Anyone who has read this blog knows that I do not pretend to be an expert in criminal law. I did spend a couple of years at the start of my legal life, hanging around Liverpool Magistrates Court. It was a terrifying experience – and that was just the magistrates and some of the older lawyers who seemed to know everything, and everyone compared to me! I also spent some time sitting behind impressive barristers in the glorious setting of St Georges Hall in Liverpool*. But that is the extent of my life of crime.
But as someone who was worked as a lawyer for over 30 years, I do care about justice. I also spend far too much time on twitter…
On Friday I read several tweets about shortages of courts and the impact that this was having on our criminal justice system. Here are just some –
There are several causes. One explanation is that there are simply not enough judges available. There are part time judges; practicing lawyers who can sit as judges when needed. But this would cost the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) money – something that they do not have. This, however just scratches the surface of the collapsing criminal justice system. This was brought to the attention of the world by the Secret Barrister’s now Classic book. If you haven’t read this, stop what are doing and get hold of a copy…now!
We seem to be witnessing a systematic dismantling of our criminal justice system which is starved of resources at all levels. Defendants wait months, even years to be brought to trial. Victims wait just as long. Nervous witnesses wait just as long. Hard working, underpaid lawyers are sent home…
Our political leaders are doing something. The Home Secretary, Priti Patel has promised that criminals will feel terror at the thought of offending. We are promised more police officers, greater use of stop and search and as a result many more prosecutions. That is music to the ears of many of her fans. But it is empty rhetoric. The system is already on the verge of chaos. The answer is not to pile more and more on top.
Where is the pledge to invest in the courts system?
Where is the pledge to invest in the CPS?
Where is the pledge to invest in a proper legal aid scheme enabling all these extra defendants to be represented?
Sadly, none of these are vote winners.
The real terror is that a person accused of an offence, and a victim of crime will wait years and in many cases find themselves lost in the system that cannot cope.
*thanks to my friend Phil Longfoot for the beautiful photo of the old No1 court.