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Posts Tagged ‘Transform Justice’

Online Criminal Court Plans Spark Controversy

March 15, 2017 by Kelly No Comments »

The government’s plans for an inline criminal court have provoked controversy and criticism. The harshest critic is justice charity Transform Justice, which has attached many aspects of the government’s proposals in a statement released today.

Among the key concerns that Transform Justice has expressed is that “very few measures in the whole bill have been subject to formal consultation,” which runs counter to accepted best practices in the creation of government policy. In its briefing, the charity also criticises the proposals for being poorly-costed and for having used weak evidence as its basis.

The charity also questioned the governments claims that the proposals, which are contained in the Prisons and Courts Bill, would improve access to justice and the quality of justice. “It is asserted,” the briefing says, “that they will make the system more just, proportionate and accessible, but without any supporting research or data, and without citing research which may suggest the contrary.” Transform Justice went on to say that the results of a pilot scheme showed none of the advantages the government has claimed its proposals would bring. Rather, the use of a virtual court in the pilot scheme made it more difficult for lawyers and clients to communicate effectively, and increased the cost of justice processes compared to a traditional courtroom.

Furthermore, the pilot suggested that the digital court might increase the number of guilty pleas and result in longer sentences being issued. Transform Justice was particularly concerned about the suggestion of allowing people charged with offences that do not carry a prison sentence to enter a guilty plea and accept a penalty online. The charity was concerned this might encourage more people to plead guilty without properly understanding the implications of doing so, such as the fact they would be left with a formal criminal record.

The charity stressed that its criticisms of the online courts were not intended as an attempt to stand in the way of progress. In its briefing, it agrees emphatically that the UK’s court system is in need of being “brought into the digital age,” and suggests a number of measures that could help achieve this. For example, it suggests that information and documents should be made available digitally, and that email and text reminders could be sent to defendants ahead of court appearances.

However, the charity was sceptical not just about the government’s specific proposals, but about the entire concept of digital hearings. Specifically, it questioned whether they were actually necessary, insisting that appearing in person at a physical court would be preferable for many witnesses and defendants and that, even following waves of closures, there would be no shortage of courtrooms.

 

UK Magistracy is “Shrinking and Ageing”

February 27, 2014 by Kelly No Comments »

According to a report from Transform Justice, the recruitment of lay magistrates in the UK is “facing a crisis.” The report, which was entitled Magistrates: Representative of the People?, found that the UK’s magistracy was “shrinking and ageing.” It also concluded that magistrates in the UK were disproportionately middle class and white compared to the country’s population.

Transform Justice also described magistrate numbers as being in “freefall,” after identifying that they had suffered a decline of 28% compared to 2007. In 2013, nearly 2000 people left the magistracy while only 300 joined. This discrepancy, according to the report, is due to most areas suffering from a “recruitment freeze.” The report claimed that the issue is not being sufficiently addressed at present.

Furthermore, the report discovered that far from simply failing to represent ethnic communities within Britain proportionately, the magistracy is actually becoming less representative. Proportionally speaking, the number of magistrates from ethnic minority backgrounds is 6% lower than the UK population, compared to just 2% in 1999.

Magistrates are also becoming older. In 1999, only 32% of magistrates were over 60. For 2013, the report found this figure had inflated to nearly 56%. In 14 different specific areas, this figure was above 60%.

Social class was found to be another area in which magistrates poorly represented the population of the UK as a whole. More than 50% of lay magistrates were in occupations that would be widely identified as middle class, including managerial, professional, and senior official roles. In the UK as a whole, on the other hand, these people account for only 28% of the population. Furthermore, people who work in customer services or sales roles account for 8% of the UK population but only 1.5% of magistrates.

Measures proposed in the report to deal with these issues include the introduction of positive discrimination and entrusting recruitment to the Judicial Appointments Commission.  The positive discrimination in question would enable recruiters to favour a candidate from an underrepresented group for reasons of better representation when two candidates are otherwise of equal suitability. This measure already exists for the recruitment of salaried judges.

It is also suggested that it should be made easier for working people to serve as magistrates. This, it is suggested, could be done by introducing an absolute right to take time off in order to sit. Further suggestions include a fixed tenure of ten years and greater sentencing powers for magistrates.

The report claims that a key source of these problems is the lack of clear, specific policy regarding magistrate recruitment. While there have been active efforts to improve diversity among the salaried, professional arm of the judiciary, no such agenda has existed for lay magistrates.