The Judicial Review and Courts Bill poses a massive threat to #openjustice particularly coverage of magistrates court proceedings.

You wouldn't know it from the official press release, relegating these changes to "a range of other courts measures" in the footnotes.
What is being proposed will be music to the ears of defendants who'd rather no one knew they've been accused of a crime

Don't fancy appearing in open court hearing to face the charge, indicate a plea, and for the case to be sent to the crown court? No problem, that's all covered
The new Bill, if passed, allows for:
- indications of plea to be given in writing
- allocation of trial to magistrate or crown courts to be done administratively
- committals to crown court without a hearing, if guilty plea indicated.
Another section allows a court to get on with cases in the absence of the defendant, so long as they send a lawyer to represent them.

This is likely to be particularly popular with celebrities/politicians/tycoons etc who don't fancy a brief stint in the dock that day.
It's possible these administrative hearings (ie behind closed doors) will come with promises of 'openness'.

Years of Single Justice Procedure experience tells me measures will be sub-standard & chronically understaffed admin offices have to deal with problems. I hope I'm wrong
As @MarkHannaMedia has already pointed out, the impact on open justice looks like being profound:

HMCTS needs to now step up and say why this isn't anything other than an assault on court reporting and transparency.
The value to court reporters of those first court appearances is immense.
Finding out what exactly someone is accused of, the shape of the case against them, who the accused is, how the trial might play out.
All of that looks like being lost in the relentless drive for efficiency
I have found time & time again when cases slip into the magistrates court unannounced (a list isn't sent out or it is left off the official record) it is so much harder to track up to crown court
Open hearings leave a trail, administrative decisions are so much harder to pin down
And for good measure, the Bill also allows coroners to hold inquests 'in writing' when they don't consider there's a public interest in holding an open hearing.

Everyone knows coroners already operate according to their own rules. This could make things far worse.
The changes to Judicial Review have dominated the conversation so far, and that is a very important aspect of this Bill.

The court procedural changes could, on first glance, look less important, but I hope they get a decent share of the debate.

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More from @kirkkorner

22 Jan
HMCTS will answer questions raised at its court safety webinar by the end of next week (Jan 29).
Many questions on ventilation, cleaning, listing policy, remote hearings, remote juries have been raised.

Also some personal experiences shared:
QC says: I'm currently involved in a murder trial where there are approx 30 people in a courtroom with no fresh air. Is that considered safe in respect of the transmission of Covid 19?

Answer: Ventilation is a red line...if as reported that would not be compliant with standards.
Q: This all sounds very good but the reality is these measures are not adhered to. There is no sanction for refusal to wear masks at court. Should judges treat an unjustified refusal it as a contempt?

A: Security guards at courts have powers to enforce rules
Read 18 tweets
9 Dec 20
Lockdown breach prosecutions are largely done behind closed doors in London. Most people don't know they're happening. The public aren't told about them.

I've looked into the case of three men & a woman caught having beers together in the park on April 18 to shed a bit of light.
First off, these are Single Justice Procedure cases dealt with on the papers alone. No open hearing, no prosecutor, no defence lawyer, just a magistrate & legal advisor using the documents put in front of them to take decisions.
These four people were spotted by police in Brent Park on April 18, drinking beer in a 'den' at a time when everyone had to stay at home unless you had a reasonable excuse to be out and about.

There's nothing to suggest these people weren't in breach of the coronavirus laws.
Read 15 tweets
11 Nov 20
Curious goings-on at Westminster magistrates in prosecutions for breaking the first coronavirus lockdown:

- Convictions for offences ppl weren't prosecuted for
- Hefty fines handed out which may exceed the legal maximum
- Police allowed to try again when paperwork is botched
Westminster mags is using the Single Justice Procedure for these cases, behind-closed-doors with just a magistrate & legal advisor present to deal with them 'on the papers'.

Finding out what's happened hasn't been easy (story from last month):…
I'm happy to report the #OpenJustice issues I highlighted have been looked into, the court has apologised and promised things will be different in the future.

The paperwork now I've seen, however, raises some brand-new questions.
Read 20 tweets
10 Nov 20
Lord Chief Justice says he hopes for 300 courts by end of December that could run simultaneous jury trials.

Crown Courts running flat out next year could chip away around 50 cases a week from the backlog, he says.

"It will nonetheless take a long time to recover the backlog"
LCJ says he would be "disappointed" to put it mildly if there wasn't funding from the Treasury next year to allow courts to run at full capacity.

Acknowledges criminal cases coming in are more complex, and the new influx of CPS lawyers and police officers will add to the backlog
Extended opening hours pilot - LCJ says it's made a "modest contribution" so far, and it's not clear whether they help to increase volume of cases heard or not.

"It isn't obvious, and depends very much on the nature of cases being dealt with on that level".
Read 4 tweets
16 Oct 20
Secret Justice: London's Covid-19 lockdown breakers are being prosecuted behind closed doors and under a veil of secrecy:…
I don't use the term 'secret justice' lightly, but there's no other way to describe what's been happening here.

- 100s of prosecutions dealt with behind closed doors
- Vital open justice safeguards ignored and forgotten
- Obviously flawed prosecutions going through unchallenged
When the Single Justice Procedure was introduced, it was justified as prosecutions for lowly offences - speeding, fare dodging, TV licences etc.
The media warned that #openjustice shouldn't be swept away - that one day people would care

Now it's being used for lockdown breaches
Read 4 tweets
8 Sep 20
There are some serious problems at the top of the justice system right now. That's undisputable and very concerning.

I'd like to take a moment to highlight an issue at the bottom of the system, which unless commented on, might pass by unnoticed.
141 suspected lockdown breakers are being shovelled through the justice system this week, under the Single Justice Procedure (SJP). Those familiar with my musings will know this involves closed-door hearings, little scrutiny, & sometimes a mighty battle to find out what happened
The SJP system is set up for summary only, non-imprisonable, victimless crimes, so there's no question offences brought under coronavirus legislation in place between March and mid-May fits the bill. As far as I can tell the courts are entitled to deal with these cases like this.
Read 12 tweets

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