Members who attended The Law Society on Monday evening will no doubt agree that Sir Brian Leveson proved to be an engaging and candid speaker.
The evening began with a talk on his review of the efficiency of the CJS along with interesting anecdotes from his time in practice, often contrasting life in the criminal courts of the 1970s with today's practice.
Sir Brian then fielded questions from members for some time and was direct in his answers. He accepted there were still considerable problems with the schemes which emerged from his report: BCM and TSJ. He readily accepted that police summaries were not adequate and there were problems with IDPC and Crown disclosure prior to PTPH.
The reforms are a work in progress and he invited comment from solicitors both to suggest further efficiencies and to highlight current failings.
On penal policy Sir Brian spoke passionately against about the growth of the prison population. He outlined how governmental policy for the most serious crimes had a drip-down effect, causing inflation of all prison terms.
On credit for guilty pleas he was clear that he had no role in the forthcoming guideline from the Sentencing Council. He recognised the frustration for practitioners who received little evidence prior to plea hearings but defended the now familiar position of the judiciary; that the earliest opportunity should extend back to the investigatory stage. That failures in disclosure by the police or the CPS should not necessarily preserve credit for those who want to receive legal advice before entering their plea.
He cited NOMS as the agency most responsible for frustrating reforms. He is determined to see increased use of IT in prisons for both legal advisors and prisoners. He and the chair of the meeting, James Parry of the Criminal Law Committee, are keen to receive evidence from practitioners.
His invitation for feedback was genuine and I would urge members to send me information about the following 3 areas so that it may be collated and sent on:
1. What problems have you experienced using digital technology on prison visits (in particular the use of laptops and video link facilities)?
2. Have you experienced any problems with CPS engagement in either the magistrates’ or Crown Courts?
3. Do you feel the Review missed any key areas for increased efficiency?
Sir Brian was clear that he hoped the reforms would improve the profitability of defence providers and thus increase our engagement.
Hon. Secretary of the LCCSA