Recent calculations have shown that the MOJ’s annual budget amounted to less than four days’ worth or four 365th’s of the DWP’s government allowance.

If the two departments start spending their annual budgets at midnight on New Year’s Eve at an equal rate, the MOJ will be spent up two days before the twelfth night arrives.

There can be no doubting that both departments have vital jobs to play. There can be no doubting that the call on the DWP is a much stronger one than on the MOJ, but these exciting statistics show just how small that Ministry of Justice budget really is.

Enough money to allow an equal spend for the length of your average Premiership football match would be enough to allow for an enormous improvement in the working conditions of all within the justice system.

An increase in the MOJ budget to allow an equal spend for time equivalent to one episode of Prime Suspect would be enough to ensure the proper and timely investigation of all cases presented to the Crown Prosecution Service in a twelve month period.

An increase in the MOJ budget sufficient to allow Nick Grimshaw to play three songs on his afternoon show would be enough to see a dramatic percentage increase in the legal aid budget which would allow for recruitment and retention of staff and a sensible working week for all defence lawyers.

As we approach the time for drawing up our Christmas lists for Santa, are any of the above really too much to ask for?

At present the Parole Board has 240 members. None of the Parole Board’s members are black. 13 of the Parole Board’s members are from the BAME community, but still none of them are black. The B in BAME might as well just not be there.

To achieve an absolute absence of black members of the Parole Board is a considerable achievement. It is not an accident. It is not a mistake. It is not something that could have happened without anybody noticing. It is a diabolical demonstration of the worst forms of institutional racism in practice.

To have a process that fails to appoint, attract, or appeal to members of the black community is utterly unconscionable. Who knows where the fault lies, but there must be a strong argument to say that one of the people responsible is Nick Hardwick, the former head of the Parole Board who resigned with much sympathy and support after the overturning of the parole decision in the John Worboys case.

Whatever Nick Hardwick’s credentials in terms of reform, restructuring, improvements in through put and the like, there can be no doubting that as a fighter of institutional racism he was nothing more than an abject failure.

We all know that knife crime is on the rise. Not to the levels of Victorian times, not to the levels of 1993, when criminal offences across the board were at their highest. In fact, knife crime is rising towards the levels experienced in 2010 and 2011.

It is obvious that the government wants to “do something”. Legislation imposing vaguely mandatory sentences on those convicted of carrying bladed articles or offensive weapons for a second time has been a future of the sentencing process for many years.

Not satisfied with this removal of discretion from the judiciary, the government now wishes to attack a different part of the criminal justice process.

Certainly, out of nowhere, there are calls for a re-evaluation of the old “stop and search” powers. This much malign and often inflammatory procedure has, in recent years, been kept in check by the requirement for police officers to have a “reasonable suspicion” before stopping or searching an individual. A number of members of the government are now suggesting that the requirement for a “reasonable suspicion” be removed.

Any action that can be carried out unreasonably, or without the use of reason, is obviously likely to lead to concerns and difficulties. Imagine that someone allegedly acting in “self-defence” did not have to show that they had acted “reasonably” just that they had acted in self-defence. What sort of mayhem might ensue?

Where the power to be used “unreasonably” is a coercive power, as in the case of stop and search, the perils for us all are enormous. Those of us who remember the Bristol riots around the Black and White Café, the Brixton riots of the early 1980’s and the Toxteth riot of similar vintage remember just how much violence and disorder ensued from the hatred and loathing that had built up after the misuse of “stop and search” powers.

If widespread civil disorder and a break down in the relationship between the police and the public are the price to be paid for this cack-handed attack on knife crime, it may be felt that the account would soon become unbalanced.

In a desperate attempt to save Her Majesty’s government a few extra ill-gotten pounds, the MOJ are now consulting on closing the remand courts in Doncaster, Barnsley, Beverly and Grimsby. The only remand courts in South Yorkshire and to the whole of Humberside, would be in Sheffield and Hull.

On the face of it, the considerable expense involved in refurbishments at Barnsley and Doncaster and the installation of video links at all three courts now seems to be for nothing.

The travel to be imposed on families and friends, who want to be present for vital first hearings, subsequent bail applications and hugely important sentencings are a cost that will now have to be met by the poorest members of society rather than the government through the justice system.

If there is anything that can be done to avoid the alienation and injustice that these sorts of closures bring we, at The Johnson Partnership, want to help to do it. We have long felt that it is time that the justice system operated for the benefit of those defendants, the complainants and witnesses who find themselves unwittingly involved in it, rather than its administrators and overlords.

 

UNITED WE STAND, DIVIDED WE FALL!  It could be the hook line of a 1960’s chart hit.  It could be the slogan of any number of Trade Unions.  It could be part of the anthem of any number of variously successful football teams.  In truth, it is a fair synopsis of the early summer negotiations with the MOJ in relation to advocates graduated fees.

How clearly we remember the rallying cry for HCAs & Counsel to stand together in refusing new work with rep orders dated after the 1st April.  How clearly we remember the confident assurances of the Bar that if we “stood shoulder to shoulder” we would be unstoppable.  How fervently the Bar leaders applaud us to work with them for the same goals? And now what?

What was it that the arch negotiators of the Inns of Court were able to achieve? A £15m boast – derisory in itself – that in fact was worth less than £10m by the time that inflation had eaten into it, VAT had been removed and some more astute calculations had been worked through.  A 1% increase, which turned out to be less than almost anybody else in the public sector was due to get in 2019.  Adjustments that we are going to need, not only a consultation but also a statutory instrument.  As autumn presses forward, the consultation is extended further into the future.  The statutory instrument is unlikely to find its way before Parliament until the start of the New Year.

And so, why the heading to this piece?  What is all this talk about unity and division?  It is simply this! All of the negotiating regarding changes to the hated and diabolical AGFS alterations were carried out by members of the Bar.  That’s right, not solicitors, not solicitors and barristers working hand in hand, but members of the Bar.

Of course, when it came to taking action solicitors were right there not so much side by side as leading the charge.  They were easily identifiable.  They were from named firms.  They could be reported to the SRA.  They weren’t able to hide behind their clerks or their individual choices as self-employed professionals.  When, however, it came to sitting at the negotiating table, having meetings in smoked filled rooms, stalking the corridors of power, only one half of the profession were present.  There was no unity.  There was no sense of being “united”.  And now, viewed from the autumn end of the telescope it can only be concluded that those who chose to go into battle alone did indeed fall divided and unsuccessful.

Were the representatives of the solicitors half the profession in some way frightened?  Was there an unexpected timidity on their part?  Were they too busy looking after their members’ interests in the teeth of a ferocious SRA, stoked up by members of the judiciary who themselves came from the ranks of the Bar?  No, none of the above were true.  They simply weren’t invited.  The Bar simply chose to have covert cosy meetings with the MOJ without us.

What then for the future?  As new calls ring out for strike action, refusing new work, no returns!  The solicitors have to consider whether they should again go through the humiliating sham of being called to arms only to be left in the slit trenches; or whether they should simply say from the start that the only ally is one that you can trust and with the benefit of experience, there really don’t seem to be many of them around!

In Britain we pride ourselves on the honesty, decency and upstanding character of our judiciary. We like to think that the vast bulk of our judiciary are immune from the bribery and corruption that penetrate the judicial system that many Countries in both the Northern and Southern hemispheres.

It is perhaps then ironic that the Ministry of Justice imposes a “don’t tell at all costs “ rule on new Judges to be.

Successful candidates for the post of Circuit Judge, Recorded, District Judge, Deputy District Judge etc are all warned that they should not disclose that there are soon to be announced as the beholder of particular position, for fear that that position will be withdrawn from them if news gets out ahead of time.

This, inevitably leads to all sorts of dissembling, double speak and sometimes outright lying. Indeed, at no other point in the career of a full or part time member of the judiciary are likely to have to go such lengths to hide the simply plain truth of their situation.

It seems that the only way of bringing this entirely unsatisfactory state of affairs to an end it so considerably shorten the period of time between advising a candidate of their success and the publication of their triumph to the wider world.

There is a general perception throughout the Firm and indeed throughout the Country that knife crime has increased out of all proportion in the last 24 months.

Local and National papers and News websites are full of stories about stabbing, often between members of various teenage gangs. There is a sense that many muggings now involve not only a threat with but also a use of a knife.

Interesting then to see that this year’s knife crime statistics show that knife crime offences have risen to a level comparable to that recorded 8 years ago in 2010.

Of course, in 2010 there was clearly a sense that knife crime was a problem, but it certainly wasn’t getting the sort of attention that is now.

How is it then possible to equate the current knife crime phobia of the reality demonstrated by the statistics.

It seems clear that the truth of the matter here lies in the nature of the statistical recording. What amounts to a knife crime can be anything from the simply carrying of a knife in a public place without lawful authority or reasonable excuse right through to the use of a knife to take the life of another. A far more relevant set of statistics might be there is a record of the use of knives in the commission of violent crime. The absence of statistics means that any projection here is no more than speculation, but there is a clear belief that if statistics were indeed focused on the use of knives in this way the 2018 figures would be stratospherically higher than those from 2010.

The weary use of statistics to bolster or justify yet another academic dissertation does nothing to help those of us dealing with the reality of crime on a day to day level. Sadly, its only statistics used in a meaningful way and drilled down to cut out as many variants as possible that they will even be of any use to policy and Law makers.

In a number of recent cases members of the Firm have been asked to assist Police by providing information about clients who are now deceased.

Enquiries often stem from the fact that there has been long running bad blood between the deceased and another individual, members of a particular family, or members of an opposing gang.

The previous history of conflict and dispute is often something that has given rise to previous sets of criminal proceedings. Those with whom the deceased has been in conflict may have been witnesses, complainants or indeed simply attended Court to express a view or to cause trouble for a client.

Inevitably, clients are more likely to have commented to their Solicitor about such groups or individuals and may well have divulged all sorts of information about threats, harassment, even the use of violence.

Inevitably, Police Officers are keen to put together information which may go to motive or to bad character if adversary are now charged with offences arising from the death of an individual or perhaps ongoing problems involving friends or family of a deceased.

Bad character and motive are obviously very relevant issues for the Investigating or Prosecuting Team to pursue. Nevertheless, it is always worth remembering that the discussions between a deceased client and their Lawyer remain subject to privilege. That is not a privilege that can be waived by Executors or Beneficiaries or an Estate. It is not a privilege that can be waived by a Lawyer who might now be desperate to anything to assist an old client, to whom they feel a strong emotional attachment.

It has to be said, where a Solicitor does or does not disclose information they can still find themselves on the wrong side of a lot of abuse. Where a Solicitor may feel they have a duty or a waiver, where the breach of privilege is concerned, they are likely to find themselves victims of hostile treatment from anyone against whom that statement is used or the friends of that person. Where a Solicitor refuses to disclose information that may be thought to be of use to the Prosecution, a deceased’s family may themselves turn hostile believing that the Solicitor is in some way betraying their dead friend or relative. As ever, there are many who might feel that as a hard working trusted Solicitor, you are not in a very privilege position.

Many thought that by 2018 the “ghost busting” regulations in the 2017 Criminal Contract would have seized taking any real affects. All those ghost duty Solicitors who claimed to be working diligently, albeit out of sight, and to a large extent out of mind, were flushed out by the 14 hour a week rule.

Duty Solicitor rotas shrank. Venerable names from long ago disappeared from members lists. Duty Solicitor slots started to come round with disconcerting regularity. No longer were people being paid £12,000.00 a year for the use of their name on a rota which might yield no more than 2 or 3 opportunities to work as a Duty Solicitor within a 6 month period.

Some fell on their swords. Some were put to the sword by competitors. Some were hacked away by the very Firm who long resented being haunted by their ghostly grasping presence, but who daren’t send for an Exorcist for the fear of losing market share.

Incredibly, however, the slaughter of the not so innocent continues. As a the regular annual audit round takes place, more and more questions are being asked by politely enquiring contract Managers about the compliance records of those appearing on the staff list. Managing Partners who are just too busy to make it to the Police Station, retirees who were thinking of putting in the odd appearance but have not quite made it, Solicitors who are now, oh so busy, learning about new areas of practice, but have forgotten where they came from have all been sent off to the land of the living dead.

By the end of the Contract in 2022 you can’t however think that the majority of Duty Solicitors will either be in nappies or suffering from the early onset of some debilitating mental condition.

The prospect of having to do 3, 4 or 5 times the number of Duty Solicitor shifts that we were doing in 2016 maybe a lucrative one but also one that is unappealing to present and a positive turn off for potential recruits.

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