Tag Archives: government

You’ve Been Shamed

From time to time I have shared with you the minor disasters and irritations of my professional life. This has been cheaper than therapy. Probably not as effective, but cheaper. And I hope that my moans and gripes have illustrated to the uninitiated that the Criminal Justice System operates about as effectively as Natalie Bennet when she is full of a cold. 

The daily occurrences of incompetence, ineptitude and inadequacy are such features of, well, daily life that I am now letting them pass by without comment. So I have neglected to tell you about the Prison Officer who appeared over the videolink and candidly announced “We will probably run late with the links today, we are short of staff. Don’t blame me, blame the Government.”  Which was fair enough. 

On the subject of videolinks, I was remiss in not telling you of the videolink which commenced with the clerk asking for the defendant to be brought into the booth. So we awaited his arrival. And waited. And waited. A good ten minutes. Counsel, court staff and Judge, looking at a TV screen showing a chair in front of a curtain. Eventually an officer re-entered the booth. 

“There is a delay,” she announced. Which came as no shock to those of us who had been sitting there for the aforementioned ten minutes. 

“We can’t find him.” Which did come as a surprise to everyone as he was in prison, and as a particular surprise to defence counsel who had spoken to him moments earlier in the conference booth. 

Nor did I tell you about the case that was listed for videolink where the prison mistakenly put the defendant on the van instead. And the cells sent him back to prison because his PCMH was listed by videolink. Which he did not get back to the prison in time for.  On the bright side, at least they knew where he was. Most of the time. 

I shouldn’t just pick on custody cases and videolinks. There was the interpreter who had to be prompted to interpret. Every time. Or the interpreter that refused to assist in communicating with the defendant outside of court. Even when invited to by the Judge. 

But I haven’t mentioned any of these because they have become such the norm of life in the courts that they barely register. All of the instances mentioned above have happened in the last two weeks. Including two Bank Holidays. And a day out of court. So that was seven days worth of cock-ups at court. I should mention that I have only picked the best ones. 

One case has been such a catalogue of errors that I would not know where to even begin. That is a whole blog on its own. If I can ever bring myself to tell you about it. 

I have been moved to put pen to paper once more…..or fingers to iPad….no, that sounds wrong. I have been moved to write (that’s better) about these cock-ups again because my two week trial, that was listed for Monday 13th April in August of last year has been pulled from the list on the Friday before. Despite the fact that I know another trial, listed for at least a week and due to start on Monday as well, was resolved this week. So that’s two trials they could not accommodate. Actually make that four trials as I know of two others that have been pulled. Whilst three courtrooms sit empty in the building. 

It’s alright though. The offences only date back to 2009. It is only the second trial date. There are only six complainants waiting for their cases to be tried. (I am leaving to one side the dirty great big hole in my diary, although if any of you solicitors out there have any easy, private payers just knocking around over the next fortnight, you know where to find me….)

So the cock-ups are funny. Funny in a “if you didn’t laugh, you’d cry” kind of way. But they are symptomatic of a system that is just not working. It isn’t at breaking point. It’s broken. 

There has been lots of talk in the last couple of years of excellence versus competence. Of quality versus efficiency. Right now, I’d settle for “barely functioning”. It would represent a step forward. 

The Five Stages

There seem to be five stages of Government policy making.

First they cut. Cut services, cut investment, cut their nose off to spite their face. The alternative is to cut public services adrift and sell them off to the private sector. So prisons are privatised, closed or staffing levels cut. Boarder Agency staff are made redundant.

Then comes denial. There is no problem. Everything is going exactly according to plan. Even when the people in the know, the people working at the coal face, tell them there is a problem then they are derided. Their concerns are just self-interest. What does the Inspector of Prisons know about prisons after all?

After denial comes blame. Okay, there maybe a problem after all. Yes some prisons maybe a bit full right now. A few people may be waiting a tad long for passports but it’s not their fault. The previous administration left them with no money. These are difficult times. They are taking difficult decisions because of what happened before they came along. But they are not going to apologise for that.

Until they do apologise. That is what comes next. A Ministerial apology. There might be a problem. They are sorry if people have been inconvenienced (not that they will ever apologise to prisoners, prisoners do not have the vote so there is no point apologising to them – ever). They repeat that the problem is obviously someone else’s fault. They listened to the people who knew and when the people who knew had a choice between utter disaster and minor disaster they opted for the minor disaster so, if you think about it, it is really the fault of the people in the know that a minor disaster has now occurred. And the Government are really sorry they listened to those, supposedly, clever people. It is the kind of apology that parents force toddlers into making. “Say sorry for gouging your sister’s eye out” and everything is cured.

And then the Government leap into action. Usually by producing a wildly expensive sticking plaster to temporarily fix what they have broken. Rehiring prisoner officers to cope, advertising for probation officers from Australia, recruiting people to process passport applications, supplementing the pay of interpreters….the list goes on.

Of course all of these could be avoided if they took one, very important step at the very beginning. That would be called listening.

Responsible Government?

I am not an expert in politics or economics. Between you and I, I am barely an expert when it comes to the criminal justice system but I ask you to keep that to yourself. However I am a citizen living in the society governed by the current administration and existing in the world at large.

It would be impossible for a citizen of this country not to realise that this is a time of “austerity”. The fact is that the world is in one of those cycles when economies have and continue to struggle. That may be the fault of the bankers. It may be the fault of the politicians. It could just be a combination of many factors coinciding together to create that perfect storm of economic recession. However we are where we are.

All of that means that budgets are tight. Money is an object when it comes to what the Government can do. As a citizen of this country I expect, I want the Government to concentrate on three areas – Health, Defence and Justice. I believe these to be the central responsibilities of Government in respect of the society it governs. Of course other areas cannot be neglected such as the economy, infrastructure and welfare. However one thing that the credit crunch showed us is that factors outside of politics can bring the whole thing crashing down all over the world but these core responsibilities are entirely within the control of the Government.

When the politicians in power look to reduce their budgets I would suggest that the three core responsibilities are those that are accorded the greatest protection. And that within those core responsibilities the greatest protection is given to the provision of frontline services. Let us make a comparison with household budgets. When times are tight domestically the important things are warmth, food and clothing. So the Sky TV subscription would be sacrificed before the weekly food shop. And although you try to get the best value for money from the weekly food shop you make sure that you have enough money for that by making your sacrifices elsewhere.

To continue with the domestic comparison it is at times of economic woe that you try to maintain the status quo so when things pick up you have the best chance of making progression. You protect, as much as you can, what you have achieved. If you own your home via a mortgage you meet those mortgage payments before you book a holiday. And you certainly do not pick that as a time to put in a new kitchen and upgrade the television.

Translating that across to the running of the country the Government should look very carefully at itself and stop eroding those vital frontline services. They should look very carefully at itself and stop tinkering with things. At the present moment in time a successful and responsible Government would seek to protect what we have. It should not be constantly seeking to make alterations which are minor at best. Each of those policy announcements costs the nation money it is supposed not to have. Every data sharing NHS proposal or putting magistrates in police stations lunacy costs this nation a fortune the moment that the proposals tumble from the mind of someone in the corridors of power.

The current Minister of Justice should not gauge success by the garnering of headlines about “getting tough on terrorists” (does anyone believe we are soft on terrorism!?!). The current Minister of Justice should regard the preservation of a system whereby terrorists are prosecuted by highly skilled advocates as his duty at this time. It is ironic that Shailesh Vara responded to the inaccuracies of MoJ figures on payments to advocates by saying “it is not up to me how they choose to spend their money.” His Ministry is currently planning a brand new conservatory to stick onto a house which is crumbling. Preservation of the system should take priority over the next big idea to be shelved in twelve months from now.