Tuesday, 14 April 2015

The Tuesday Truth

This week's Tuesday Truth is written by Rhona Friedman, Paul Harris and Ali Parker

So long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen, goodnight…? 

John Haythorn is a Partner at Woolcombe Yonge Solicitors in Plymouth. He has been a partner since 1982 and is Head of the Criminal Department. His firm have served the local community for many years and John still gets up on a Saturday morning to act as Court Duty Solicitor. He continues to cover out of hours police station work.

On Thursday 9th April John had a visit from Gary Streeter the Conservative candidate for South West Devon who is standing for re-election to the seat he has occupied for the last 5 years.

It did not take Mr Streeter very long to realise that he could not count on the vote of John Haythorn bearing in mind the sustained attack on access to justice that his government have mounted over the last 5 years which has had a profound effect on Mr Haythorn’s firm.

Mr Streeter’s parting words were that there was going to be a Labour government and that “Hopefully they will look after you better.”

John Haythorn told Tuesday Truth “I was very surprised bearing in mind the campaign was only two weeks old, it was incredible to hear an MP of one of the two major parties conceding defeat whilst canvassing”
 Does Mr Cameron realise that at least one of his MPs expects Labour to win the next election, do others feel the same? It would be unsurprising if the Tory attack on essential services was not translating into difficult conversations for Tory candidates on the campaign trail.  

It is not just lawyers who are much more likely to vote against this government. Many doctors and teachers feel exactly the same. Retirement levels in the National Health Service are high whilst recruitment is apparently at an historic low. With an ageing and expanding population and the barmy introduction of the internal market and rip off PFI schemes the National Health Service has never been under more pressure. Suddenly as an election looms Cameron talks about investment in the Health Service too little too late and to be funded by as yet unidentified cuts elsewhere as George Osborne has ruled out an increase in taxation.

Many in the public services including legal aid lawyers are now looking to what Labour or a progressive alliance of Labour and others can offer which brings us to last week’s launch of Labour’s Crime and Justice initiative. The proposed programme is outlined in the pamphlet 'A Better Plan to Secure Safer Communities"
Labour's disappointingly short section on the justice system begins:
"Our justice system relies on a fundamental principle: confidence"
Stirring words? Not so much.  'Confidence' is not a principle at all. It is a feeling. At
that stage, some cynics and lovers of English as she is wrote may have stopped feeling confident.
However, there are some promising aspects to the programme. Former DPP Keir Starmer QC, Labour's rising star has said that Labour must review all the legal aid cuts
within one year of taking office.  What those who care about our justice system ask of Labour if the party wins power is that this review is comprehensive and that all agencies involved in delivering justice must be involved in an intensive engagement process. The review must examine the damage to our rule of law that has been wrought through the assault on access to justice which has only served to increase social inequality and has not even achieved the Tories promise of savings because costs have merely been displaced on to other parts of the courts, prisons and social welfare budgets.
Then there is the 'Victims Law' co-authored by Keir Starmer which is to include a right to review dropped prosecutions.  It is of course right that victims’ interests are properly served by our justice system, the concern for victims appears genuine but this concern  cannot be allowed to undermine fair trial rights that are at the very heart of our adversarial system.
As has been said in this blog before the best way to protect victims’ rights is not to promote them in binary opposition to the rights of the defendant. A properly funded and resourced criminal justice is the most effective way to promote the interests of those who are the victims of crime.
The proposal to brief witnesses as to the detail of the defence case which is seemingly a part of this “victim centred “approach is an affront to the interests of justice. The underlying assumption that every single witness and complainant is truthful and fair-minded is a fantasy that only political pamphlets and CPS rookies engage in.  Those politicians and lawyers who champion this idea are recklessly underplaying the vast coercive powers of the state which no defendant and no defence team can ever hope to match. That is why the system evolved to embed safeguards to ensure equality of arms. That level playing field is being dug up from under us by the twin assaults of legal aid cuts and rampant managerialism which is already skewing the fairness of proceedings and resulting in perverse decision making in which the self defeating mantra of “case progression” is now routinely trumping the proper interests of justice.
This government has carried out a sustained assault on education, National Health and Access to Justice under the false premise of austerity. But those people who have devoted their professional lives to the public services have not given up the fight and their continued efforts to take the fight to the government and to enlist the help of wider society have not gone unnoticed.
On Monday the Guardian published the results of a YouGov poll which found that 82% of the respondents believed that access to justice was a fundamental right

On the same day the Guardian helped to launch Legal Aid Team! An animation celebrating legal aid and lampooning its enemies voiced by amongst others Maxine Peake, Joanna Lumley, Sally Hawkins, Simon Callow and Kevin Eldon.
Next week on 23rd April we have the Vote for Justice Rally.

We have had two and a half years of meetings, walk outs, demonstrations, lobbying, briefings and legal action. On May 7th we get the chance to send another kind of message to the government. Many of us will be voting with issues of access to justice and the rule of law firmly in mind when the X goes in the box.   Do come along to the Vote for Justice Rally to discuss what happens after the votes are counted because whatever the composition of the government we will still be confronted with a criminal justice system which is less and less able to ensure a fair outcome and a civil justice system which since April 2013 has been engineered to deny millions of people representation and redress in court.




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