Wednesday, 27 June 2007

Out with the old, in with the new

Not only does our fine nation have a brand new Prime Minister, but I arrived in Chambers today to find an email about a brand new form in my inbox. I am, of course, referring to the Plea and Sentence Form, which prosecutors will need to fill in before the Plea and Case Management Hearing as of two days ago. Good old Lord Goldsmith - just as I was getting my head round the voluminous new PCMH form he spices our lives up again by giving us all yet more work to do and judges yet another reason to give CPS an ear-bashing when the inevitable happens and people forget to fill it in. Apparently, judges aren't getting enough input from the prosecution when it comes to sentence. It used to be enough to open the facts of an offence, deal with previous convictions, sentencing powers and, if relevant, point out that the defendant is liable to banged up indefinitely if deemed dangerous. Now we will have to list the aggravating and mitigating factors, inform the judge of sentencing guidelines and relevant case law and say whether or not there is a victim impact statement.

All of this will take time and effort, which won't be reflected in either CPS salaries or counsels' brief fees and which will be wasted in the event that the defendant pleads not guilty at the PCMH and is acquitted at trial. In addition, most judges are perfectly able to seize on what aggravating and mitigating factors there are, not to mention what sentencing powers they have, without counsel writing it all down in a form for them. In complex cases where they require input from counsel, they aren't generally shy about asking for it and in such cases, most advocates would anticipate this in advance of the sentencing hearing. Finally, I can't help but feel bad about the huge amount of extra paper that will be used. Will somebody please think of the trees?

Well that's my moan of the day over. As always, any comments welcome!

Thursday, 21 June 2007

Time flies...

Dear me, has it really been over a month? Sorry to be gone so long. I was away on holiday for a couple of weeks (very decadent, I know) and in the three weeks I've been back I've been sent all over the place and never seem to get round to updating my blog. I suspect that this is how clerks pay barristers back for taking time off - booking us into work miles away.

So what's new? Again, we're being reminded of the crisis in our prisons, which are now so over-crowded that court cells are on standby to house people in custody. All this week, the courts I've been in have been delayed by prisoners being brought from the other side of the country and arriving late. Mind you, there's never been a better time to be facing sentence!

One of the things keeping me busy lately is my newly-started civil practice, which is a mixed bag and now accounts for about 10-15% of my work. As many people warned me, it is a steep learning curve. At times I feel like a pupil again but I've got a couple of unofficial mentors in chambers who are a great help and, by and large, I'm enjoying it. Not as much as I enjoy anything involving sex, drugs and violence, but it's early days yet. One of the things I really like about civil work is that the briefs tend to be better prepared (sorry to any criminal solicitors - I know you don't have the funding you need) and there is no doubt that the money's far better. Nothing like selling your soul...