One step forward, two steps back

freedom

This week there have been a few examples of how government cuts in the UK criminal justice system have already started to actually cost more than they were planned to save.

First the probation service. Over the course of the last few years the probation service has seen budgets cut of around 25% or more. The result has seen many problems in magistrates’ courts and Crown Courts up and down the county, which seem to be becoming more widespread. Due to stretched resources probation officers often miss deadlines for completing Pre Sentence Reports, which result in sentencing hearings being adjourned time and time again. Of course, counsel and indeed the court itself only find out on the day of the hearing that the report is not ready. This leads to counsel still being paid (by the government in the case of legally aided defendants) and also to a case being scheduled for a hearing not taking place; clogging up court lists unnecessarily.

Another example is that of a case recently which involved a 17 year old schoolgirl. The girl had been expelled from her previous two schools as she had started a fire in each. The first being put out quite quickly and not causing much damage. The second engulfed an entire building. Fortunately nobody was injured. The case went to court and she was convicted of arson. Upon sentencing the court was of the belief that prison would not be suitable due to her age, nor would a standard community order. The court was of the opinion that she should be placed on an Intensive Alternative to Custody programme (IAC). This is a relatively new type of community order, combining intensive probation supervision with a mix of mandatory activities. The court were however shocked to be told by the probation officer that they didn’t have time to do an IAC. Instead the probation officer asked if they could just do a ‘normal’ community order. The hearing was adjourned until the probation service did have time. Another example of how the cuts have failed in the probation service. That is without even going on to look at how the figures show up to a quarter fall in the number of programmes successfully completed, resulting in higher reoffending rates. It therefore cannot be said that the cuts to the probation service will have saved any money at all. Even if it has, it’s a false economy as the money saved will be being spent in other places as a direct result of the cuts here.

Second, the ongoing saga with the company running the privatised court interpreter service in England and Wales; Capita Translation and Interpreting. From January 30th 2012 the whole system of court interpreters was privatised and the contract was awarded to Capita. The government aimed to save £18 million a year. This has been something which has been described as a ‘shambles’. The most recent example was that last week of a translator failing to turn up at a murder trial and the court clerk being told that no-one was coming as there ‘wasn’t enough money in it’. Low and behold the trial had to be adjourned at the expense of the taxpayer. This is not a one off example. Capita’s target is to provide a translator 98% of the time. In fact statistics reveal they have never achieved over 95% with some months as low as 66%. Therefore some months 1 in 3 trials are adjourned because Capita are unable to provide a translator. The figures, released by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) also show there have been 6,417 complaints and more than 600 court trials abandoned due to a lack of interpreters over the last 12 months. Again, this just goes to show that the government will not have saved the £18 million they said they thought they would. They have probably saved nowhere near that figure, if anything at all.

Do these examples not serve as a warning to the government in light of the proposed cuts to legal aid? Why have no lessons been learnt and why is the government insistent upon pursuing cuts which will have a crippling effect on the criminal justice system in England and Wales? There are many other examples other than the ones given above. In fact the list is probably becoming endless with many new examples occurring daily. When will the government wake up and realise enough is enough?

The e-petition in relation to saving UK justice has now received nearly 38,000 signatures. Up nearly 7,000 in the last week. The word is getting out and needs to continue to do so in order to receive the 100,000 signatures required to spark a parliamentary debate.

The e-petition is available here: http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/48628

Another site worth visiting is one set up by Rachel Bentley, the creator of the e-petition: www.saveukjustice.net

Dale Timson

LLB Student & Aspiring Barrister

13/05/2013

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