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The South Eastern Circuit
Leader's Update

The 'Circuiteer':
At the bottom of the email you will find a link to the 2020 edition of The Circuiteer.  Please do take a look and I am sure you will find much of interest.  I am enormously grateful to our outgoing editor Karim Khalil QC, our incoming editor Leon Kazakos QC, all the contributors, Aaron and Harriet in bringing it to “print”.  It has been a tumultuous year and I am delighted to see our magazine back.

Keep yourself and others safe.  It seems extraordinary to have to say it, but it seems not everyone is following social distancing and the rules about wearing masks at court.  
Read the guidance here and follow it for the sake of the rest of us. 
 
The Spending Review.  Until quite recently every such announcement over the last decade has seemed to take another hatchet to the justice system.  Governments have become increasingly political about crime and sentencing, while eviscerating the very institutions that are trying to investigate and prosecute crime.  Covid laid bare the pre-existing crisis in the CJS.  It may be that things are changing for the better.  The MoJ press release following the spending review announcement last week can be
found here.  If delivered, we may have turned a corner.  Everyone can be forgiven for a dose of healthy scepticism until money actually flows, and a 12 month cycle does not permit long term planning, but equally we should not be churlish about a positive step in the right direction.  At a meeting with the Lord Chancellor last Thursday morning, he assured Circuit Leaders of his ongoing commitment to capital spending,  more HMCTS staff and modernisation/ repair of the court estate.
 
“Covid Operating Hours” Consultation for the Crown Court.  Last Thursday we were told that HMCTS plans to roll out COHs in some criminal courts across the country. Unfortunately no one has told us where.  This makes it hard to respond in a reasoned way.  A consultation has been launched that closes on 10th December. It is also unfortunate that the consultation window is so narrow, that HMCTS has declined despite earlier promises to publish its own evaluation of the previous EOH pilot, and that the raw data underpinning this consultation has not been supplied to the professions.  Sadly this kind of behaviour undermines confidence in Government decision making.  
 
The concept of COHs was first floated in mid-July – it seems a world away.  At that time, perhaps 20-30 trials were being listed each Monday on our Circuit.  The Perspex revolution has meant that we are close to 120 on the last couple of Mondays, apparently more trials than in 2019.  In August we were promised 1600 more court staff across the country.  I suspect we are a long, long way from having these staff recruited, vetted, trained and in place.  The court staff we do have are shattered at the end of a stressful and debilitating year.  And in case anyone in government has not noticed, there is a vaccine apparently arriving.  The context has changed significantly.  
 
Please read the consultation papers carefully.  You may have read the messages this week from the CBA and the Chair of the Bar.  If you have not, please do.  Some of you may have had experience of the pilots in Reading and Snaresbrook that took place in the autumn.  
Whether or not you want to submit an individual response, the consultation is 
here.  Please read it before you form a final view – the complexities of listing and case mixes and some real problems are set out in pages 14 and beyond.
 
My reservations are not dogmatic. Who knows, it is even possible I might change my mind if HMCTS would actually release the data from the pilots – we all understand the corrosive effect on public confidence of delay and the need to tackle the trial backlog.  Of course even if the data showed that a COHs court resulted in more disposals than a standard hours court, the cases were carefully selected for the COHs because they were short, likely to crack and were then given extraordinary levels of case management. Arguably these courts might be used to list cases that are otherwise not a high priority and might therefore languish for years.  But at what cost?  Where is the analysis of the effort required to staff and run these COHs courts?   Where is the analysis of the case mixes and backlog in each court centre that might help us understand whether there was any justification for these proposals?
 
How are we supposed to fairly assess the proposals?  In the absence of any detail, we cannot.  In a small court centre, turning two trial courts into three (by splitting one of the two trial courts) might make an appreciable difference to the trial backlog.  A large court centre might not add much capacity with a single split court, but it could arguably help listing certain categories of smaller case that would otherwise not be listed for many months or years. If any Resident agreed that a case would not be listed in an afternoon or morning shift to allow a client to have his choice of counsel, then some of the potential discriminatory impact might fall away.  But because the detailed proposals remain hidden from the professions, the consultation process is flawed, and we cannot comment.
 
The blunt truth is that circumstances have changed markedly, since July and even if these courts were worth considering back in the summer, they are not now.  And this is before we even begin to consider the potentially discriminatory impact, and the disruption to your lives – and those of the Judges and Court staff - that COHs would bring on top of everything that you have endured this year.  
 
And on page 25 there is one key line in the consultation that causes further real trouble:  COH courtrooms use judge time less efficiently: two judge sitting days are required for one COH day, one for each session.  What does this mean?  Does this mean the “Sitting Day” as a unit of currency that determines how much work the Crown Court does, or something else?  The Lord Chancellor has told us there is no limit on sitting days in the year 2020-21. 
Perhaps this is why the consultation speaks of a review in April?  But we await a settlement for 2021-22.  So, if the MoJ budget for the courts is based on sitting days, how can we possibly embrace a system that uses up our scarce resources in a way that may be less efficient and more expensive?  Now if the MoJ were willing or able to ring fence all the costs associated with COHs – the extra effort and resources required – then we might be in a position to have a balanced review of whether there was a limited role to play for the scheme in tackling the increasing trial backlog.  For the moment I am unpersuaded.  Speaking for myself I would rather some more thought, planning and resources went into the multi-handed trial backlog…  
 
The Consultation asks that responses are co-ordinated though the Bar Council and the CBA.  If you feel strongly, one way or the other, please do not limit your efforts to tweeting.  While satisfying on one level, just tweeting will not make any meaningful difference.  Write to the Bar Council, CBA or me and we will make sure your views are captured in what we say to Government. 
 
CPS secondments
The CPS has opened up a new application process for secondments.  
The rates are better than in the summer and you would be able to start almost immediately.  This may suit some and can help build relationships and careers.  Please take a look 
Level 3 CPS Panel Advocate Lawyer Secondment - Crown Prosecutor- London North if you think it would be of interest.  
 
Prisons
HMPPS reports that the following Prisons have now extended their operating hours for prison video to facilitate professional visits:
Belmarsh, Bullingdon, Chelmsford, Cookham Wood, Feltham, High Down, Isle of Wight, Pentonville, Peterborough (Women and Men),Thameside, Wormwood Scrubs… nothing replaces face to face, but hopefully this will help some of you see clients in a convenient way without having to travel to prisons.


Finally
Despite the limited cheer available, what with lost opportunities for drinks with friends and colleagues and complicated arrangements for seeing family over the holiday, we may take comfort from the fact that the system has largely held up through the second lockdown and there is no shortage of work in the months ahead.  For months we have worried about the winter ahead and what might happen.  
Now winter is here and while there may still be dark (and short) days ahead for a time, we do seem to be through the worst of it.  And who knows, you might even be able to enjoy the odd permitted business lunch.
 
Take care and have a very good we
ekend,

Yours,

Mark Fenhalls QC
Leader of the South Eastern Circuit

leader@southeastcircuit.org.uk
Announcements:

The 'Circuiteer' - Winter Edition 2020:


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 
covid19@the-bba.com
 
Website: 
the-bba.com Email: covid19@the-bba.com
nicky@the-bba.com or annette@the-bba.com
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. 


Law Care - Life in the Law research:

Law Care have launched a ground breaking research study, ‘Life in the Law’ lifeinthelaw.org.uk and have asked  the membership for assistance.  

Law Care want to encourage as many people working in the legal profession, those in training, legally qualified and support staff, to take part, as the results of this study will pave the way for determining what we can do as a profession to improve the support available to people working in the legal profession by enhancing our understanding of the issues that affect mental health and wellbeing. The data will help us all drive long lasting cultural change in legal workplaces to benefit both the present and future generation of lawyers and staff. Law Care expect the results to also form the basis of an academic paper.
 
Your support in helping to promote the study would be really appreciated. 
 
To give you an overview of the study, please see the following links, a FAQ document will be uploaded and circulated once prepared.  

Updated Snaresbrook Crown Court S28 Protocol - November:
Accessed here


PCU WIFI in HMCTS Buildings:
PCU WiFi is changing and will no longer be available in HMCTS buildings from 15th January 2021. HMCTS are upgrading the authentication service which will provide:

  • Secure form of authentication
  • No need for password renewal (currently every 90 days)
  • No need to re-authenticate when moving between sites
  • Further alignment to best practice.

All PCU WiFi users will need to register for a GovWiFi account before 15th January 2021.

Simply text ‘Go’ to 07537417417 to get connected.

This is a one-time registration. You will then be able to connect wherever GovWiFi is available.

Further information on how to connect and manage your installation is available at the GovWiFi website.

Digital forensic material - an academic study:
A collaborative research group led by Birkbeck’s 
Institute for Criminal Policy Research (ICPR) is launching an important new project to better understand the challenges and opportunities associated with ‘digital forensics’. The project will look in particular at evidence derived from posts on social media platforms and communications on messaging applications, and at how such evidence is used in the investigation and prosecution of offline, interpersonal offences.

The study is funded by the Dawes Trust, and has a number of elements including case studies of investigations, as well as an online survey of CPS staff, police investigators and law enforcement, and criminal lawyers.

You can find more information about the research here.

Members are invited to participate in this short survey looking at how social media material is used in the investigation, prosecution, and defence of criminal cases. It will take no more than 5-10 minutes, and the results will feed into our research project on the use of forensic digital information in the Criminal Justice System. This original and critically important research project is being conducted by Birkbeck University, Perpetuity Research, and University College London. It is completely independent from all CJS organisations and your responses will be recorded anonymously. The results of the survey will be made publicly available​, and we hope it will help make the policing and prosecution of cases with significant social media elements fairer and more effective. Interested?
Please access the survey here should you wish to participate.


Advocate Christmas Challenge 2020:
Please throw someone a legal lifeline this Christmas. From midday on Tuesday 1st December until midday on Tuesday 8th December, all donations made to the Advocate Christmas Challenge will be DOUBLED! This year has seen a massive increase in vulnerable people applying to Advocate for help. If you can, please donate whatever you can afford and it will be match funded through 
this link.


Wellbeing:

Parental Talk with Noel Janis-Norton:
Recorded on 22nd July 2020

A copy of the this recording can be accessed here

'Resilience'
Recorded on Tuesday 1st December 
This recording will be available within the next ten days. 
SEC and Bar Mess Events:

Christmas Concert:
'Celebrate Christmas with two access to justice charities at the annual Advocate and LawWorks Christmas Carol Concert' 
Tuesday 15th December 2020
18.30 - 19.30 

Full details and to book


Our 2021 SEC Education Programme is currently being prepared with further details published shortly which will include (please do not ask to book just yet):
 
SEC/Diversifying your Practice:
2021
 
SEC/Silk Applications (part one):
2021
 
SEC/Silk Interviews (part two):
2021
 
SEC/CPS Form Filling:
2021
 
SEC/Recorder Exam Guidance:
2021
 
Dame Ann Ebsworth Memorial Lecture:
Spring 2021
 
SEC/ Pupils: 
Autumn 2021

RASSO Refresher:
Autumn 2021


Judicial Q&A's (3 separate sessions):
2021
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