are finding themselves on the front line, now being drawn into a battle with the Legal Aid Agency over actually finding someone to instruct.

The issue centres on very high cost criminal cases, known as VHCCs. Solicitors are suddenly finding it impossible to find an ‘appropriate’ advocate in the time scale required by the LAA – principally because barristers are refusing to take them on.

The LAA has sent a letter to solicitors acting in such cases threatening sanctions if they do not take “all reasonable steps” to secure representation. Such steps could include “…demonstrably exploring all possible, reasonable avenues of instructing an advocate, including approaching the [Public Defender Service] and solicitor-advocates”.

Last Updated on Thursday, 15 May 2014 17:36


M'learned friends are fighting among themselves, while the whiplash bug has come back to bite

Your Expert Witness blog logoThe criminal bar has launched itself into the true spirit of the labour movement, it appears, with a good old-fashioned bout of infighting to go with its new-found militancy.

After two successful days of action by barristers in conjunction with solicitors, the Ministry of Justice announced that a planned fee cut was to be postponed until the middle of next year – after the General Election. The Criminal Bar Association responded by calling off its protest action, including the so-called no returns policy.

There were immediate accusations of selling out and abandoning their solicitor colleagues to their fate. One barrister resigned from the CBA executive committee in protest, calling the deal “entirely the wrong decision”, while others took to the Twittersphere to protest.

Yet another wrote in a resignation letter: “In exchange for a 15-month reprieve, we have abandoned our solicitor colleagues at a uniquely united and strong moment in our history.”

But a fortnight is a long time in political infighting. The response of the Bar Association was to hold a ballot, in which two-thirds of respondents voted to accept the ‘deal’ and call off the action.

The president of the London Criminal Courts Solicitors Association (LCCSA), described the result as 'disappointing’, while noting that a sizeable number of barristers had rejected the deal.

“We look forward to working with them in the future,” she is reported as saying by the Law Society Gazette.

Last Updated on Thursday, 10 April 2014 18:41


Scots start their own legal upheaval and stolen bikes are no joke

Your Expert Witness blog logoHaving watched the justice system in England and Wales going through a protracted programme of reforms – many would argue it to be more a process of death by a thousand cuts – the Scots are now witnessing the beginning of their own potential trauma. On 6 February the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill and the Courts Reform (Scotland) Bill were laid before the Scottish Parliament. The former does what it says on the tin: introduce changes to the Scottish system of criminal justice; the latter deals with the process of the civil courts in that country. It attempts to put into effect the recommendations of the Scottish Civil Courts Review, led by Lord Gill and published in 2010.

The review concluded that the civil justice in Scotland was “slow, inefficient and expensive” and recommended reforms which are both structural and functional.

Last Updated on Monday, 17 March 2014 09:05


Out with the old; in with…the old!

witness blogThere was something vaguely comical about the sight earlier this month of barristers in full wig and gown waving placards outside the Old Bailey during their not-strike over legal aid cuts. The sight was vaguely comical, yes, but the issue they were protesting against is anything but. Legal aid in criminal cases has been a cornerstone of the justice system for many years. It is axiomatic that anyone accused of a serious offence must have the opportunity to defend themselves. That opportunity, unfortunately, has to go hand-in-hand with the wherewithal. In a system within which expertise is rewarded proportionately there has to be some way of offering the necessary funding to those who need it but don’t have it. It’s true there is the risk of some criminals being financed by the state to defend the indefensible, but the risk of the opposite is considerably greater.

Last Updated on Saturday, 25 January 2014 17:53


Family experts’ standards are vaguely familiar, as are the awful figures for maternity failings

Your Expert Witness blog logoThe much-heralded standards for experts in the family courts were unveiled simultaneously by the joint response of the MoJ and the Family Justice Council, and by Lord McNally in an address to the Bond Solon Expert Witness Conference on 8 November. There are 11 of them in all, and for a document that can have a far-reaching effect on the delivery of justice for children they seem to the lay reader to be a little vague.

The first standard, for instance, requires the expert’s area of competence to be “appropriate to the issue(s) upon which the court has identified that an opinion is required, and relevant experience is evidenced in their CV”, while the second requires them to be “active in the area of work or practice, (as a practitioner or an academic who is subject to peer appraisal), has sufficient experience of  the issues relevant to the instant case, and is familiar with the breadth of current practice or opinion”.

Last Updated on Thursday, 21 November 2013 19:07