Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Let's Change the Law Again, and Again, and Again...

I turned on the radio in my car as I drove to work this morning to hear that Ken MacDonald QC, the top man at the Crown Prosecution Service, had suggested that he was in favour of changing the law in relation to murder to bring in a system that differentiated between degrees of murder. This in itself is not a stupid thing to suggest as it would give all parties involved in the criminal justice system some flexibility in dealing with murder cases. It is often the case that someone charged with murder will deny murder simply on the basis that they want to avoid being given a mandatory life sentence. Most people that go on trial for murder are looking to get a result in either being acquitted of all wrong doing, or being found guilty of the lesser offence of manslaughter.

I do not oppose change, but I have just about lost all patience with the current Government and its continual interference with the criminal justice system. Since the current Government came in to power it has made so many changes to the criminal justice system it is impossible to keep up with them. In fact the Government has got so sloppy in bringing new laws in to force many new laws are coming in to force without the Government publishing the fact that those new laws are now in force! The latest parts of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 were due to come in to force at the start of April 2005 but they were not brought in to force until the start of May 2005. The Government made a very quiet announcement about these new laws coming in to force and failed to publish the statutory instrument that actually brought the new laws in to force until after 9th May 2005! I wandered around Court on the date that the latest new parts of the Criminal Justice Act 2005 came in to force and enquired whether any colleagues at Court were aware of the changes, many knew nothing about it!

The current Government make many changes to the criminal law after consultations. But it is virtually impossible to respond to every consultation paper that is issued because there is such a flood of them it would take someone with a lot of spare time on their hands (and quite frankly criminal solicitors do not generally have much spare time working a full Monday to Friday week and then having to cover night time call outs to Police Stations and represent Clients at Court on Saturday mornings if they have been kept in custody by the Police and charged with a new offence) to respond appropriately.

I have to some extent keep myself updated on changes in criminal law by ensuring that I read current journals and generally keep my ear to the ground. If I made no effort to keep updated I have no doubt that a change would be implemented that I may be unaware of and then I would come unstuck at Court or at the Police Station!

Ken MacDonald QC has come up with a good idea but at this moment in time I hope that the Government ignores his suggestion so that I can first catch up with changes already made to the system before I have to deal with any future changes!

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