Bending justice until it breaks

Posted: 25/07/2012 in Barrister, Legal aid, Magistrates, Solicitor

‘Pretty Boy’ , ‘Lad’ and ‘GQ’ sometimes have to work at weekends. Deals. Doing deals. I don’t really understand what they do, but it involves very angry lawyers sitting in their offices throughout all hours making conference calls and sending emails.

And, I work weekends too. Certainly not so bad as it was, it used to be a Saturday morning of hell in the West London cells with ‘John Bull’ but now that’s only once in a while.

I understand Saturday Court. It makes sense in any urban centre. Saturday Court is supposedly about remand time and making sure that people don’t spend too long in custody without judicial scrutiny.

Reality is,  police stations need to empty out the punters from Friday, before they start the Saturday rush…

 The dreaded pilot scheme

I feel sorry for pilots, every bad idea that the Government comes up with involves their profession in the title.

No doubt some of you will recall the virtual court pilot. I cannot express how much time and effort that wasted. I won’t rant about here – I have no doubt many  of my readers lived through that one.

The latest. ‘Flexible Courts’. That means, more Court hearings in the evening and on Sundays.

Sundays. People work on Sundays, I accept that. My first job was a Sunday job. But for the rest of the week I was doing my GCSEs and A-Levels. I wasn’t doing a Crown Court trial.

Why on earth do we need to open Courts on Sunday?

I was speaking to @LisaCallum on twitter. She’s a solicitor in a ‘pilot’ area. She was saying that locally they could fit the work into four days.

So why turn a Sunday into a Monday?

It’s not because the Government hates legal aid lawyers / criminal defence lawyers (although sometimes I feel that way.) I think there’s an underlying motive and you get a flavour in Bystander’s recent short blog:

There’s two things that stand out to me:

They are working us hard these days. Because we have closed several courtrooms more business has to be shoved through the remaining ones.

And then, how,

I asked the DS [read duty solicitor – FTD] if she had advised her client,, and she said yes, but unconvincingly enough for us to retire for  cup of tea while the Clerk made quite sure that the defendant understood what he was doing.

More bodies going through a court room. More slog for the duty solicitor. More slog for the duty solicitor, less client time. Less client time, less advice time. Less advice – less access to justice.

I mean this with no disrespect to Bystander, but he’s a Magistrate! A Magistrate asking a Defendant about running a form of mitigation. That scares me.

But there’s the first saving:

More work in a single Court room means:

  • Less legal advisors.
  • Less Magistrates’ £7.50s
  • Less Duty Solicitors.

And this is what Sunday Court is about! It won’t just be remand, come on.

It’ll do everything.

Open a big Court on Sunday means:

  • Work can be transferred away from quiet rural Courts.
  • Rural Courts can be closed.
  • Legal aid franchises can be rationalised.

And my supporting evidence

The Government has produced this, ‘Swift and Sure Justice’ white paper.

Have a gander.

Now you get why I’m suspicious:

More ‘police led prosecutions’ – translate: less CPS lawyers salaries to be paid. No independent scrutiny of charging.

‘Out of Court disposals’ – this is actually, Magistrates, sitting alone, handing out punishments outside of Courts – translate: no Defence lawyers. No legal advisors. No expensive Court buildings. And, no law. No law = no justice.

– ‘Reform of video link hearings’ – translate: less witness expenses. Less jailer expenses. Less access to clients, less ability to judge the demeanour of a witness.

Justice is not that malleable

I object to Sunday Court as it will have a negative effect on my ability to do my job.

However, worse than that it will have a negative effect on the people in the system.

Sunday Court is clearly part of a wider policy to close Court centres.  Court centres are expensive. Summary justice is expensive. The Government doesn’t really care about Summary Justice, it isn’t in the spotlight very much.

The negative effect is this: smaller courts will be closed. Smaller firms who service those courts will be closed (n,b the Government are keen for this as it will help them to push their ‘factory’ legal aid firms doing work on the cheap), people will have to travel further. People who might have a defence will be punished because they have no access to a lawyer and are not judged by a lawyer. Those using the duty solicitor scheme will receive reduced advice. Trials will be at the mercy of video links  and judgment as to demeanour will depend on a person’s ‘television manner.’

That’s not flexible justice. That’s breaking one of Justice’s arms off.


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