There is a scene in Les Mis where Marius mourns the death of his comrades in rebellion by singing the song “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” whilst sitting in the cafe where they used to discuss their lofty ideals. I know this because I am friends with my colleague, Gary Woodhall.
Leaving aside Gary’s predilection for musical theatre, the song is a moving lament. The empty chairs and empty tables around Marius as he warbles away, bring a tear to the eye. You feel the loss of young life, you feel the loss of their aspirations.
In the Crown Courts of this land you may find a misty-eyed Woodhall murmuring the lyrics of a similar refrain. This would be called “Empty Receptions and Empty Cafés.” It would mourn the parlous state of our criminal justice system.
It is sometimes said that you can tell the health of a nation by the state of its roads. Potholes equal poverty. I would venture to suggest you can tell the health of a democracy by the state of its justice system. Ours is scarred with the effects of underfunding.
Most Crown Courts have vacant reception desks because they cannot afford the employee to staff them. Often a cardboard sign redirects the baffled and the late to other areas of the building for them to be assisted.
Now we have the deserted cafeterias. If you think about it, the cafeterias of the Crown Courts should be a gold mine. You have, in some instances literally, a captive audience. Time can be tight at lunchtime. The jury may not be able to go out. The Judiciary need brain food. Witnesses have thirsts to be quenched.
However it would seem that such businesses are so unprofitable that the MoJ cannot be bothered to even outsource the provision of catering. So we have news stories such as this from Plymouth.
Indeed news reached me today of the swearing in of a jury in Birmingham for a five month trial. We expect, we demand, that citizens give of their time to perform this vital civic duty. The twelve selected for this five month stint were informed by the Judge that the facilities available to them amounted to an usher with a kettle. Pot Noodle anyone?
A visit to the fantastic, not-run-by-Globo-Corp, cafe at Bury Mags would show you that these places can be run at a profit whilst serving good food. The MoJ might want to follow the mantra “Build it and they will come.” Provide good catering and the Bar would do their best to be, in terms of waistline at least, fatcats.
However the CJS is so far down the food chain that we no longer even get fed. No help at the front desk, no food at the cafe. All of which leaves me with no hope.
Pass the Cup-a-Soup.