Small claims limit may rise

Monday 30 May 2011 at 7:08 am | In News | 1 Comment
Small claims to get bigger

Ministers are consulting on increasing the value of disputes that can be settled using the small claims procedure from £5,000 to £15,000 from next April.

A claimant bringing a legal action is not exposed to paying the other side’s legal costs if their action fails (conversely, a litigant cannot recover costs of instructing a lawyer).

Hearings are often in chambers and take place in an office so are less intimidating than a court.

The enforcement of court orders can be a problem. The watchdog Consumer Focus, in a report last year, found that one in four small claims users who won their case received only part of the compensation, while 6% ended up with nothing.

It is possible to received an exemption from the court fees because of low income.

At last: Stephen Lawrence murder suspects to stand trial

Friday 20 May 2011 at 7:27 am | In News | Post Comment
Stephen Lawrence

David Norris and Gary Dobson will stand trial at the Old Bailey later this year for the murder of black teenager Stephen Lawrence in Eltham, south-east London in 1993. The murder is the most high-profile unsolved murder in Britain.

The Court of Appeal on Wednesday quashed the 1996 acquittal of Gary Dobson and ordered a retrial following an application last October by the Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer.

Announcing the decision, the Lord Chief Justice Lord Judge said: “After conducting a detailed examination of a large body of evidence, we have come to the conclusion that there is sufficient reliable and substantial new evidence to justify the quashing of the acquittal and to order a new trial.”

Dobson and Norris were arrested and charged last September with the murder and remanded in custody. This was not reported for legal reasons.

Stephen’s mother Doreen Lawrence said: “I am really pleased by the judgment, which has been a long time in coming, but we still have a long way to go.’’

She added: “So, at this moment in time, all I can think about is Stephen and that perhaps somewhere down the line we will finally get justice for him.’’

The Crown Prosecution Service said that it and the Metropolitan Police had worked with forensic scientists to review evidence in the case and a full forensic review had begun in June 2006.

New scientific evidence was found and on that basis the prosecution applied for a retrial.

The CPS said: “Our thoughts at this stage go to Stephen’s family, who have never given up their quest to see justice for Stephen.”

The law was changed in 2005 abolishing the so-called double jeopardy rule which now means that people can be re-tried for the same crime.

The 1999 inquiry into the Metropolitan Police’s original mishandling of the racially motivated murder was a landmark moment for British policing. Sir William Macpherson branded the force “institutionally racist” and recommended sweeping reforms.

Early release of hundreds of high-risk offenders condemned

Sunday 8 May 2011 at 8:54 am | In News | Post Comment
Parliament to consider early release of prisoners
This week a parliamentary bill drafted by the probation officers’ union will be debated for the first time by MPs. Under its proposals, prisoners serving determinate sentences of more than two years would have to prove to the parole board that they pose a low risk.

At the moment hundreds of dangerous offenders, including those assessed as likely killers, are being released into society under a scheme condemned by the probation service as “scandalous”.

During a two-week period last month more than 30 prisoners considered to pose a high or very high risk to the public were released or were about to be released. The findings have raised questions over the public safety of the law that stipulates that all offenders sentenced to a determinate period in prison are automatically released once half of their sentence is completed, regardless of their circumstances.

The Criminal Justice Act 2003 introduced a range of new penalties (such as Custody Plus and Custody Minus) and changes in sentences (such as automatic half-way release for non-dangerous offenders with a custodial sentence of 4 years or more).

Reconviction rates

  • Community rehabilitation order: 62.6%
  • Drug treatment and testing order: 88.9%
  • Community punishment order: 38.9%
  • Community punishment and rehabilitation order: 54.4%
  • Prison: 67.4%

Court stenographers to be replaced with digital recording

Sunday 8 May 2011 at 8:18 am | In News | Post Comment
Stenographers soon to be history

The Digital Audio Recording Transcription and Storage (Darts) will begin rollout in June 2011 and finish in March 2012 at each of the 97 Crown and combined court sites in England and Wales.

Darts has been piloted at seven Crown Court sites since October 2009, the system offers clear audio quality and backup, easy playback and a faster transcription service.

While Darts was being extensively tested, the impact on the roles of the clerks and ushers was assessed. Evaluation showed the system to be popular with court staff and the impact of Darts on staff time to be minimal compared to realisation of financial benefit for HMCTS.

Reported in Law Gazette

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