Tag Archives: criminal justice

Help fix the broken criminal justice system

Due to many years of under investment the criminal justice system in England and Wales is crumbling.

Things are going wrong at every level and every stage. It’s become a nightmare journey through the system for the accused, for victims and for solicitors alike.

fix the broken justice system

Five problems facing the system

Increasing shortages of criminal duty solicitors

Within five years there could be areas in England and Wales where people who have been arrested won’t be able to access a duty solicitor. This means they won’t be able to get the free legal advice they’re entitled to.

You can read more about the importance of instructing a free solicitor at an early stage here.

criminal duty solicitors

The means test for criminal legal aid is too restrictive

People on low incomes aren’t able to access legal advice, or are having to pay contributions towards it which are higher than they can afford.

You can read more about the availability of legal aid here.

Inefficiencies in the system

For example, cases in court are often ‘double booked’, so some hearings get cancelled at the last minute. Things like this waste the accused’s and their solicitor’s time, and increase costs.

More and more courts are being closed

Defendants and witnesses are having to make unreasonably long and expensive journeys to court.

You can read more about our commitment to providing local legal advice for our clients here.

Crucial evidence is often not disclosed

Important evidence sometimes isn’t made available until the last minute, or isn’t disclosed at all. This can mean the difference between freedom and imprisonment.

All of these problems show the criminal justice system is at breaking point. Without urgent action, it will fall apart.

You can sign the Law Society petition to fix the broken justice system here.

broken justice system

Derby and District Law Society secures meeting for Chesterfield crime solicitors

chesterfield crime solicitorsOn 4 May 2018, Deputy Police and Crime Commissioner Kevin Gillott and Rosemary Spilsbury, Business and Performance Manager with the Derbyshire Criminal Justice Board, met with a group of Chesterfield crime solicitors who represent clients appearing before North Derbyshire Magistrates’ Court.

The meeting was informal in nature, arranged through Derby crime solicitor Nick Wright as the Derby and District Law Society chesterfield crime solicitorrepresentative for criminal matters.  The outcome has been shared with Legal Aid account managers and the Chair of the Derbyshire bench.

The aim of the meeting was to discuss any issues Chesterfield crime solicitors had with the processing of suspects and defendants by Derbyshire constabulary.  Some of the issues were also relevant to HMCTS and the CPS so the details were to be forwarded on.

Present were our Chesterfield crime solicitors David Gittins, Ben Strelley and Denney Lau, as well as other local practitioners.

The following matters were discussed:

Police Investigations

Police no longer appeared to be investigating both sides of a complaint during the investigation stage.  It was seldom, if ever, that they would speak with named defence witnesses.

Those interviewing suspects appeared to have a pre-conceived idea of what would be put in interview.  The series of questions were not departed from or amended dependent upon answers given by the suspect.  As a result, issues were not properly developed or interviews went on far longer than was necessary.

The need to investigate the issues raised by a suspect where relevant has been raised with the local body responsible for police training.

Bail and suspects released under investigation

The fact that bail could continue to be used did not appear to be properly considered by officers.

Instead, the overwhelming majority of suspects were simply being released under investigation (RUI).  Thereafter, there was no obvious suggestion that an investigation was being actively pursued.

Under the old bail system, Chesterfield crime solicitors at least had the opportunity to exercise some oversight in a case.  Representations could be made when suspects returned to the police station on bail, and bail milestones were set by which time there was a reasonable expectation that things might have progressed.

The police are to be encouraged to respond to emails from the defence explaining what is happening so that clients can be kept informed of progress.  The defence may be able to assist if, for example, it is discovered that a client has been subject to a postal requisition but has moved address.  The defence may be able to help save scarce police resources by making contact with a suspect if a further interview is required or with a defendant to make sure court dates are kept.

Superintendent Lewis will be contacting all police staff to ensure they are aware of the importance of updating suspects and their legal representatives.

Voluntary interviews

The number of voluntary interviews is increasing.  Unfortunately police stations lack the facilities to cope.  Voluntary interviews are not meant to take place in the cell blocks and several interview rooms are out of use.

The voluntary interview process and facilities are being reviewed. In the short term voluntary interviews will continue to take place in the cell block but longer term alternative rooms will be identified in police buildings across the force area.

Chesterfield Custody Suite

The facilities at Chesterfield custody suite are particularly poor.  Although the rooms in the cell block are also poor, they are still better than many of the rooms provided for voluntary interviews at many sites.  Although there has been some repairs and decorations at Chesterfield custody, other options may need to be considered in the long term.

Disclosure of evidence in particular cases

On practitioner cited a specific case where the alleged offender himself is vulnerable with a history of suicide attempts.  Phone records, and particularly text messages, were relevant to the case.  The case summary referred to 7,000 text messages that the police had retrieved.

The defence had requested this relevant material at the beginning of the case.  Three months later the defence was provided with a disc that could not be read without particular software and a password.  The defence had neither the software or the password.

Chesterfield crime solicitors are to be provided with the different types of format in which such information will be provided in future and where the software and other information can be obtained.

Disclosure of CCTV footage to Chesterfield crime solicitors

chesterfield crime solicitorsCCTV is not being provided to Chesterfield crime solicitors for the first hearing at the Magistrates’ Court.  It does not matter whether the case is anticipated to be a guilty or not guilty case.

There is an additional difficulty again in relation to the different formats in which it is supplied.  Some formats do not work on defence systems and again there are problems with the footage being password protected.

Again, we are to be provided with details of different formats used for different purposes and the software needed to access the CCTV footage.

Anticipated Plea

Unfortunately the police often anticipate the plea incorrectly.  This is a particular problem where a defendant has exercised their right to silence and there has been a ‘no comment’ interview.

If a case is wrongly identified as a ‘guilty’ plea then there will be no statements, exhibits or CCTV.  This generates a delay at court while this evidence is provided.  It will also mean that it is unlikely that issues raised by a suspect in interview will have been investigated.

A Criminal Justice review underway to establish how certain assumptions are made on plea, and how to improve the assessment of plea.

Respect for suspects and defendants

A plea was made that officers not refer to alleged offenders as ‘perps’ in the early summary of the case.  Rosemary has kindly fed this issue back to those responsible for training local officers and it is to be included in a Message Of  The Day to officers.

Buxton police station

There has been discussion as to whether the custody suite is to close and prisoners be processed elsewhere.  Unfortunately there is no answer, so a request was made that there is proper consultation with local defence solicitors, including Chesterfield crime solicitors, if change is to be considered.

Temporary closure of custody suites

When police close a custody suite temporarily the police have been asked that the duty solicitor covering that station be notified.  As a result of the meeting, the Chief Inspector has a request to Custody staff for this to be done.

Best evidence

chesterfield crime solicitorsIt was noted that the police are filming information from the phones of witnesses or complainants rather than seizing the device upon which the messages , photographs or footage is recorded on.

This provides a problem with disclosure.  Neither the prosecution or defence are able to access the full thread of messages or the original footage so allow the full context to be shown.

Disclosure issues have been recognised nationally by both the police and the Crown Prosecution Service and there is to be increased training for both agencies. The College of Policing is producing a national training package for officers.

Reporting poor practice

The Chesterfield crime solicitors present at the meeting observed that it would be useful for defence solicitors to be able to give feedback in relation to specific issues.

If there are examples of poor work that do not need an immediate response then Rosemary passed out her email address and encouraged direct contact in order that the issues can be resolved.


Those present were of the view that the meeting was useful.  It was also an indicator that there could be a constructive working relationship between the police and defence practitioners in order that all parties, including suspects or defendants, will benefit from change over the long term.

It is hoped that further such meetings will be arranged for the future.

Law Society representative visits Nottingham

On Thursday 15 May, Richard Miller, Head of Legal Aid at The Law Society, visited Nottingham and saw how the Bridewell, Magistrates’ Court and Crown Court were operating.

During the afternoon he took part in a round table meeting kindly hosted by Bhatia Best solicitors.  Nottingham Crime solicitor Graham Heathcote was in attendance from VHS Fletchers.

The main talking points amongst these defence practitioners were:

  • The fact that the Crown Prosecution is at breaking point.  There seems to be no prospect of that organisation of due to the high volume of its caseload.  The organisation is unable to fill its advertised posts.  The recently publicised problems with, for example, disclosure are simply due to lack of resources.
  • Defence solicitors are ageing.  In a large number of areas a scheme’s youngest member is now older than 50.  There appears to be a real concern that defence lawyers as a breed may die out.  Recruitment is even more difficult than for the Crown Prosecution Service – lack of prospects and security, and without any of the benefits of working for the Crown.
  • Flexible working remains on the agenda but will be difficult to progress.  The powers that be at HMCTS failed to understand, for example, a requirement to give organisations such as GeoAmey 12 weeks’ notice of any contract amendment before hours can be varied.
  • The Public and Commercial Services Union, representing court staff, is also putting forward opposition to the plan.  It was suggested that at present there was no united between all of the different elements opposed to this change, and the hope is for joined up opposition.
  • Issues relating to listing are hidden behind ‘lies, damned lies and statistics’.  The figures regarding court throughput of work and non-effective trials were being ‘massaged’ by the invention of a notional “Court 60” in many areas.  Nottingham, for example, appears to have a ‘Court 99’.  Case which everyone knows have to go off due to lack of courts or judges are listed in this court so that it looks as though work is being undertaken within an acceptable time frame.  Courts are able to hit centrally imposed targets due to this falsehood, disguising the extent of the problem.
  • Video links were identified as having little useful effect as a first Crown Court hearing.  Little progress can be made due to time constraints and the lack of the physical presence of a client.  Seems unlikely, however, that anything will change as the powers that be are wedded to the idea of video conferencing.
  • Similarly, virtual courts, remote please and bodycam video interviews with suspects are all designed to marginalise the effect of defence lawyers.
  • It may be that Labour are waking up to the issue of a collapsing system.  It seems that they might wish further assistance from bodies such as the Law Society and the Legal Aid Practitioners Group.  Representative bodies ought to be feeding information such as the manipulation of statistics or systemic failures into the political discussion, with a view to scrutiny by relevant select committees.

Richard Miller was receptive, spoke well on the subject (as would be expected) and urged the profession to keep up the pressure and publicity about a system in crisis.  Perhaps most depressingly, however, nothing which was raised locally had not been said and confirmed at the various other stops that he and his team have made nationwide.