‘Efficiency’ is the new ‘Targets’ = The massacre of the Criminal Justice system
Last night I was up until 3am working on a last minute defence case statement for a case which should have reached trial in the magistrates’ court on Friday, only it didn’t as the CPS didn’t serve the witness statements until a week previously and then wrote a scathing letter to the court when the defence had the audacity to ask for the witnesses to be present at trial. At this stage I could launch an attack on the CPS, and no doubt in time I will do, but the failure of this trial to go ahead is like many others in the courts every day, evidencing the fact that the criminal justice system no longer offers justice for anyone, victims, witnesses or defendants and is imploding. All the while it is imploding we are facing a daily barrage of comments from those civil servants and ministers who have never even set foot in a police station or court room telling us that if we were more efficient with our working the criminal justice system would work just fine. I swear if I hear this one more time I am likely to become my own client.
Here is a sample day in the magistrates’ court for me, and I know I am not alone in this ‘efficient working’ daily experience.
* the CPS prosecutor not turning up until 11am (and that’s not their fault as the local offices have been closed and some now have to cross into a different county and travel an extra 25 miles to get to work), and then realising they don’t have the right file;
* a police officer attending straight after a night shift (actually let’s make it after 9 night shifts in a row, it should be 5, but there are so many officers on sick leave or driving round during the day to diary appointments which the public either don’t remember or can’t make as they have to go to work). The officer will be told that they are not needed at court and asked ‘didn’t you get the memo cancelling your attendance at court?’. Had there still been witness care units in police stations, the officer may have been notified, but with witness care units at such a depleted state, the memo will still be buried under all the other memos that the staff have not yet managed to get to.
* not to worry, the police officer will be needed anyway, as the victim and civilian witnesses have not arrived. The officer will be asked to go and see if they can collect the witnesses. Hmm… The first problem with that is that in many areas there are now not enough cars, the officer will have been dropped at court by a colleague and have to make their own way back..don’t forget the cars are needed for the diary appointments that no one keeps! But even if a car is available, the witnesses are unlikely to be at home. They work and we’re not warned to attend court today so have not booked the time off, another unjust result of complete witness care units being made redundant again. But not to worry as there is a witness care unit in the next county, they can help..oh but they are all off on stress leave due to the pressure of having to do twice the work with a quarter of staff;
* Que the court staff, can they print out the file for the prosecutor as they will have received a copy at the first hearing. Unfortunately the court doesn’t have any working photocopiers at the moment, and even if it did, there is no paper in them….at least ‘efficiency’ is benefitting the rain forests.
* all of this is immaterial in any event as my client is 15 years old, being held in secure accommodation and hasn’t arrived. The magistrates ask that the usher makes a phone call to find out about this situation, oh but sadly there are no longer any ushers in the court, ‘efficient working’ put a stop to that. Hence the court clerk has to make a call, but the court can’t sit without the court clerk so the magistrates have to leave the court and sit outside doing nothing while the calls are made. Now there is efficiency for you!
* unfortunately the Youth Offending Team can’t help us in the search for my client, their computers are down, they have been for the past week and no one seems inclined to fix them….no doubt G4S have already bought new computers in anticipation of their take over. But after half an hour we trace my client to secure accommodation 55 miles away, the closer accommodation was closed down earlier this year as it was too costly…imagine that, a centre for vulnerable youths not being able to make a profit. Anyway, we are told that my client will not be coming to court as there are no staff to bring him. They are running on a skeleton staff of two as that’s all the current funding will provide, and if one member of staff accompanies my client, that will leave the other member looking after six vulnerable youths on their own.
* the end result is that no trial will go ahead today. But not to worry, this is a legal aid case so I will get paid….oh, hang on a minute, I only get paid for advocacy now, and not attendance, and there was no advocacy. So that is nil £ for me today, but I’m not sure it would have made a difference anyway, the Legal Aid Authority doesn’t seem to be paying bills at the moment. My last communication from them was 8 weeks ago, relating to a case which was finished over a year ago and which had to go for adjudication of fees. I was notified that after a year the adjudicator had made a decision, but there weren’t enough staff at the Legal Aid Authority to type it up and approve the payment, and therefore they would get back to me when they could…. I am not holding my breath on that one!
*but at least my travel to court will be paid? Ah.. Back to the adjudication, apparently taking the train to court at the cost of £8.40 return and a journey of 45 minutes each way is not very ‘efficient’ when I could get a bus for £2.60 return, and it only takes 2 hours each way. Hence, the adjudication was to cut my travel costs by £5.80, and I am sure that the time spent by the adjudicator and the Legal Aid Authority staff ( when they finally get to my claim) will have been worth the £5.80, although let’s face it, if they spend more than 10 minutes on the adjudication they will be working at a loss.
All the while, the Government which is telling us we must be more ‘efficient’ and that those of us working in the criminal justice system are to blame, is wasting a vast amount of money on a Public Defender Service, which is not wanted or needed, but which is an example of the Lord Chancellor and the Ministry of Justice throwing their toys out of the pram when those in the criminal justice system fight back against the cuts.
I am a criminal lawyer and always will be, and I am a fighter, but this Government is consistently knocking me down and I fear that soon I and all the others who have made a career within the criminal justice system will no longer have the fight to get back up. I am in a very fortunate position, I am self employed, and I know that the solicitors who instruct me will not refuse to do so anymore on the basis of this blog. Many of my colleagues in the criminal justice system are not so lucky, whistleblowing policies seem to be a waste of paper. Those in the police, CPS and Court Service who are speaking out are finding themselves disciplined or sidelined, living in fear that if they speak out they may no longer be able to afford their rent or their mortgage. The bosses who are supposed to protect them are so ‘efficiency’ target driven that the implied term of trust and confidence only seems to exist in the employee/employer relationship and not the other way round.
I’m not looking for sympathy, just that those of us in the criminal justice system continue our fight, and support each other, as that is the only way we will prevent the implosion of the criminal justice system and ensure at least a certain amount of justice for those who are unfortunate enough to become part of it.