Saturday, 2 June 2018

MoJ On Notice 2

We all know so-called 'transparent' government is about denying, obfuscating, lying and ultimately burying bad news, but it looks as if the MoJ has been caught out. This from BuzzFeed News:- 

A Criminal Investigation Has Been Launched Into The Ministry Of Justice After A Buried Report Was Leaked To BuzzFeed News

A criminal investigation has been launched into the Ministry of Justice after a report leaked to BuzzFeed News suggested the department buried damning research into people defending themselves in court. The decision was taken by the Information Commissioner’s Office following formal complaints from BuzzFeed News and others that the government had concealed the existence of a 36-page internal report that contained explosive testimony from senior judges about the impact on the justice system of unrepresented people in crown court.

The research was commissioned by the government to review the impact of cuts to legal aid made in the 2012 Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO) and was based on in-depth interviews with 15 crown court judges and six prosecutors. The Information Commissioner compelled the MoJ to release a report following Freedom of Information requests from BuzzFeed News and others. Yet what was released by the MoJ was clearly marked “summary” and was just six pages long. The following week BuzzFeed News was leaked the full 36-page report - something the press office previously said did not exist.

Under the Freedom of Information Act it is a criminal offence to alter, block, destroy or conceal information whose release has been compelled by the ICO. The penalty is typically a fine, though in theory senior officials could face jail for contempt of court after failing to comply with an ICO decision notice. BuzzFeed News understands the criminal case was opened earlier this week and work began on it yesterday. A criminal investigating officer within the ICO will now gather evidence and is expected to interview staff at the MoJ next week. The ICO has been contacted for further comment.

The MoJ had initially turned down FOI requests for the report in spring 2017, insisting the politically embarrassing research needed to be kept under wraps because it related “to the formulation or development of government policy”. The six-page summary it eventually released to the Information Commissioner was dated August 2016 and "unpublished summary as of 27 April 2018". The 36 page report leaked to BuzzFeed News is dated February 2016 and includes damning quotes from crown court judges about the challenges created by people defending themselves without a lawyer.

Shadow justice minister, Richard Burgon, said: "These are very serious allegations against the Ministry of Justice. I will be raising this in Parliament at the earliest opportunity. "Regardless of the embarrassment it causes, the government should now publish the report in full and should stop trying to cover up the true scale of the damage that its cuts are causing to access to justice."

The MoJ repeatedly insisted that the six pages were the report in its entirety, despite it being labelled a summary and containing no direct testimony or data. An MoJ press officer said that any edits from the original draft were minor corrections to spelling or grammar.

Penelope Gibbs, director of the charity Transform Justice, was one of several parties to FOI the report. Her discovery that the internal research had been commissioned prompted a question in the House of Lords in March 2017, leading to FOI requests from BuzzFeed News and others. Gibbs said: "The behaviour of the Ministry of Justice makes a mockery of FOI. If I had not known they were doing research on unrepresented defendants in the Crown Court, this important report would have been kept completely secret. How can a department espouse the importance of open justice, without being open about the information they hold?"

The Conservative chair of the Justice Select Committee told BuzzFeed News earlier this week the situation was: “very concerning” and that it was “imperative that there’s maximum transparency on the way government decisions are taken”.

The MoJ has not yet given a comment on the opening of the investigation, but responding to an earlier story on the subject, a spokesperson said:


 “As we have repeatedly made clear, the 36-page version of the report was an early draft and clearly marked as such. Research reports must be of the highest standard and parts of earlier drafts were deemed by researchers to be of insufficient quality. Any request for an earlier draft would have been considered in the normal way.”

They added: “Last year we spent £1.6bn on legal aid, just over a fifth of the Ministry of Justice’s budget – and we are conducting an evidence-based review of the changes made under LASPO which will report back later this year.” The spokesperson also said: “Both the draft and final versions of the report note that legal aid for Crown Court cases did not change substantially under our legal aid reforms and the number of unrepresented defendants remained broadly stable.”

However, last year more than 6,000 people faced criminal charges without a lawyer or had unknown representation at their first hearing in crown court – 7% of all defendants. In 2013 this proportion was 5%. The research itself said: “the majority of interviewees believed that the numbers of unrepresented defendants had risen since legal aid changes, although the rise was seen as small.”

Though the cuts introduced by LASPO largely affected civil law, the research suggests one “significant change” to criminal legal aid appears to have prompted a rise in people defending themselves without a lawyer.

Since January 2014, defendants whose disposable annual income was £37,500 or more were not eligible for criminal legal aid. Before LASPO there was no upper income threshold in crown court cases and the research says the change created a “risk of an increase in unrepresented defendants in the crown court.”

9 comments:

  1. Same old same old same old. Whichever way you look at it the UK is run by an obscenely wealthy, arrogant chumocracy who are variously...

    ... Bullies, Liars & Cheats
    ... Liars, Cheats & Bullies
    ... Cheats, Bullies & Liars

    Aided & abetted by their lickspittle 'civil' serpents.

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    1. Fortunately the light gets in through the cracks: whistleblowers are the true public servants.

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  2. https://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/justice-committee/inquiries/parliament-2017/transforming-rehabilitation-17-19/

    Link to the complete range of evidence gathered by JSC re-TR

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    1. i assume the evidence is all good news

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  3. https://thebristolcable.org/2018/05/privatised-probation-services-are-sending-more-people-back-to-jail-despite-committing-no-crimes/

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    1. Outsourced providers in the Bristol area are under heavy fire for sucking up millions in public money, but failing on public safety and criminal justice.
      (Maria da Silvia is a trainee on the Bristol Cable Media Lab 2018.)
      Many will have missed it – but probation services across the country were partially privatised in February 2015. Fast forward three years – these services are now facing heavy criticism on several fronts. Ian Lawrence, the General Secretary of the National Association of Probation Officers has told the Cable that probation workers are “feeling worried about the service delivery”.
      The concerns have come about since partial privatisation saw the management of medium to low risk offenders on probation transferred to 21 private ‘Community Rehabilitation Companies’ (CRCs). High risk offenders continue to be managed by the National Probation Service.
      The CRC for BristoI, Swindon, Wiltshire & Gloucestershire is Working Links. In 2012 the company’s former chief financial auditor alleged a “multi-billion pound fraud” in the form of falsifying records to meet government targets on getting unemployed people back into work. The company denied the allegations and the government ruled that no further action would be taken.
      Now owned by a German investment firm, Working Links’ reputation in probation services also appears less than unblemished. The August 2017 inspection of Working Link’s services in Gloucestershire led the Chief Inspector of Probation to say that “there have been drastic staff cuts to try and balance the books. Those remaining are under mounting pressure and carrying unacceptable workloads that prevent them doing a good job”.
      In contrast, the Chief Inspector found that the public National Probation Service was “performing reasonably well” and called for Working Links and the government to “to work together urgently to improve matters”.
      So what exactly needs addressing ‘urgently’ and what are probation workers feeling ‘worried’ about? There are multiple reasons for probation workers to ‘recall’ someone back into prison. However the non-crime categories of ‘Failure to keep in touch’ and ‘Non compliance’ have outpaced reoffending as reasons to be sent back to prison since Working Links began delivering the contract in the Bristol region.
      Figures obtained by the Cable show that since the beginning of the contract, non-crime related offences that resulted in returning to jail, such as failing to stay in touch with the probation officer had doubled.
      Over the two and a half years that data is available, only one in four of recorded reasons for sending people back to jail were related to further criminal charges.
      Andrew Neilson, director of campaigns for the Howard League for Penal Reform, said that “being recalled back into custody for technical breaches like missing appointments is something that should really be the exception not the norm. Seeing this as a failure of the system rather than the individual would be a much fairer and more accurate presentation of what’s actually happening”.

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    2. A human face for this system failure is Danny (not his real name). Recently on probation with Working Links in Bristol, Danny told the Cable that although he went to see his probation worker every month, they provided no additional support or signposting and the “meetings generally felt like a tick boxing exercise”. He says he was lucky to already be linked into services that could support him or otherwise he’d be falling between the gaps and back in the prison system.
      Massive cuts to staffing levels in privatised services have prompted concerns that probation workers cannot engage with re-offenders sufficiently. This in turn leads to a breach of their probation terms and a return to prison, despite them having committed no crime.
      The probation worker’s trade union, the National Association of Probation Officers (NAPO) told the parliamentary Justice Committee inquiry that a 20-month dispute with Working Links has its origins in a “decision to reduce staffing provision by some 50% in the first year of the contract”.
      A probation worker in the Bristol region said: “Working Links prioritises meeting targets over risk management. Management are not responding to my concerns and I feel deflated as my workload is not manageable.”
      The impact of such cuts in Gloucestershire was confirmed by the Chief Inspector who highlighted that “caseloads have increased exceptionally, with Probation Officers carrying 75 cases and Probation Service Officers over 90 cases.”
      The Chief Inspector’s report goes on to say that Working Links “had lost contact with the offender for significant periods” and “offenders were not being seen often enough. As a result, the public were more at risk than necessary, and offenders who could turn their lives around were being denied the chance to do so.”
      Neilson of the Howard League says that “one of the most depressing things about people being recalled in response to the failing of the probation system – it’s not the contracts that companies have that are being recalled, it’s the people that they deal with that are being recalled. In many cases these are people that have been set up to fail but the expectations placed on them, by a system that can’t support them through those expectations”.
      Responding to these issues a spokesperson for the Working Links said “we welcomed HMIP’s report into our work in Gloucestershire last year, which has highlighted many pieces of good practice as we work hard to combat re-offending”.
      In an attempt to reduce reoffending, the Conservative-led coalition introduced the Offender Rehabilitation Act 2014. However, Neilson highlights how the increases in recalls to prison by the private companies charged with the task run against the government’s rehabilitation goals. “Many people are recalled for only 14 or 28 days before being released from prison on license again. This is barely time to complete their induction to the prison, but long enough to put homes and jobs at risk and disrupt relationships with their families and other agencies.”
      “People on short prison sentences are some of the most vulnerable people in the system, often leading particularly chaotic lives and facing multiple challenges. Unless they are properly supported, we are likely to see recall rates continue to rise”. This will likely result in less safety for the public, stubbornly high re-offending rates and p the UK continuing to be at the top of the table for imprisonment in Western Europe.
      It the midst of all this criticism, what does the future of probation services look like? Neilson believes privatisation has failed.
      “When you’re dealing with creating a market and privatising services that work with people who often lead very chaotic lives it’s just going to be very difficult to do and so it has proven. It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that privatisation was not really about the ‘rehabilitation revolution’ and payment by results, but actually about saving money.”

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    3. Despite indications that privatisation wasn’t delivering the results, in July 2017 the government awarded struggling CRCs with an extra £342 million of taxpayers’ money, with Working Links being awarded £4.3 million. The parliamentary body that scrutinises public spending, the Public Accounts Committee was not impressed, pointing out that the Ministry of Justice “could not explain what it is getting back for this extra commitment and despite this bailout, 14 out of 21 CRCs are still forecasting losses”. The committee also said that the “The Ministry still does not have complete and robust performance information, creating a risk that CRCs are not being held to account”.
      The question of short-term savings and long-term costs due to rising prison numbers and re-offending has led the The National Association of Probation Officers to conduct research into the re-nationalisation of probation services. They found that the government would actually save money if services returned to public ownership.
      However, it won’t be easy to address any issues before the end of the contract in 2022. According to Neilson, “the government would have to pay an awful lot of money” because of clauses in the privatisation contracts that obstruct early termination. For a party that both wants to shrink the public sector but be tough on crime, “this has come to haunt the Conservatives”.

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  4. Dear old Winston, wtf happened to our virtue?
    “The mood and temper of the public in regard to the treatment of crime and criminals is one of the most unfailing tests of the civilisation of any country. A calm and dispassionate recognition of the rights of the accused against the state and even of convicted criminals against the state, a constant heart-searching by all charged with the duty of punishment, a desire and eagerness to rehabilitate in the world of industry of all those who have paid their dues in the hard coinage of punishment, tireless efforts towards the discovery of curative and regenerating processes and an unfaltering faith that there is a treasure, if only you can find it in the heart of every person – these are the symbols which in the treatment of crime and criminals mark and measure the stored up strength of a nation, and are the sign and proof of the living virtue in it.”

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