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News Round-Up Week Ending 23.1.15

(Posted on 23/01/15)

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News Round-Up Week Ending 23.1.15

Nealon & Hallam v Grayling:

In a test case for the new stricter compensation regime introduced last year, Victor Nealon and Sam Hallam, victims of miscarriages of justice and 24 years’ wrongful incarceration between them, are to take Justice Secretary Chris Grayling to court.

“When people have wasted long periods of their life in jail for crimes they didn’t commit, the least society can do is provide some compensation,” said Sadiq Khan, shadow Justice Secretary. “This government was warned the changes would place too great a burden on the victim to prove their innocence, even after they’d been freed from jail. It’s a mark of a civilised country that when mistakes of such a serious nature like this are made, the Government should pay compensation to make up for the error. The rules require review urgently.” 

The change to the law means compensation is paid only when the quashing of a conviction shows innocence “beyond reasonable doubt”.

“In our view, the change in law offends the right to the presumption of innocence and makes an award of compensation almost impossible to achieve,” Justice‘s Jodie Blackstock said.

Private Forensic Services a ‘Threat to Justice’

A National Audit Office report published this week warns of the potential for criminal trials to collapse as a result of cuts and privatisation of forensic science services.

“If suppliers did pull out of the market this could present a risk of service interruption, and lack of capacity could hold up criminal cases or cause them to collapse,” the report says. 

“Forensic science is now becoming police-controlled,” Peter Gill, Professor of Forensic Genetics at the University of Oslo, told the Independent. “It’s difficult enough when you’re not working for the police; you’re put under a lot of pressure to report what the police want you to report. If you’re not protected from that, then the more vulnerable forensic scientists are going to report cases wrongly. I’m absolutely convinced this is happening now. You can’t put forensic science solely in police hands. It would be disastrous.”

“Police spending with private forensic suppliers has reduced for a number of reasons, such as falling crime, lower costs due to improved processes, and greater competition,” a Home Office spokesperson said. “It is for police and crime commissioners and chief constables to decide how to spend their budgets. However, we monitor the market closely to make sure it remains competitive and it continues to provide forces what they need.”

Legal Aid Cuts a ‘Threat to Justice’: 1 in 5 Defends Self

The Independent reports from a survey of justices across England and Wales, conducted in conjunction with the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ) and the Magistrates’ Association.

The survey found one in five criminal defendants does not have a lawyer.

Seven out of 10 magistrates thought self-representation was a serious problem and a threat to the smooth running of the justice system. 

“Defendants in-person are at a constant disadvantage and justice is often not done as a result,” one magistrate said. “Trials take longer and often prove to have been unnecessary.” 

“We see people pleading guilty when they could have a real defence,” said Greg Foxsmith of the London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association (LCCSA).

In response, the Ministry of Justice insists that criminal cases have not been affected by changes to legal aid. “People accused of a crime have exactly the same access to their choice of a legally aided lawyer now as they did before our reforms,” a spokesperson said. “The proportion of applications granted for legal aid for magistrates’ court hearings actually rose last year. This Government inherited an unprecedented financial crisis and we had no choice but to find significant savings as a result.”

CCRC £1m Short

Lord Garry Runciman and Professor Michael Zander QC, authors of the 1993 report of the Royal Commission on Criminal Justice, which led to the Criminal Appeals Act 1995 and the establishment of the Criminal Cases Review Commission, have given evidence to the House of Commons Inquiry into the CCRC.

In an interview last year with Brian Thornton for thejusticegap.com, Lord Runciman admitted his concern that government might cut funding for the CCRC once memories of such as the Birmingham Six and Guildford Four had begun to fade.

“We were very aware that the calibre of the case managers was going to be crucial,” he emphasised, “and that comes back to the resources question. You’ve got to be able to recruit and retain and support the people with the necessary skills to conduct these very complex investigations in such a way that hopefully miscarriages are actually corrected. But I hoped that, if a new independent authority was set up on our recommendation, the government wouldn’t just tick the box and then start cutting back on the funding.”

The Justice Committee has already heard from the chair of the CCRC, who has asked for a £1m increase to their £5m budget.  “Money is in short supply, and lack of resources is the biggest inhibitor in our work,” Richard Foster admitted.

Politicians ‘Stupid’ to Claim Credit for Falling Crime

The Liberal Democrat former Home Office minister has said the government should take no credit for improved crime rates since crime appears to be falling globally.

"You can take steps, but for the government to say we have brought all crime down is probably over-egging it," Norman Baker told PoliceOracle.com. Crime is falling everywhere "and no one has got to the bottom of why. I'm not saying governments aren't without influence, but I'm saying there is a societal trend which is occurring anyway."