Monday, 19 January 2015

The Tuesday Truth

2015: A defining year for Criminal Justice

Dream a little dream

Although there is not much of January left I still feel entitled to set out some New Year’s resolutions (unrealistic dreams) for those involved in the delivery of Criminal Justice. I feel particularly strongly about this as I have already abandoned all of my own New Year’s resolutions, yes I admit it, I am eating big chocolate buttons again, putting sugar on my cereal and am back on the non fruit mid morning and mid afternoon snacks.

Constructive Engagement with the MOJ 
Obviously I hope the LCCSA, CLSA and Law Society win their judicial review against the MOJ duty solicitor contract proposal but really this wish is merely the tip of the iceberg. We need to be able to properly engage with the MOJ, in particular the civil servants who devise these proposals 
Surely their primary purpose should be to facilitate a fair system for legal aid which preserves access to justice, and which depends on quality litigators and advocates. This engagement needs to take place without the spin and the misinformation and in the context of a longer period of review and research and engagement.

Re-engagement with the Bar
 A year ago the National Justice Committee was set up comprising the leadership of the bar, solicitors, and legal executives. It ended on a Tuesday in late March with the non bar members sitting round a table in EC1 wondering where the bar had got to. The answer was revealed two days later, they had been in meetings with the MOJ.  Six weeks before that unhappy split I spoke at the Bar Council Legal Aid event on behalf of solicitors and spoke of the importance of the independent bar and unity between the professions. At the same event Sarah Foreshaw the then leader of the South Eastern Circuit suggested that we lobby the Bar Council and the Law Society not to support the Global Law Summit in February 2015 marking  the 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta. Well actually the 799th and 8 month anniversary, the shindig having been brought forward seemingly for purely political reasons.
I will spare us all from a further rehearsal of all the historical details but currently the relationship between the Bar leadership and Solicitors leadership is tense and untrusting. A year ago the Law Society was the MOJ’s darling and the Bar was the rebellious irritant that had the nerve to oppose the MOJ and organise industrial action. The Bar condemned the Law Society in strident terms for its lack of fight and unsuccessful appeasement policy. Today it is the Bar leadership enjoying the cosy relationship with Petty France whilst Chancery Lane is instructing Dinah Rose QC to fiercely interrogate the lawfulness of the two tier proposals in court. What a difference a year makes.
So my New Year’s hope for the Bar and Solicitors is that we find a forum to resolve the issues that divide us and focus on the many more issues that unite us. The issues that divide us are being gloriously exploited by the MOJ both in public and private. My personal view is that the resolution of such issues must be in private through the establishment of a body of the relevant leaders to address the difficulties over referral fees, the issues around the independent bar and solicitor advocates. Whilst it may take difficult negotiations to resolve the problems between ourselves, this can be done.  We must address these problems head on and then devote our time to the bigger threat, the attack on access to justice.
I can hear many of you saying “Paul don’t be so naive, we had a working group  last year and look what happened” or “Do you want to give up all those Tuesday nights again for those pointless meetings, hours and hours of your life that you will never be able to recover”.
I don’t want to give up what free time I have but I believe it has to happen. As with the Law Society there will come a point when the Bar’s relationship with the MOJ hits the buffers.  There may be a new party in power and suddenly the leadership of the Bar may need solicitors to help in fighting its corner and by then it may be too late. There are probably enough people of similar mind within the leadership of the Bar and the Solicitors so let us make it happen and let us end 2015 presenting a united front to the Ministry of Justice.

Not the Global Law Summit   
Following on from the above we need to pull together to fight for legal aid as a principle not as an ever decreasing cake where we are all competing for a slice. In this regard the Justice Alliance (headed by Matt Foot, Rhona Friedman and others) is organising a number of events and demonstrations to illustrate that the Global Law Summit celebrating 800 years of Magna Carta is a cynical commercial stunt organised by the Tory party for lawyers for the rich to tout for international work whilst the true principles of Magna Carta of access to justice, state accountability and civil liberties are ruthlessly being eroded by the government in the name of austerity. Civil and criminal solicitors and barristers must pull together to fight for access to justice so that by the end of 2015 we have reversed LASPO and have reminded the government that in a proper functioning democracy its duty  is to provide proper access to justice. In this respect I understand that Tony Cross Chairman of the Criminal Bar Association has agreed to speak at the Global Law Summit (Tory marketing party). Paying lip service to the rule of law at these types of events is not good enough, if you cannot say it as it is then in my view do not go as  presence potentially gives credibility to this sham of a celebration.
The Probation Service has been savaged by this government, part sold off, split in two; many valuable members of staff dispensed with, their work unnoticed or undervalued. The Ministry will say these reforms save money and improve efficiency. But greater inefficiencies are created, risk management is undermined and any cost saving in probation is ultimately a false economy creating extra costs elsewhere. I hope by the end of 2015 there will be a greater appreciation of the work done by probation service and steps will have been taken to reverse the reforms undertaken by the MOJ.
The number of inmates is growing whilst prison staffing levels are reduced to the point when officer morale is at rock bottom, they spend their days fire fighting the results of cuts and overcrowding and allowing inmates a regular shower let alone useful rehabilitative work is beyond them.   If the government is allowed to continue to sell off the prison system we will end up with a US style system in which the companies who own prisons are incentivised by how many prisoners they can lock up and there is no motivation to rehabilitate as they need the repeat custom to appease the shareholders.  Savings from the prison budget are a true false economy not just financially but in the price society pays for a system where for the majority incarcerated there is little prospect for rehabilitation. So yes Mr Grayling there is a prison crisis and the Lord Chancellor’s resolution should be greater investment and understanding of the role the prison might play for the 21st century prisoner in terms of rehabilitation

Many of the liberals and lefties who read this blog might raise an eyebrow at me mentioning the police who have also been savaged by cuts and unwelcome reforms. However if they do not have the resources to do their job properly there is a knock on effect on everyone else in the system. Theresa May is suggesting a new law where a suspect cannot be bailed for more than 28 days without a decision being made re charge. I support this idea but believe that some of the delays in investigation are caused by lack of resources caused by Ms May’s own government, so I think the police should have the appropriate resources to do  their day to day job.

I could say much the same regarding  the court service and the CPS but some of you may  have had enough so I will finish as I started on a personal note, this time next year hopefully Spurs will have just qualified from the group stages of the Champions League for the knock out that is dreaming.


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