I hope you are keeping warm in the middle of this cold snap and, if venturing out to brave the ice and the virus, please remember to fall 2 meters apart. I apologise for the length of this report but as ever at the moment there is much to report:
Courts operating Professional User Access Scheme
HMCTS continue to expand the number of court venues that allow professional users priority entry with our identity cards. Not all venues are part of the scheme yet but a full list is available here. If you only attend a limited number of courts then it is worth checking before applying:
Members with the old card will be offered another window of opportunity at the end of this week to upgrade, please don’t miss out.
End of paper lists enabling fast-tracked entry for some solicitors:
A small number of members who took part in the PUAS pilot back in 2018 have continued to have their old-style identity cards accepted by security at their local courts. This will cease to operate from the 1st March and those affected will need to apply for the new cards via our website.
Lateral Flow Tests
HMCTS are inviting all staff and professional court users to make use of local authority LFT facilities that provide results in around 30 minutes. A link to their message and a list of courts and nearby testing centres can be found HERE. We and other organisations have called for on-site testing and we understand this is under consideration. Feedback on this proposal is welcome, will it work for you and your local courts? Has anyone tried it and is it quick and convenient? Prisoners in HMPs Pentonville, Wandsworth and Scrubs are all being screened using LFT devices prior to production to courts as part of a pilot scheme.
Sending fees and date-stamping on the portal
I have requested the portal be changed to allow date-stamping for indictable only offences. This will allow us to claim the sending fee if evidence of means and qualification for legal aid in the lower court is obtained after the first hearing. For now the LAA approve of practitioners creating an application as an either-way offence even if there is only an indictable only offence charged, that way a date stamp can be created and your representation order back dated appropriately.
Magistrates’ Courts and adherence to safety: ongoing monitoring
Please continue to report any concerns you have about your experiences at court so that I can raise them with Head of Legal Operations for London. Serious breaches and concerns should be put in writing to local operations managers for the court in question. Conversely if things are done well in one court, by contrast to another, please include this so we can ensure there are no anomalies across the region: https://forms.gle/L5PQFJzBpLYfstfb9 .
PSR before plea protocol
In October we share this protocol and request form to introduce a national pilot in conjunction with the National Probation Service. NPS are seeing increased waiting times for PSRs caused by the pressures of the pandemic. The courts are keen to increase the use of on-the-day stand-down reports but are mindful of increasing footfall levels by having defendants and their lawyers wait around. This makes the pilot scheme a valuable option which we should all support. It is however contingent on prompt service of IDPC and the grant of legal aid or securing private funds. Please also use the above form to provide examples of where late service of evidence or irrational legal aid refusals frustrate your attempts to make use of the scheme.