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The CPS
Please read this
statement of principles published yesterday by the CPS.  I am most grateful to all those at the CPS who have worked so hard to listen to our concerns about the sustainability of the independent Bar and for their response.

Criminal Legal Aid
I am sure you have all read the CBA message released this morning about the new SI, effective from today.  The MoJ
guidance on claims can be found here.

New Technology - The Cloud Video Platform – something for all areas of work

Please read this announcement.  On the same site you will find other announcements about the use of the system in civil and family work.

What does it mean?  The prisons are being connected to courts at an unprecedented pace.  This involves a lot of hardware being fitted and a lot of people being retrained.  As each prison comes online and capacity increases, lawyers will be able to regain access to clients.  It is by no means perfect, but the system is remarkably easy to use and should make a substantial difference.  The ease and quality of connectivity far outstrips the current system and should significantly increase capacity in current hearings in the Crown Court.  The next questions are how else we can use CVP more widely and, allied, how easy would it be to improve?  Something for our technical innovators around the country to get their teeth into.  

And there is no technical reason why it should not be used in any court or tribunal, to facilitate remote work.

The Circuit has been given access to a “virtual training room”.  Please make sure your chambers has “volunteered” a single member who we can show how to use the room.  We will then give you access over the next couple of weeks and you can show your colleagues what is, and may be, possible.  Those who have seen it in action can immediately see possibilities for connecting witnesses and defendants remotely if the right safeguards are in place. 

Old technology – Skype for Business
I offer you this from one of our Resident Judges.  'Even though we have been operating via SfB for some weeks now, a few members of the Bar remain unable join hearings.  This results in a huge amount of time being taken coaching them in what to do.  The problems we have encountered include inadequate/incompatible equipment and a lack of pre-hearing preparation to join a SfB hearing.  It would be of real benefit if those required to attend a hearing via a video ensured they were able to do so in advance of the hearing.’

Of course if you cause this to happen, this means everyone else in the list behind you is kept waiting.  So please read this straightforward
“how to do it guide”.  And if you need to connect a defendant on bail remotely to a SfB hearing through their smartphone, this guide shows you how.

Where have all the trials gone in the County Court?
Anecdotal experience across the country suggests an almost complete collapse in the number of trials that are being heard.  It is an important reminder that unless we resolve the adjournment culture in the county courts that the public is being denied access to justice and vast swathes of the junior bar will suffer.   

Restarting Trials in the Crown Court
The reported remarks of the Lord Chief Justice and Lord Chancellor on Thursday morning were an extremely welcome recognition of the critical importance of restarting trial by jury.   We all know the consequences of the current freeze.  Victims, complainants and their families deserve to have their allegations heard;  defendants deserve to have their trials conducted fairly and safely.

As has become apparent to all of you, there is a lively debate about what might be possible and acceptable.  Without expressing any views today about detail, it seems to me worth observing that we need to explore every option.  A compromise that might seem unacceptable today, might feel rather different to a client or complainant in a few weeks or months if there is still no prospect of an imminent trial.  And as we all know from our experience in chambers, the threat to chambers and individuals from not earning anything is real and imminent.

First we must try everything we can to see how many trials can safely be conducted in the current court estate, adhering to PHE advice.  The least bad option within current buildings may well be to connect two courts, but this will depend on geography.

When we rapidly discover that we can only accommodate a handful of trials and that waiting lists continue to explode, we must urgently explore alternative accommodation.  It has been done before and would not be that complex to hold bail trials in empty buildings.  I imagine every single one of you will have wondered why we can’t build “Nightingale” courts in a few weeks.  The answer of course is we can if the political will and resources were so directed.  It might need a new job appointment for a single powerful “court tsar” to drive the process, but of course it can be done.

New technology can, should, play a part.  Witnesses might want to give evidence remotely via the CVP.  Defendants might elect to observe part of their trials over the same system, choosing only to attend to give evidence.  

We can use existing powers far more effectively – why not expand use of s28, preserving the evidence of vulnerable children, so that they can have the cloud of giving evidence lifted from them and a trial could come on rapidly as soon as the space becomes available.  

Staying in Touch
I am going to repeat something I have said in a previous message.

My email inbox 
leader@southeastcircuit.org.uk  and everything I hear in every meeting makes it starkly obvious what pressure you are all under; none of us are under any illusions about the personal and collective fears that haunt our days and nights.  Talking to someone may help and the very least I may be able to reassure you that the Bar Council, Circuit and SBAs are doing everything we can to make your concerns heard and to win the arguments.

I am not going to replicate or rewrite the work being done by the Bar Council.  I urge you to read the update emails and to follow the links.  Amanda Pinto QC and her team have been, and will be, relentless in pressing your case in every possible way, to assist Chambers and individuals.  

Finally
The troubling evidence emerging in recent days about the unequal impact of this virus on the poorer areas of our country is a brutal reminder of how we have to fight for the rights of all.  The Bar plays a unique role and performs a vital public service.  We need to fight to survive so we can continue to represent the interests of all.

 
Best wishes,

Mark

Mark Fenhalls QC
Leader of the South Eastern Circuit

Leader@southeastcircuit.org.uk
07711675229
Copyright © 2020 The South Eastern Circuit, All rights reserved.

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