Very few people cry over the plight of prisoners. The fact that there are prisoners in custody serving Indeterminate sentences for Public Protection (even though such sentences have been repealed for new offences) raises little concern. Such prison sentences cost a lot of money and fail to deliver the very basic requirements of the sentence which is that a prisoner has to show that the risk he/she poses to the public has reduced. This is shown by attending courses and demonstrating a new way of thinking. The courses can’t be run in sufficient numbers to ensure that prisoners serve a realistic sentence that equates to what they would now get or which is less than the statutory maximum for the offence if the prisoner had been sentenced for the offence in accordance with normal sentencing guidelines, as opposed to the IPP system. So prisoners languish in jail without their offending being addressed. It wastes time and money.
Today I read that when Police phone the CPS to get a charging decision they have to wait, on average, 37 minutes. That’s a lot of wasted time-and expense. If the money wasted on unproductive activity was spent on more staff then waiting times would reduce, thus saving time.
But the most shocking thing today was a report about assaults on prison staff, suicide in custody and how many prisoners are wasting time, on drugs, in prison. There’s been a lot of talk about making the Justice systems more efficient. Usually its people who really want to say “we are going to spend a lot less on Justice but we expect the same service, but even if the service is worse it doesn’t matter as we will be spending less on it”. The value of the service, the worth of the service is not considered. It is all to do with £££. Unfortunately this then causes increased costs elsewhere through absenteeism, sickness, claims arising out of injury or delayed release.
What’s also worrying is that the cuts to Justice has resulted in the wrong people being released from prison; ineffective trials; increased assaults on Prison Officers; acquittal when there should not be one; innocent people trying to represent themselves in Court; a lack of experience and timely consideration of evidence; the failure to process cases effectively; in short, money and time wasted and people expected to do a lot of work in too short a period of time.
The response to this from the Legal Aid Agency has not been to query the cuts or the determination by the Ministry of Justice to introduce a more “efficient” system
by cutting resources but to introduce a new clause for the 2017 Crime Contract by which the LAA can end a contract if the provider embarrasses the LAA and brings the LAA into disrepute. What a joke!? Instead of worrying about Justice and access to Justice and the administration of Justice the LAA is concerned about its own reputation. If the LAA was a human being, such thinking would make one conclude it was sociopathic.
We have a new Lord |Chancellor/Secretary of State for Justice. Rt Hon Elizabeth Truss MP was appointed recently as part of the new Theresa May Cabinet.
I have absolutely no problem with a woman as Lord Chancellor (and yes, even though she is a woman she is Lord Chancellor). However, yet again, for the third time in a row, we have a non-lawyer filling one of the great legal posts of State.
She has already said that she wishes to reform prisons-don’t they always?-and to reform Courts-don’t they always?-but what Liz Truss really needs to do is to ignore the bureaucrats and consultants and advisers that populate the MoJ and talk to people who work in prisons, in probation, in the courts, at CPS and in private practice.
Too much reform of “Justice” has been piecemeal and politically motivated. There needs to be a consensus as to what Justice looks like. A definition of key reform terminology would also help eg “efficiency”. Too often the term “efficiency” is used to mean “reduction in resources” which, of course, does not necessarily help improve efficiency. It would help if a vision of the Justice system could be created in open dialogue with those at the coal-face and then the resources found to deliver that vision. Justice should be funded to the extent that the system requires to deliver Justice. Without proper definitions of key terms no Lord Chancellor can guarantee that the system over which they preside delivers Justice.
The LAA has announced a new contract for 2017. There will be a totally unnecessary non-competitive tendering process (which costs more money than is necessary for the award of a legal aid contract). Most legal aid fees are fixed fees. There is no need for the Legal Aid Agency at all. Legal aid could be granted by the Courts/Tribunals and any bills requiring assessment could be assessed by the Courts/Tribunals.
One new clause appearing for the first time in the new contract is one which prohibits providers from embarrassing the Legal Aid Agency. What this might be used for is to prevent criticism of the Legal Aid Agency. However my guess is that it is a way to address the issue of those Solicitors who share fees with clients, who make payments to third parties for work and who use non-duty solicitors to intercept clients at court and represent them when the client would, ordinarily, be represented by the Duty. It will be interesting to see what happens if the LAA tries to argue that open criticism of how it undertakes its role as commissioner of public-funded legal services causes it embarrassment such that the critic should lose his right to undertake legal aid work.
What would be much more helpful would be if those in charge at the LAA stopped behaving like poodles and instead spoke openly about how bad the Justice system is due to lack of resources and the affect this has on people.