This is my first report as president; and, while I would like to take credit for kicking best value tendering (BVT) into the long grass, I regret to report it had absolutely nothing to do with me! Over the next year, I hope to reform the way the committee engages with the membership and I hope that anyone who wishes to make their voice heard feels confident that they can do just that.
Of course, the big news has to be the recent announcement that the expected consultation on tendering publicly funded criminal defence services has been postponed until autumn 2013. I know that the majority of our members will be breathing a sigh of relief; but it is now important for the profession to seize the opportunity to set the agenda for the future.
The CPS?s ambitious plans to go ?paperless?, or, more accurately, ?paper-light?, continue apace and ? officially ? are on track to be implemented in April 2012. The main representative bodies have been working very hard to make sure that all CJS stakeholders understand the obstacles to successful implementation, in particular the difficulty of taking laptops and other tablet devices into prisons and courts? cell areas, and ? if there is to be any real costs benefit to defence solicitors ? the need for the courts? service and the Legal Services Commission to ?go digital?at the same time. The newly formed (or reconstituted) Big Firm Group has recently joined the debate and made it clear that its 30 members will not be co-operating.
Many members have by now attended a ?Stop delaying justice!? seminar to learn more about the magistrates? courts? initiative which will, apparently, see all contested trials fully case-managed at the first hearing and disposed of at the second. This is due for implementation from 1 January 2012. This continues the direction of travel that we have seen for some time now; but it will have a radical effect on the way justice is delivered in the lower courts. The criminal justice system is moving from an adversarial to an inquisitorial system, with the approach which says, ?Your client ?knows if (s)he did it or not?.
Secretary of State for Justice, Ken Clarke, recently announced his intention to abolish committal proceedings by extending the sending procedure to offences which are triable either way. The change will be effected by bringing schedule 3 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 into force on a phased (geographical) basis from April 2012. I am told that this will not be in place in London before the Olympics.
The judicial review challenging the abolition of the fee for committal appearances will be heard in February. I understand that, as part of its defence to the review, the Ministry of Justice relies on the perceived commercial incentive for solicitors to act for clients without payment (presumably they perceive it as a ?loss leader? to the Crown Court fee). The MoJ also claims that it has not abolished the fee, but cut it. Some may feel that a ?cut? down to nil amounts to the same thing.
Past president Paul Harris continues to represent the Association by attending the regular meetings of the Olympic planning group, which is chaired by the Recorder of Redbridge. He has made a number of representations, including suggesting that means testing for legal aid be suspended for all defendants charged with offences arising out of the Olympic Games. On behalf of the group, he wrote to the MoJ with this recommendation but the response has been negative. The MoJ, apparently, draws confidence from fact that the courts coped with the increased number of tourists who visited the country for the royal wedding. I question how the prospect of unrepresented defendants
conducting trials through their interpreters fits in with the idea of ?Stop delaying justice!?.
The LSC has recently confirmed that duty solicitors must be ?employed? by contracted firms (see section 6 of the standard crime contract and the accompanying guidance, which specifically excludes consultancy agreements). This will alarm many of our members; and their fears will only be partly allayed by the LSC?s confirmation that it will not actively seek proof that duty solicitors are employed when they visit providers but that they will do so if queries are raised by others. It has promised to consult on this issue when the next contract is due for ?negotiation?.
Congratulations to Paul Harris, who has recently been appointed as one of the defence solicitors? representatives on the criminal procedure rules committee. Paul is very keen to receive as many views from the profession as possible, and he will be publishing the agenda for each meeting, in advance, on the diary page of the LCCSA?s website. You can post your views using the online commenting system, via twitter (@lccsa), Facebook or by sending an email to any of the committee members. Making your voice heard could not be any easier!
Many thanks to Malcolm Duxbury, the outgoing president, for the hard work that he has done over the past year. He has represented the Association well. Thanks also to John Navani (Criminal Defence Solicitors), who has retired from the committee after three years? service, and Yasmin Anwar, who has represented the interests of freelance solicitors. With Jonathan Black (BSB Solicitors) taking over as the Association?s training officer, I welcome four new committee members: Paul Morris (BCL Burton Copeland), Jenny Wiltshire (Hickman & Rose), Julian Hayes (Hayes Law), and Rebecca Niblock (Dalton Holmes Gray). I look forward to working with them this year.