President's Report

President's Report

PUBLISHED May 1, 2012

This is my third report as president and I can?t help but wonder where the time has gone. I hope that readers visit this website on a daily basis to keep abreast of developments affecting criminal solicitors - since February, nearly 800 news articles have been posted! Notable stories include:

  • the new silks list and the absence of any solicitors;
  • the AG?s acceptance (finally) that extradition reforms are "on the cards?, and in particular the "one-sided? US extradition treaty;
  • the concessions gained during the passage of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill, despite Ken Clarke?s pithy "we?re taking legal aid away from lawyers? comment;
  • the court clerk who turned to Google to fill the interpreting gap created by the new central contract for courtroom interpreter services (the MoJ must surely win the prize for the understatement of year when it described the chaos as "teething problems?);
  • the 1,000 milestone for people jailed as a result of the riots;
  • the agreement reached on the model of the quality assurance for advocates (QASA) scheme under which all advocates who undertake Crown Court trials will have their performance assessed live in court by a judge.

Greg Powell

It is with much sadness that I report the retirement of Greg from the committee and as the association?s executive officer. He has represented the interests of the capital?s criminal solicitors well and will be sorely missed. I know everyone will join me in thanking him for his tremendous efforts over many years. Fear not, however: if you practise in London you will almost certainly bump in to him at court or the police station, and, if you?re really lucky, he may regale you with one of his favourite poems!

Criminal justice efficiency programme (T3)

Most police forces are now transferring the majority of their case information to the CPS electronically, and magistrates? courts are apparently "ready to receive digital case files? from the CPS. Crown Courts hope to achieve this capability later in the year.

A number of issues are yet to be resolved to ensure effective participation by the defence; but much progress has been made. Over the years, I have been part of various working groups and committees, but the determination and genuine resolve by the various stakeholders working on this programme stands out. Whilst the issue of financial assistance and the capital investment required remains "live? (the first year?s cost to my firm alone would be an estimated £163,000, with recurring yearly expenditure of £33,000 thereafter), some of the other main obstacles have been removed:

  • A new Prison Service Instruction provides central authorisation to allow the use of sound recording devices and laptops, even if fitted with a webcam and WiFi enabled.
  • ACPO has issued guidance so that the presumption is that a solicitor can retain and use their mobile, electronic communication or recording device, including laptops when in the secure custody area and during private consultations with detainees.
  • The relevant funding order has been amended so that practitioners will receive the same fee, regardless of the format of served documentary evidence.

Abolition of committal fees

Notwithstanding the tremendous efforts of the Law Society, Paul Harris and David Sonn, the profession has lost its challenge in relation to the decision to abolish the £318 committal fee. Despite hearing that defendants are being left unrepresented in magistrates? courts, Lord Justice Burton and Mr Justice Treacy adopted almost wholesale the Lord Chancellor?s argument.

This decision reinforces the urgent need for an independent assessment of the impact of the government?s cuts to legal aid. I echo the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee?s complaint that the government "has not identified the behaviour changes which may arise from the new legal aid arrangements?, and urge it to do so.

Criminal Procedure Rules

The Law Society has revised its practice note on the CPR 2011 in the light of the Court of Appeal?s decision to uphold a wasted costs order against a Buckinghamshire firm arising from its failure to serve an application in opposition to a hearsay notice (R v SVS Solicitors [2012] EWCA Crim 319). This is essential reading for all practitioners.

Upcoming events

I hope you will all join the committee at the association?s annual dinner at the Sheraton Park Lane hotel on 6 July, even if it?s just to watch me make a spectacle of myself as I fumble through my speech!

The dinner is always excellent value and provides a unique opportunity for members to network with colleagues and the judiciary.

This year?s European conference (12-14 October) is also a "must?, and Malaga has an elegance and history which is sure to add to the occasion. Tony Edwards (from TV Edwards) will be updating delegates on changes to criminal law and practice and Jeffrey Smele from Simons Muirhead & Burton) will present a seminar on dealing with defamation, privacy and contempt issues in the internet age. As with the annual dinner, this weekend provides an excellent networking opportunity, giving you the chance to mingle with colleagues in a relaxed and informal environment. You will also earn five CPD points into the bargain!