The South Eastern Circuit
Caroline Goodwin QC
Caroline has been leading the CBA since 1st September 2019. Once upon a time the “CBA year” ended on 31st July… and sometimes even people went on holiday. But in this benighted year where we have disappeared into our screens and lost track of hours, days, weeks, such arbitrary markers may no longer matter - the emergency means we may even have to ask her to “extend her operating hours” into August. But I do not believe the same will be asked of you, as you will see below.
I would like to thank Caroline on behalf of all criminal practitioners everywhere and pay tribute to her relentless commitment to fighting for our interests, which has been something to behold. She has put in an exceptional “shift” on behalf of so many.
It is extremely hard for anyone outside HMCTS to get a reliable sense of the actual listing in the lower courts. Anecdote suggests that the fast track trials on which so many depend have not really returned in any numbers. Frustratingly, HMCTS has recently declined to give the Bar Council the underlying listing data in relation to full hearings (trials), reversing a commitment it had made on many occasions since it was first requested on 2nd April. One can only assume that is because they do not have any data worth relying on. This reluctance means we have no baseline and makes it difficult for us to provide constructive assistance. It also means we should take with a pinch of salt any claims about numbers that they advance and the supposed necessity of EOH in different jurisdictions. The data in crime may be slightly more useful, but we shall see.
We know from experience that lower value/ less complex civil trials ceased almost completely in late March and that there has only been limited progress made in restoring capacity. One of the reasons for this may be that a lot of the civil Judges sit in family and, for understandable reasons, have been concentrating on emergency priorities to do with child welfare. When the stay on possession hearings is lifted in late August, the huge backlog in that jurisdiction will no doubt absorb a significant proportion of judicial time. We wait for plans on how this will be addressed. For the moment at least, it seems settled that the listing of cases and the allocation of courts is a matter that has to be dealt with locally.
Tech. I am told by HMCTS that CVP should be working across the entire civil estate by the end of August. From Monday it should be available in most courts in the South East. Of course such rapid and widespread roll-out comes with problems and substantial efforts will have to continue to make sure the technology is properly used.
“New Operating Hours?”
We are told that HMCTS continues to develop ideas that differ from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Some jurisdictions may not need any change of hours at all. It is really important to stress that I have not yet heard any suggestion that “EOH” means any of you will have to work longer hours. The “extension” refers to the time which the building/ court rooms are in use. We all understand the crucial need to manage footfall. After all we have been queuing outside our supermarkets for months now. If - a big if - it is possible to design a scheme that actually does increase trial capacity/ throughput, staggers footfall and does not damage diversity at the Bar, then surely we should try it? Liverpool CC is testing a two shift model from 17th August as described by the CBA in its message yesterday afternoon. Sheffield is experimenting with a different approach. A court centre for any test is yet to be announced on the SEC. It may be that such pilot(s) demonstrate that none of the HMCTS ideas in fact increase efficiency. If so, it would help everyone to know. It might even persuade the Treasury that the answer is better funding of the way we do things now (or at least we did before covid). But any increase in the number of trials that we can conduct must be in the interests of justice – complainants, witnesses and clients alike. And solicitors and barristers alike will be able to feed our families without racking up more debt; without spending any savings meant to be reserved for tax; or without drawing down on the BBL if you have managed to get one…
I am told that a far more detailed recovery plan is to be published shortly. Whether this means next week or not I do not know. Whenever it does come, it is not a moment too soon. There are around 200 crown courts on our circuit. In the week commencing 13th July about 30 trials were running. This has edged up, on the best days this week, towards 35. But there are still gaps, not enough follow on trials and a dearth of backers. More could and should be done with the current capacity.
And what else is planned? One size does not fit all - literally. Every court (and room) needs different types of work to make it 2m/ 1m+ compliant. I understand HMCTS has made significant progress in mapping out what needs to be done everywhere – be it furniture removal or something else. Perspex screens are in the pipeline for many of those courts where 2m cannot be maintained - in effect the “plus” in 1m+. We are told these will be widely installed by September and HMCTS hopes that this will make a significant change to trial capacity. Jury retirement rooms everywhere are too small for the covid era. This is why we need portacabins, marquees, rooms in buildings adjacent to courts to allow jurors to assemble and retire - otherwise extra court rooms everywhere are tied up for long and uncertain periods.
But none of this is much good for you, unless you are told where and when these adjustments are going to be ready. We are told that some courtrooms are too small ever to work with safety measures at all. So, for example, what are HMCTS’ plans for Sussex? What is being done to move from 1 trial court in Essex (out of the 16 listed at Basildon and Chelmsford)? How are we going to achieve more than 1 trial court at ILCC, Wood Green and Harrow? Why is Snaresbrook only running 1 trial court? I could go on. Above all if there isn’t yet a plan for each of these places, isn’t it time there was? I have asked for detailed plans to be published - county by county, court by court, or Circuit wide. We are all grown up enough to know that target dates can be missed, but it would help us all to know what is being aimed for and when…
The Bar Council is hosting a Q&A with the CEO of HMCTS on Tuesday 4th August – you can sign up here, if places remain and ask her yourself. We have repeatedly asked Susan to be as open as possible about HMCTS plans.
The years of degradation have taken a heavy toll on all of us, and I include in that the staff of HMCTS who have borne their share of the 24% cuts in justice spending since 2010 – do read the Bar Council’s recent report. But sympathy for others does not help our plight. Circumstances that no one wanted, mean our ability to earn a living has been taken away. We are entitled to know what detailed HMCTS plans are in place to enable us to survive.
I have been told today that testing has begun on a system to allow Magistrates Courts to publish lists online on Courtserve. If all goes well this may be in place by the start of September. This would reduce a huge administrative burden and be most welcome. We continue to explore how timed lists might help footfall and case management.
In all jurisdictions there are continued tensions between remote and in person hearings. The views of individual Judges and practitioners vary. One reason from the courts’ point of view is that many believe that remote hearings take longer. For a variety of reasons – staffing, tech, bandwidth - the inefficiencies are increased when the court is trying to juggle a number of small hearings. But many of these problems could be ironed out with more practice, patience, better staffing, advocates sorting out their own tech problems at home…
For many of us it is often hugely convenient to work remotely, but we have to accept that there may be good reasons for us to be back in court. We need to find the right balance – and it will continue to be bumpy while we do, with inevitablearguments with Judges and court staff. And those of us who are not in vulnerable categories need to understand that we may need to attend court more often in person than we might want in an ideal world, in order to protect the health and welfare of others. We will continue to make representations to the Judiciary (locally and nationally) where problems arise.
A plea for help from HMCTS, which has established that ‘there are occasionally some issues being caused by the DOM1 network when accessing CVP, which include: Soft pictures, Lip-sync errors – audio leading video by up to 4 seconds, People drop out of hearings unexpectedly.’ They are doing repeated testing, but the diagnosis is apparently hugely complex for reasons I do not understand. Your chambers tech reps have been asked to gather information about CVP/ network problems. So if you have a technical problem with CVP next week, please remember this email and do something about it.
Now for some tech detail and a plea for help from HMCTS. Your chambers tech reps have been asked to gather information about CVP/ network problems over the next week. So if you have a technical problem with CVP next week, please remember this email and do something about it. HMCTS has established that ‘there are occasionally some issues being caused by the DOM1 network when accessing CVP, which include: Soft pictures, Lip-sync errors – audio leading video by up to 4 seconds, People drop out of hearings unexpectedly.’ They are doing repeated testing, but the diagnosis is apparently hugely complex for a variety of reasons I do not really understand.
CPS Secondment – A Career Opportunity?
These CPS secondments are open to all advocates on their panel (levels 2-4), although the payment is capped at the level 2 rate of £250 per day. The offer is for fixed term contracts ranging between 3-12 months. The CPS will permit you to claim back your chambers rent as an expense. You will have some stability and certainty, and a precious opportunity to build relationships with a critical work provider. The application process is here and your application will be passed to the selection panel as soon as it is made. So if you are interested, the sooner you apply the better.
A New Fraud Court Centre on Fleet Street
Please take a few minutes to review this proposal. The public consultation is open until early September.
Everyone remains under great strain. Plans for August are up in the air. Work and finances are uncertain and we all look ahead with some trepidation to the autumn and winter beyond. If all else fails, there is always Ogden Nash:
‘A flea and a fly in a flue
Were imprisoned, so what could they do?
Said the fly, "let us flee!"
"Let us fly!" said the flea.
So they flew through a flaw in the flue.’
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.
Nominations for the 2020 Bar Pro Bono Awards are now OPEN!
Do you have a friend or colleague who goes above and beyond for every pro bono client? A mentor who goes the extra mile? A clerk who always manages to find time in everyone’s diaries for pro bono work?
Give them the recognition they deserve by nominating them for a Bar Pro Bono Award at weareadvocate.org.uk/nominate
The deadline for nominations is Sunday 27th September 2020 and most of the awards will be presented at an online awards ceremony during Pro Bono Week in November.
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.
Young Citizens Bar Mock Trial Steering Group:
'message from the programme administrator'
Since we last spoke, a lot has changed. We hope you and those close to you are doing well during these times. At Young Citizens we have been thinking about preserving and adapting our programmes given the uncertainty that surrounds us. In light of this, we have made the following changes to this year's programme.
- Changes to the application timeline. (The key dates are below, but the full timetable is on our website.)
Regional heats held - late January/early February 2021
National Final - March 2021
We understand that uncertainty due to COVID-19 is not limited to schools, and that you may not be able to commit to helping out yet due to the workload and time commitments resulting from disruptions caused to the legal system, but we are doing our best to plan ahead for next year’s heats, and as such we would be very grateful for any indication you could give at this point as to the likelihood you’ll be available to mentor in the next cycle.
- Wider use of remote mentoring for schools. In recent years we have encouraged barrister mentors to be open to the option of providing remote mentoring assistance, rather than visiting schools in person. In light of the current situation, it will probably come of little surprise that for 2020/21 we’re moving to a predominantly remote model. We understand that school visits may not be possible in the next academic year but still want to continue providing support to the schools who want to participate during what we know will be a challenging time for teachers.
Once again the commitment would be for 2 (remote) mentoring sessions, however with the school preparation period running from September to January (with the first heats planned for 16th Jan), there’s more time than usual to fit these into your schedule. We will be providing updated guidance and support for a new model of remote mentoring to you and schools in due course.
The key questions for us right now are:
- Are you likely to be able to mentor between the months of September to January?
- Could you do so remotely?
Please do fill in this survey at your convenience if you’re up for taking part, and if you could pass this message along to your colleagues in the profession we’d be doubly grateful.
SEC and Bar Mess Events:
This Course will now take place in October 2020.
SEC/CPS Form Filling Virtual Lecture:
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.
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