Introduction: Criminal Justice and Courts Bill 2013-14

Criminal justiceOn 5 February 2014, the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill was introduced into the House of Commons.

The Bill is expected to receive Royal Assent by the end of 2014.

The Bill would introduce a number of significant changes to several aspects of criminal and civil justice. These include:

  •  Ending automatic early release from prison for those serving extended sentences and those convicted of child sex offences and terrorist related offences
  • Criminalising the possession of extreme pornographic images depicting rape
  • The creation of ‘secure colleges’ for the detention of young offenders
  • Trial by a single magistrate on the papers for ‘low-level regulatory cases’
  • Requiring convicted criminals to pay court costs
  • The introduction of four new criminal offences of juror misconduct
  • Restricting the availability of judicial review

According to the Ministry of Justice, the Bill will: deliver a firm but fair package of sentencing and criminal law reforms that properly punish serious and repeat offenders and better protect victims and the public; reduce the burden of the cost of courts on hardworking taxpayers by making criminals pay towards the cost of their court cases; reform judicial review to tackle unmeritorious claims and unnecessary delays to the system; put education at the heart of youth custody; and modernise the law to tackle the influence of the internet on trials by jury to ensure defendants receive a fair trial.

However, it is not all good news. Specific provisions in the Bill raise a number of serious concerns relating to, for example, access to courts, open justice, fair procedure, and the appropriate ambit of the criminal law. In the following five blog posts, members of the Criminal Law, Criminal Justice and Criminology Research Group, and the Sussex Law School, comment on various aspects of the Bill.

In Part 1, Bob Sullivan considers the dangerous offender clauses of the Bill (Clauses 1-5) in the light of recent penal history. He questions whether it is wise to pursue further reform so soon after the relevant provisions of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 came into force.

In Part 2, Tanya Palmer comments on the proposed amendments to the offence of possession of extreme pornographic images (Clause 18). She considers whether ‘cultural harm’ is an appropriate target of the criminal law and raises a number of concerns about the breadth of the offence.

In Part 3, Richard Vogler considers the provision made for trial by single justice on the papers for uncontested, low level, regulatory offences (Clauses 26-30).  He questions whether the apparent financial benefits of the proposed reforms can be justified in the light of the principle of open justice.

In Part 4, Abenaa Owusu-Bempah examines the proposed legislative response to juror misconduct (Clauses 44-47), finding that the criminal offences set out in the Bill exceed that which is necessary to tackle juror misconduct and protect the right to a fair trial.

Finally, in Part 5, Donald McGillivray and Emanuela Orlando comment on the proposed reform of judicial review, which includes financial deterrents for prospective claimants (Clauses 52-59). They consider the costs of the reforms in terms of environmental justice, and whether those ‘costs’ can be justified.

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