Tuesday, 20 March 2018

A Broken System

Britain once had a legal system that was admired worldwide, but this article in the Guardian over the weekend paints a rather different picture and confirms what many of us are seeing daily:-

Barrister blows whistle on 'broken legal system brought to its knees by cuts'

Damning book by ‘secret barrister’ tells of courts plagued by daily errors leaving them unfit for purpose

Courts that are like an A&E unit on a Saturday night, violent abusers walking free because evidence has gone missing, and lawyers doing hours of unpaid work to keep the system from collapse, are all part of a damning picture painted in a new book on the legal system by a barrister. According to the anonymous author of The Secret Barrister: Stories Of The Law And How It’s Broken, the courts in England and Wales have been brought to their knees by government cuts and left so plagued by daily errors they are no longer fit for purpose.

The identity of the writer of this fly-on-the-wall account of what goes on in courtrooms across the country is a well-guarded secret – and the subject of online curiosity among a Twitter following of 87,000. The eponymous “secret barrister” uses the accounts of real people and cases to reveal the legal system as being so broken that the innocent can find themselves behind bars while “every single day the provably guilty walk free”.

In a newspaper interview the author, a criminal barrister who works as a defence lawyer and prosecutor, warns that our legal system is approaching a tipping point and in urgent need of funding and reform. From the “wild west” of the magistrates’ court, likened to “an inner city A&E department on a Saturday night” to the upper echelons of the crown court, where the stakes are higher but the catalogue of errors equally long, the author describes a system creaking under the strain of a decade’s worth of cuts.

Amid speculation and intrigue over the identity and gender of the author, some rumours have suggested that the hugely popular blog is an algorithm run by a small section of the legal community. “Secret barrister” has said that just close family members are privy to this moonlighting. “I don’t have a profile outside my online existence. I’m a junior criminal barrister, I’m extremely ordinary. I hope the focus of the book will be on the issues raised rather than me.”

The book says: “Walk into any court in the land, speak to any lawyer, ask any judge, and you will be treated to uniform complaints of court deadlines being repeatedly missed, cases arriving under-prepared, evidence being lost, disclosures not being made, victims made to feel marginalised, and millions of pounds of public money wasted. I wanted to bring the things I saw that upset me to a wider audience. They will not come as a shock to lawyers in the system. But whenever I [spoke] to a non lawyer about them they would look at me with horror and I realised there was a disconnect between the criminal justice system and the people it is meant to serve.”

The book tells the story of a man held wrongly on remand for months on end, a violent abuser allowed to walk free because basic evidence was missing and a vulnerable witness who gave up after a trial was adjourned for a third instance due to lack of court time. Defendants, victims and ultimately society are failed on a daily basis with life-changing consequences, the author claims, by a system brought to its knees by years of public service cuts.

The barrister cites the problem of repeated court adjournments and issues around disclosures as two of the toughest challenges for the system. But, overwhelmingly, the biggest problem is lack of funding across the board, the writer says. “The system is at breaking point and now running exclusively on the goodwill of the barristers and solicitors that work unpaid, after hours, through lunch, through nights, through weekends, to plug the problems in the system. Perhaps we need to say if we, the court staff and the CPS staff weren’t going the extra mile, if judges weren’t above and beyond, then everything will collapse.”

There is also a warning that, with changes on the horizon concerning the way criminal barristers are paid, there may come a tipping point soon. “There is a lot of disquiet because reforms the government insist are cost neutral, upon inspection don’t appear to be. They will continue to push people out of the profession.” However, for the moment, the secret barrister will not be among those departing. “People do not go into criminal justice for an easy life or because they want to earn a fortune but because they want to provide a public service and see justice done.”

But there is one vital half of the job that remains undervalued and misunderstood. “It’s curious, the question that comes up without fail, when I’m asked what I do for a day job – how can you defend somebody you know is guilty? But I’ve never once been asked by anyone – how can you prosecute someone you think is innocent?” People in Britain tended to lean towards the presumption of guilt rather than innocence, the barrister suggested. “The same cognitive bias that a lot of us share and is not helped by the way the tabloids treat criminal justice, which is – there is no smoke without fire.”

There was a tendency, too, to overlook the word “accused” despite many first-time entrants to the justice system being innocent. “It doesn’t really stick with people until they’ve been through it personally or until they watch Making a Murderer on Netflix. A charge is not proof of guilt. People think it won’t happen to them, but anyone can find themselves in the criminal courts. You never know when you might need a good lawyer and if you do you’d better hope they are operating within a system that works.”

The Ministry of Justice and the Crown Prosecution Service were approached for a response but declined to comment.


This morning Bob Neill and his Justice Committee will be continuing his TR inquiry by questioning this lot:-

Justice: Transforming Rehabilitation 10:00 am; Room 18, Palace of Westminster 

Trevor Shortt, Director of Operations (Community), Sodexo 
Ed Roberts, Finance Director, Sodexo CRC Business, Sodexo 
John Baumback, Managing Director, Seetec 
Suki Binning, Chief Executive Officer, Kent, Surrey and Sussex CRC 
Sonia Crozier, Probation and Executive Director, Probation and Women, NPS 
Kilvinder Vigurs, Probation Divisional Director London, NPS 
Lynda Marginson, Probation Divisional Director North East, NPS 
Ian Barrow, Probation Divisional Director Wales, NPS


  1. BBCR4 - Joshua Rosenburg: "On Law in Action, I ask the Lord Chancellor @DavidGauke about prisons, courts, legal aid, disclosure, coroners, the judiciary and more. Also, solicitors and their regulator argue over whether reforms will help consumers. And @BarristerSecret speaks! 4pm, Radio 4, and then online."

    As ever, probation is forgotten!

    1. Yes probation has been forgotten. We did not have the leaders worthy of probation. And we ourselves have been too cowardly to speak/act up for ourselves. Now probation in its old guise would fit in nowhere. The whole criminal justice system is broken, as we have seen and a new one needs to be established as a whole, with all parts working well together. It must be just . Rehabilitation must be built into every aspect of it and linked to social inclusion, effective healthcare, a living wage and affordable accommodation. Simples.

    2. Yes, good luck with the BBC. I would no longer expect that outfit to remember probation. The BBC appears to be taking its orders from the tories. And we know how keen they are to bury probation.

  2. Parliament TV
    Subject: Transforming Rehabilitation

    Witnesses: Trevor Shortt, Director of Operations (Community), and Ed Roberts, Finance Director, Sodexo CRC Business, Sodexo, John Baumback, Managing Director, Seetec, and Suki Binning, Chief Executive Officer, Kent, Surrey and Sussex CRC

    Witnesses: Sonia Crozier, Probation and Executive Director, Probation and Women, Kilvinder Vigurs, Probation Divisional Director London, Lynda Marginson, Probation Divisional Director North East, and Ian Barrow, Probation Divisional Director Wales, National Probation Service

  3. Oh man, they're good aren't they? They shed 1,000 staff, they cut overheads, abandon offices, cost as much (at best) but probably MORE than the previous Probation service provision, yet they whine like stuck pigs that "volumetric contract payments" aren't sufficient, that IOM & multi-agency working has suddenly increased conviction levels, that the u.12 month supervisees have had a dramatic impact upon the contract payment systems...

    ... for fuck's sake, they engaged with the MoJ, they bought into the whole programme, they costed & bid for their CRCs, they fucked over a whole range of long-serving & experienced staff, they've blackmailed the MoJ into additional payments already...

    bullshit & manipulation in technicolor!!

    1. isn't that David Brent next to Suki Binning?

  4. Well, so far its been a bit overly chummy for me, with gentle leading questions & no savagery thus far. We can only hope - "CRCs are robustly managed & undergo intensive scrutiny by MoJ & inspectorate" - I think not!

    1. inflexibility of contracts restricts our ability to involve voluntary sector


      Seetec - inflexible funding formula meant we had to choose between contracting out or keeping loyal long-serving probation staff.

      But opening up the market & involving the vol sector was the whole basis of Grayling's reform.

    2. Sodexo - complain that volumetric contract terms penalise CRCs, then complain that they'd rather have reduced workload.

      If they were handed £1bn, they'd cry "foul" & demand £2bn.

  5. JSC so far (1 hour less 'private hearing' time):

    Everything's rosy in the garden, we're performing just fine, we're innovating just fine, the courts are happy with us, we love NPS & they love us, we're brilliant but...


    1. Oh, and those selfish bastards that have years of specialist experience are simply exiting probation and not coming back, leaving us in the lurch!

  6. Man from Sodexo says it's working!!

  7. Man from Seetec says it's a shame so many have left the profession!

  8. Sonia NPS lets slip there are ongoing "commercial in-confidence negotiations between MoJ & CRCs"

    So, can't wait for more public money to haemorrhage into the privateers' pockets.

  9. "moving toward clinical supervision" - So that's not already provided? I used to have that in 1998 via local reciprocal arrangement with Lucy Faithfull Foundation when working with sex offenders, wouldn't have been able to function without it. FFS.

    1. The problem with involving the voluntary sector has nothing to do with contracts.
      The private probation companies want services from the voluntary sector for free, and when they are prepared to pay, they want to dictate the way the organisation they're engaging with operate.
      It's totally all about economic considerations, and nothing about the welfare of staff, clients or the general public.
      It's just what they do. They're in it to make money, not to make things better.


  10. Hmm, amazing new idea from Sonia NPS - let's put probation officers into prisons so they can work with prisoners, undertake assessments... never heard of that before! TR has brought about life-changing innovation in the world of probation! What's not to like?

    Deluded Tossers.

  11. NPS - £26m spent on agency staff in one year

  12. Well, that was very lovely all round. Crisis? What crisis? Nothing to see here. off you go.

  13. https://www.lawsociety.org.uk/news/stories/priced-out-of-justice-legal-aid-means-test-report/

    1. Disqualified from justice: Legal aid means test report

      Research from the University of Loughborough, commissioned by the Law Society, has found that the legal aid means test is preventing families in poverty from accessing justice.

      The research shows that people on incomes already 10 per cent to 30 per cent below the minimum income standard are being excluded from legal aid, meaning that poverty hit families are being denied vital help to fight eviction, tackle severe housing disrepair and address other life-changing legal issues.

      We are therefore calling on government to restore the means test to its 2010 real-terms level, and to conduct a review to consider what further changes are required to address the problems exposed by the report.

  14. Government cuts and the privatisation of probation services responsible for the loss of nearly 500 sex offenders?


    1. The mother of murdered schoolgirl Sarah Payne has blamed Government cuts for the sharp rise in registered sex offenders going missing across Britain.

      Sara Payne, whose eight-year-old daughter was killed in 2000 by a convicted paedophile, said the country has become "a sex offender's playground" following years of austerity measures. Her remarks come after Sky News revealed UK police forces have lost track of 485 registered sex offenders including rapists and paedophiles - a 22% rise on March 2015.

      Dr Payne, who works with The Phoenix Post campaign group for victims of paedophiles, told Sky News: "The Government have used the austerity argument to virtually deconstruct child protection in this country, until it is exactly what you see before you - a sex offender's playground, protected by an anti-victim prejudice-groomed government, unwittingly force-funded by good and decent taxpayers. "For the sake of the children, it's long past time that we change the way this works."

      A Ministry of Justice report published last October showed there were a total of 55,236 registered sex offenders living in England and Wales in 2016/17.

      They are subject to Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements (Mappas), where authorities manage the risk posed by certain sexual and violent criminals living in the community.

      Peter Kirkham, a former detective chief inspector with the Metropolitan Police, said cuts to forces and the probation service meant it had become more difficult to monitor registered sex offenders.

      He told Sky News: "The Government keeps pursuing the idea that you can keep doing more with less. There is no mystery to police work. If you have more officers and resources, you will have better results. There has been a massive increase in the number of people on the sex offenders' register. At the same time, there have been massive cuts to the police and probation service. The probation service has suffered from privatisation which has been an unmitigated disaster."

      The Home Office has insisted the UK has "some of the toughest powers in the world" to deal with registered sex offenders and the number missing is less than 1% of the total on the register. We have significantly strengthened the system of reporting that sex offenders are subject to, and a range of civil orders have given police more powers to manage their behaviour," the spokesman said.

      "When a registered sex offender goes missing, their details are recorded on national and international systems and the police will actively seek out further information and intelligence to locate them."

  15. Here is the evidence now score accordingly:- Average, Below Average, As good as as an Unacceptable Average, Poor, Unmitigated Disaster. What happened to Excellent, Good, Competent, Unsatisfactory and Poor as a scale? Prisons, Probation and Courts?

  16. Public Accounts Committee report available now:

    "MoJ long way from promised rehabilitation revolution
    More than three years into its seven year contracts with Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs), the Ministry of Justice is a long way from delivering the ‘rehabilitation revolution’ it had promised.

    In 2017, the Ministry was forced to adjust its contracts with CRCs because it pushed through its reforms too quickly and failed to anticipate foreseeable consequences.

    The volumes of work paid for under the contracts has dramatically reduced, meaning that CRCs have not invested in probation services. The quality of rehabilitation services has suffered as a result and is undermining the objectives of the reforms."

    1. https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201719/cmselect/cmpubacc/897/89702.htm

    2. The financial sustainability of CRCs

      19.Despite the injection of additional public money into the Ministry’s contracts with CRCs, 14 CRCs are still forecast to make a loss, two in excess of £40 million over the remaining life of the contracts. We were sceptical that the additional funding committed by the Ministry improved the viability of some of the CRCs. One provider, Interserve, has issued two profit warnings, in September and October 2017. HMPPS told us that the extent to which CRCs make a profit or loss over the life of the contracts would depend on what outcomes they achieved through payment by results under the contracts.

      20.CRCs will increasingly depend on income through payment by results as the contracts progress. The overall income available to CRCs declines over the life of the contracts. Yet as part of this, the proportion of income available under payment by results increases, from 6% (£32 million) to 28% (£112 million). Under payment by results, CRCs are paid according to the number offenders who stop reoffending, and the frequency of reoffences that reoffenders commit. The latest data published by the Ministry in January 2018 show modest declines in the number of reoffenders, but only two CRCs—Merseyside and Northumbria—have met their targets for reducing the frequency of reoffending. The other 19 CRCs have not met these targets. The Ministry and HMPPS told us that they will be returning to discussions with CRCs to examine the implications of the reoffending results.

      21.The Ministry told us that the overall profitability of CRCs is not its concern, and that it would not simply pour money into CRCs because they were loss making. We asked how it could be sure that the quality of the services CRCs provide is good enough given that many are making losses. The Ministry assured us that it would consider this as part of any changes to its contract with CRCs in future. The Ministry did not convince us, however, that it is exerting its authority sufficiently to make sure the contracts deliver improvements in services, innovation, and reductions in reoffending.

  17. Another extract from the secret barrister.