JusticeWatch: Treble refreshers all round!!!

Magna Carta dayWeekly round-up: May 30

Communication breakdown
Chris Grayling got ‘a wigging’ over court translators, noted Hugh Muir in his diary in the Guardian. Muir was referring to the long-running fiasco over court translation services. As reported back in 2012, the performance of Capita – which won the then newly-privatised contract for court interpretation services – was revealed to be ‘wholly inadequate’ by the spending watchdog.

As Muir reminded readers: ‘Interpreters failed to turn up, leading to the cancellation of trials, and others turned up but botched the job’ – however it was revealed that cost to the taxpayer of hiring court interpreters had almost doubled to £15.5m in just one year. Sadly there has been no commensurate rise in quality. ‘One man, charged with perverting the course of justice was accused – via the interpreter – of being a “pervert”,’ Muir noted.

The full extent of Capita’s ‘unacceptable’ contractual arrangements for court translation services was revealed by Sir James Munby, as reported here on www.legalvoice.org.uk. The president of the family division gave his view over the brewing scandal in an adoption hearing concerning Slovak-speaking parents that had to be abandoned when interpreters failed to show. Munby’s judgment contained the ‘revelation’ (his word) that Capita had only 29 suitable interpreters on the day in question and only 13 within a 100-mile radius of the Royal Courts of Justice.

One more thing. Apparently Capita’s interpreter contracts do not even give the company ‘the ability to require’ interpreters to honour assignments. So, perhaps, not altogether surprising when they don’t turn up.

Treble refreshers all round!
More problems at court. The Hull Daily Mail reported the case of a man accused of attempting to murder a schoolgirl in a park. He appeared at Hull Crown Court last week for a preliminary hearing via a videolink from Wakefield Prison. As the paper noted: ‘However, he was not represented by a lawyer because of an ongoing dispute between the Government and members of the legal profession over cuts to legal aid.’

‘The one thing that worries me at the moment is this – are you mentally fit and well at the moment as far as you understand it?’ Judge Jeremy Richardson QC asked the 38-year old man Matthew Grebe. ‘I notice you are silent at the moment, Mr Grebe. Is there any psychological issue you feel needs to be raised?’

‘I don’t know how to answer that, your honour. I would say yes,’ Grebe replied.

According to the press report, Judge Richardson said he intended to use the case ‘to set out the court’s response to the legal aid dispute which is delaying hearings and causing other problems’. ‘Psychiatric issues, bail applications, length of trials and custody time limits were among more than a dozen issues outlined by the judge yesterday that needed to be addressed,’

‘I do want to set the tone as to how we proceed. This is going to go on for a while yet, I fear. The recipe for disaster is to do nothing. We might as well face up to it sooner rather than later…. I do promise you, you will see a fair trial. It may take longer but I am absolutely determined to ensure a fair trial.’
Judge Richardson

After those less than reassuring words, it’s good to hear that at least someone can afford a decent lawyer – as Private Eye reported.

No one has been keener to slash the fees of fatcat lawyers than justice secretary Chris Grayling, began the Eye in a typically acerbic take on the Operation Cotton shenanigans.

Whilst noting that the 30% cut in very high cost criminal cases (VHCCs) was ‘so severe that barristers won’t defend alleged city fraudsters’, it went on to observe: ‘Frightened the prosecutions might collapse, the Ministry of Justice hired Anthony Peto QC to go to the Court of Appeal to contest the High Court ruling that the state must drop the case against five alleged fraudsters because no one would represent them.’

How much did the justice secretary pay Peto, the Eye wanted to know. ‘Despite Grayling’s promise to account for every penny of taxpayers’ cash, the MoJ would not say.’

However according to his chambers’ website, the barrister is on the attorney general’s A panel and can charge up to £120 an hour – ‘or double the rate Grayling is offering defence barristers’.

The Eye linked this story to figures obtained by the Lawyer magazine showing ‘an extraordinary increase in government legal bills across the board’.

‘When it comes to the state protecting itself from legal action, no legal cat is too fat for it to hire, and across Whitehall you can hear the cry, “Treble refreshers all round!”‘

Tweet of the week


Putting together a panel on rule of law, @PrisonersAdvice could not find one organisation to defend #legalaid cuts http://t.co/1LQgZjRJyb

— Law Centres Network (@LawCentres) May 28, 2014


Job of the week
From London legal aid firm Duncan Lewis – although, sadly, you have might have already missed this exciting new opportunity in a firm that proud to display its ‘GOLD Investors in People Status’. The firm apparently attempted to hire 20 ‘volunteer’ (unpaid) paralegals this week – before pulling the ad. However Legal Cheek managed to retrieve it from the site’s Google cache. You can see it in all its glory HERE.

‘In a sign of just how desperate the publicly-funded branch of the profession has become following the government’s cuts to legal aid, London-based Duncan Lewis advertised earlier this month for 20 Legal Practice Course (LPC) and Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) graduates to work free of charge for four weeks as “volunteer” paralegals. The positions are full-time. The firm said that paid employment might be offered at the end of that period “subject to individual performance and business need at the time”.’
Legal Cheek

Tempting? Thought not.

Another sign of the times: Cumbria Law Centre in Carlisle reported that its benefits workload had doubled over the last 12 months. Advisers reckon that ‘between 100 and 120 people a month’ were seeking help having had their benefits stopped.

‘Many with mental or emotional problems are simply unable to cope with the bureaucracy involved in proving that they are trying hard enough to get jobs, said Pete Moran, who manages the Cumbria Law Centre in Carlisle.’

 ‘We know that Job Centre staff are making referrals to the foodbank, as we do and we help people get scraps of money from a charitable scheme, but it’s just sticking plaster stuff. It’s heartbreaking.’
Pete Moran, Cumbria Law Centre manager

‘We might have got this one wrong’
An Ipsos MORI survey carried out for the National Housing Federation found that nearly a third (32%) of people affected by the bedroom tax said that they had cut back on food and more than a quarter (26%) had cut back on heating as a result of the tax. Nearly half (46%) of those affected have needed to borrow money to help pay their rent since the introduction of the bedroom tax in April 2013.

There is a powerful blog by David Orr, National Housing Federation chief executive, HERE.

‘The evidence is crystal clear. This measure does not work. There is no rational way to amend it. It must be repealed, and the sooner the better. Just for once, in a time where anti politics sentiment is tangible, wouldn’t it be great if the government was to say “we got this one wrong”.’

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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  1. Pingback: JusticeWatch: Holding out for a hero | Legalvoice

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