Research into court reporting in criminal courts: Evidence submitted by UWE Bristol academics

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Written by Tom Smith and Marcus Keppel-Palmer.

In October 2019, the House of Commons Justice Committee published the report of its inquiry into Court and Tribunal reforms (see the full report here). The inquiry was prompted by “[s]erious concerns… about the effect on access to justice and its efficient despatch of the current court and tribunal modernisation programme, led by the Ministry of Justice and the senior judiciary of England and Wales” (p.3). As part of the inquiry, Tom Smith (UWE Law), Marcus Keppel-Palmer (UWE Law), Sally Reardon ( UWE Journalism) and Phil Chamberlain (Journalism, University of Bath), submitted evidence on their research into court reporting in criminal courts:

“In January 2018, we held a project at Bristol Magistrates Court, attending every case held in open court during one week. During this period of time, only one case was attended by a reporter from local media. We fear that important work shining a light on the work of the Courts will continue to diminish.

During the project, a number of cases were conducted using video link. The positioning of the video screens in court meant that it was often difficult and, in some instances, impossible to follow the evidence being presented. Actually being present in court, researchers were able to clarify details with the CPS, something that will not be possible if the hearing is online.”

They argued that:

“Open Justice is held up to be one of the great values of our legal system. At a time when economics dictate that many local media outlets are closing or cutting back on staff, it would be detrimental to that principle if the Courts Service enacted changes to hearings that impacted further on the ease of reporting the courts.”

The Committee’s report recognised this problem, and quoted the UWE team’s evidence as follows:

“The University of the West of England expressed concerns that the reform proposals would create further barriers preventing the reporting of the courts by the local media. They noted that: “[t]he number of dedicated Court Reporters on local newspapers is shrinking, and given the distances reporters would have to go to listen in on an online hearing at a booth at Court [this] can impose a further deterrent.” (p.54)

As mentioned above, the submitted evidence was based on an empirical study examining levels of court reporting, which was published by peer-reviewed journal, Journalism, in August 2019; and has attracted the attention of the Ministry of Justice, Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, and journalism trade publication the Press Gazette.

The UWE Bristol team are currently undertaking a national survey of court reporting during one month in 2019 and preparing to bid for funding to expand the empirical study, underpinned by the concept of ‘Justice Reporting’ – the idea that reporting on courts should go beyond merely relaying facts and case details, but should examine the processes and issues that form part of criminal cases.

The team has also presented its findings at the SLSA 2018 Conference, the What’s The News Conference 2018 in Brussels, the MECCSA 2019 Conference in Stirling, and the Future of Journalism 2019 Conference in Cardiff, as well as presenting the research to visiting Chinese Judges.

Law Student of the Year awarded to Sam Louwers

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Congratulations to final year UWE Bristol Law student, Sam Louwers, for recently becoming Law Student of the Year at the Bristol Law Society awards 2019. Sam was nominated by Shilan Shah-Davis, Associate Head of Department, UWE Bristol, on behalf of the Law Department.

The Law Department started working closely with Sam last year through his involvement with the UWE Law Society. Sam was ‘made-up’ by Shilan’s submission and says it has been the proudest moment of his time at UWE Bristol so far.

“Sam is a highly motivated, hardworking, forward-thinking and compassionate individual with a strong commitment to the values of inclusivity, diversity and justice. Through his work in the UWE Law Society and involvement in other projects, Sam truly stands out as a champion for inclusion and diversity and an inspirational leader. Sam is very highly thought of within the Law Department and his values and commitment emulate all that UWE Bristol is seeking to achieve for its students.

Sam winning the Bristol Law Society Student of the Year Award is absolutely fantastic and very well-deserved. His passion, drive and commitment are truly inspirational and he is a great role model and ambassador for UWE Bristol.”

Shilan Shah-Davis

Interestingly, Sam’s career started in the Armed Forces, however, that abruptly ended in 2017 when he was medically discharged due to two injuries. Sam says, “I had always had an interest in Law but I never thought that University was where I would end up and never thought that I would be good enough to take that path.”

He joined UWE Bristol after getting medically discharged and has gone from strength to strength from becoming the President of the UWE Law Society to push for a more diverse representation of students, to being awarded the Vice Chancellor’s Award for Representation at the Student Experience Awards in 2018.

In his spare time (amidst caring for his young daughter and family life), Sam also works for the Royal British Legion, running the Poppy Appeal in his local area and supporting the national media team. He says that the Royal British Legion have been instrumental in helping him deal with his injuries. Once Sam finishes his degree he hopes to do his Barrister Training here at UWE Bristol to start his career as a Criminal Barrister alongside Pro Bono work and giving back to others who need help within the Armed Forces Community.

Sam’s dedication and determination prove he was a worthy winner for Law Student of the Year and UWE Bristol are proud to have him as a student here. After the awards ceremony, Sam said “speaking to the selection committee and senior lawyers in Bristol, and hearing the kind comments that they had given me, the congratulations, and how much they admired the dedication that I had put into my degree – especially with the disturbance in my background, felt really worth-while, and I felt privileged to be recognised.”

Find out more about studying Law at UWE Bristol on our website.

Effective Legal Assistance in Pre-trial Detention Decision-Making: Regional Policy Meeting, Brussels, October 2019

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Written by Dr. Tom Smith, Senior Lecturer in Law at UWE Bristol.

Pre-trial detention (PTD) – that is, the removal of the liberty of those not yet convicted of any criminal offence – is a significant issue across all jurisdictions. It inherently interferes with the liberty of legally innocent individuals in the most significant way available to the state. This has implications for the presumption of innocence and access to justice for defendants, and its impact beyond the legal status and rights of those affected can be substantial – particularly regarding employment, family relations, housing, and mental health. Levels of PTD and decision-making regarding its use have been of particular concern across the EU for more than a decade, (including in England and Wales (E&W), a jurisdiction with a particularly high prison population). Alongside initiatives and proposals at the institutional level of the EU, both academic and third sector institutions have, for a number of years, been researching the use of PTD in various jurisdictions, and lobbying for a renewed policy focus on tackling its overuse and improving practise. A primary example is the report ‘A Measure of Last Resort?’; published by Fair Trials in 2016, the ten country study (including E&W) provided a detailed picture of PTD use and practise across the region, highlighting both good and bad practise. Amongst the many relevant issues highlighted was the importance of legal assistance for defendants in PTD hearings.

The presence of a lawyer is undoubtedly vital to fairer PTD proceedings; but it is the effectiveness of that representation, beyond mere presence, which is key. Effective representation – which challenges and scrutinises PTD decision-making in a meaningful way – gives operational value to the right to legal assistance; and underlying this is the quality of the lawyer providing the service. In 2017, Fair Trials – along with partners in Bulgaria, Italy, Hungary and Greece – commenced a project focusing on the effectiveness of legal assistance in PTD hearings, to further examine how such representation impacts on the use of PTD; the current issues existing in practice; and how effectiveness can be enhanced, thereby improving PTD decision-making. In October 2019, I attended a regional policy meeting in Brussels organised by Fair Trials (entitled ‘Effective Legal Assistance in Pre-trial Detention Decision-Making’) so that some of the findings of the project so far might be highlighted and discussed amongst practitioners, academics and policy makers from across Europe. This blog aims briefly highlight some of the major key issues raised during three panel sessions (consisting of a moderator and four practitioners from the project jurisdictions).

Panel 1 focused on the access of suspects and defendants to legal assistance in PTD proceedings. The primary issues raised included the limited time and facilities for preparation available to defence lawyers, coupled with pressure from courts to ‘get on’ with cases. Absence and poor quality of translation services for non-domestic defendants was highlighted as a problem, particularly since PTD disproportionately focused on such persons (as well as marginalised domestic citizens). The panel highlighted the problem of lawyers who lacked sufficient independence from the police/prosecution (although also pointed out that legal reforms in some jurisdictions had recently attempted to deal with this – but described the current situation as ‘new law, old practice’). Additionally, panelists emphasised the inadequate information provided to clients about their rights. Overall, the panel suggested that the role of the lawyer needed to be ‘concrete’, and provide more than a superficial form of legitimacy to what were ultimately unfair proceedings – particularly since courts would simply assume that there were no issues if a lawyer was present.

Panel 2 (moderated by myself) focused on improving the effectiveness of legal assistance. Panelists highlighted that, to truly ensure equality of arms, lawyers needed to be meaningfully acquainted with case files and materials in advance. However, problems with access (particularly for certain types of material) and time for study were again considered a major problem. It was pointed out that inaccessible drafting and organisation of case files hindered effective legal assistance, and that clear scheduling of materials would improve this. Notwithstanding the above, one panelist highlighted good practise in their jurisdiction, describing how full access to police/prosecution case files was granted to lawyers from the outset, with no ‘cherry picking’ of materials. This was bolstered by a minimum of 48 hours for lawyers to study materials and the support of the judiciary, who were generally reluctant to restrict access to files. The panelists highlighted the importance of knowledgeable, qualified and experienced lawyers, who were motivated to properly engage with cases and personally attend consultations with clients. This was, it was argued, supported by true independence and proper payment for the work done. However, good practise was also undermined by practical issues such as major delays in payment of legal aid to lawyers and lack of private physical spaces for consulting with clients. This would present serious difficulties for lawyers attempting to build a relationship of trust with their client. It was concluded that legal assistance needed to be ‘real’ and not simply ‘theatre’, and that lawyers can be both an assistant (not an obstacle) for courts, and a mediator between courts and defendants.

Panel 3 focused on the role of lawyers in promoting alternatives to detention. A central problem in this regard was the issue of credibility of alternatives; that is, a lack of trust in the effectiveness of non-custodial pre-trial measures on the part of the judiciary. Panelists felt that public/media pressure and risk aversion played a role in the under-use of alternatives to detention, which was not helped by a lack of time for all parties to fully consider alternative proposals. In some cases, poor inter-agency working appeared to undermine use of conditional release; for example, drug rehabilitation was described as being under-used in one jurisdiction because the courts and the medical profession administering rehabilitation spoke ‘two different languages, in two different worlds’. It was felt that lawyers could play an important role in promoting the use of alternatives, but that there needed to be more variety of alternatives available and some creativity as regards to their use in different cases. One panelist felt that alternatives were not simply under-used due to a lack of credibility, but due to the mindset of courts which regarded PTD as a ‘first resort’. In some cases, it was felt that prosecution/police used PTD as an investigative tool that could frustrate the accused and increase the likelihood of a confession. Overall, it was felt that lawyers needed to do more to establish a relationship of trust with the courts which would enable them to more credibly suggest alternatives to PTD.

Overall, the meeting identified a variety of key themes related to more effective legal assistance in PTD hearings, including: early and continued access to materials and information; trust; independence; privacy; quality and experience of lawyers; adequate translation; adequate time for preparation; and sufficient and timely remuneration. A key call by Fair Trials, and the project partners, was for the EU to make PTD a policy priority, in a similar form to the 2009 roadmap on minimum procedural rights of defendants in criminal proceedings. By establishing clear minimum standards across Europe in this key aspect of PTD practice, the quality and effectiveness of legal assistance could be significantly improved. Equally, individual jurisdictions (including E&W) also need to take ownership of this issue and act on some of these problems, so that PTD decision-making is robust and fair – and, as a consequence, detention is used appropriately and proportionately.

Photo by Fair Trials.

Pro Bono at Bristol Law School: Video

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UWE Bristol Law students speak about the benefits of taking part in Pro Bono activities.

The Pro Bono Unit enables UWE Bristol Law School students to provide free legal advice services to members of the community. We have spoken to several students about their experiences of getting involved in Pro Bono.

Here’s what they had to say:

“For my career it has helped me get work experience. I think that being involved in Pro Bono will give you that confidence to put that on your CV and when law firms can look at you being involved, they definitely would want to take you on and give you some more experience because they trust in you.”  – Manmeet Singh, Law Student

“When I was at UWE I got involved in an organisation called Street Law which is a programme that goes to help teach younger children the basic of laws. So, we would be teaching them things like civil and criminal law, the advocacy process and just a general introduction to studying law.” – Isaac Cole, Trainee Solicitor 

“It helped me build my confidence as before I couldn’t really speak in front of a group of people and now I’m accustomed to holding events of upwards of 300 people.” – Freya Whiting, Law Student

“The Pro Bono experiences I’ve done has helped me for my career in a sense that it’s developed my confidence when being in an interview situation. It’s also helped in a sense that it’s helped me further understand why I want to pursue this career.” – Rory Jutton, LPC Student

“I would recommend students to do Pro Bono activities or get involved with Pro Bono. The main reason is employability, you can’t really put a price on that – it’s invaluable experience, it’s satisfying and it’s incredibly rewarding.” – Dominik Morton, Pupil Barrister

If you would like to know more about Pro Bono at UWE Bristol please visit our webpage.

UWE Bristol wins Guardian Award for Equity Programme

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We were delighted to be finalists at this year’s Guardian University Awards but are over the moon to have actually won! This award means so much to everyone who’s been involved in developing and delivering the Equity Programme ever since our first pilot event in October 2016. It’s been a long and sometimes challenging journey to introduce a progressive positive action scheme like this. Working with students, local employers and national diversity thought leaders, we’ve created something which the University can be really proud of and which offers BAME students a chance to leverage leadership and enterprise skills as they embark upon their graduate careers. 

The Equity programme has 4 pillars: 1-2-1 mentoring, identity and leadership coaching, enterprise education workshops and large evening networking and guest speaker events. National statistics on the performance and progression of ethnic minorities in the labour market (as highlighted by the MacGregor Smith Race in the Workplace Review 2017) have to change and we are proud to be leading the way on the role universities can play in this regard. Finally, we want to thank every facilitator and the external guests who attend our events and enrich our student experience.

Equity evening events run throughout the academic year and are open to the public to attend. We warmly encourage alumni to consider attending the evening events to give our students networking opportunities as well as being part of the collective challenge to diversify the talent pipeline. To find out more please visit www.uwe.ac.uk/equityor email raceequality@uwe.ac.uk

Post written by Dr Zainab Khan- Equity Programme Lead

Take advantage of degree apprenticeship SME funding with UWE Bristol

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15 May 2019 15:00 – 17:00

Register here

Are you interested in upskilling your workforce and does the cost of training seem a barrier to accessing local talent?

This event provides an opportunity to hear first-hand accounts from existing businesses who have apprentices at UWE, and how to make it work. In addition to this, we will be highlighting upcoming degree apprenticeships and further opportunities for your business to train your employees at degree level with the funding available.

UWE Bristol is the only university in the region with funding from the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) to support non-levy employers and has secured funding to support apprentices from Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs).

David Barrett, Director of Apprenticeships at UWE Bristol, will welcome you to the event and alongside the Degree Apprenticeship Hub team will be able to help identify your training needs and suitable solutions.

Spaces are limited for this event, so please register below.

If you have any questions about this event or degree apprenticeships please feel free to contact Ellen Parkes.

We are looking forward to meeting you and beginning the degree apprenticeship partnership journey.

The event takes place in the University Enterprise Zone on Frenchay Campus from 15:00 – 17:00.

Register here

Corruption in the Global Era: Causes, Sources and Forms of Manifestation (The Law of Financial Crime)

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New book publication by Lorenzo Pasculli (Editor), Nicholas Ryder (Editor)

Professor Nicholas Ryder’s new edited collection “Corruption in the Global Era” has been published with Routledge.

Corruption is a globalising phenomenon. Not only is it rapidly expanding globally but, more significantly, its causes, its means and forms of perpetration and its effects are more and more rooted in the many developments of globalisation. The Panama Papers, the FIFA scandals and the Petrobras case in Brazil are just a few examples of the rapid and alarming globalisation of corrupt practices in recent years. The lack of empirical evidence on corrupt schemes and a still imperfect dialogue between different disciplinary areas and between academic and practitioners hinder our knowledge of corruption as a global phenomenon and slow down the adoption of appropriate policy responses.

“Corruption in the Global Era” seeks to establish an interdisciplinary dialogue between theory and practice and between different disciplines and to provide a better understanding of the multifaceted aspects of corruption as a global phenomenon. The book gathers top experts across various fields of both the academic and the professional world – including criminology, economics, finance, journalism, law, legal ethics and philosophy of law – to analyze the causes and the forms of manifestation of corruption in the global context and in various sectors (sports, health care, finance, the press etc.) from the most disparate perspectives.

The theoretical frameworks elaborated by academics are here complemented by precious insider accounts on corruption in different areas, such as banking and finance and the press. The expanding links between corrupt practices and other global crimes, such as money laundering, fraud and human trafficking, are also explored. The book is an important resource to researchers, academics and students in the fields of law, criminology, sociology, economics and ethics, as well as professionals, particularly solicitors, barristers, businessmen and public servants.