I recently received an email from a member of the Association saying that he felt let down by the committee and querying why we didn't do anything to stop the government's restriction (read removal) of Defence Costs Orders ("DCO").
The first point to make is, of course, the LCCSA most certainly has fought successive governments in their repeated attempts to remove DCOs; and we've won - twice. Sadly, this time it struck third time lucky, and, despite our protestations, in the current economic climate the government was sufficiently empowered to get it passed. I personally emailed each of our members numerous times about the threatened removal of DCOs (remember the email about the online petition?), but this member's latest email has caused me to reflect on wider issues: I hope that members don't think that the fact that the Association's objections to various initiatives fell on deaf ears is in some way indicative of a lack of trying or apathy on the part of the Association, or worse its Committee. That really couldn't be further from the truth. The email has also caused me to question whether our members really know what the Association's Committee does, and what it achieves on their behalf.
The Committee has met formally 11 times this year (we don't meet in August). Kingsley Napley kindly provides the use of one of its boardrooms (for no charge), and our meetings last on average between two and three hours. We follow a set agenda, hearing reports from the Administrator, the President, the Secretary, The Treasurer, the Training Officer, and the Media Officer. Items that are of current interest to criminal practitioners are tabled, and this part of the meeting generally involves updates regarding:
- The work of Criminal Procedure Rules Committee (Paul Harris);
- The semi-regular CJS Reform Engagement Meetings and HMCTS London Defence Engagement Meeting (Malcolm Duxbury);
- The Digital Practitioners Group Meetings and the Criminal Justice Efficiency Program's National Defence Steering Group Meetings (me);
- The Law Society's Criminal Law Committee (Malcolm Duxbury);
- The Law Society's Criminal Practitioners Group (me);
- The Criminal Law Solicitors' Association (Joy Merriam);
- The Criminal Contracts Consultative Group ("CCCG") Meetings each month (which I attend - they last approximately 2 to 3 hours each).
Other Committee members also feed back following meetings where they have represented the Association, including:
- A working group meeting with the DPP to discuss charging standards for offences committed using multi-media (me);
- The Resident Judge's AGM (following an invitation for Ray Shaw to address the delegates);
- The Court of Appeal's user's group (Steven Bird);
- Meetings with Lord Justice Goldring (Ray Shaw);
- A meeting with MOJ (which Ray Shaw and I) attended at the beginning of the year, before the consultation on BVT was postponed.
The committee meeting ends with any other business.
Tony Meisels has spearheaded the Association's responses to over 20 formal consultations this year, on areas as diverse as:
- The Secure Estate;
- Police Powers;
- Domestic Violence Disclosure Regime;
- CPS & the Media;
- The LSC corresponding with judges in relation to VHCCs;
- CLAS Re-accre3ditation;
- Merger of CPS and HMRC;
- Forced Marriages;
- Diversity in the Judiciary;
- Dangerous Dogs;
- Firearms Control;
- Criminalising the subletting of Social Housing;
- Restorative Justice;
- Deregulating Training Contracts;
- Code for Crown Prosecutors;
- Insanity & Automatism;
- CPS Instructing more than one advocate;
- Adult Conditional Cautions;
- Youth Justice;
- The Operation of Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000.
In addition to these "formal" consultations, the Association has kept up its lobbying activities, proactively seeking changes in a number of areas that touch on criminal practice. These have included seeking:
- Changes to the Criminal Procedure Rules regarding the timing of service of the initial details of a case;
- Changes to a Prison Standing Order so the standard is (for the first time) to allow solicitors and laptops and other devices in to prisons and police stations;
- A recognition by the Home Office (confirmed in a circular) that the design and operation of facilities for clients to take advice from lawyers in police stations must take in to account the adviser's health and safety;
- Changes to the LGFS scheme to shift money from some trials of some classes of offence to guilty pleas.
There are many other areas that we have proactively sought to promote, and each one of the ones I mention in this blog have been publicised on our website and/or an email to the membership. Other "successes" achieved by the Committee on behalf of the Association's members include:
- Resisting the scrapping of the VHCC scheme (in the face of huge opposition by the Bar), albeit that the LSC foisted an extension of the LGFS on us (quite wrongly, and in the face of the strongest of evidence against it);
- Persuading the SRA to further defer any attempt to charge the profession for re-accreditation under CLAS;
- Resisting the introduction of means testing in the police station;
- Resisting the attempt by the Bar to wrestle Youth Court trials from solicitors without higher rights;
- Resisting the attempt by the Bar to limit crown court practice to "trial advocates" only;
- Seeking concessions from the Criminal Procedure Rules Committee and the CPS in relation to the drive to work digitally, in particular in relation to the acceptability of service of evidence by CJSM;
- Ensuring that numerous individual Crown Courts in London reverse their policy to accept defence applications by CJSM only;
- Resisting the wide-scale piloting of "flexible courts" so that the number of courts involved shrunk from over 100 to under 50; and
- Resisting attempts to introduce Price Competitive Tendering and Best Value Tendering (twice).
Nicola Hill and Gwyn Morgan have ensured that the Association's bi-monthly publication The Advocate continues to inform the membership (as well as judges, media outlets and decision makers in government), and the last 6 editions have included articles on topics as diverse as War Crimes, Extradition, "Transforming Through Technology", The Interpreter Debacle, Stop Delaying Justice, Police Station Advice, Working through the Riots, and Mel Stooks's account of being an advocate in the Youth Court. The publication has also carried interviews with Vivien Symons, John Fassenfelt, David Radford, Bruce Reid and Simon Creighton, not to mention numerous book reviews, the regular case digest from Lexis Nexis and Bruce Reid's light-hearted topical review.
Jonathan Black has continued the Association's strong tradition of providing quality continuing professional development, organising 15 training events over the past year. Our members have received training and presentations on Sexual Offences, Defending Public Order Cases, Olympic Crime, Hearsay & Bad Character, QASA, Confiscation & POCA, Sentencing Drugs Offences, The Work of the Sentencing Council, The Work of Law Centres, Sentencing Drugs Mules, Forensic Science Provision, Abuse of Process, Stop Delaying Justice, and Extradition. This is in addition to Tony Edwards's legal update and Jeffrey Smele's brilliant seminar on the legal challenges of keeping up with ever-changing technology, both delivered to the European Conference delegates.
We've also arranged four open meetings across London to discuss how the profession might tackle the abolition of committal fees.
And of course, there are the social events we've organised, including the 64th Annual Dinner, the working dinner that followed the AGM, and the superb European Conference. Each one of these events has provided our members with a unique opportunity to network with colleagues and raise areas of concern in an informal environment with members of the judiciary and the Committee members.
We do try to keep our membership completely up-to-date with what's going on, and this year I've personally sent over 400 email alerts (that's 400 multiplied by the number of our members, not 400 in total). I've also received over 750 emails in my inbox, all to do with LCCSA-related business. I've posted over 4,500 news items on the Association's website, tweeted over 5,000 times (the tweets are replicated on the LCCSA's Facebook page and LinkedIn), and the Association has published over 40 blogs. I should add that all news and events published on the website are syndicated via RSS feeds. All this is made possible because of the new website we launched last November; it was built around the core principle of social interaction, and I don't think the Association has ever been so proactive in terms of making sure the membership is kept informed. I hope this explains why I'm aghast at the thought that, despite all our efforts, the message of what we are doing may not be getting through.
Members have a myriad of choices to get in touch with Committee members, including emailing individuals direct from our site. They can attend the monthly meetings (which are publicised on the events page of the site) and of course they can volunteer to sit on the committee itself (there are two vacancies this year). The channels of communication are always open. The only thing asked in return is for members to support the committee; encourage as many colleagues as possible to join and make sure any personal or firm website provides a link to our web page.
Our influence is only as strong as our membership base.