Weekly Notes: legal news from ICLR — 17 December 2018
This final roundup of the Michaelmas term see the judiciary in an educational context, fails to see the long delayed legal aid cuts review, hears pop music copyrights and wrongs, finds a risk of judicial bias ungrounded, and lacks liability for libellous links.
Head’s end of term report
The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Burnett of Maldon, gave an end of term press conference on 14 December 2018 in which he began by praising all the staff in the school, ie the judges and magistrates:
“This year I have spent time visiting and seeing first hand their dedication to public service and remain enormously grateful for all that they do.”
Staff recruitment remained a priority, he said. Standards remained high, and important strides had been made in increasing the diversity of the judiciary: “Ultimately, however, we need to ensure the role of judge remains attractive to the very best lawyers.” Perhaps with a stern glance at the board of governors, he cited the Senior Salaries Review Body’s comments on the inadequacy of judicial remuneration, saying “This situation requires urgent and effective intervention”.
Fittingly (given the school riff we seem to be working with here) the Head went on to discuss the educational aspect of his staff’s work.
“I have spoken about the benefits of promoting a better understanding of the work of the judiciary and the rule of law. We have developed a dedicated schools outreach programme, getting more judges and magistrates into schools and getting more young people to our courts so that they can see what actually happens. We are publishing increasing numbers of sentencing remarks and summaries of judgments and a guide has been produced to help journalists gain access to court documents to assist in reporting what we do. Broadcasting footage of the Court of Appeal can be made available and live streaming has been introduced into the Civil Division.”
Some sharp remarks remained for the janitors’ dept:
“We continue to struggle with the court estate, many parts of which are in poor condition. I hope that the next spending review will provide the opportunity for additional funds to be made available to address many years of neglect.”
Answering a specific question on this topic, he explained that:
“The courts have continued to function properly and appropriately, but I would wish to record the fact that in the criminal justice sector both our magistrates and our Crown Court judges have been having to operate in environments which, to use a cliché, are ‘sub-optimal’.”
Lord Burnett went on to answer questions from the press, on topics including the increase in knife crime, the crisis in care cases, the stresses likely to be faced in the event of a hard (no deal) Brexit, the abuse of judges on social media, the lack of judicial confidence in community sentencing, the strain on the system caused by legal aid cuts and the rise of litigants in person, welfare support for judges, and the culpability of drug consumers for the crime associated with its distribution.
Read the press conference transcript (PDF).
See also, on the state of the court estate, Philippa Budgen, Crumbling courts, faltering justice
LASPO report postponed as BBC catalogues devastating effects
Having promised to deliver by the end of the year, the government has yet again postponed its long-awaited response to the Post-implementation review of LASPO (the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012). The review was initially promised as long ago as January 2017, but was then delayed by the snap election. It was eventually set up and its terms of reference published in March 2018. The review got under way over the summer and various groups responded to the consultation, in the expectation that the government would respond — and do something about the problems — within a reasonable time frame. Instead, there has been further delay.
On The Justice Gap, Eleanor Livingston has been collecting some of the responses to the government’s long-delayed review: ‘Devastating’: sector responds to LASPO review
Meanwhile, having analysed Ministry of Justice and Legal Aid Agency data since 2011–12, the BBC Shared Data Unit found that “Cuts to legal aid have created ‘deserts’ of provision across England and Wales”:
- Around a million fewer claims for legal aid are being processed each year.
- More than 1,000 fewer legal aid providers were paid for civil legal aid work than in 2011–12.
- Four legal aid providers for welfare cover Wales and the South West while 41 cover London and the South East.
- Almost half of all community care legal aid providers are based in London.
“This has prompted a more than five-fold rise in people representing themselves in court. Volunteers at the Personal Support Unit helped around 65,000 of them last year. Six years ago it was fewer than 10,000.”
See also, on this blog last year: The Legacy of Laspo
‘Music of Gaye Origin’ claim settles
Sorry about the pun, which dates from our last coverage of the story in 2015.
Now, as the BBC reports, “The long-running copyright case over hit song Blurred Lines has finally ended, with Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams told to pay $5m (£4m)” — to the late Marvin Gaye’s family, by reason of their plagiarism of Gaye’s 1977 hit Got to Give it Up. Which is exactly what Thicke and Williams are having to do, having lost an appeal against the original jury verdict and award.
Fracking appeal: CA rejects bias claim
In Weekly Notes 22 October 2018 we reported that “Three anti-fracking protesters had their sentences of imprisonment set aside by the Court of Appeal” on the grounds that their sentences of imprisonment had been excessive in the circumstances. We mentioned the fact that “Questions over the original trial judge’s family links to the oil and gas industry” had been raised in court.
The Court of Appeal’s reasons for its decision have now been published and it is apparent from what they say that the grounds for even a risk of apparent bias were tenuous at best and not made out in fact: see R v Roberts (Richard) (Liberty intervening)  EWCA Crim 2739 at –.
Liability for links
The recent decision of the European Court of Human Rights in Magyar Jeti Zrt v Hungary (Application no. 11257/16) once again raises the question of liability for linking to content which is defamatory. The applicant news service, when reporting remarks made by a politician about the offensive and racist behaviour of some drunken football supporters, provided a link to a YouTube video in which the politician had explicitly (but wrongly) identified the louts as belonging to a particular right-wing party. The party successfully sued for defamation under the Hungarian civil code, but the Strasbourg court ruled that the interference with the applicant’s freedom of expression under Article 10 of the Human Rights Convention could not be justified as necessary in a democratic society. There is a case comment on Inforrm’s blog, which provides a more detailed explanation.
Dates and deadlines
Academic Year Casework Volunteers
Closing date: Midday Thursday 3 January 2019
Advocate is seeking 25 dedicated and enthusiastic individuals to volunteer as Academic Year Casework Volunteers in the National Pro Bono Centre on Chancery Lane, London. The Casework Volunteer positions are for one day a week from 4 February to 3 June 2019.
You must have completed at least one year of law-related study or have one-year experience of law-related work experience. Voluntary sector and office experience is preferred but not essential.
How to apply: Advocate
Tweet of the Week
concerns the recent order of a decidedly exasperated court:
That’s it for this term. Thank you for reading. During the holidays we may post some other content but Weekly Notes will be resume publication in the Hilary Term, which begins on 11 January 2019.
This post was written by Paul Magrath, Head of Product Development and Online Content. It does not necessarily represent the opinions of ICLR as an organisation.