The South Eastern Circuit
This message comes a day early because I am switching off tomorrow. I am encouraging Aaron to do the same. No one has worked harder for you than he has over the last four months.
On Radio 4 on Monday, the Lord Chancellor gave an interview to the Today Programme - you can find it at 8:31am. He was asked about the backlog of criminal cases generally in Magistrates and Crown Court. He acknowledged trials are the big problem.
Parliament rises next week and there is no prospect of any legislation until September. It appears, by implication if nothing else, that Judge + 2 is off the agenda. But a second spike might well revive jury number reductions.
- He said they were looking at starting earlier and finishing later.
- He said sitting days were no longer an issue – but that he has already approved more sitting days for the coming year.
- He has already announced ten Blackstone Courts, to be open next month.
- Radical change may still be needed, and he will consider wartime juries (reduced number) despite legislative change being necessary. He said that the first thing to do was to scale up capacity and implied that would be done before any primary legislation.
At every opportunity we continue to press for the latest HMCTS modelling and evidence. Capacity is the fraught topic to which I return below. Listing in all jurisdictions needs to be more ambitious and we need more trial work flowing through the county and crown courts.
Caroline Goodwin QC and Kate Brunner QC featured on a R4 piece on the criminal justice system in the PM programme this evening (at 5:18pm). They spoke powerfully about the backlog - find it on BBC Sounds.
Masks: One of those Monday evenings
After several days of contradictory press briefings and therefore reports, Downing Street announced the new policy about wearing masks in shops from 24th July. Of course many of you immediately posed the question, “what about courts?” But none of you will be surprised now by the pattern of government in the Covid era. Downing Street makes a decision and then ministries start to work out what that might mean in their sector; meanwhile the private sector demands more clarity and certainty so it can adhere to the rules and best preserve public safety while getting back to work. For weeks now we have discussed whether masks might be part of the “plus” in 1m+ that permitted increased listing in all courts. I am sure that the same cautious approach to public safety in courts that underpinned HMCTS’s approach to reopening will be applied now. We are told that revised guidance may be issued by HMCTS imminently.
Crown Court Trial Capacity
I have been unhealthily attached to Courtserve this week. By my rough reckoning there are 200 court rooms on the SEC. The largest number of courts where trials were listed this week was 31. Some days there were gaps. No one thinks this is good enough. Many courts have only been open for a week or two and as confidence builds, these numbers must increase rapidly.
For my part I think we are in an era where there must be a floater listed behind every starter trial, every day. We all know that minds will be concentrated on both sides by the threat of the jury, the prospect of some credit when a plea is tendered even if there is no court space - many will rightly crack. If we do not, then it feels like valuable court/jury time – the most precious commodity of all in our new world - is being thrown away. I can’t help feeling that most witnesses would prefer the chance that their case would be resolved than that they would have to wait for 18 months before trial.
And I am sure that it escapes no one’s attention that the threat of “extended operating hours” while courts remain dark and Judges underemployed does not seem logical or fair, let alone the best use of scarce resources.
Remote vs In Person
Sometimes it is easy to forget how far we have come. I don’t mean how far from the world of my pupillage before mobile phones – walking up to the payphones outside the RCJ to make a personal telephone call. I mean from where we were in February when the very idea of any remote hearing was truly exceptional.
Two of our Presiders write on the subject of remote/ in person hearings in the SEC Magistrates Courts:
‘Together with the judicial members (Lay Justices and DJJ(MC)), we have produced this short document which we are both distributing today. It sets out the usual practice in the Magistrates’ Courts on our circuit for different types of hearings at the present time, July 2020 but is, of course, always subject to a different direction by the judge.’
We met the SPJ on Monday morning and she has had discussions with Resident Judges across the country. Everyone is trying to get the balance right between reducing footfall and maintaining safety, and increasing capacity and using technology where appropriate. The Judges really do understand the economic pressures we face and the debilitating misery of trekking for hours to courts for cases that could properly have been done remotely. My time on Courtserve gives me the impression that many courts are trying to use the remote link. But they will not get it right all of the time and I would welcome your views on whether the balance is being struck.
Culture and training
We cannot afford not to be a face-to-face profession. However much time we spend locked down, learning to cope through our screens during the emergency, we need to keep the flame of in person advocacy alight when it comes to the contentious matters. Part of this means training. How much did you learn as a young barrister, watching people in the list ahead of you handle a difficult situation or Judge? Or talking through a problem in the robing room. The sheer humanity of our job is a precious quality that can only be maintained and perpetuated with being in court. But we have to strike a balance and we also cannot afford to be dragged to court for the routine administrative hearings…
Many ask “Why can’t the Bar Council ID cards that reduce time in the building, unnecessary face to face contact, and the need to search, be rolled out to every court?”. The Bar Council has been asking HMCTS for this to happen for many weeks. The roll out is extraordinarily slow, but not for want of trying.
The legislation was passed two decades ago. For most of that time only three courts used it, then last year 6 more were added to the list, then 9 more by early 2020, though I am not sure that any of these had actually used the process/ powers before the pandemic struck. Until the pandemic the process had been mired in unwillingness to invest or tackle the complexities of listing. The wait may be over as s28 has become an integral part of recovery planning. The MoJ plans a roll-out to the remaining 70 or so court centres by the end of the year, to cover all courts across the country. The first wave (of four), planned for September will apparently be largely in London/ South East. HMCTS is to be applauded for its ambition - sorting the tech behind this process is not as easy as one might first imagine.
If we are to make sure that the courts / practitioners are ready to go in early September, we really do need to know which courts by the middle of July… which is now. You need access to clients in custody, disclosure to be complete, a fixed date for your ground rules hearing and then a date for the cross examination – all of which can be done without a jury. The vulnerable children who give evidence can put the experience behind them and hopefully get on with their interrupted education. Your clients will see progress and their cases being advanced. It is not the whole answer, but what is in this messy world? Last but not least, if defending you can be paid a brief fee and the CPS has agreed to significantly improve the fees paid.
We await announcements. If past experience is any indicator we are in thrall to the “Downing Street news grid”. But the first wave of ten sites around the country will be coming soon we believe. I suspect these will be mostly for family/ civil/ tribunal with some crime. It may be that the first news that emerges is a list officer contacting you/ your solicitor or a Judge discussing where a trial might be heard. Planning is underway for more sites, and improving capacity at current centres.
At Bar Council on Tuesday evening we welcomed the DPP. It is sometimes easy to forget how quickly the CPS worked to refashion their payment scheme to help the Bar through this period, for which we remain grateful. Those who have been on secondments in recent years speak warmly of what they have gained. There are a number of slots being advertised around the country – see below. The deadline for applications is next week.
I know we are all weary, and stressed by the uncertainty of what lies ahead. So whether your escape from screens comes with walks, yoga, outdoor swimming or even a glass of wine, take care.
The Barristers' Benevolent Association:
The four Inns, together with the Barristers’ Benevolent Association, have launched a Covid-19 fund to give emergency financial assistance where it is urgently needed at the Bar. This fund will help those members of the Bar who are unable to support themselves and their families during these difficult times.
Their aim is to make emergency grants to barristers who are suffering financial hardship as a result of C19 impeding their ability to work as a barrister, as fairly, swiftly and simply as possible.
For details visit their website and complete the short Covid19 application form and email it to email@example.com
Website: the-bba.com Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
Telephone: 07887 841302 and 07375 557326
The BBA exist to support, help and comfort those members of the Bar in England and Wales and their families and dependents who are in need, distress or difficulties.
2020 Law Reform Essay Competition:
The essay competition is open to those in pupillage, having an offer of pupillage, undertaking the academic or vocational component of training for the Bar or actively seeking pupillage having completed the BPTC within the last five years. It is aimed at fostering interest in law reform among aspiring barristers. Entrants are invited to submit a 3,000 word essay making the case for a reform to English, Welsh or European law. The competition is generously sponsored by the Bar Council Scholarship Trust and offers prizes for winners, runners up and highly commended awards.
Please see the website page here which gives more details including a YouTube video, previous winning essays, a blog from the 2019 prize-winner and the application form. We have also posted on Twitter about the essay competition and it is included in the most recent edition of ‘BarTalk’.
If you would like any further information, please contact Eleanore Hughes.
The Council of the Inns of Court (COIC) seeks to recruit a talented Bar Course Designer/Tutor with experience of Civil Litigation and ADR for a 12-month maternity cover contract commencing on 1st October 2020 or as soon as possible thereafter.
The successful candidate will take a leading role in the design and development of the Inns of Court College of Advocacy’s (ICCA) two-stage Bar Course before moving on to take on a role as a Bar Course Tutor in March 2021.
Reporting to the Bar Course Leader, the new Designer/Tutor will join a core team responsible for the development of Bar Course lesson and assessment content using the latest blended learning techniques.
For more information and a full job description please follow this link
CPS Lawyer Secondments opportunities for Advocate Panel members at level 1 and 2 - click the relevant position for further details and to apply.
CPS Advocate Panel – NEW online application process / TEAMS training sessions:
From September 2020 all applications for the General Crime Panel (incl. RASSO) and Specialist Panels – new joiners and upgrades – will be completed and submitted using a new online application process.
The new process has been designed based on feedback from a range of current and prospective Panel members. The new platform, which will be available in August, is intuitive to use and will provide applicants with a vastly improved experience.
To support its launch, the Advocate Panel team are running a series of virtual training sessions in July 2020, via Microsoft Teams, for those wishing to join the Panel or upgrade their level in September or re-apply as part of the 2020 refresh. Each session will provide an opportunity for potential applicants to:
- Learn how to complete and submit an application using the new online process
- Hear from CPS Assessors about how to complete a good quality application
The sessions will last approximately an hour and be held on the following dates:
Monday 20th July – 4:30pm
Thursday 23rd July – 4:30pm
If you are interested in attending one of these sessions, please contact Advocate.Panels@cps.gov.uk as soon as possible to book your place.
For any other queries, please contact the Advocate Panel mailbox where the team will be happy to assist.
ICCA's Guidance - Expert Evidence:
The ICCA are delighted to announce the publication of the third edition of the ICCA's Guidance on the preparation, admission and examination of expert evidence which can be found here.
The importance of expert evidence and the crucial role of advocates in promoting its reliability through high standards of case preparation has long been recognised. This guidance is intended to be generic, practical and relevant to advocates working in any court or tribunal in England and Wales. It is an introduction to, and/or a handy refresher of, the principles that underlie the use of expert evidence.
Access further information.
Anchorage House Medway County Court - Pubic Consultation:
The consultation also sets out why it will be necessary to adopt temporary listing arrangements for the work currently heard at Medway County and Family court pending the completion of enabling works at Maidstone. We have outlined the reasons for our approach and why these temporary arrangements will be necessary. Work will be heard by telephone or video where possible, and the remaining work would be distributed between Medway Magistrates’ Court, Maidstone Combined Court (without enabling works), and county courts in Canterbury, Dartford and Thanet (Margate).
The consultation will run for four weeks and will close on 11th August 2020. Consultation documents are available here. Please feel free to, cascade this information to your colleagues and interested parties at a national and regional level, as appropriate. Alternatively, if you would like to discuss this further, please do contact the project team at email@example.com.
SEC/CPS Form Filling Virtual Lecture:
This Course will now take place in October 2020.
17.00 - 18.30
An intensive session designed to explore all issues surrounding CPS grading applications. A panel of speakers will discuss how to tailor your experience to the CPS grading criteria, and to project your skills appropriately. There will also be an exploration of common mistakes made in the application process, and how to best avoid these.
Calmer, Easier, Happier, Parenting
Guest Speaker: Noël Janis-Norton
Wednesday 22nd July
17.30 - 19.00
Further details and to book your place
SEC/Silk Application Guidance - Virtual Lecture:
Thursday 30th July
17.00 - 18.30
This session draws together the exercise of those who have successfully attained the rank of Queen’s Counsel in recent application rounds and long standing Queen’s Counsel to provide a breadth of experience and advice. The session will take a holistic approach and will explore the steps to be taken before any application is made, the pitfalls and mistakes that should be avoided, case and reference selection issues.
Please register your interest to attend here.
SEC/Recorder Exam Guidance - Virtual Lecture:
Thursday 3rd September
17.00 - 18.30
A session focused on exploring how to approach the recorder application process. This seminar draws on the expertise of sitting Recorders and Circuit Judges to explore prepare to make an application, how to navigate the application form and its pitfalls, and how to approach the final exam. This session is expected to be very popular; please reserve your place as soon as possible.
Please register your interest to attend here.
Diversifying your Practice:
An Evening in September
Further details will be announced shortly