What to expect from 2017
Last year saw some of the most significant political developments in decades, and 2017 is set to feel the impact of these changes. But what new challenges are in store for our legal industry?
This year will see changes that actually occurred in 2016 but will impact ongoing cases that are yet to go to trial. This includes 2016 amendments to the Modern Slavery Act 2015, which expanded human trafficking to include ‘abusing children sexually.’
Ramifications of Last year's Supreme Court ruling in the landmark case of R v Jogee  UKSC 8 have started to impact on murder trials in 2017. In summary, the Court considered joint enterprise murder cases; i.e. the law where someone is killed by one person with another present, and what other person’s liability is. The Supreme Court found there was no actual distinctive category of ‘joint enterprise’ liability and that the Courts had earlier taken a ‘wrong turn’ in allowing foresight of the offence committed by the actual killer.
The most significant of the new laws is the Criminal Finances Bill which is presently before Parliament. Published in October, it is expected to become law in the summer. The Bill's introduction followed increased Government desire for introducing civil as well as criminal penalties for the ‘enablers of tax evasion’. The announcement followed the Swiss bankers and ‘Panama Papers’ scandals.
The Bill also proposes changes to the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 and Terrorism Act 2000, where the Unexplained Wealth Orders (UWO) will be introduced. The amendments will require a person who is suspected of involvement or association with serious criminality or overseas ‘politically exposed persons’ to explain where their assets originate if they appear disproportionate to their income.
The biggest development is with the 28-pre-charge bail time limit. Previously, police could have a suspect's life on hold for (potentially) a number of years, whilst they continue with their investigation. However, after a number of high profile cases, 2017 may finally see an end to never ending pre-charge bail.
The proposed changes means that a decision has to be made 28 days after arrest. By then, the suspect can be told that the investigation is over, be charged or, it is proposed, have their pre-charge bail extended by an officer of Superintendent rank by a further three months.