Crown Prosecution Service Enjoys High Levels of Satisfaction

The number of people expressing their satisfaction with the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has risen sharply, according to a recent survey. The CPS said that the significant uptick in satisfaction levels was down to a recent initiative which it said had been “groundbreaking.”

The survey was carried out in all the courts of England and Wales, and received 939 responses from a mixture of witnesses and victims. The vast majority of people who experienced cross-examination by defence advocates said that the CPS had given them enough information and the right support to ensure they were properly prepared for the experience. Of all the people who provided their views for the survey, approximately 95% expressed satisfaction for the level of support provided to them by prosecutors.

This is a drastic increase over the equivalent figures from a previous survey. In 2015, victims and witnesses were surveyed and only 62% said that they had received satisfactory support and preparation before their appearances in court. A fifth of respondents said that their experience of giving evidence had left them actively dissatisfied with the CPS.

This significant increase – growth of more than 50% in the number of satisfied victims and witnesses since 2015 – is being explained by the CPS as largely the result of a single initiative. Last year saw the implementation of new official guidance for “Speaking to Witnesses at Court,” which the CPS described as a “groundbreaking” initiative and the one responsible for a drastic increase in standards when it comes to preparing people to give evidence.

This guidance was, in fact, produced and implemented as a result of the negative responses to the 2015 survey mentioned above. The CPS was concerned to learn that a fifth of people were not satisfied with the preparation and support they received, and this prompted the drive to improve the figure and ensure that victims and witnesses were better primed for their experience in court.

A number of specific matters are addressed in the guidance. This includes conversations with witnesses and victims before hearings, the, process of identifying the specific needs and requirements of those giving evidence, and advice on the cross-examination process. It also provides for advice on the subject of evidence-giving and the role that the defence plays.

According to the CPS lead for victims and witnesses, Martin Goldman: “Appearing in court is an inevitably stressful business but if we can help people to feel as comfortable and prepared as possible, justice is also well serviced by the improved evidence they will provide.”

Goldman went on to say that, having made improvements, the CPS “must now maintain these levels and identify how we can do even more to support victims and witnesses in the criminal justice system.”

Bar Equality a Long Way Off

The most recent figures show there is still a distinct lack of diversity at the Bar with white, male, privately-educated barristers dominating by a wide margin. Furthermore, if things continue according to current trends it will be several decades before equality is achieved and the Bar achieves a level of diversity that is representative of society.

The figures are are taken from the latest annual diversity report of the Bar Standards Board (BSB). While the report does show that progress is being made, barristers are still far less diverse than the general population and the current rate of change is not encouraging.

The number of female barristers is currently 36.5%, whereas it would of course take a roughly even split to be representative of the general population. Over the past year, this figure rose by just 0.6%, and for QCs the percentage of women is just 13.7%. At current rates of change, it would take more than 50 years for an even gender split to be achieved among QCs. These figures prompted calls from the Feminist Lawyers Society for action to be taken immediately to accelerate the closure of the gender gap.

Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) individuals make up 12.2% of barristers and 6.4% of QCs, with the latter figure increasing just 0.1% in the past year. Figures for barristers as a whole are not so very far behind the 14% of the UK population represented by BME individuals, but the figures for QCs are less encouraging. If current trends continue, it will take around a hundred years for the number of BME silks to reflect the population at large.

Barristers are also disproportionately privately educated compared to the UK population as a whole. While some of the barristers surveyed declined to answer the questions on education, 40% of the 4,000 who did provide this information and were UK-educated attended fee-paying private schools. In the wider population, individuals who attended these schools make up only 7% of the population.

Perhaps the biggest positive identified in the report was the fact that diversity among pupil barristers is far more representative of the general population. 51.3% of current pupil barristers are female, and the figures for ethnic diversity are also approximately lined up with the UK population as a whole.

Feminist Lawyers Society founder and barrister Jo Shaw said: “The “news” that the bar still fails to represent the population we are supposed to serve will surprise no one. At present our clients largely miss out on the ideas, talent, energy and intellect of all but a narrow unrepresentative minority.”

Better Handling of Transgender Prisoners Needed, says Ombudsman

Prisons and probation ombudsman Nigel Newcomen has called for better handling of transgender individuals in the prison system. The watchdog’s statement follows the recent deaths of several transgender inmates within a relatively short period, and an increase in the number of such tragedies taking place.

The prisons of England and Wales are currently believed to be holding roughly 80 transgender individuals. By default, these prisoners are placed in male or female facilities according to the gender by which they are legally recognised. This approach has been criticised, however, because changing one’s legal gender is seen as being a relatively difficult, complex, and even humiliating process and many transgender people therefore choose to retain their birth gender on official documentation after physically transitioning.

Inmates who are “sufficiently advanced in their transition” are able to subsequently request a transfer, but this approach has been criticised as insufficient. Campaigners have pointed out that it can lead to vulnerable prisoners being placed in risky and inappropriate environments before obtaining a transfer. Switching can be difficult, depending on the discretion of prison management, and is not always easy to obtain.

While official guidance suggests prisons should consider relocating prisoners according to their self-identified gender, Newcomen says that this has not always been applied “in a proactive, timely, or consistent way.” One particularly high-profile example was the case of Tara Hudson (pictured right). Despite having lived her entire adult life as a woman, Hudson was placed in a male prison and had considerable difficulty obtaining a transfer despite having to be segregated from male inmates for her own safety.
Ms Hudson’s case prompted an online petition to allow her transfer, attracting over 150,000 signatures, and helped spur the Ministry of Justice to review its handling of transgender prisoners.

According to Newcomen, it was once much rarer for the ombudsman’s office to receive complaints from transgender prisoners or to have to investigate the deaths in custody of such individuals. However, both of these figures have been on the increase recently, says the watchdog, and recent tragedies have made “the need to address this issue all the more pressing.”

Newcomen has studied 33 complaints and five deaths in custody, all from between 2008 and August 2016, and has published a bulletin detailing the lessons that he believes the prison service can learn from these incidents. As well as responding more quickly, consistently, and readily to requests for transfer to a more gender-appropriate prison, the bulletin suggests that prison staff should improve the way in which they investigate allegations of harrassment, bullying, and discrimination against transgender prisoners. Newcomen also highlighted a number of complaints from transgender prisoners, especially female ones, that they had been unduly restricted in expressions of gender such as clothing and make-up.

Limerick Circuit Court Awards “Unfortunate” Man his Ninth Personal Injury Payout

A man described as “unfortunate” and “accident-prone” by the presiding judge recently won his ninth personal injury compensation claim, after his case came before Limerick Circuit Court last month. 38-year-old Anthony Lynch of Dromroe, Rhebogue was awarded €10,000 for the latest of his nine claims to date, which all stem from separate and unrelated injuries.

Lynch received his latest injury while driving a van that he uses for his work. He was stationary and waiting at a junction, he said, when the van was hit from behind by a car that “came out of nowhere.” The van was written off, and Lynch was left injured and facing six months of pain in his neck, shoulders and back as well as, it is claimed, “psychological issues.”

At the time of the accident, Lynch was already injured. He was allowed only to work for a limited number of hours each week, as he was still recovering from a previous back injury.

The details of his eight separate, previous claims were revealed to the court while he was being cross-examined by the solicitor representing Liberty Insurance. Lynch’s unfortunate history covers a number of different kinds of accident and injury, stretching back to the 1990s.

In 1998, Lynch was involved in another road traffic accident which resulted in him being awarded compensation of £6,000 for injuries received along with legal costs. He was involved in another accident on the road, again through the fault of another driver, in 2001 and received €14,000 plus costs for his injuries.

Later, he would receive compensation for a work accident of €11,000 and legal costs from his employer at the time of the accident, Limerick Bread Company. In 2008, he would receive €13,000 euros plus costs by Limerick City Council for exposure to toxic fumes.

2010 saw Lynch become involved in two compensation cases in a single year. In July 2010 would successfully sue Limerick Homebase House and Garden Centre for an injury received as a result of a faulty toilet seat he purchased there, and was awarded €20,000. In December of that year, he launched proceedings against the individual who caused him to become involved in yet another road traffic accident. Curiously, excluding legal costs, the award was €20,000, the same as the payout for his earlier case of that year.

2013 was another year which saw Lynch launch two compensation claims for injuries received through the fault of another. In January of that year, he made a claim against Silvercrest Foods in relation to the horse meat scandal, and was awarded €7,500 after claiming to have consumed horse meat. Later that same year, he was awarded €12,000 and legal expenses after suing Eircom for a “trip and fall” accident.

The nine accidents for which Lynch has received compensation to date are not the full extent of his “accident-prone” past, as other injuries were also mentioned in the course of his latest claim. Last year, it was said, Lynch was injured after a bed collapsed while he was lying on it but did not make any claim for compensation. Other incidents were mentioned such as an incident where he was eating chicken nuggets and swallowed a bone, and an unspecified accident in 1996 from which no legal proceedings arose.