JUSTICE uses the unrivalled professional and cross-party expertise of our membership to make up working parties which guide and support particular JUSTICE projects. Throughout our history we have used such working parties – which have been responsible for some of our most influential and significant reports – in order to enable us to draw, as fully as possible, upon our members’ vast range of expertise and experience.
Current working parties
In the wake of a major catastrophe myriad elements of the justice system are engaged, with inquests and inquiries running in parallel with criminal and civil litigation to try to establish what happened. Concurrent processes across the different jurisdictions lead to duplication and delay: from the perspective of those caught up in the aftermath of the disaster, the process can be agonisingly lengthy and potentially re-traumatising. The When Things Go Wrong Working Party will aim to address how our inquest and inquiry processes can be made more efficient and transparent, in order to secure timely justice and public confidence.
At most stages of the youth justice system – from arrest to custody – the proportion of Black and Minority Ethnic (BAME) young people is higher than the proportion of white young people. This disproportionality can be seen at its starkest in the youth custodial estate, where the BAME population is 51%, despite being 18% of the 10-17 year old population. JUSTICE has convened a Working Party to explore the reasons why disproportionality is occurring in the youth justice system, with a view to making positive recommendations for change and reducing racial disparities in the youth justice system.
The numbers and rate of children being excluded from school have been increasing year-on-year since 2012/13. In addition, it is estimated that there are thousands more pupils not captured in the official school exclusions data who are “informally” excluded. The Working Party aims to ensure that the process for challenging school exclusions complies with public law principles, involves adequate legal expertise, is efficient, accessible and provides an effective means of holding schools to account for their decisions to exclude pupils.
A Working Party for reform of the housing disputes system for England is timely. Local authorities owe an increasing number of homelessness duties as the number of people sleeping rough rises, disputes are beset by delays and legal aid shortfalls and the reduction in the number of solicitors holding housing contracts mean that the number of self-represented litigants is on the rise.
Previous working parties
The increased reporting of sexual offences and the grave nature of such offences requires an adequate criminal justice response. The volume, gravity and complexity of these offences requires an adequate response to ensure access to justice for victims and the right to a fair trial for suspects. The aim of this working party is to create recommendations to ensure that there is an adequate response. This will encompass all stages of the criminal justice process: (1) investigation; (2) the decision to charge; (3) prosecution; (4) sentencing and (5) offender programmes and recidivism reduction.
Research has identified a disconnect between professional court users and lay people engaged in the trial process. Legal processes and constructs are confusing and distressing for the parties in cases, yet little effort has been made to truly address this. The court remains in the first instance the work place of legal professionals. As we reconfigure the court estate, and accommodate far more litigants in person, the role of the adversarial trial and legal professionals in communication of justice must be reviewed. This Working Party will aim to improve the participation of court users in their own proceedings.
JUSTICE published Delivering Justice in an Age of Austerity in April 2015. Since that time, the move towards the digitisation and modernisation of courts and tribunals has gathered pace with a £1bn investment by the Government in courts and tribunals. Following consultation with relevant stakeholders, including senior judiciary, JUSTICE has set up a Working Party to look at the determination processes in immigration and asylum cases and how these might be reformed in the context of the HM Court & Tribunal Service (HMCTS) Reform Programme.
The first JUSTICE working party in Scotland looks at the uptake and provision of legal advice during police detention. A startling 75 per cent of suspects in Scotland are estimated to waive the right to legal advice prior to police interview. In England the corresponding figure is around 55 per cent. The Working Party will examine the current processes by which advice is provided to suspects and present recommendations to increase their effectiveness.
This working party will look at the opportunities and pitfalls of digitalisation and doing justice online and virtually. Experts will review how people accessing online services in a range of fields can be better assisted; to identify the necessary features of simple and accessible online interfaces; and the support required for users with differing needs. The working party aims to make practical recommendations to ensure that necessary support is an integral feature of the digital justice system and continue to work with the reform programme to instil a user focussed approach.
JUSTICE has long been concerned that the criminal justice system is not suitably designed to accommodate people with mental health or learning difficulties. Its underlying principle of bringing perpetrators of crime to justice, and justification for infringing the liberty of members of society based on punishment, deterrence and rehabilitation fail starkly when mental illness is introduced. This Working Party will developed robust and practical recommendations – covering all stages of the criminal process – that can be tested with relevant practitioners.
The Judicial Diversity Working Party considered appointments to the Circuit Bench, High Court and Court of Appeal in England & Wales, and to the UK Supreme Court. The report explored the structural barriers faced by women, people from visible ethnic minorities and those from less advantaged socio-economic backgrounds in reaching the bench. It explained why diversity is a vital constitutional issue, calling for systemic changes to increase accountability and improve recruitment processes, and proposed more inclusive routes to the senior bench.
This working party, launched in 2014, focused on the civil courts and tribunals. It recommended the introduction of a new primary dispute resolution officer (a “registrar”) who will be responsible for proactively case managing disputes as well as actively resolving the majority of cases through a combination of mediation and early neutral evaluation. Another recommendation was an integrated online and telephone platform offering comprehensive legal information, advice and assistance, helping litigants to navigate their way through the newly reformed justice system. These recommendations are forming the basis of the current civil court reforms.
Over the course of 2015 this JUSTICE working party was tasked with reviewing the current processes that lead to complex and lengthy criminal trials. These constitute a specific and longstanding concern of the criminal justice system. They require vast resources and have only got longer and more unmanageable as advances in technology have given rise to more and more electronic material, which must be reviewed, disclosed and then presented effectively at trial. The Working Party presented a series of recommendations designed to deliver increased efficiency and effectiveness within the criminal justice processes, while maintaining the absolute right to a fair trial. We continue to discuss with police, practitioners, judiciary and Government how these recommendations can be implemented as part of digitisation of the criminal justice system.
In 2015, this working party was launched to challenge long-held notions of what is required of a court or tribunal and inform the HMCTS Reform Programme. The Working Party emphasised the importance of technology, and its potential to meet user needs and maximise access to justice. It also suggested a portfolio of Flagship Justice Centres; Local Justice Centres; ‘Pop-up courts’; remote access justice facilities; and flexible digital justice spaces. Our ideas are being implemented by HMCTS as it re-designs the courts.