The Criminal Justice System is often perceived as being rather antiquated, but in reality it is quite technologically advanced. Take for example, the XHIBIT system (eXchanging Hearing Information by Internet Technology) in which court clerks record events in their Crown Court contemporaneously on computer, enabling you to view a hearing’s progress in real time via the internet or on public display screens around the court buildings. Covering all of the Crown Courts in England and Wales, you can find out what stage a trial has reached, for how long a matter has been adjourned, or simply the progress that has been made through a Court’s list of cases. Go to the index of Court lists and then choose the court that you are interested in.
The XHIBIT technology can also be accessed from your mobile phone using my own website. Legal Training’s Court Search application for Android phones provides you with full contact details for every court in England and Wales, Crown Court updates and daily Court lists for the High Court and above, and maps and navigation tools to help you to get there.
Information on the latest advances in technology in the Criminal Justice System can be found on the CJS Frontline website, which aims to join up the dots between the various agencies involved in the system. Its ultimate goal is to encompass everything from police custody processing, to CPS case progression, then on to offender risk assessment, with the whole system streamlined and information provided electronically.
You can sign up for access to the secure email service at www.cjsm.cjit.gov.uk which allows you to exchange sensitive information with other criminal practitioners and the various government criminal justice organisations.
Practical guidance and support
Launched in 2010, the judiciary’s own website www.judiciary.gov.uk gives access to the latest guidance for criminal lawyers, containing not only judgments (often with supporting documents) since 2009 but also a useful selection of practice directions and judicial guidance.
Similarly, the Ministry of Justice website provides guidance on everything from criminal procedure rules to prison and parole. Nestled within the Ministry of Justice website you will also find the Criminal Procedure Rules mini-site which is well worth bookmarking as it holds in one place not only the most up to date text of the Criminal Procedure Rules and their associated protocols, but also relevant practice directions and PDF copies of forms that you might need.
Whether you prosecute or defend, it is also well worth visiting the Crown Prosecution Service’s website, which contains a wealth of resources and legal guidance, including the Code for Crown Prosecutors, Prosecution Policy and Guidance and Advice in relation to supporting victims and witnesses with mental health issues.
If you are looking for practical guidance from a practitioner’s angle, then the websites for the professional organisations for criminal barristers and solicitors come to the fore. If you are a member of the Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association, their website has a valuable members-only section, including an e-alert updating service. Even non-members can access some great features, such as the bi-annual Criminal Lawyer Bulletin and a useful online video guide called Going to Court – a step by step guide to being a witness, which has been developed in conjunction with a variety of criminal justice organisations. This is ideal for defence solicitors to give to witnesses due to give evidence at court to help them prepare for their experience.
Similarly the Criminal Bar Association website contains a database of the very informative Criminal Bar Quarterly newsletter, as well as CBA Papers on a wide variety of topics. The newsletter, written by experienced counsel, includes comment on current issues facing the criminal bar and discussion of relevant case law and legislation.
Criminal law can be a solitary business, and sole practitioners or those in remote areas may lack the network of support that those working in larger firms have. In those situations, criminal solicitors may welcome the online support, guidance and discussion forums of www.criminalsolicitor.net. This website provides not only criminal law news (including criminal contracting), relevant case law and legislation but also a weekly newsletter. The discussion forum enables members to discuss relevant issues and ask for advice or assistance from other criminal law professionals. This website is a free resource, but donations to support their ongoing work are always welcome.
Sentencing is an area which is far more complex than the casual observer will appreciate. It is no longer as simple as choosing between a probation order, community service order or custody. How do you keep up to date with the latest sentencing guidance and advice?
For those working in the Youth Court or dealing with young offenders in the Crown Court, the website of the Youth Justice Board is a key resource. Offering a “Practitioner’s Portal” from its home page, it summarises the role of the Youth Offending Teams and YOT court protocols, and explains not only what the various disposal options are, but clarifies when they are applicable.
If you are seeking more general sentencing advice, then you would do well to explore the modest website of the Sentencing Council for England and Wales, as it contains current sentencing guidelines for adults and details of the more specific Youth sentencing guidelines Overarching Principles: Sentencing Youths. The website also carries some helpful compendiums of guideline judgments which you can download to your own computer and take to court with you.
If your client finds themself sentenced to a period of custody, then their family and friends often have a myriad of questions. They may benefit from advice about how to keep in touch, the procedure for prison visits and what will happen after release from prison. The HM Prison Service website offers all of these things as well as providing links to relevant support groups and hosting a virtual tour of a prison which explains how a prison operates. It has a dedicated “Families and Friends” section, so would be a good resource to signpost for those affected by a custodial sentence of a friend or relative.
Case law and legislation
The comprehensive BAILII website covers the whole range of British and Irish case law and legislation dating back to 1996 (and in some cases even before that). It is incredibly easy to search, straightforward to navigate and, best of all, it is free (although to ensure its continuing excellent work, it welcomes donations from its users, and is a registered charity). BAILII holds a comprehensive database of decisions from the High Court up to the Supreme Court, as well as decisions of the ECJ; its contents are up to date, and without its enormous presence the legal web would be infinitely poorer. You can now also get BAILII RSS feeds for individual courts at www.bailii.org/rss.
For legislation go to www.legislation.gov.uk. This relatively new government legislation website, launched in July 2010, is set to replace the Office of Public Sector Information (OPSI) website and the UK Statute Law Database. The new site has the benefit of enabling you to view legislation from various points in time, thereby seeing how it has been revised by subsequent enactments. Searching is straightforward and simple enough to use.
If you like to keep abreast of news and updates direct to your computer or mobile device, then it is worth subscribing to the free and incredibly useful RSS feed from the Inner Temple Library Current Awareness blog. The librarians at the Inner Temple helpfully collate and post to the blog the relevant legal news and resources from a number of sources including various newspapers, the Law Society Gazette, the Bar Council and BAILII. You are then able to work through the headlines, selecting which are relevant to you and your practice to read or explore further.
Amanda Millmore is a non-practising barrister and founder of Legal Training. The material in this article is expanded upon in 3 accredited CPD courses in the “Criminal Practitioner’s Guide to the Internet” series.
Legal Training (www.legaltraining.co.uk) is an established CPD provider, offering 100 per cent online, accredited CPD training for barristers, solicitors and legal executives. Courses cover Family Law, Criminal Law, Property Law and Civil Law, as well as general IT skills and Chambers’ Complaints Handling.Tweet