Thursday, 8 February 2018

Criminal Justice in Crisis

Everywhere we look the criminal justice system seems to be in a state of crisis or chaos and the situation could not have been better outlined than by former lord chancellor Charles Falconer with a forensic opinion piece in the Guardian recently:-

British justice is in flames. The MoJ’s fiddling is criminal

From prisons to probation and legal aid, the entire system is on the verge of collapse – and poor people bear the brunt. Act now, lord chancellor

No one who knows anything about the justice system doubts it is in crisis, that the crisis is unprecedented, that it is rendering the system unable to perform its most basic functions. And that the victims of this are poor people.

It is no longer reliably convicting only the guilty. The disclosure problems in serious sex cases have almost certainly resulted in innocent people being convicted. The system for releasing prisoners on parole is letting out those who are unsafe (John Worboys) and keeping inside those who are safe (see the relentlessly unfair incarceration under the IPP (indeterminate sentences for public protection) system. The prisons are as dangerous as they have ever been in modern times to prison officers and prisoners alike. The probation service has ceased to function in the face of a misconceived privatisation.

Legal aid has been so restricted as a result of the terrible reforms contained in Laspo – the Legal Aid and Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2011 – that the government has maintained massively flawed decision-making systems for welfare, homelessness, and immigration decisions, safe in the knowledge that most of those who are the victims of wrong rulings have no effective means of redress. The civil non-family courts are only open to rich people (there is in effect no legal aid for civil claims now); and the family courts are filled with local authorities seeking to remove children from their parents, and disputes between couples in the middle of the pain – to them and their children – of partnership breakdown, and unable to obtain legal help to resolve these disputes.

The cause of this crisis is pretty clear – the justice system has endured austerity cuts from 2011 onwards more punishing than any other domestic delivery department. And the cuts are continuing pretty well unabated for the next two years. There will, by 2020, have been a 40% reduction in real terms of public expenditure by the Ministry of Justice – £10bn down to £6bn, with £600m still to go. And all this on the basis that the system expects the same standards as before – the same level of justice, the same numbers of people in jail or more, and the same non-custodial alternatives. The government has offered no leadership on how this is to be achieved.

The consequences of the crisis are profound. As Lord Judge, the former lord chief justice said, juries will increasingly not convict in serious cases. The public will have no confidence in the ability of the justice system to distinguish between the guilty and the innocent, and between the dangerous and the safe. The government will not be held to the law. Rights given to individuals by parliament are worthless to all save rich people who rarely need them to avoid injustice. Employers, the state, debtors – they can increasingly break the law unchallenged.

Nothing meaningful is going on within government to address this. There are internal Ministry of Justice (MoJ) reviews of Laspo, and the working of the Parole Board; and an internal Crown Prosecution Service review of whether the disclosure in all recent sex cases was adequate: but absolutely nothing to address the evident collapse of almost all parts of the system, and the underlying reasons.

There is the much vaunted £1bn capital fund to transform justice by improving buildings and technology. The example the MoJ points to as the exemplar outcome of this fund is a new online court to deal with civil claims under £25k. If this example shows the MoJ’s priorities, it is clear it has no comprehension of the scale of the current collapse. Fiddling while Rome burns.

Some extra money was obtained, after much effort, from the Treasury to employ more prison officers to make up for a portion of those lost in the austerity cuts. This was well over a year ago, yet the prison service cannot fill all the places they have the money for. The retention rate for prison officers is plummeting both among long-service officers, and new ones who frequently leave quickly when they see the horror the job has become.

Leadership, extra resources and reform to ensure that the justice system is never again allowed to fall below minimum standards are the solution. The new lord chancellor is not to blame for the crisis. David Gauke has to acknowledge the existence of it, rather than suggest the system is functioning properly with a few wrinkles. He will find support across all parties and in all walks of life for doing so.

He needs to craft a plan that he can demonstrate has widespread support, not just from the lawyers but from those who depend on the justice system. He won’t get all that the system needs, but he won’t get anything unless he develops a series of solutions. He needs to work with a much wider group than just his department, and would find so much support if he embarked urgently on that process. Other government departments are actively campaigning for more resources for developed solutions. The MoJ’s failure to do so suggests either it does not understand the extent of the crisis, or is too defensive of its past errors to convey accurately within government the damage being done.

The three priority areas for extra spending and reform are prison and probation, legal aid and the Crown Prosecution Service (the ministerial responsibility of the attorney-general). That extra expenditure is inevitable. The sooner it is acknowledged the less will be required. As the Thatcher government discovered, the failure to do anything about appalling prison conditions until the 1990 Strangeways prison riots cost a lot more than if it had addressed the problem earlier.

But the solution is not just cash. It is also reform to provide long-term confidence that the system, which has so much less political support than health or education, should never be allowed to slip below minimum standards again. The Bach report, published last autumn, made the well-received recommendation that there should be an independent body within government to set minimum standards for justice. That would provide a strategic overview of expenditure, and protect those who need legal help with a degree of security that comes from there being insulation against legal expenditure always being the first to be cut in a crisis.

A collapsing legal system damages not just those who suffer immediate injustice. It leaves us all vulnerable to the consequences of living in a society, where the law is unreliable and only enforceable by the rich.

Charles Falconer is a former lord chancellor and justice secretary


This from the Daily Telegraph:-

Judge takes swipe at “collapsing” justice system as CPS failures cause yet another sex trial to collapse

A judge has taken a swipe at the “collapsing” justice system as CPS failures cause yet another sex trial to collapse. Judge David Ticehurst was forced to halt a child sex assault case after the prosecution produced a number of documents the defence had not previously seen midway through the hearing.

His decision follows a number of high-profile rape cases in other parts of the country being dismissed because vital evidence had not been provided by the police or the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS). Judge Ticehurst had been sitting on the trial of Michael Doughty, 30, who was facing three counts of sexual assault against a girl aged under 13 at Taunton Crown Court in Somerset.

He dismissed the jury on Thursday and ordered a retrial, adding that if he was a newspaper reporter his headline would read: 

Yet another case collapses because the CPS fails to disclose documents." He said the problem could be attributed to budget cuts, adding: "It is abundantly clear the criminal justice system is creaking - it's collapsing. Members of the public will cease to have any confidence in the justice system. It's falling apart and this is one of the consequences. I'm not blaming the CPS or the police."

A number of other similar cases have led to thousands of current rape and serious sexual assault cases in England and Wales being reviewed to ensure evidence has been disclosed. Addressing the jury Judge Ticehurst said: 

"Documents were made available to the defence yesterday that hadn't been disclosed earlier. They might have had some impact on the trial and it would have been wrong to continue with the trial without the defence having seen the documents. I don't blame (prosecutor) Miss (Rachel) Drake or the officer in the case. There are not enough policemen around, not enough people in the CPS. Defence barristers are being paid less than they were 10 years ago and that's being reduced. The system is falling apart and this is one of the consequences."

His comments follow the trial of Liam Allan at Croydon Crown Court which was abandoned after it emerged police failed to pass on text messages from his accuser that proved his innocence.


I can't quite believe this story, but it's in the Daily Mail so I guess it must be true:-

Britain's first 'private police force' has caught 400 criminals with a 100 per cent conviction rate after taking on cases regular officers are too busy to look at.

The country’s first ‘private police force’ is investigating hundreds of crimes that regular officers are too busy to look at. A firm led by former Scotland Yard senior officers has successfully prosecuted more than 400 criminals and is now carrying out murder inquiries. TM Eye, which has a 100 per cent conviction rate, is thought to bring more private prosecutions than any organisation besides the RSPCA.

The company, the country’s first de-facto private police force, is operating against a backdrop of rising crime rates and police budget cuts. Its activities include:

  • A service called ‘My Local Bobby’ costing wealthy households up to £200 a month each for guards to patrol their streets;
  • Three high-profile murder investigations that police have been unable to complete, including one case dogged by allegations of corruption and cover-up;
  • Help in cases of rape, missing persons, burglary, theft, stalking and blackmail. 
Co-founder Tony Nash, an ex-Metropolitan Police commander, said: ‘This is going back to Dixon of Dock Green to a degree. It’s what people want. ‘There is no substitute for going out and knocking on doors. But with the current state of finances, police are solving cases behind their desks and that has become the culture.’

In the past two years the company has brought successful private prosecutions against 403 criminals for fraud, intellectual property theft and other offences. A total of 43 were jailed. The company, staffed by retired detectives and cyber-crime experts from Scotland Yard, the National Crime Agency and GCHQ, is now expanding its services beyond predominantly financial investigations.

It comes as police chiefs admit they do not have the money to investigate high- volume crimes such as shoplifting and stretched officers complain that they are at breaking point. But critics fear the rise of private policing could lead to a two-tier system where only the wealthy get protection from criminals.

Metropolitan Police Federation chairman Ken Marsh described the rise of private detectives as a ‘staggering indictment’ of the state of policing. ‘Eventually there will be a two-tier system with the haves and the have-nots, and if you have money and live in a £20million house in Chelsea you can pay for private security,’ he said. My concern would be, where is the public scrutiny if it goes wrong? If they are allowed to go and do police’s job for them, that is a dangerous status quo.’

Last week official police figures revealed the largest recorded annual increase in crime for more than a decade, with surging levels of violence, sex attacks, knife and gun offences across the country. But what was not recorded in the figures is the astonishing number of criminals being locked up – and in some instances even deported – through the work of private investigators.

TM Eye currently has 36 criminal cases pending at Crown and magistrates’ courts around the country and is working on a further 60 investigations in London, Cheshire, Dorset, Avon and Somerset and Essex. In the past six months, its 60 investigators have snared suspects wanted by police for attempted murder and rape. Recently a stalker was jailed for four years on the basis of its work.

Using covert surveillance and undercover operatives, the private firm has managed to smash a major counterfeit goods gang, securing convictions for 60 offenders in Manchester selling fake designer handbags and clothing. All of its convictions and suspects’ DNA and fingerprints are recorded on the Police National Computer. It does not charge for its investigative services, seeking instead to recoup costs from courts after offenders are convicted.

The firm has offices in London, Manchester, Essex and Mumbai in India, where investigators have helped to catch a major manufacturer of fake medicines. The firm launched its subscription service My Local Bobby last March and its staff now patrol some of London’s most expensive streets in Belgravia, Mayfair and Kensington. Individual uniformed ‘bobbies’ cover up to 250 houses, whose owners each pay a fee of £100 to £200 a month.

In return, clients get a ‘meet-and-greet’ service from their car or the Tube, and have a hotline to their bobby whose location they can track on their iPad. If there is a crime, the firm promises to have a local response officer on the scene within five minutes. Like police, the patrol teams have body cameras to record evidence. They can apprehend suspects using a citizen’s arrest. Mr Nash said his ambition is to get local authorities to outsource their patrols to the firm.

TM Eye also offers more traditional security work such as bodyguards for foreign dignitaries. The firm’s managing director David McKelvey, a retired Scotland Yard detective chief inspector, said: ‘We probably do more undercover work than any other law enforcement agency. We have a better surveillance capability and equipment than most forces.’

He added: ‘It’s about catching the bad guys and protecting the public, and we can help with that. ‘Police are on their knees, sick to the teeth with what is going on in their job. The bottom line is we have better uniforms, better pay and better support at work. It’s a huge growth industry.’

David Green, of the think-tank Civitas and a former adviser to the Government, said: ‘This seems a reflection of the fact that the police are overstretched, underfunded and unable to cope and this group has emerged to fill the gap.

‘There is nothing wrong with private security or private patrols. But if they take on some of the functions of the police and the call for this grows, there is a danger there is not the same safeguards that we have with the police. If the police do something wrong there is a clear disciplinary structure, a chain of accountability and independent scrutiny. If these private firms exercise police powers without public accountability, there could be dangers there.’


Oh look. According to this Parliamentary Question, it costs the taxpayer £4.4million a year for supervising the non-compliance of that prison maintenance contract that Carillion and Amey had:-

Richard Burgon Shadow Lord Chancellor and Shadow Secretary of State for Justice

To ask the Secretary of State for Justice, what the staffing cost was for teams in his Department with responsibility for monitoring the delivery of contracts for prison maintenance by private sector companies in (a) 2015, (b) 2016 and (c) 2017.

Rory Stewart The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

Staffing costs for the teams in the Department with responsibility for monitoring the delivery of contracts for prison maintenance by private sector companies is as follows:
2015: £2,491k
2016: £4,471k
2017: £4,438k

Finally, I couldn't help but notice the Judge hearing the application for Judicial Review into black cab rapist Warboy's release demanded his appearance from HMP Wakefield "because he didn't trust the video link". According to the Justice Gap website :- "Worboys appeared in person at the High Court after judges experienced a faulty video link during a hearing the previous day. ‘How is it that I can call my brother in Brisbane over Skype, but we’re unable to contact a person in a prison in this country?’ said Sir Brian Leveson."


  1. Society is in crisis.
    Just a note on Carillion. They told the select committee that part of their problem was being owed £1.5m from Qutar. Transpires yesterday that that's not true.
    Also, despite Graylings claim of diligence when awarding them the Hs2 contract, it transpired yesterday that no one at the Ministry of Transport had had any meetings or contact with Carillion since January 17.
    It was all done by 'other people'. It's unbelievable..

    1. Sadly, it is not unbelievable. The levels of incompetence in central Government over the last few years has been astonishing. It's like some massive brain parasite has infected the whole civil service and they have all gone mad.

    2. Yes AND possibly more importantly at least in recent years, HM Parliament has provided a very poor monitoring and ultimately control of HM Government(s) plural or we would have not had the ridiculous split of probation in England and Wales and privatisation with extremely inadequate contracts.

  2. i think there has been a growth in managements inability to accept fault until the bitter end

  3. Perhaps if the prison and court systems used Skype instead of whatever crock of crap they currently use for videolinks things might work. Just a thought

    1. Skype dosent cost millions. Why dosent the MoJ look at what be used for free before spending Millions and millions on shite that dosent work?
      Great point annon@12:34

    2. There's a job advertised on behalf of the NPS currently rolling out new IT equipment and training staff with the mention of Skype in the Job Description.... However due to Firewalls as seen by the CRC it isn't always reliable, 50% of the time CRC's IT doesn't actually work whilst their colleague's in the NPS are happily working away....

  4. Falconer refers to the 'relentlessly unfair incarceration under IPP' , asserting that many of those safe to release are still in prison, but when an IPP is released, he attacks the Worboy's one as unsafe. I trust the parole board more than any politician to reach dispassionate release decisions, a power that once belonged to politicians. Falconer has enough legitimate targets to hit without undermining the parole board and jumping on a populist bandwagon about the release of a notorious prisoner.

    1. Yesterday after watching the 9am lead story on sky about probation I thought it would be pretty informative to the public.
      It was superceded by the justice committee and the parole board, Worboys and then Venables in the afternoon.
      The media, which is really the vehicle that informs public opinion decisions decides what's important.
      But shouldn't we be more open minded? More challenging of our own opinions? Realise that we are being feed vote winning dogma?
      I think Nick Hardwick gave a really good performance yesterday. The worst cases are not always the cases that attract the media's attention.
      People go to university and dedicated their lives to a cause to serve society.
      Get your votes somewhere else polatitions, preferably from areas that you know something about.


  5. I think you have hit the nail on the head. When I started in Probation, it was essentially left alone by politicians but Michael Howard approached it as would a Daily Mail reader and stared interfering with the approaches being taken. Then Boateng came on board with his Community Rehabilitation and Punishment Orders (CRAPOs - remember them? (actually they never existed)) and it was downhill from there. Since then, the HO, NOMS, MoJ, HMPPS have continued to fool around using ill-informed 'experts', dodgy research, amateurs and 'people who have hunches'. Of course, you are right in saying that they politicians can never admit that they are wrong even if it is blatantly obvious that this is the case. This can be opened up to include the NHS, Armed Forces, Housing etc etc. Add Brexit and Trump and I remain convinced that we are looking at the collapse of the West. In 100 years, the UK will be a tiny outpost of civilisation, much liked the Maldives.

    1. Yes, that was in the era that due to a brilliant election campaign in 1992 led by John Major and a weak opposition Conservatives were surprisingly re-elected. By then Parliament had allowed Government(s) to begin the wrecking of basic security for many with the poll tax fiasco and selling off of council houses without replacement.

      With Major the Conservatives "dug deep" to prolong themselves in power and ramped up the fear of crime for political advantage.

      Remember how whilst practitioners despaired at the way Derek Lewis was treated after the Whitemoor escapes, Parliament allowed the Minister to blame the staff.

      We had already had the media use the salacious possibilities from the tragic killing of Jamie Bulger on the railway at Walton, by two children with tough responses by parliamentarians, using fear of crime for electoral purposes.

      I do not think the Mary Bell killing was so politicised, though it had a lot of media attention at the time.

      Despite such child on child killings being rare - they were 25 years apart - they still somehow seemed to define the whole English and Welsh criminal justice system in the early 1990s, at least, in the media and thus for many of the public.

      John Smith died, ambituous Blair double talked his way to be premier, after years of failed underinvestment in public services with his "we should be tough on crime and tough on the underlying causes of crime,".

      The so called "New Labour" Government from 1997 did not reassert the rights of workers and Parliament allowed it, leading to the sorry state of Britain today.

      To me despite being in the European Union it feels we are a weaker economic country, at least as far as manufactures, making public services extremely vulnerable and criminal justice especially so as it was never loved by the masses who understandably, mostly, want to avoid the courts.

      At the same time there has been a stripping out of local governance and income raising undoing much of local goverments ability to provide for its own areas either as "it thinks best" or occurs by happenstance - with such as probation's "national standards" and school inspections and privatisation of public transport operators and so on and on.

  6. Tories vote thru more police cuts. ONS today: 18% rise in murder rate in just 2yrs
    Can we take anymore and private policing we are heading for true Ghetto Britain

  7. Interseve has also had profit warnings and privately the pressure is on to stop CRCs from folding....

    1. Like carillon before their demise Interserve have issued two profit warnings they however have been given till march by the banks to see if they will breach their covenants - I've got to say it's been very quiet on the Interserve need front !! some would say no news is good news however call me synical !!. It will be interesting for those of us who are unfortunate enough to work within an Interserve owned CRC to see what further savings they are going to make as part of their " fit for growth " model . They are making massive changes to UPW ,come April we will no longer have stand alone unpaid work officers in offices as all of this will be done remotely ( I think 56 staff have been turned into 14 ) that will be based in one of intended performance service centres ( Cunard in Liverpool ) - not sure how this staff are going to cope with court appearances for contested breaches along with the massive amount of cases they will be dealing with - apparently this approach is going to improve unpaid work targets ??? Unpaid work staff are now expected to become generic case mangers , a few have been given "office manager " type roles ( previously made redundant so they've changed the job title !!! ). 4 unpaid work mangers are being reduced to 2 - what's next who knows watch this space - oh we also had an agreement with NPS that we take back to court all those orders with outstanding unpaid work hours or those that were approaching 9/12 mths - they set aside specific cost for us - i think there was around 500 cases - unpaid work or should I say SL10 is a massive target as it means money !!!

    2. To Anonymous8 February 2018 at 18:06
      What do you mean take back 500 cases to Court for not completing their UPW why weren't they Breached or revoked? Take them back to Court and do what exactly?

    3. To get them extended and I cannot answer as to why they weren't breached or revoked.

  8. The most ironic thing is that the Tories claim to be a safe pair of hands when in charge of the economy. Nothing could be further from the truth. I can only hope they get wiped out in May's local elections and then we have a general election shortly thereafter and get Labour in

  9. From an earlier blog page:

    "Victim liaison officers DO NOT see offenders, they have a separate database which is exclusive to VLO staff, they sit in field team offices to give advice and information to Offender Managers, there are no paper files and victim details are protected. VLOs need to access offender information and prison systems so absolutely need to remain in the National Probation Service employ."

    Is this contributor's account familiar & widespread? My experience is that VLOs are also Case Manager PSOs, or Court Duty PSOs. Perhaps its different in every office?

    1. Bristol: VLO is a full time job and a specialism, you won't find them as an OM or in court

    2. The VLO remit is professionally delivered under a national job description the same as P.O or any other NPS post. The job is evaluated and graded. The job is specific and does not merge into other roles, the boundaries are not flexible. VLOs never supervise offenders. Conflict of interest is not possible. It is a demanding, professional role which is sometimes dismissed by the arrogant or uninformed. There is a piece of legislation called The Victims Charter and it clearly defines the role of the Victim Liaison Officer in the judicial process.

    3. Thank you.

    4. So, to be clear: no VLO holds any other role; they are solely employed as a VLO; there is no possibility of conflict of interest; there is no cross-contamination of information.

      Ok. And if - just IF - that isn't the case...?

  10. Apologies, off subject but I was shocked by this article and wanted to share.

    1. Over the past 12 months, the issue of privatisation has surged back into the news and the public consciousness in Britain. Driven by mounting concerns about profiteering and mismanagement at privatised enterprises, Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party has made the renationalisation of key utilities and the railways a central plank of its agenda for a future Labour administration. And then, of course, there is Carillion, a stark, rotting symbol of everything that has gone wrong with the privatisation of local public services, and which has prompted Corbyn’s recent call for a rebirth of municipal socialism.

      Yet in all the proliferating discussion about the rights and wrongs of the history of privatisation in Britain – both from those determined to row back against the neoliberal tide and those convinced that renationalisation is the wrong answer – Britain’s biggest privatisation of all never merits a mention. This is partly because so few people are aware that it has even taken place, and partly because it has never been properly studied. What is this mega-privatisation? The privatisation of land.

      Some activists have hinted at it. Last October, for instance, the New Economics Foundation (NEF), a progressive thinktank, called in this newspaper for the government to stop selling public land. But the NEF’s is solely a present-day story, picturing land privatisation as a new phenomenon. It gives no sense of the fact that this has been occurring on a massive scale for fully 39 years, since the day that Margaret Thatcher entered Downing Street. During that period, all types of public land have been targeted, held by local and central government alike. And while disposals have generally been heaviest under Tory and Tory-led administrations, they definitely did not abate under New Labour; indeed the NHS estate, in particular, was ravaged during the Blair years.

      All told, around 2 million hectares of public land have been privatised during the past four decades. This amounts to an eye-watering 10% of the entire British land mass, and about half of all the land that was owned by public bodies when Thatcher assumed power. How much is the land that has been privatised in Britain worth? It is impossible to say for sure. But my conservative estimate, explained in my forthcoming book on this historic privatisation, called The New Enclosure, is somewhere in the region of £400bn in today’s prices. This dwarfs the value of all of Britain’s other, better known, and often bitterly contested, privatisations.

      It is difficult to overstate the significance of this colossal land privatisation, and the manifold damages to the social and economic fabric of the nation that have been caused. Those damages – which my book surveys at length – are apparent especially in relation to the other issue currently on everyone’s minds in Britain alongside privatisation – housing, and the nation’s acute housing crisis. Selling public land to private-sector developers, who have long been the biggest buyers of government land, was supposed to have helped alleviate Britain’s housing problems, but it has done nothing of the sort.

    2. To begin to see why, consider three of the biggest housing stories of recent weeks – the housing secretary Sajid Javid’s threat to developers to “use or lose” land with planning permission sitting in their land banks; Labour’s plans to enable local authorities to acquire private land at existing-use value to reduce the cost of council house building, and the decision by Labour’s national executive committee to call on Haringey council to rethink its controversial Haringey Development Vehicle (HDV). For although one would not know it from media commentary, all three are in large part land-privatisation stories. Developers’ bulging land banks are chock-full of land acquired from public bodies, on which they could have built new homes, but have chosen not to. Local authorities are only in the perverse position now of needing enhanced powers to affordably acquire land for a new generation of council houses because, for four decades, they have been forced to sell the land needed to build on. Local opposition to the HDV was rooted in the fact that it would see significant amounts of valuable public land transferred into a joint venture between the council and its development partner, Lendlease, with concerns about how many of the homes built by the HDV in the place of existing council estates would be available for social rent.

      If today the government could take one single action that would do more than any other to help arrest the intensification of Britain’s housing crisis, halting the sale of public land would be it. To be sure, with half of Britain’s valuable public land having gone, much of the damage has already been done – it would be difficult, not to mention politically highly controversial, to get much of that land back. But if half has gone, half is still left. This land should be protected, treasured, and used for public benefit, before it is too late.

      • Brett Christophers is professor in the Department of Social and Economic Geography, Uppsala university. His book, The New Enclosure: The Appropriation of Public Land in Neoliberal Britain, will be published in autumn 2018.