JusticeWatch: Austerity’s most savage cut

Political pieties
‘Austerity’s most savage cut’ was barely visible, wrote Polly Toynbee in the Guardian. ‘Ambulances stacked up outside overflowing A&E departments make news because that could affect you or yours, any day,’ the columnist continued. ‘Pot holes in the road draw motorist and cyclist wrath, as do missed bin collections. But the near collapse of the entire criminal justice system can happen right under our noses, and none but judges, lawyers, the CPS and prison staff know anything about it.’

Toynbee was writing after the ‘horrifying’ inspection report on HMP Birmingham. The Treasury knew this was ‘a secret world, hidden from public eyes’. On the last day of term (‘when the government scuttles out bad news), the MoJ ‘slid out’ an announcement that seven more courts were to be sold off on top of the 258 that have closed so far. ‘In the great sale of public property – hospitals, schools, police stations, courts and more – the Treasury demands that capital raised be sucked into the running costs of remaining services, regardless of how a growing population will need this valuable land, gone forever,’ she wrote.

‘Courts are so packed that clerks book in as many as seven extra cases, summoning lawyers, witnesses, victims and defendants from afar to wait all day, hoping a case collapses and they can be slotted in. If not, they are all summoned on another date to lose another day off work; child care rearranged, carers rebooked. Cases are often adjourned several times over or collapse altogether from bungled evidence collection… . Political pieties promise to “put the victim first” – but victims are often left bereft and endangered by failed cases, after travelling miles several times over.’
Polly Toynbee

Tweet of the week: Court closures campaign – can you help?


Sunny day
Following a Guardian editorial on  legal aid cuts earlier this month (here), the Labour peer Lord Willy Bach wrote to point out that in the year before the cuts the number of people advised under the early legal advice scheme was 573,737 but five years later only 140,091 people were helped. What was happening to everyone who was unable to access advice, he asked. Law centres, citizens advice bureaux and advice agencies had been ‘devastated’ by the cuts alongside legal aid firms. People were being ‘forced to struggle on alone without help or simply give up’.

‘There used to be a consensus around legal aid and the part it played in helping to ensure that every citizen had access to justice. Access to justice is indeed a fundamental democratic right. It is constitutionally vital.’
Lord Willy Bach

Also in the letters page, Christine Walters, a magistrate, offered her view of a ‘battered’ justice system. Not only had legal aid been denied to many but the closing of local courts provided additional barriers. ‘Imagine trying to put your case to a court, in very emotional circumstances, when you don’t know the rules or the language,’ she wrote. ‘I was told once that a defendant had been informed that their case would be adjourned “sine die” – they thought that meant to a “sunny day”! This may or may not be true, but it clearly demonstrates the problem. Please can we listen to those propping up the system and have a meaningful review of access to justice and restore confidence in the system?’

Housing tender deadline
The Legal Aid Agency is reminding housing lawyers that the deadline for tenders under the Housing Possession Court Duty Scheme is approaching (7 September 2018). More here.


About Jon Robins

Jon is a journalist and has written about the law and justice for the national papers and specialist press for more than 15 years. Jon is a visiting journalism lecturer at Winchester University, a visiting senior fellow in access to justice at the University of Lincoln and patron of Hackney Community Law Centre. He has won the Bar Council’s legal reporter of the year award twice (2015 and 2005). Jon is editor and co-founder of LegalVoice

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