This week I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to contribute to the CBA’s Monday Message. Those of you who have read that or are familiar with my recent blogs will appreciate that I believe the Criminal Justice System in this country is currently under such strain that it has collapsed in on itself.
The casual observer will still think that the system is purring along nicely. They will see that courts still sit with bewigged and/or enrobed ladies and gentleman dotted around. They will read about a celebrity being convicted of the odd offence in 19. They will hear The Lord Chancellor pontificating about how to make the system better with a new fangled tweak here or a pointless pilot there.
What they do not see is the truth. They do not see the wasted hearings because the papers have not been served. They do not see the trials taken out because the court cannot cope. They do not see the defendants who are released because diligence has not been applied to their cases. I refuse to believe that there is a single, informed participant in the CJS who believes the system is performing in a way other than woefully.
It is our duty, the duty of the police, the duty of the CPS, the duty of the judiciary to stop the erosion of the CJS. If the NHS is responsible for the health of the nation, the CJS is responsible for the health of society.
Now is the time that the lawyers have to form an effective coalition to fight on behalf of the CJS. That fight is for the victims of crime, the wrongly accused, the vulnerable (whether they be witness, accuser or accused) and the guilty.
The first step in that has to be to put the past behind us. I was a vocal opponent of “the deal”. I am not going to allow the fact that many of my colleagues voted in favour of the deal to stop me trying to improve the system and the lot of those of us who work within it.
So many times I read comments about the betrayal of the solicitors by the Bar. Or the betrayal of some of the Bar by the leadership. Or the betrayal of just about everyone by the Law Society. I hear of talk of secret agendas and double crossing. The truth of that is not what concerns me here. True or not, we have to get over it. It is the past. That debate is closed.
The first step towards working in a way that is effective is to forgive and forget. And I am afraid it is as simple as that.
The Big Cheeses have to forgive and forget. There can be no more “I am waiting for the call” – make the call yourself. There can be no more “you failed to effectively organise” – the time is now to help organise.
The rank and file have to forgive and forget as well. This crisis within our CJS is bigger than all of us and our egos put together. It involves the financial future of us all and the future shape of our society. I no longer care what happened in March and April of this year. Time to focus on what is going to happen in March and April of next year and the year after that.