Criminal Justice and Courts Bill

The Criminal Justice and Courts Bill was introduced to the House of Commons on 5 February 2014. It had its Second Reading on 24 February 2014 and was considered in Committee during March. Report stage started in May, following which the Bill was carried over into the next session of Parliament and Report continued on the 17 June. The Bill had its Second Reading in the House of Lords on 1 July, read JUSTICE’s Director of Human Rights blog piece on the debate here. The House of Lords Committee stage began on 14 July 2014.

View progress of the bill on Parliament’s website and read the latest Report Stage briefings below.

The Bill would introduce a number of significant changes to criminal and civil justice and to the substantive law.

JUSTICE raises a number of concerns about specific provisions in the Bill, including:

Criminal Justice

  • Electronic monitoring (tagging) of people released from prison on licence is a useful tool to help prevent re-offending in targeted cases but the proposal in the Bill is for the Secretary of State to have the power to create mandatory orders for whole classes of offenders that can be exercised at any time. We do not believe tags should be imposed without the discretion to consider the individual circumstances of each case;
  • The Government intends to place education at the heart of detention of children. The Bill goes some way towards this by creating secure colleges. These will be contracted out to private firms. The Bill includes the power to use reasonable force against the children housed there in certain circumstances. Force should be used in exceptional circumstances and not, as the Bill provides, to enforce ‘good order and discipline’ by staff in secure colleges;
  • Trial by justices on the papers is a new creation in the Bill to speed up summary trials for minor offences that do not carry terms of imprisonment. We accept that these will save badly needed funds and improve the speed at which more serious trials can be heard. However, they must only be available where the courts are satisfied that the defendant has unequivocally waived their right to a public hearing, which means ensuring that they understand the consequences of agreeing to a paper process. Moreover, lay justices serve the function of a jury in the magistrates court and the new paper system must continue to require a minimum of two justices to reach a decision, or only be presided over by a legally qualified district judge;
  • JUSTICE is in principle against the proposed introduction of court charges in criminal cases as they may adversely impact upon a person exercising their right to plead not guilty and put the prosecution to trial. In any event they must not be imposed unless the court considers it is just and reasonable to do so in the circumstances of each case, a discretion not provided in the Bill, and upon a detailed impact assessment of the proposed charges and costs of enforcement.
  • In addition, we are concerned that changes to the current procedures for automatic release on license and recall are being made without any further commitment to resources for hearings before the Parole Board. Without further provision to support the increased capacity of the Parole Board or to provide prisoners with accessible advice and representation, where necessary, that there will be a significant risk that the system will be overwhelmed in practice.

Civil Appeals and Judicial Review

  • Changes to encourage courts to refuse to hear procedural claims – which allege that a public body has taken a decision unlawfully – could lead to significant delays, duplication and cost. Considering this issue at permission stage will lead to front-loaded substantive rehearsal of the issues in any case. The Bill would require judges to step into the shoes of a decision maker, in order to determine whether it would be “highly likely” that a properly made decision would have made no difference. This would involve an inappropriate constitutional shift in the function of the reviewing judge;
  • Proposed changes to the provision for protective costs orders and the introduction of a presumption that any public interest intervener will be liable for costs appear designed to deter individuals and organisations who pursue litigation in the public interest. This is particularly significant in light of Government plans to restrict legal aid for judicial review claims;
  • JUSTICE regrets that the Government has determined to push ahead with the principal of its reforms: a major change in the availability of legal aid for judicial review. Ministers must explain why this new substantial change is to be in secondary legislation – without opportunity for full scrutiny – while the other parts of the reform package are in this Bill.

Earlier briefings on the House of Commons Stages are available on request.