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By Stuart, Jul 1 2020 11:46AM

The dreadful impact of the coronavirus pandemic and COVID-19 has reached deep into the ordinary life of the country, not least in relation to the conduct of proceedings in the Courts and police stations.


At the police station there have been some notable changes in response to the pandemic – some of the custody areas have actually been cleaned, for one thing. Social distancing is in force, albeit in some areas more than others. Other measures include screens (in some places), the issue of personal protective equipment (in some places), the use of remote attendance and video appearances by solicitors (in some places) – in other words, the response to the problem is marked by a lack of consistency in approach.


The Crown Courts have been either closed completely or operating remotely. At time of writing jury trials are slowly re-starting, again with social distancing being a key factor, but not in all Courts and not at the same time.


The Magistrates’ Courts have been, well, inconsistent. Cases involving appearances on bail or in answer to postal requisitions have largely been adjourned but some cases have gone ahead, primarily those which involve “priority” matters (such as custody cases or those involving domestic violence allegations). Cases which may only require a single hearing, such as a sending to the Crown Court, are clearly being preferred. Account freezing orders, for example, are being granted but applications to have them set aside are having to wait.


Lawyers have been attending remotely - except for those who have attended in person. Hearings being conducted remotely are frequently interrupted by automated announcements that a particular individual has hung up or been put through to the Court. The inability to speak directly to prosecutors or clients is causing considerable delay – that is a problem inherent to the system which was of course designed to reduce delay. A statement relating to remote working from the Judicial Office on Friday 19th June 2020 had to be “clarified” on 21st June 2020.


As the lock-down is eased, things may return to “normal” (for better or worse) but there will be a back-log of cases to be added to the back-log of cases which already existed prior to the lock-down. Various ideas have been mooted as ways to tackle this, including in the Crown Court suggestions ranging from Judge-only trials or trial by a Judge and 2 Magistrates to a reduction in the size of the jury from 12 to 7.


Nothing has been decided. However this is in many ways no reason for complaint – “quick fixes” rarely fix anything and decisions borne of difficult circumstances frequently lead to a worse situation. Hard cases make bad laws, after all. Could it be that the principal lesson from 2020 is the need in a civilised society for a properly-funded criminal justice system in which everyone can have confidence? This correspondent is not holding his breath on that one.


By Stuart McDonald

By Stuart, May 24 2018 12:15PM

Many of you will have heard of “GDPR” – for those who have not, it is not a former East European country but a new approach to the thorny issue of data protection. Up to now the rules may have appeared somewhat cloudy and requests for information have often been met with a “computer says no” response. Well, things are changing.


In essence the General Data Protection Regulations which come into effect on 25 May 2018 provide a new regime where a person’s data or “personal information” is held by organisations such as solicitors’ offices, banks or doctors’ surgeries. It defines and sets out the responsibilities for the organisation as a “data controller” and its staff as “data processor(s)” whilst clarifying the rights of the individual – the “data subject” - to have access to and control of that information (and also to request its destruction). Like all other firms we are publishing a “privacy policy” which explains in detail how we will deal with such information and what can be asked of us.


In practice the new regime does not change things in relation to, for example, requests from outside parties for disclosure of a person’s data; if, for instance, someone out of the blue were to ‘phone a solicitor and ask for a client’s mobile number then s/he will continue to receive the same short shrift as before (we hope). Rather the new regulations are concerned with the rights of the “data subject” in terms of access to and control of the information held by an organisation and also in making requests for its deletion or destruction. The consequences of breaching the regulations are potentially severe – businesses could be fined of hundreds of thousands of pounds and in some cases, individuals may face prosecution.


The GDPR regime requires us as a firm to think carefully about how – and why - we retain information, how we store it, how we protect and safeguard it and ultimately how we dispose of it. From a business point of view there may be headaches but since we are all at the same time “data subjects” then perhaps we can adopt a more positive approach; after all, it could just as easily happen to us.


By Stuart McDonald

Blog

The Criminal Justice System is a dynamic environment with changes occurring frequently.  With this constantly changing landscape both in the law and funding, our focus is always on access to justice and ensuring we do the best job we possibly can for our client.  In each of our blog posts, we aim to bring you our view on a topic that is important to each of us.  Please do check back to see the latest post which we will link to on our Twitter account  @hallinans.

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