Reducing the use of pre-trial detention in the Chinese criminal justice system

Posted on

By Dr Tom Smith

In February 2019, Dr Tom Smith spent a week working in China as an expert consultant for a research and training project, entitled ‘Reducing pre-trial detention through improved defence and non-custodial alternatives’. The project forms part of a broad reform programme aimed at improving pre-trial detention practice in the Chinese criminal justice system, by lower detention rates; improving defence rights for suspects; and widening the use of non-custodial alternatives (such as conditional bail). A significant part of the reform programme is the introduction of pre-trial detention hearings (known as ‘official arrest hearings’). These can be most closely compared to a defendant’s first appearance in a Magistrates’ Court in England and Wales (although with a number of distinct differences). At present, these hearings are being piloted in a number of cities across China, with the aim of increasing the participatory nature of proceedings; improving the transparency of the process;  and enhancing scrutiny of detention decision-making. The project is being co-ordinated by the Great Britain China Centre (based in London), in partnership with academics from the Centre for Criminal Justice Reform at Renmin University of China (Beijing), and the Supreme People’s Procuratorate of the People’s Republic of China (the national agency responsible for regulating criminal prosecution and investigation).

Tom Smith and Luke Meyer at Shenzhen Procuratorate training day

Tom’s primary role in this phase of the project was the design and delivery of training sessions for a variety of Chinese criminal justice professionals, including procurators (whose role is comparable to both a Magistrate and a prosecutor); defence lawyers; and police officers. The purpose of the training was to improve the professionalism of the procurators, lawyers and officers in two pilot cities (Shenzhen, in Guangdong province; and Hefei, in Anhui province). In addition, the training aimed to influence their approach to considering the protection of human rights in criminal justice proceedings by introducing perspectives on best practice in England and Wales, whilst providing a critical insight into our pre-trial detention system. The training sought to equip defence lawyers with knowledge and skills applicable to their role in pre-trial detention hearings, which is essentially an adversarial one. Tom was accompanied by criminal defence lawyer Luke Meyer, a Partner at Tuckers Solicitors in Kent. Together, they co-designed the structure of and materials for the training sessions (lasting a day in each pilot city), combining both academic and practical perspectives. The training covered topics such as the current structure of English and Welsh law on remand (i.e. court bail and pre-trial detention of defendants); insight into day-to-day practice in police stations and courts; a review of existing research on pre-trial detention in England and Wales (largely based on Tom and Professor Ed Cape’s report, ‘The Practice of Pre-trial Detention in England and Wales’); and a series of thematic sessions examining criminal legal aid, the use of video-link technology, alternatives to detention in custody, and impact on vulnerable groups of defendants.

Tom Smith and Luke Meyer at Shenzhen Procuratorate training day

Tom and Luke delivered the first training day in Shenzhen on February 22nd and 23rd, alongside sessions by leading Chinese academics and senior figures from the Supreme People’s Procuratorate. On February 25th, they observed an official arrest hearing in Hefei, via video link technology. This offered first-hand experience of the practical implementation of the reform programme, involving a real-life criminal case. The figures involved included two procurators (acting in a similar capacity to Magistrates); a defence lawyer; two police officers (acting in a similar manner to prosecutors in England and Wales); and the defendant (who appeared via video-link). After the hearing concluded, Tom and Luke were invited to ask questions of the deciding procurators in the case as well as the participating police officers. This was a rare privilege: this might be equated to the opportunity to question a bench of Magistrates and a prosecutor about their handling of a remand decision, directly after completing it – something that simply would not happen in England and Wales. This underlines how unusual and important this opportunity was, and provided a significant and unique insight into the progress of the reform programme on the ground. The second day of training was then delivered in Hefei. During both training days, and during associated networking events, Tom and Luke met with procurators, lawyers, academics, and senior local and governmental officials, and answered a variety of questions about English and Welsh law and practice. They were also invited to offer recommendations for continuing the progress of the project.

Tom Smith at Hefei Procuratorate training day

The opportunity to be involved in this highly significant reform programme was an undoubted privilege. The processes being introduced in China are novel to its criminal justice system, which does not have the same legal traditions and adversarial roots as English and Welsh criminal procedure. The energy and effort that is being directed towards the programme by the various parties involved was impressive and engaging. It is worth remembering that these were two of several pilot cities across the country, involving and effecting thousands of people. Above all, the programme has clear potential for positive impact on the lives of criminal defendants in China, emphasising the protection of human rights, increasing the scrutiny of decision-making, and working towards reduced use of detention before trial. Such goals are shared by many jurisdictions, particularly in light of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), one of which (SDG 16) includes reduction of unnecessary pre-trial detention. This is therefore likely to be part of the long-term agenda for reform in China and beyond. The chance to contribute to this project, by sharing knowledge and understanding of pre-trial detention practice in England and Wales, was a very positive experience. It is hoped that there will be further involvement in this project, as well as a wider strengthening of ties between UWE and China.

Featured researcher: Dr Thomas Smith

Thomas is an in Law and member of the Centre for Applied Legal Research. His research areas include pre-trial detention and bail; disclosure of evidence in criminal proceedings; criminal defence lawyers; access to justice and criminal legal aid.

Email: Thomas8.Smith@uwe.ac.uk Phone: +4411732 84617

SLSA Seminar Series: The Perennial Problem of Disclosure – A way forward?

Posted on

By Ed Johnston

Ed Johnston has recently been award £1,500 from the annual Socio-Legal Scholars Association’s Annual Seminar Series. Ed is currently organising a one-day conference at UWE Bristol Law School on the topic “The Perennial Problem of Disclosure – A way forward?” This one day event will take place on Wednesday 3 July 2019.

Prior to the mid-1960s, there was no requirement for defence disclosure. Between 1967 and 1996 the defence only had to disclose alibi and expert evidence. The prosecution would disclose elements of their case to ensure ‘equality of arms’. The issue of balance between both parties is long-running, since the prosecution have historically commanded significant resources to investigate and prosecute crimes (in comparison to the defence). The system of disclosure is a fundamental element of fair trial procedure as it helps to compensate for this natural imbalance. However, with the advent of the defence case statement under the Criminal Procedure and Investigations Act (CPIA) 1996, both the underlying culture and systemic purpose of disclosure experienced a seismic shift.

In the following two decades, the general focus of criminal justice policy has been toward prosecuting cases in an efficient manner; the defence case statement forms a pivotal aspect of this. The disclosure regime was extended by the Criminal Procedure Rules (CrimPR) which now mean that disclosure, albeit operating under the guise of ‘case management,’ is essentially mandatory in summary trials. In contrast, under the CPIA 1996, summary trials were only the subject of a voluntary disclosure regime. Despite the insistence (via both judicial guidance and executive policy making) on the need for a culture of early disclosure and co-operative working to permeate modern criminal procedure, the post-CPIA 1996 regime is marked by practical failings and (arguably) ideological contradictions. This has generated significant and sustained criticism, and led to miscarriage of justices as a result of an inadequate disclosure system and culture.

In late 2017 and early 2018, a series of criminal cases collapsed after significant police failures in managing disclosure of key evidence. The first and most widely reported of these was the case of Liam Allan, who was accused of rape and released on bail for two years, before vital undisclosed evidence emerged days into his trial. In the wake of this, the CPS, Metropolitan Police, a Parliamentary Select Committee, and the Government have engaged in reviews of the effectiveness and fairness of the current disclosure regime in criminal proceedings. As mentioned above, this is not new; the modern system of disclosure has been lamented almost since its inception in 1996. There have been a number of critical examinations, including by academics Plotikoff and Woolfson (A Fair Balance in 2001); by Lord Justice Gross (A Review of disclosure in criminal proceedings in 2011); and by HMCPSI and HMIC jointly (Making It Fair in 2017) and the Mouncher Review (also in 2017).

Liam Allan speaking at the First Annual Criminal Justice Research Unit lecture at UWE Bristol in December 2018.

In 2018, two further reviews followed in the wake of the Allan case and others (including those of Samson Makele and Oliver Mears): the Justice Committee published Disclosure of evidence in criminal cases inquiry in July, and finally the Attorney General published a Review of the efficiency and effectiveness of disclosure in the criminal justice system in November. The latter review concluded that the ‘system is not working effectively or efficiently as it should’ and identified above all the need for a change in culture (rather than law) was needed. There is an obvious appetite for improving the function of the disclosure regime; yet, despite the numerous reviews and investigation, it remains fundamentally flawed and this represents a risk of causing further miscarriages of justice (which may or may not be detected). Speaking in June 2018, the former DPP, Lord Macdonald, suggested that it was ‘inevitable’ that innocent defendants had been imprisoned as a result of disclosure not being readily available to defence lawyers (a claim the then DPP, Alison Saunders, was hesitant to echo). Arguably, the current crisis in disclosure represents one of the most significant and impactful problems in 21st Century criminal justice.

This one day conference in July 2019 seeks to bring together academic and practitioner perspectives to examine potential avenues for reform and improvement. If you would like to attend this event, please register online here.

The confirmed speakers for the conference are: 

Anthony Edwards: “Contemporary issues with disclosure in the police station.”

Anthony is a criminal defence solicitor who specialises in Corruption, Fraud and Major Crime. He is widely acknowledged as one of the leading authorities on Police Station law and he has published widely in the areas of criminal procedure.

Dr. Abenaa Owusu-Bempah: “Reconsidering defence disclosure.”

Dr. Owusu-Bempah is an Assistant Professor of Law at the London School of Economics. Her research interests focus on criminal procedure and fair trial rights. Her recent book, Defendant Participation in the Criminal Process, examines how the disclosure provisions of the CrimPR compel the defendant to actively participate in their own criminal trial. The book examines how the adversarial criminal process can be effected by essentially non-adversarial provisions.

Dr. Hannah Quirk: “ Uncovering disclosure errors: Appeals and the CCRC.”

Dr. Quirk is a reader in Criminal Law at Kings College London. Her research interests lie in wrongful convictions and sentences. She has published extensively on the erosion of the Right to Silence and wrongful convictions.

Please see our event page for further details or click here to sign up now.

Catherine Easton (editor of the European Journal of Current Legal Issues) has been commissioned a Special Edition of the journal, which will focus on the papers presented at the seminar. This proposal has been accepted and the edition will be published in the winter of 2019.

The Knife ASBO: The Incorrect Response

Posted on

By Ed Johnston

Last week, the Home Secretary suggested a new measure to tackle the ever-growing problem of knife crime in England and Wales. He suggested that children as young as 12 could be sanctioned with ASBO-style order, should the offender breach the order, they could be imprisoned for up to two years. There is undoubtedly a major problem with knife crime in London and this requires a solution. In November 2018, the House of Commons Briefing Paper Knife Crime in England and Wales indicated that the period 2017/2018 had the highest rate of number of knife or sharp instrument crimes in over a decade with nearly 15,000 incidents. However, whilst this crime increased year on year, the Sanction Detection Rate for crimes that involved knives was under 30%. It is clear that something needs to be done to tackle this very dangerous problem. Furthermore, the Briefing Paper highlighted the findings of the Crime Survey of England and Wales that suggested 6.2% of 10-15 year olds knew someone who carried a knife and 0.3% of that sample self-reported that they carried a knife. The Government has previously attempted to ‘get tough’ on knife crime, The Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015 introduced a minimum custodial sentence of six months for repeat offenders of knife crimes. Nevertheless, this has not provided an answer to the reoccurring problem and knife crime is perpetually in the news.

Knife Crime in England and Wales briefing paper
House of Commons Briefing Paper Knife Crime in England and Wales

The Knife and Offensive Weapon Sentencing statistics published in December 2018 states that at the end of September 2018, there were 21,381 cases of knife crime formally dealt with by the criminal justice system. Of those cases, 36% of cases resulted in an immediate custodial sentence. A mere 11% of cases resulted in a caution, which is a 13% drop from September 2009. For almost 3/4s (73%) of offenders, this was their first knife or offensive weapon offence. So, whilst the courts are treating the problem with severity, the average custodial sentence exceeded 6.5 months in 2016 for the very first time; there appears to be no effective deterrent currently available. According to the House of Commons Briefing Paper, there were 5,053 admissions to English hospitals as a result of an assault by a sharp object in 2017/18. This is a rise of 14% on the previous year and when compared to 2014/15 it has increased by 39%. The problem is real, the courts have attempted to deter offenders by using harsher sentences which has driven up the average custodial sentence, however, nothing seems to be working. In fact, in the dawning hours of 2019, two people were killed in London before 6am.

It is clear that something needs to be done to tackle this problem. However, questions remain about Sajid Javid’s Knife Crime Prevention Orders (KCPO). The Home Secretary wants to amend the Offensive Weapons Bill in order to bring in these orders. Amendment 73A of the Bill suggests that the court can make an order if, on the balance of probabilities, on at least two prior occasions (within two years), the defendant was in possession of a bladed article without good reason, in a public place, school or further education premises. The good reason could be for work, educational purposes, religious reasons or as any part of a national costume. Whilst this is clearly aimed at deterring young people from carrying a knife, which is to be commended, the standard of proof is far lower than establishing if a defendant has committed a crime. All that needs to be established is the fact it is more likely than not the person has previously carried a knife twice. Should a defendant be subjected to a KCPO, there are a number of prohibitions that the court can impose. The court can prohibit the defendant from:

  • Being in a particular place
  • Being with particular people
  • Participating in regular activities
  • Using particular articles or having particular articles on them, or
  • Using the internet to facilitate or encourage crime involving bladed articles.

This is a civil injunction, hence the lower the standard of proof. However, any breach of the order will render the conduct criminal, and the defendant could be imprisoned. These types of injunctions are nothing new to the courts. They have had the power to stop defendants associating with certain people or entering certain spaces for years. The Anti-social Crime and Policing Act 2014, allows the court to ‘prohibit the respondent from doing anything described in the injunction’ or ‘require the respondent to do anything described in the injunction.’ Both sanctions would allow the court the bar an individual from being in a particular place, being with particular people, participating in regular activities or using the internet to encourage knife crime. This could mean a person subjected to an order could be banned from using social media.

 A new provision, is not required. Perhaps, the Home Secretary is looking to polish his ‘tough on crime’ mantra for when Teresa May steps down ahead of the next general election (with some suggesting that may be as early as this summer). Perhaps Mr. Javid should not look to widen the net of criminal justice by snaring more young people into its grasp, as the stigma of being involved or subjected to criminal sanctions is hard to shift for young people. Employment opportunities are only going to be hampered by being subjected to KCPO and it begs the question, how can this be effectively policed? If the aforementioned rise in custodial sentences does not deter young people from these offenses, will a bar on using WhatsApp or other social media platforms? Whilst the provisions, on paper, have some bite, the reality means that they are almost impossible to enforce. It is suggested that the orders will be reviewed periodically, although the police are already underfunded and struggling to tackle crime; it is unrealistic to suggest the police would have the resources to see if a KCPO is being complied with. Ultimately, the proposals are another example of an order which is enforced by a low standard of proof but carries consequences that could give rise to criminal sanction and could blight the offender’s future.

Perhaps the Home Secretary would be better served looking at alternatives to divert young people from knife crime, rather than creating new provisions, that replicate sanctions that are already on the statute book. The courts have tried using more serve sentencing powers and yet that has failed to remedy this ever-growing problem, it is hard to believe a regime that mimics existing legislation would fix this problem. Nevertheless, it will help Mr. Javid’s leadership bid as the Home Secretary looks like he is doing something, rather than actually doing something to tackle the growing epidemic of knife crime.

The disclosure crisis: A suspect and practitioner perspective

Posted on

On Wednesday 5 December 2018 UWE Bristol hosted the first annual Criminal Justice Research Unit lecture on the topic “The disclosure crisis: A suspect and practitioner perspective.” The event was organised and chaired by Dr Tom Smith and Dr Ed Johnston and funded by the Centre for Applied Legal Research.

Roughly a year ago today our first speaker Liam saw accusations of rape dismissed after the police failed to disclose crucial evidence which fundamentally undermined the claims made against him. Liam gave us a very a personal account of his experiences with the criminal justice system. Jerry Hayes and Anthony Edwards each provided varied and valuable professional perspectives on the problem of disclosure. We hope that this lecture will help to promote meaningful and long term change in this area as well as furthering our goal here at UWE Bristol of research that shapes the future of organisations.

The lecture has been recorded and is available to watch online as a video, or to listen to as a podcast:

View Full video

Listen to Podcast

 

 

Liam Allan

Liam Allan is a criminology and criminal psychology graduate who was charged with rape in 2015 and spent two years on bail before his case collapsed owing to failures with the disclosure regime. Liam gave us a very personal insight into his experience and the trauma of accusation, from the moment he was arrested until the case was dropped. Liam described being made to feel that he was “guilty until proven innocent”. Liam arrived at the Crown Court charged with 13 counts of rape; days into his trial, it emerged that the police had 60,000 non-disclosed text messages containing vital information which led to the collapse of the case against him. Following these events, there was huge media interest and public outcry. Subsequently, 600 cases were dropped, 6 of which were rape cases. Since that time, Liam has continued his studies and founded the Innovation of Justice campaign, which seeks to unite organisations, lawyers and barristers, individually seeking to improve different aspects of the criminal justice system.

 

 

Jerry Hayes

Jerry was the prosecution barrister for Liam’s trial, and played a fundamental role in the discovery of the non-disclosed evidence. Jerry described some of the fundamental issues with the criminal justice system, in particular in relation to sexual offences. He argued that many members of a jury jump to conclusions in a “no smoke without fire” reaction to rape cases (something Liam suggested he had previously done, prior to his accusation). Jerry emphasised the importance of remembering that people are complainants, not victims, until a conviction or a plea of guilty. Jerry described in detail how and why the system very nearly failed Liam Allan – who would have served up to 12 years in prison and been on the Sexual Offenders Register for life. He suggested that the evidence that was withheld had been deemed “too personal” to be revealed and not relevant to the case. Yet, he argued, it was not only capable of undermining the prosecution case; it made it absolutely clear that Liam Allan could not be guilty. Jerry described Liam’s case as the worst he had seen in 41 years of practice.

 

Anthony Edwards

 

Anthony Edwards has been a practicing solicitor for 45 years and gave us a professional overview of how disclosure should be handled to avoid major miscarriages of justice. Anthony explained some of the provisions of the Criminal Procedure and Investigations Act (CPIA) and gave an overview of the recent Attorney General’s review of disclosure. He argued that, with sexual offences, there is added complexity and difficulty due to frequent “credibility contest” in such cases – that is, they turn on one person’s word against another. He stated that it is a routine part of defence practice to deal with non-disclosure issues; from major fraud to cases of minor assault. He suggested that poor disclosure practice undermines the criminal justice system, as police and prosecutors do not look for what is actually needed in a case. Anthony highlighted that this issue will not just go away (and not done so for decades), arguing for an enormous cultural shift from the police, the prosecution and defence, to ensure that all evidence is properly disclosed from the start. Anthony highlighted the need for an independent disclosure review process, conducted by an independent barrister, arguing that history tells us that the police nor the prosecution can or will do a satisfactory job. Anthony highlighted the related issues associated with the use of social media by parties in a case; particularly the problems of detecting and accessing such material when it stored on a third party’s account. He asked: how an accused can find such material if they do not know it exists? Anthony suggested that, with an independent disclosure counsel running the process, a significant proportion of cases that currently reach court and are subsequently dropped or dismissed by a jury would be filtered out of the system at an early stage, avoiding injustice.

 

Question and Answer session

We had a range of questions, some sent in advance and then opened up questions from the audience. Liam talked about how the case affected his personal life and that he was suspended from his job for 2 months. The emotional strain of the case understandably caused Liam to breakdown in court, but he also spoke about the impact on his family and friends. There was much discussion around the CPS and CPIA, whether they were fit for purpose and whether Liam was judged fairly. Anthony and Jerry gave an insightful discussion of the failings of the criminal justice system and how these failings impact genuine victims of sexual abuse. The idea of anonymity for those accused of certain types of offences was discussed by all three speakers, and the idea that it should be anonymous until a judge, because there may be other offences, directs that it should be made publicly known. There was criticism of the CPS and police using their lack of resources as an excuse for their failings, and whether this is a valid excuse or reason, nonetheless it needs to be addressed.

 

The entire lecture is available online here:

Full video

Podcast