Apologies for the unimaginative titles for some of these blog posts, and for the age of some of this stuff, but things are moving so fast and there's so much going on. First this bad news for Grayling from the Guardian a few weeks ago concerning legal aid:-
Top judge authorises court to cover legal aid in challenge to government
One of the most senior judges in England and Wales has thrown down a direct challenge to the government over legal aid by suggesting courts spend money in defiance of Ministry of Justice cuts to ensure justice is done.
Sir James Munby, the president of the family division of the high court, has ruled the court service should pay for lawyers if the Legal Aid Agency refuses to provide them. His judgement, which raises constitutional issues about who controls public money, follows a warning from divorce solicitors that the family court system is at breaking point because so many clients are no longer represented.
Munby's judgement covers three separate family cases where fathers, who wish to "play a role in the life of [their] child", have no lawyers to argue their case, while the mothers have been granted public funding to pay for legal representation.
In his concluding remarks on Q v Q, Munby decided: "If there is no other properly available public purse, the cost [of representation] will, in my judgement, have to be borne by Her Majesty's courts & tribunals service. "HMCTS will also have to pay the cost of providing the father with an interpreter in court. If the father is still unable to obtain representation, I will have to consider whether the cost of that should also be borne by HMCTS. That, however, is a matter for a future day."
He made similar recommendations in the other two cases, Re B and Re C, on the grounds that unless they are represented in the hearings, their rights to a fair trial under article 6, and private and family life under article 8 of the European convention of human rights would be put at risk.
Munby added: "There may be circumstances in which the court can properly direct that the cost of certain activities should be borne by HMCTS. "I emphasise that [the provision of interpreters and translators apart] this is an order of last resort. No order of this sort should be made except by or having first consulted a high court judge or a designated family judge ... The Ministry of Justice, the LAA and HMCTS may wish to consider the implications."
The Ministry of Justice said: "We are considering the judgement."Bill Waddington, chair of the Criminal Law Solicitors Association, said: "Today's decision shows that Grayling's tank is running on empty. When senior judges are overruling him in the family courts over his legal aid reforms it can only mean one thing: what little support his reforms had is well and truly tapped out."Here's a legal blog that serves to remind us that there's still chaos in the criminal courts:-
Following on from my rant a few weeks ago, which went viral and was supported by people working in all areas of the criminal justice system and beyond, but was ignored by the Ministry of Justice, here is the next instalment.
It is 1am and I have just finished my 19 hour work day trying to triage criminal legal aid cases, but I do hope that the Lord Chancellor and Justice Minister are enjoying their, very long, summer recess, courtesy of the tax payer.
What is frightening is that the Ministry of Justice and other Government Departments are doing nothing to try and stem the blood loss of the criminal justice system as it gushes out from us caused by the ‘we are all in it together’ (unless we are on summer recess at a Portuguese villa or enjoying the hospitality of a Russian Oligarch on his yacht in the Mediterranean) austerity cuts. This all sounds very melodramatic, but I think it is my way of saying that I am moving towards hysteria, and not in a good way.
I have a suggestion for the Ministry of Justice and other Government departments to help them realise what is blindingly obvious to anyone who has ever set foot in a police station, court room or prison – although, I accept that it is a bit difficult to do that when you are whinging about the fact you had to resign from your constituency role as receiving only £28000 a year in expenses to cover a second home has made life intolerable. Ditch the forms and the time limits and concentrate on getting the Criminal Justice System back to a workable state.Another helping from the Politics.co.uk website makes clear how, despite all the evidence from prison privatisations, Grayling is determined to get those contracts stitched up before year end:-
Grayling's privatisation system comes apart at the seams
At the best of times, the privatisation drive under Labour and the Tories delivered poor results. It is a false economy – encouraging private firms to hammer down costs just creates problems for the future as convicts are thrown back on the street without any real effort at rehabilitation. In many cases they are hardened by the abusive environment in which they have been kept. Soon enough, they commit a crime again and are thrown back into prison, at enormous taxpayer expense.
The profit motive simply does not suit a complex and expensive policy area like prison and rehabilitation. The 'customers' are by definition against participation. They often have the reading and numerical skills of a child, a host of mental health problems and a track record of offending. Rehabilitating them, in or out of prison, is not a cheap process. Firms either cut corners by reducing costs, hiring cheap and inexperienced staff and failing to invest in infrastructure – or they just cancel the contract, as A4e has done.
But these are not the best of times. They are awful. Staff numbers have dwindled under austerity cuts, but prisoner numbers continue to skyrocket as a tough-on-crime justice secretary stuffs ever more men and women into a system which long ago reached its limit. Every day brings more evidence of chaos in the prison system. It is a perfect storm of incompetence, foolhardiness and ignorance. And there is no sign anyone wishes to change course. Precisely the opposite:Grayling is currently trying to make the contracts on privatised probation so lengthy that Labour will not be able to reverse them if it comes to power. Instead of changing course, he is ensuring we will continue to experience this disaster long into the future.
Michael Spurr, chief executive officer of the National Offender Management Service, said:
"Doncaster has developed high quality training and resettlement programmes for short term offenders - which have been successful in cutting rates of reoffending. This is a significant achievement. But at the time of this inspection other aspects of performance in the prison had dropped below the standards we expect. Serco took immediate action in response to the inspection findings - strengthening the management team; prioritising safety and implementing a comprehensive improvement programme. I am confident that these actions have addressed the concerns identified by HMCIP but we will monitor progress closely to ensure the prison is able to deliver its regime safely and securely."
Wyn Jones, Serco’s director of custodial operations, said:
"Serco has a strong track record of prison management in the UK and abroad and we are proud of what has been achieved at HMP & YOI Doncaster over the past 20 years. However the prison has recently faced a number of significant challenges and has sometimes struggled to cope with some of these. We fully accept the recommendations that are made in this in this HMCIP report and we have already launched a major improvement programme. We are absolutely determined that Doncaster will once more become a prison of which everyone can be proud."I meant to mention this in the Indie from a couple of weeks ago about David Cameron's Big Society:-
Exclusive: David Cameron’s Big Society in tatters as charity watchdog launches investigation into claims of Government funding misuse
David Cameron’s flagship Big Society Network is being investigated by the Charity Commission over allegations that it misused government funding and made inappropriate payments to its directors – including a Tory donor.Also in the Independent is this heartening example of how, despite everything, some people are determined to fight stereotyping:-
The organisation, which was launched by the Prime Minister in 2010, was given at least £2.5 million of National Lottery funding and public-sector grants despite having no record of charitable activity. The Independent has learnt that it has now been wound up, having used much of the money on projects that came nowhere near delivering on their promised objectives. Two senior figures on government grant awarding bodies have also made allegations that they were pressured into handing over money to the Big Society Network despite severe reservations about the viability of the projects they were being asked to support.
Carl Havern is a model Big Society citizen. He volunteers for three different causes every week and cares passionately about improving his community. He is also a recovering heroin addict on benefits, who has spent much of the past decade in prison.Finally, a bit of fresh news from the Guardian that serves to remind us how brilliant government is at wasting our money, whilst telling us they are saving it:-
Mr Havern is a member of a community group in Salford starting a quiet revolution against the prevailing stereotype of some of the country’s most vulnerable citizens. It has been meeting every Thursday since October, plotting ways to challenge the increasingly incendiary rhetoric about people on benefits. This month the group launched to the public in the hope that others who are fed up of being labelled as scroungers will follow suit.
“I hope this changes peoples’ outlook to those on benefits. We’re not all sat on our arse,” said Mr Haven, who spends most of his week volunteering with ex-offenders and people with mental health problems, when he’s not looking for work. “I think there is a minority that are milking it, but that’s the story that sells, so it’s the only one you hear about in newspapers and on television.”
The taxpayer has been left to foot a £220m bill after a tribunal ruled that a government contract awarded to a US defence firm to deliver the e-borders programme was unlawfully terminated.
The contract to put in place an electronic system to check travellers leaving and entering Britain was ended by the government in July 2010 because the Home Office said it had no confidence in Raytheon, the company that won it in 2007 and which had fallen a year behind schedule on delivery.
However, an arbitration tribunal has now awarded the Massachusetts-based company £49.98m in damages after it found that the processes by which the now-defunct UK Border Agency reached the decision to scrap the agreement were flawed. The Home Office must also pay Raytheon £9.6m for disputed contract-change notices, £126m for assets acquired through the contract between 2007 and 2010, and £38m in interest.
The e-borders programme, devised by the Labour government in 2003, was designed to vet travellers entering or leaving the country by checking their details against police, security and immigration watchlists. On Monday the government defended its decision to end the contract, saying the situation it inherited was "a mess", and announced that the National Audit Office would conduct a full review of e-borders from its inception.
A letter from the home secretary, Theresa May, to the Labour MP Keith Vaz, chair of the Commons home affairs select committee, said the Treasury would work with the Home Office to make sure that costs were met without any impact on frontline services. "We are looking carefully at the tribunal's detailed conclusions to see if there are any grounds for challenging the award," it said. "The government stands by the decision to end the e-borders contract with Raytheon. This decision was, and remains, the most appropriate action to address the well-documented issues with the delivery and management of the programme."
In a statement to the New York stock exchange, Raytheon said: "The tribunal's ruling confirms that [Raytheon] delivered substantial capabilities to the UK Home Office under the e-borders programme. Raytheon remains committed to partnering with the UK government on key defence, national security and commercial pursuits."Stop Press - BBC Radio 4 Today programme:-
Justice Secretary Chris Grayling has admitted to the BBC that prisons in England and Wales face problems with violence, suicides and staff shortages.
But he maintained there was "not a crisis in our prisons", saying the government was meeting the challenges of a rising prison population. It comes as the Isis Young Offenders Institution in London is criticised by inspectors in an official report. High levels of violence were reported at the prison, often involving weapons.
Justice Secretary Chris Grayling acknowledged this recent rise, but stated that prison violence "is at a lower level today than it was five years ago". He admitted to staff shortages in certain prisons and said there had been "far too many" suicides among inmates, but maintained the government was adapting to such issues. "We're meeting those challenges, we're recruiting more staff. I am absolutely clear there is not a crisis in our prisons," he said.
Chris Grayling's interview with Today is his first on the issue of prisons since a recent run of stories highlighting issues of overcrowding, violence and death in prisons, which have led to calls to improve the state of the system.