Thursday, March 31, 2005

Dawn of a New Era

April 1st 2005 sees the emergence from its chrysalis of Her Majesty's Courts' Service. The Service will manage all of the courts in England and Wales, from Truro County Court to the Old Bailey. Headed by Sir Ron De Witt, a former male nurse with no legal qualifications or experience, HMCS will replace all former local management structures, and will seek to improve the efficiency of the courts system - whatever that means.

On the same day many of the provisions of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 will come into force for the first time, including a major revision of the sentencing framework, and changes to the rules of evidence relating to hearsay, following on the recent introduction of new rules regarding Bad Character (telling the court about the defendant or witness's previous convictions).

Judges magistrates and lawyers have all been trained in the new procedures, and some of them understand it fully. Most of us will have to wing it until our legal advisers and the advocates in court have got a grip. Even then there are many grey areas that will urgently need to be clarified by the Court of Appeal. Some of the highest judges in the land have criticised the 2003 Act for sloppy drafting and a confused approach. Most practitioners are convinced that too much has been changed too quickly, and that this will inevitably lead to problems. In the meantime, to my colleagues who will be sitting tomorrow morning - good luck!

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