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Expert Witness Blog

Scots start their own legal upheaval and stolen bikes are no joke

Your Expert Witness blog logoHaving watched the justice system in England and Wales going through a protracted programme of reforms – many would argue it to be more a process of death by a thousand cuts – the Scots are now witnessing the beginning of their own potential trauma. On 6 February the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill and the Courts Reform (Scotland) Bill were laid before the Scottish Parliament. The former does what it says on the tin: introduce changes to the Scottish system of criminal justice; the latter deals with the process of the civil courts in that country. It attempts to put into effect the recommendations of the Scottish Civil Courts Review, led by Lord Gill and published in 2010.

The review concluded that the civil justice in Scotland was “slow, inefficient and expensive” and recommended reforms which are both structural and functional.

Last Updated on Monday, 17 March 2014 09:05

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Out with the old; in with…the old!

witness blogThere was something vaguely comical about the sight earlier this month of barristers in full wig and gown waving placards outside the Old Bailey during their not-strike over legal aid cuts. The sight was vaguely comical, yes, but the issue they were protesting against is anything but. Legal aid in criminal cases has been a cornerstone of the justice system for many years. It is axiomatic that anyone accused of a serious offence must have the opportunity to defend themselves. That opportunity, unfortunately, has to go hand-in-hand with the wherewithal. In a system within which expertise is rewarded proportionately there has to be some way of offering the necessary funding to those who need it but don’t have it. It’s true there is the risk of some criminals being financed by the state to defend the indefensible, but the risk of the opposite is considerably greater.

Last Updated on Saturday, 25 January 2014 17:53

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Family experts’ standards are vaguely familiar, as are the awful figures for maternity failings

Your Expert Witness blog logoThe much-heralded standards for experts in the family courts were unveiled simultaneously by the joint response of the MoJ and the Family Justice Council, and by Lord McNally in an address to the Bond Solon Expert Witness Conference on 8 November. There are 11 of them in all, and for a document that can have a far-reaching effect on the delivery of justice for children they seem to the lay reader to be a little vague.

The first standard, for instance, requires the expert’s area of competence to be “appropriate to the issue(s) upon which the court has identified that an opinion is required, and relevant experience is evidenced in their CV”, while the second requires them to be “active in the area of work or practice, (as a practitioner or an academic who is subject to peer appraisal), has sufficient experience of  the issues relevant to the instant case, and is familiar with the breadth of current practice or opinion”.

Last Updated on Thursday, 21 November 2013 19:07

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With our legal history being celebrated and our health service under threat, the Americans can still deliver a punch

Your Expert Witness blog logoIn 2015 the country will be celebrating the 800th anniversary of the signing of Magna Carta, which is claimed to have been the cornerstone of democracy and the rule of law in England. There is an organising body for the celebrations, with The Queen as Patron, and all sorts of events planned.

One such will be a ‘Global Law Summit’ – a conference to “promote Britain’s legal system around the world”.

Announcing the summit, Justice Secretary Chris Grayling said: “The Global Law Summit 2015 will be a world-class conference showcasing the UK’s unrivalled legal expertise, based on a long history of freedom and justice.

“We will be working with legal professional bodies and business to champion one of the UK’s greatest exports, our legal system. The summit will also mark 800 years of the Magna Carta, a tradition that still provides the foundation for the best commercial and legal environment for business to flourish.”

Last Updated on Friday, 18 October 2013 10:28

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Legal aid is set to become a football and as for climate change, well I don’t really knooow!

Your Expert Witness blog logoNo matter how much the MoJ might wish it, the issue of legal aid cuts just won’t go away. It has become a bit of an albatross, with the coalition partner Lib Dems unhappy with being associated with the policy.

The Liberal Democrat Lawyers Association put forward an emergency motion to the partys conference in Glasgow which read: “No further cuts in the provision of Legal Aid and the availability of local justice should take place without ensuring that any such proposals are first properly trialled and assessed to demonstrate that there will be no adverse effect upon access to justice and the quality of legal services provided to those who require assistance by means of Legal Aid.”

That must have been pretty embarrassing for Lib Dem peer Lord McNally, who is the government minister charges with steering the implementation of the cuts (sorry, reforms) in the Lords. He, predictably, opposed the motion.

The Labour Party has been strangely quiet on the issue, with only Lord Bach (@FightBach) still fighting a rearguard action.

Meanwhile Michael Mansfield’s chambers, Tooks, which is known for its championing of the underprivileged, has announced it is to dissolve and has blamed the legal aid cuts for its demise.

Its announcement of 23 September said: “The dissolution of Chambers is the direct result of government policies on Legal Aid.” It added: “The government policies led by Justice Secretary Chris Grayling are cumulatively devastating the provision of legal services and threatening the rule of law.”

Other parts of the Jackson ‘reforms’ are also the subject of selective backpedalling. The judge tasked with implementing the whole package is reported to have told the Law Society Gazette he will make changes “if necessary”. In an exclusive interview with the journal he reportedly said: “We are seeing people adapting their business models to deal with the new rules. In some ways it is too early to tell, but the principle remains that we want access to justice at proportionate cost. We will look at both of those aspects to ensure that the underlying principles are coming out of the reforms.”

It’s all getting a bit messy.

• Experts from around the globe met in Sweden last week to present governments with the report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. After years of research its Working Party I produced what it said was a 95% probability that human activity was the cause of “at least 50%” of the rise in temperature over the past 150 years or so. There are still those who see that assertion as some kind of admission that they may be wrong. Presumably the planet they are living on doesn’t have any truck with climate change – they just wish it away. Science is never 100% settled; but, as Sense About Science – a charitable trust that aims to help the general public understand science – pointed out in its publication Making Sense of Uncertainty, we should be relieved when scientists describe the uncertainties in their work. In this case, 95% probability means ‘definitely’ and ‘over 50%’ means as much as can be ascertained.

Chris Stokes

Last Updated on Friday, 11 October 2013 15:58