Ruth Harris, a partner in the crime team, reacts to the Courts Bill in today’s Queen’s Speech
- To enable those charged with some less serious criminal offences to opt to plead guilty, accept a conviction and pay a statutory fixed penalty online which will free up court time for more serious cases.
“While I appreciate the need to alleviate the court’s time on minor cases, it must always be kept in mind that these are matters which following the entering of guilty pleas, end in conviction and a criminal record. Embarrassment about publicly appearing before a court and time pressures may lead people to opt for what appears to be an easy option – plead guilty and pay a fine. There’s a real risk defendants may be drawn to consider this process on par with paying a speeding fine and fail to take into account the long-term consequences of convictions, such as the impact on future employment, volunteering and travelling abroad. Charges that might be considered minor should not be seen as an inconvenience for the criminal justice system. Convictions for even the least serious matters may have long-term serious consequences for defendants.”
- Reform our courts and tribunal system to improve access to justice, making better use of technology and modernising working practices
“I have seen significant improvements in the areas of technology and working practices. However, a continual cause for concern for practitioners is that changes are made without reference to all parties within the system. It is vital that there is proper consultation to ensure that systems introduced ensure collaborative working between the parties and improve access to justice for clients. Support also needs to be offered to those working within the publicly-funded sector so that the burden is not disproportionately felt by legal aid practitioners already suffering years of cuts who are forced to fund themselves the technology which will allow them and their clients to participate.”