Weekly Notes: legal news from ICLR — 21 January 2019

This week’s roundup of legal news and comment includes the Parole Board, probation services, courts, legal information and pupillage.

Winter Lights, Canary Wharf, London 20 January 2019

Headline of the week: A Right Royal Car Crash. (Pretty much covers everything.)

Probation

Call for timeout on privatisation re-procurement

Probation unions and justice reformers have called for a ‘timeout’ on the re-procurement of Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) to avoid repeating the mistakes of the Transforming Rehabilitation procurement process.

In what Russell Webster’s blog describes as a “tactically astute move”, the unions NAPO, UNISON and GMB and the Probation Institute supported by the Centre for Justice Innovation, Centre for Crime and Justice Studies and the Howard League for Penal Reform, wrote to Justice Ministers Rory Stewart and David Gauke on 11 January, asking them to step back and reconsider the current “rushed” re-procurement process, with a view to eventually bringing the work of the privatised CRCs back into the public probation service by the end of 2020.

“We hope you will agree that the implications of the making a further series of mistakes in the name of Transforming Rehabilitation (TR) are extremely serious for the probation services, for organisations working in partnership with probation — the courts, the prisons, the police service, local authorities and the voluntary sector, for many thousands of service users and for the public.”

The letter is quoted in full on Webster’s website, which has also, in a series of earlier posts, discussed the HM Inspectorate of Probation’s reports at the end of last year of various divisions of the National Probation Service (NPS) — the bit still in public ownership, which deals with the rehabilitation of more serious offenders. Both the South West Central (SWC) and the NPS Midlands division received an overall ‘good’ rating in their reports. But in a league table in which Webster compares a number of NPS divisions and CRCs, SWC only got an overall rating of 20 compared with Midlands’ of 25. Both do rather better than the CRCs reviewed, none of whom achieves a higher score than 16. Anyone interested in following what’s going on in the world of prison and probation should already be following Russell Webster, who tweets as @russwebt

There has also been continued scrutiny of the privatised probation services in Private Eye, including articles in two recent issues (No 1484 and 1485 in November & December last year) and a detailed discussion with their correspondent Solomon Hughes on the Page 94 podcast, Episode 39: Probation and penmanship. Although you need to buy the magazine, the podcast is free (and often very entertaining, as well as digging up all sorts of dirt you don’t get elsewhere).

Parole Board

‘Work with us’ blog to promote public awareness

The Parole Board is on a recruitment drive, aiming to encourage new panel members from three membership types: independent, psychologist, and retired judicial. The 2019 campaign for independent members will be regional, focused in the North of England, and aiming in particular to boost the BAME membership. To help promote recruitment, the board has been publishing a blog (via the Gov.uk supersite), in which panel members explain how they became involved and how they perform their role.

Judge Geoffrey Kamil, who joined in 2000, explains in his post how things have changed (and how in one respect they haven’t) since then.

Over the years the membership has increased significantly as the volume of work has greatly increased. The backgrounds of the members has changed so that it has become more representative of the public. However, in one important field it has shown little improved representation — that of the black and ethnic minority communities. It is vital that more members of those communities offer their services in this very valuable and fulfilling work.

Members sit in panels or two or three at a time. Though they never used to, they now go to the prisons to deal with oral hearings.

A panel consists of a Chair — either a judge or another trained and qualified member — and up to two other members, who hear the evidence and perform a risk assessment.

Evidence consists of oral testimony from the prisoner, as well as evidence from probation officers, psychologists, and psychiatrists.

The general test is whether the person whose case is being heard would pose a risk of serious harm to the public, and whether that is a risk that can be safely managed. The decision made by the panel is a majority one, except in panels of two, where it must be agreed by both members.

Aruna Walsh, independent member since 2009, who came from a non-legal background, after a career in sales, marketing and operations, explains in her post that she was able to bring transferable skills in “analysis, evaluation, communication, working collaboratively, drawing on written and orally heard information, and electronic working” to a new role. She says:

Time management, self — motivation, and the ability to take on board an array of information from which you then draw on to make key decisions about risk and public protection are also very relevant and I would encourage others from all walks of life to consider the opportunity if you are looking for a role that is stimulating, challenging and rewarding.

Courts

‘Efail’ causes consternation and delay

“We’re sorry about the problems with CJSM and we’re working to get it back up and running as soon as possible. Thank you for your patience.”

Thus spake the tech team responsible for the Criminal Justice Secure eMail system, developed by Egress Technologies for HM Courts and Tribunals Service. As Gareth Corfield in The Register explained, “CJSM is the main way for Crown Prosecution Service workers to send legal instructions to prosecuting barristers at court”. Not everyone’s affected, but for those who are it seems the technicians are going to have to wipe their inboxes clean and restore the content gradually, with the whole process taking up to a fortnight. In the meantime, the justice system must grind on as best it can with insecure email or old fashioned snail mail or couriers.

Moreover, it seems from another HMCTS tweet that CJSM wasn’t the only network affected. The judiciary and civil courts have been affected too.

Judges bite back

It comes at an awkward time, as the massively hyped, but over-budget and behind-schedule HMCTS Reform project struggles to get the recognition and credibility it thinks it deserves. Last week another leaked report revealed how the Magistrates Association raised “many serious concerns about reforms” in response to an internal survey from the senior judiciary, and expressed the view that the current reform proposals present “a very real risk of unfair or disproportionate outcomes for the most vulnerable people in our courts”. Reporting the leaked report (for which she thanks Penelope Gibbs of Transform Justice), Emily Dugan on BuzzFeed news noted that “Submissions to the Judicial Ways of Working consultation were never intended to be made public.” She added:

“The document adds to a growing body of evidence that there are serious concerns across the judiciary about the reforms. It is the latest in several leaked submissions, including a scorching assessment by district judges that the courts are “even more broken” following budget cuts and another warning that witnesses could be coached off camera in video hearings.”

See also Gibbs herself, on the Transform Justice blog, Opening Pandora’s Box? Consulting judges on court reform, which discusses the level of dismay and apprehension amongst other judicial responses to internal surveys and the lack of transparency about this, even to those taking part.

Law in the Media

Bar Council Legal Reporting Awards

The Bar Council Legal Reporting Awards is open to print/online and broadcast journalists “in recognition of the media’s role in promoting a greater understanding of the law to the public”. The 2018 awards were judged by outgoing Chair of Bar 2018, Andrew Walker QC, current Chair of the Bar, Richard Atkins QC and the current Chair of the Bar Council’s Young Barristers’ Committee (YBC), Athena Markides. The winners, announced on 17 January, were:

Broadcast media category: Alys Harte, Allan Urry, Gail Champion, Clive Coleman, for BBC Radio 4: File on 4: Disclosing the Truth

Print and online media category: Emily Dugan, for BuzzFeed News: A Record Number Of People Are Representing Themselves In Court — This Is What It’s Like

Highly commended print and online media category: Sanchia Berg and Stephen Mulvey, for BBC News Online: The “completely childish” man hanged for murder

Legal profession

Pupillage resources

We should probably compile a separate post on the various resources now available offering guidance on the getting, funding and conduct of pupillage. But two new resources are worth mentioning now.

First, Pupillage and How to Get it, a website edited by Beheshteh Engineer & Simon Myerson QC and described by the legal commentator Obiter J, on the Law and Lawyers blog as “excellent” and “invaluable no matter what your personal background is”. While bluntly warning that most applicants won’t get pupillage (5,000 apply for around 430 places), the new site “helps to demystify the process” with comprehensive guidance to make readers as “well-prepared as you can be”.

What, for example, is your “X factor”? (“To put it another way: “what sets me apart from other candidates?”) What are chambers looking for? And how, if they don’t think it’s you, do you deal with rejection? And remember, “Chambers absolutely do check your social media profiles”. (And expect you to check theirs.)

A lot of the best advice on pupillage comes from those who have already done it, and (later in their career) those who are charged with the task of selecting pupils in their chambers. A rich store of this kind of advice may be found in another newly launched resource, Middle Temple’s Pupillage Podcast, hosted by Beatrice Collier and Georgina Wolfe (both of 5 Essex Court). This is available on iTunes, Spotify, SoundCloud, MixCloud. According to the promo:

“In each episode Beatrice and Georgina chat to a range of guests — junior tenants, junior barristers, senior juniors, silks, judges and others — to obtain their advice on what applicants should be doing to pursue their goal and increase their chances of obtaining pupillage. Each guest brings the benefit of his or her own experience of sitting on scholarship committees, marshalling with students, judging moots, reading applications, conducting pupillage interviews, mentoring students and of Life at the Bar to give listeners precious insights, tips and pitfalls to avoid.”

Each episode deals with a different topic, eg ‘Choosing Your Pupillage I: Life On Circuit’, ‘Mini-Pupillages’, ‘Advocacy Experience’, etc. Ten episodes have been released in the period of little more than a week, though they may have been recorded over a longer period. The style is conversational — it’s really a bit like listening in to a discussion over tea or a drink — so be prepared to spend a bit of time with it, or just have it on in the background. (I listened for a bit while doing my ironing, so no big sweat.)

Venables’ Legal Resources website update

Since 1995 Delia Venables has been collecting and publishing an online directly of legal resources on her website. Now the Venables Legal Resources site has had a complete makeover, with a snazzy new design, and all the data is being reorganised and updated. The site is now managed by Delia’s long-time publishing partner, Nick Holmes, of infolaw Ltd and editor of the Internet Newsletter for Lawyers (which also does CPD training). According to their announcement:

This site provides a wide range of links to useful legal resources; it is designed to be of use to the legal community and also to individuals and businesses looking for legal resources or looking for solicitors to help them with their legal problems. The emphasis is on free and low cost resources and innovative new services and applications.

ICLR news

New on Knowledge

We’ve been adding more content to our Knowledge section this week. To help those using the powerful ICLR.3 case search platform for the first time, ideally by signing up for a trial subscription (so you can see the content behind the paywall), we’ve now provided a copy of our PDF Trial Access Guide. This offers a guided tour round the main features of the site, with user tips and suggestions for getting the most out of your legal research.

We’ve also added an article dealing with a Frequently Asked Question — What do I call the judge? It was prompted by a remark made in one of the episodes of the Pupillage Podcast discussed above. There have been some amusing tweets recently about inappropriate honorifics for a magistrate, such as “Your majesty” or “Your highness”. (It should be either “Sir / Madam”, or “Your Worship”, in case you wondered.) The most common problem for inexperienced or absent minded barristers upgrading from the county court to the High Court or Court of Appeal is calling the judge “Your Honour” instead of “My Lord or My Lady”. The safest word to use is “Court” (if it please the Court, has the Court seen my skeleton… etc) but it can sound a tad impersonal.

Dates and Deadlines

Lecture: The 30th Anniversary of The Children Act 1989 —Is it still fit for purpose?

Thursday 31 January 2019 6pm-7pm — Barnard’s Inn Hall, Holborn, London

Gresham Professor of Law Jo Delahunty QC, who has been giving a series of well received lectures on family law and the family justice system, will look at the legacy of the Act which placed children’s welfare first, and how things have changed since then. (NB it’s not about the film based on Ian McEwan’s novel of the same name, which isn’t really about the Act at all.)

To find out more, and links to content, visit the Gresham College website.

Meeting: Judges to discuss judicial oath

4 February 2019 at 5.30 pm for 6.15 — Manchester Civil and Family Justice Centre, Bridge Street West, Manchester

Following on from the fact that members of the bar have reported and discussed sexual harassment and discrimination and abuse of power at work and in the courtroom (see, eg the Behind the Gown movement), the Association of Women Judges are holding an event to discuss the judicial oath, which requires all judges to have regard to the principles of equality and fair treatment when carrying out their judicial functions.

“Are we the best judges of our own conduct? Would we recognise it if was raised? Can we ensure this kind of experience doesn’t happen, or is perceived to happen, in our courts?”

The session is open to all judges, of whatever type, and will be attended by the Senior President of Tribunals and led by Jo Delahunty QC a barrister, Recorder and Professor of Law at Gresham College.

“We plan to discuss experiences and ideas in a non- confrontational and collaborative way and to draw from that discussion constructive ideas for court room and career management.”

It is for judges only, full or part time, and subject to Chatham House rules. For more details, see Eventbrite. (NB you need to book in with your judicial email, which may be a problem if that’s not working.)

[Reminders: previously listed]

HMCTS Reform event: crime

Bristol Magistrates’ Court, 5:30pm 24 Jan 2019

Are you a legal professional working in the Bristol area? Come and find out how HM Courts and Tribunals Service are planning to improve the criminal justice system as part of their £1bn #CourtReform programme. According to the Eventbrite booking form:

“You’ll have the opportunity to learn more and ask questions about the progress and ambitions of the reform programme. Doors will open from 5.00pm and refreshments will be provided.
At this point we are inviting expressions of interest in attending the event in person. Please note that expressing interest in attending in person does not guarantee your place.”

Journalists and legal bloggers attending family courts — A Workshop for lawyers

29 January 2019 5.30pm, Gresham College, London

In light of the Legal Blogging Pilot implemented through PD36J, The Transparency Project are running a CPD workshop for lawyers interested in brushing up their ‘transparency’ knowledge — whether with a view to taking part in the scheme themselves, or so they feel better prepared for responding to attendances by legal bloggers or journalists in cases where they are instructed. Click here for more information.

And finally…

Tweet of the Week

contains invaluable legal advice on the No Deal question, thanks to the Irish Border.

That’s it for this week! Thanks for reading. Watch this space for updates.

This post was written by Paul Magrath, Head of Product Development and Online Content. It does not necessarily represent the opinions of ICLR as an organisation.