Where to begin amid Brexit, Lockdown gradually lifting, the heat wave, or the fact that most solicitors (or certainly those who attend Court Hearings) have not had a day off since March 2020, Lockdown 1?
Currently the backlog in criminal court cases has meant that some victims are not seeing their perpetrators brought to justice for over 2 years. This has caused a serious problem for young offenders who committed a crime while still considered a child but by the time the case is heard they have passed the 18-year-old cut off age and are tried as adults. This is grossly unfair to young people who may have made a mistake. Rob Butler, MP and former Youth Justice Board member, has asked parliament for the right to read a bill to change legislation to allow young people to be tried according to the age they were when they committed the crime and not for when the court date is set.
Recently Butler said, “The arbitrary cut-off date of a young person’s 18th birthday immediately affects both the type of court that deals with them and the range of sentences available. But there can then be a longer-lasting impact on the chance of rehabilitation, the likelihood of getting a job, and the prospect of forever having to disclose a mistake from the past due to the rules on criminal records.”
He went on to say, and quite frankly we agree. “It is totally unfair to punish young people for the setting of a court date over which they have no control.”
It is not only the criminal cases which are being delayed, we are constantly being chased by clients, who, having made the painful decision during lockdown that unfortunately their marriage has broken down, want to know when their Decree Nisi or Decree Absolute will come through and right now, we have to tell them it will be about 9-12 months. In May, Southampton Divorce Centre closed down and all cases were transferred to Bury St Edmunds, which has been rather arduous. Apart from the fact that many Divorce Centres have many admin clerks furloughed, the rate of divorces in the UK has increased 33% in 2020. A compounding reason is the fact that many people feel they can make the applications themselves, given that money may be tight and time abundant. However, most of the hold-ups are caused by the forms not being completed correctly and being sent back to the applicant. Simple mistakes such as not writing each party’s full name will send it winging its way back. Our advice – trust your local solicitor or have someone proofread it for you before sending it off.
And, on the subject of delays, how many times in 2020 did small business owners receive emails and letters from HMRC, Export Control and other such government bodies offering help with the transitioning to being out of the EU? This business owner lost count, but it was certainly every other day if not every day. Why, therefore, are we now being flooded with our small business clients asking us to “quickly update our Terms of Business so we can take this order!” Not to mention those who did not apply for the correct export licences back in the summer, which has meant that this week UPS admitted in March to having over 20k parcels stuck at East Midlands airport without the correct paperwork and now VAT issues holding up shipments.
On the bright side the EU has conceded that our GDPR rules are adequate for all purposes, so maybe we are not all that bad after all.
And, on a note closer to home, it was announced on 24th February that judges have been told to show sensitivity to witnesses and defendants who are experiencing menopausal symptoms and ensure courtrooms are ventilated and women have cold water and access to lavatories. What about female solicitors and advocates? Should I have to ask?
As we are now out of lockdown and the heatwave takes us to the pub for a few cold lagers, please remember that if you are caught drinking and driving you may get 6 months’ imprisonment, an unlimited fine, or a driving ban for at least 1 year.
Until next time Stay Safe and Stay Legal.