On 3 March 2014, the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales spoke to Justice (the law reform and human rights organisation) about what the criminal justice system of the future will look like. Set against a backdrop of State budget cuts, the speech examined the importance of the justice system and the need to ensure that the rule of law reigns supreme.
To hammer home his point, Lord Thomas drew comparison between the present state of the justice system and that of the post-World War II epoch. In both cases there is a perceived threat to the rule of law. Whereas before the threat arose in the context of trying war criminals, now the threat is the staggering budget cuts (in some cases, a third of budgets). According to Lord Thomas, we are therefore at a precipice where radical and wide ranging legal reform may be the only way to pull our justice system back from the abyss.
Whilst the speech focused on the future, the Lord Chief Justice reflected on historical legal reforms and reviews of the justice system in England and Wales. His approach is clearly informed by what has gone before.
The speech included a number of ideas that could well indicate reform for white collar crime and other Regulatory offences:
1. Fraud trials
Financial crime has seen recent change with the introduction of Deferred Prosecution Agreements and the reinvigorated Serious Fraud Office. However, the Lord Chief Justice commented that, despite this, there are too few prosecutions in this area and it takes too long for cases to be tried.
The Lord Chief Justice identified that disclosure and mode of trial in this context would be areas that would be apt for reform.
For organisations operating in the financial market this is of particular note given that the aim of reform would be to increase the number of prosecutions, particularly for fraud in the financial sector, as well as for bribery and corruption.
2. Introduction of an intermediate criminal court
The introduction of an intermediate court (located between the Magistrates’ and the Crown Court) would provide a venue for trying less serious criminal matters that cannot satisfactorily be dealt with by the Magistrates, the idea being to create a system analogous to the different tracks that are available in the civil courts.
Perhaps there could be scope for this to include less serious Health and Safety and Environmental offences. This would free up the Crown Courts to deal with the most serious offences but it would also provide the benefit of reasoned judgments from the judiciary.
However, the inclusion of lesser Health and Safety and Environmental offences may be off kilter with recent case law, where increasingly large fines have been dealt out in the Crown Courts.
The Lord Chief Justice has now called for reviews into how the justice system can be reformed to make the most of the budget available. Exactly what the reforms will look like, and which parts of the criminal justice system will be affected, remains to be seen.
If you have any questions or would like more information please contact Hannah Facer, Trainee Solicitor or Paul Matthews, Director in the Dispute Resolution Team.This information is intended as a general discussion surrounding the topics covered and is for guidance purposes only. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be regarded as a substitute for taking legal advice. DWF is not responsible for any activity undertaken based on this information.