From today’s Guardian website:
“More than half of all magistrates courts in England and Wales have closed since 2010, forcing defendants, witnesses, police, lawyers and justices of the peace to travel sometimes more than 50 miles to access local justice.”
Justice is no longer local. What stake do any of us have in our communities any more?
In truth the story is not news to criminal lawyers.
However, this is:
“As large gaps open up in the courts network in Wales, East Anglia and the north of England, HM Courts and Tribunal Service has confirmed it is considering whether to pay for taxis to ferry defendants and witnesses from the most remote parts of the country to hearings”
From a report at buzzfeed.com today: ‘Magistrates usually hear pleas in court, which means that even if someone does not have a lawyer, the magistrates or a court legal adviser can remind them of the implications of a decision. They are concerned that if online pleas are introduced in all cases, “there is a risk that defendants will indicate a plea without getting appropriate legal advice, possibly without realising the seriousness of the case.”
Online efficiencies are capable of making a positive contribution to criminal justice in our courts, but the taking of a plea is a critical event and should never take place from an armchair. Pleading guilty or not guilty will amount to not much more than buying your groceries. It will lose its importance and its value. Is that how we want things to be?
There are genuine fears that it is happening already with the implementation of section 22A of the Magistrates’ Courts Act. Facing a shoplifting charge valued at less than £200? No problem. It’s a dishonesty offence that carries stigma of its own kind. Justifiably. It goes on your criminal record, and if it’s your first time it will create a criminal record for you. It brings with it the obligation to disclose at, for examples, job interviews. All of these are just examples of how a decision to plead guilty can impact you significantly. But you can plead guilty to it from your armchair and never even go to court.
To hell with the implications and the life significance of this decision to plead guilty! Never mind the several pages’ worth of legal analysis on the meaning and description of the offence of theft in my 2019 editions of Archbold and Blackstones. Anyone can do it for themselves from their armchair!
I remember that I spent a good hour one night just before Christmas discussing the offence of theft with a colleague and my instructing solicitor, with both books open in front of me, in order to make sure that what the client was admitting actually fitted the definition of the offence of theft. Because that’s my job and I like to do it properly.
But who needs professionals like me in this new online age? Decide for yourself whether you’re guilty or not. Plead guilty by post from your armchair. You might not get it right; you might make a catastrophic decision for your future. But at least you will have done it cheaply.
Read the report by Emily Dugan at buzzfeed.com here.
“Proposed legislation to make the taking of “upskirting” photos a criminal offence cleared its final parliamentary hurdle in the House of Lords yesterday and now awaits royal assent … when enacted it will ban covertly photographing under people’s clothes. Those convicted will face a maximum of two years in prison.” (The Times here.)
Not before time.
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“What if I told you that some jurors do not decide cases on the evidence that they hear, but instead on entrenched prejudices and stereotypes that they cannot shake? That as far as those jurors are concerned, the calling of evidence does nothing more than pay lip-service to the concept of a fair trial? Would you be shocked that people could be convicted and imprisoned on the basis of prejudiced and stereotyped jury attitudes? Except that it’s not defendants who are at risk; instead the biases operate against women complainants in rape cases.”
On 21st December 2018 the Law Society Gazette published my article on the psychology of rape juries. Here is a link to my blogpost about it and a link to the article.
An important move as the Information Commissioner’s Office steps in to examine the extent to which the mobile telephone records of complainants in rape cases are being obtained by police investigators.
For me, the new DPP is spot on, as he is quoted in an article in the Independent :
Max Hill QC said the right to a fair trial must be balanced against the “unnecessary and unjustified invasion” of complainants’ private lives, which may be used to undermine them in court. “We are very clear that seeking to examine the mobile telephones of complainants and witnesses is not something that should be pursued as a matter of course in every case,” he added. “It is crucial that only the reasonable lines of inquiry are pursued, to avoid unnecessary intrusion into a complainant’s personal life.”
Read the full article here.
Judge: *I* do the funnies in this courtroom, Mr Booth [pause] and I do them very well.
‘Sexual harassment at the bar is not being reported because pupils and young lawyers fear their careers will be damaged if they complain, according to a senior barrister, Prof Jo Delahunty QC suggested there was widespread complacency about the prevalence of inappropriate behaviour in chambers and even by judges in courts.’
Read the story on the Guardian website here.
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