The Sad State Of Our Courts

by Ray_North on October 21, 2013

UnknownA colleague of mine recently said to me words along the lines of, ‘I don’t know why you keep banging on about austerity, no one is suffering, everything is just the same as it was.’

Well, clearly, I can’t give first hand evidence about every sector of public life and the way in which the cuts are being felt, but I can give an account of the way in which they are being felt in the Courts.

This is a genuine account of one day last week in a Court building which contains four courtrooms in the North of England. Clearly, I have to be careful what I say, and also, before I do say anything, I emphasise that there is no criticism implied or otherwise of anyone who was involved.

But, one day last week – this happened:

In Court 1, there was no work heard all day because we cannot afford to place a Judge in that Court.

In Court 2, a Judge was hearing a complicated multi-handed drug case, that was being prosecuted by two in-house CPS lawyers, they were doing their best, but, with every respect, a few years ago, it was a job that would have been done by a very senior barrister, but, the CPS can no longer afford to outsource a job like that and so the two in-house barristers were prosecuting a multi-handed case with masses of evidence, without having had the experience of being involved in such a case before.

Now, as that Court was going to have all its time taken by this case, six appeals from the Magistrates Court that were listed for that day, were all adjourned to another date, meaning that six appellants didn’t have their cases heard and the cost of instructing Counsel to cover these cases will still have to be met.

In Court 3, a single Judge had to do the work of the empty Courts 1 and 4 and also the list of pleas and sentences from another nearby satellite court, where, again, there is not enough money to put in a Judge. The brilliant Judge in that Court tried manfully to complete the caseload, but, with the best will in the world, as he strove to do his job properly, he ran out of time. So, once again, cases had to be adjourned and costs were incurred.

Court 4, as I’ve said, was not sitting – no Judge, no funds.

And it gets worse – no Counsel were allowed to see their clients in the cells on that particular day, because the prison guards were short staffed and the company who hold the contract, did not wish to add on extra staff because of the cost. This meant, again that cases had to be adjourned because of lack of instructions – I mean, you can’t advise your client if you can’t speak to him.

Meanwhile, upstairs, a number of cases involving defendants who had either been convicted or pleaded guilty and wished to have Pre-Sentence Reports prepared by the Probation Service were also in difficulty, because the Probation Service are understandably and properly planning industrial action over proposals to privatise them and make over half of them redundant, so as such, no one was sure when this work could be completed and the individuals sentenced.

Amidst this chaos, I had a quick cuppa with a couple of other barristers – one of whom told me that he was having trouble sleeping because he hadn’t been paid for six weeks; whilst the other confided that he was scared to tell his wife that the Minister of Justice was planning a 17% cut in fees, because, he loved the job and his wife wanted him to leave and get another job with regular money.

I ask this – is capitalism working or failing? And, if austerity is having no effect, then I’m Andros Townsend.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Eddie Kaye October 21, 2013 at 4:31 pm

Someone recently said to me (incidentally someone who believes in austerity) that he had told his wife (on jury service) that ‘the police don’t make mistakes, all guilty’. Partially in jest admittedly, but one of those ‘I actually think this’ types of jest that I find disturbing. Ultimately, I do wonder if this is ‘an easy one’ for the government. Some of the people going to court are criminals, therefore all people going to court are criminals, barristers defend people in court, therefore barristers defend criminals all day long – or so the simplistic Daily Mail argument would go. Does my rationale make sense? Probation, the criminal bar and the criminal justice system are easy to destroy and privatise as people miss the whole point – the CJ system is like the lottery – IT COULD BE YOU!

Added to this, treating the system like this is going to bite them in the arse bigtime – miscarriages of justice, endless delays, a brain drain in the legal profession – how much will this all cost to put right one day?

Yet another example of Tory Cock-Womblism!


Mike Killingworth October 21, 2013 at 6:26 pm

I agree.

If anything, Eddie, you underestimate the likelihood of putting it right. Or overestimate it – if (as I suspect) a demand grows up in certain quarters for a Strong Man (not Cameron) to “sort this country out” in a certain way.

You guys know what I’m driving at.


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