Sunday, December 08, 2013

Salami Tactics

This is not a political blog (albeit politics and the law overlap much of the time) but I have to express severe reservations about the Chancellor's recent announcements. According to the Law Society Gazette the MoJ budget is about to be cut by another 148 million pounds.

I fully understand the need to reduce the deficit, but I am also aware, week by week, of the drip-drip of financial cutbacks on the justice system. On a superficial level our courthouses are becoming increasingly shabby, as maintenance is cut back. My home court has heating and (partial) air conditioning that works erratically if at all. In cold weather courtrooms have plug-in electric heaters here and there, and when it is warm there are cheap supermarket fans keeping the air moving. The lift from the car park can no longer make it beyond the second floor, and the pleasant little tea bar that used to be run at no cost to HMCTS has now been closed for two years for 'strategic' reasons, which I read as making it easier to flog off the whole building in due course.

Although the volume of work is dropping steadily, the managers are obliged to try and cram as much work as they can through the courtrooms. Now it's easy to scoff at judges and magistrates who call it a day at about 4.30, but that is not motivated by anything other than the quality of justice. Spending a day concentrating on evidence, if another trial is dropped in our laps at four o'clock, means that it's unavoidable for that bench's concentration to flag. By half past five thoughts might easily drift to getting on the road before traffic gets out of hand.

Foul-ups in the provision and service of documents have become the norm for the CPS, and it is a rare trial that starts on time with prosecutor briefed, witnesses ready, and everyone's ducks in a row. This is the inevitable consequence of fewer staff trying to run the  CPS' vital back-office functions.

Priorities are for politicians to decide, of course, but I think that they will be very unwise not to keep justice well up their list.


  1. I wouldn't panic to much,if police numbers keep falling then you won't have many cases to try soon anyway.

  2. The writer is a *bit* naive, is he not? Does he really think camoron cares about justice? As a magistrate - and by now - you should be a fairly good judge of character, sincerity and recognising a liar, should you not? Apparently not. Reality stares you in your face, and all you've got to show for it is a blank look? Cost-cutting WILL continue, until - as I've said before - you lot get a proper backbone and go on strike. Oh, how do you feel about MPs' pay rise? And how's the heating in Parliament?

  3. I disagree with this on so many levels, but I have asked the moderators to put it through so that we can see how others feel.

  4. There is however one curious element that I do not understand: for years we - and our neighbours - were the persistent subjects of petty crime. These ran the gamut from mindless vandalism via theft, burglaries and endless car crime. Yet for three to four years there has been a cessation of these activities. We do not see any more police and have always only seen them when somebody came to examine a scene of crime. The neighbourhood has not changed (good quality housing alonside a large former council estate still used by the city for a fair amount of social housing.) Whoever or whatever has wrought this magic, long may it continue even if the courts of justice are decaying! A selfish viewpoint I realise but it is so pleasant not to live in constant anxiety about where and when crime will strike next.

  5. Recently a friend of mine was rear-ended in a car accident. His car was damaged and he sustained minor but painful injury requiring a hospital visit. He exchanged details with the offending driver but it turned out he was given details of an insurance policy which had already expired.

    So, armed with sufficient details to apprehend the miscreant he visited the police who first gave him the run-around by buck passing between his local force and the force covering the location of the incident (London Met vs Surrey) and then eventually said they planned to do absolutely nothing to investigate the case - not even a simple PNC lookup.

    When my friend announced his intention never again to buy motor insurance since it was clearly unnecessary he was invited to leave the station and not return.

    With this kind of attitude I think the only maintenance required on Bystander's court house is to sweep away the tumbleweed occasionally.

    1. Any story that starts "a friend of mine" always makes me suspicious.
      An injury accident MUST be reported to the police,if an officer tried to dodge and got caught he/she would be disciplined quite rightly.If a motorist came to me with excellent evidence about an uninsured driver I would be all over the case like an MP on an expenses form.

    2. Nationalist. The general rule is that its the police force at the location of the incident that investigates. If your friend had a car crash in Newcastle, but he reported the incident in Essex, it would be sensible for Essex Police to pass the investigation onto Northumbria Police.

      In your friend's case it appears section 170 of the Road Traffic Act was complied with when the details were exchanged. The other driver may well have had expired insurance, but a prosecution for this offence is likely to have resulted in a small fine at most. The court is unlikely to have awarded your friend much - if any - compensation; or even the cost of repair.

      Insurance is necessary, (if he is fully comp), its his insurance that will pay for the repair for his car etc. If he's to blame for a future accident his insurance will cover the other driver's damage.

      If the other driver didn't have insurance then I'm sure your friend's insurance company (probably without his knowledge) will pursue the other driver for their costs.

    3. Thanks for your replies. First let me assure you the "friend" is real, and clarify that his injury was not apparent at the time. The incident was treated as a fender bender and police did not attend, but when he woke up next morning his neck hurt and he went to hospital and has had physiotherapy (this is a rather fragile individual - the speed differential was only 10mph.)

  6. North West Junior Barrister9 December 2013 at 16:16

    Dear Bystander team.

    I have time to respond to anonymous' comment above (comment 2) because my trial did not go ahead; the CPS failed to get a production order for a defendant in custody.

    I would not call the author naive and don't find anonymous' comment as persuasive due to the intemperate tone. But in essence I agree. I do not think that the current government cares about justice; they have a political ideology that wants to shrink the state which they do by spending less.
    I do not believe that striking will change this ideology (despite the fact that as a barrister I go on strike on the 6th January for 1/2 a day). I think that it will take a serious miscarriage of justice, on the scale of the Cardiff 3/Birmingham 6/Guildford 4, to reverse the cuts to the justice system. On particularly bleak days I wonder whether even that would reverse the trend; would the Government care about even a significant miscarriage of justice if overall they have saved money over a long period of time.

    Bystander could not be more right about the effect of the cuts on the CPS. I used to work for the CPS before I qualified as a barrister. It was not a happy ship then, it is worse now. I was told today at court that in one of the local areas in which I practice the CPS is second best in the country. This is truly terrifying as they appear to be falling apart at the seams, it is unusual for primary disclosure to be done until 2 days before a trial (if it is done at all) and it is impossible to get a response to even the simplest of questions. I was also told today that the CPS lawyers had only been told today what leave they could take over Christmas. The explanation was that they did not know when the courts would be sitting but out legal advisor today said that the court sitting patterns had been known for months. If this is the second best in the country I dread to think what is happening elsewhere.

    I make no substantive comment regarding MP's pay because, whilst it may be bad politics to get a pay rise when everyone else is facing cuts, it is a separate issue that has been considered by an independent body.

  7. Contrary to Bystander's second pargraph, there is no need to reduce the deficit at all. Read anty number of eminent economists, who seem quite clear that it was never a problem in this country. I can recall one article written before the last election that explained with clear figures why the deficit posed no threat whatsoever to this country's economy. Not only has the government's 'Plan A' been unnecessarily damaging to economic growth, it was never needed in the first place. The truth is that the alleged problem was a very convenient excuse for those who, for entirely political reasons, wished to 'shrink the state'. Decimation of the justice system (both criminal and civil) has been the inevitable result, not to mention serious damage to other parts of the public sector, including particularly health and welfare.

  8. Cuts in haste with undoutedly lead to more expense in time. A lot of the things that are being done now are just potty. Whilst I'm all for progress the piecemeal or hatchet way the MOJ is going about things will result in grief, sooner rather than later.
    we all know there is not much sympathy for the scroat who comes before the court with a hopeless case, represented by ( the once over paid) now underpaid lawyer. but there is a fair proportion of scroat's that get sucked into the system who actually haven't committed a crime or done anything wrong, but who have for one reason or another ended up charged. It can't be right that these are left to the mercy of a still relatively well armed prosecution. It just ain't fair.

  9. Possibly it’s because I’m one of the few willing to admit they used to work in the Inland Revenue/HMRC and Treasury* that I see things a bit differently.
    First, there were rather few who argued the deficit did not need to be reduced. The argument was more about how and how fast. Bear in mind also very few of the economists who opine (a) saw any problem with the explosion of debt and derivatives prior to the crash, (b) predicted the minor little difficulties with deficits in Greece, Portugal etc, or (c) would have had to carry the can if the bond markets had turned against Sterling.
    Second, those who think it’s all down to “ideology” might want to pause over the fact that reductions in staff and expenditure in the courts were well under way under the previous government.
    Third, there is at first sight something of a paradox between the tales of woe brought about by recent cuts in spending on courts on the one hand and the fact on the other hand that we are still spending more on them than for much of the not-to-distant past†. Eg was life, the universe and everything really so very, very bad before the big rises in expenditure on magistrates’ courts under Brown’s boom without end? If not, it may be worth looking at what has happened to component costs: a parabolic rise and fall in total expenditure often conceals some which have gone up but not down. Eg pay rates.

    *but anonymously!
    †some figures pulled together in


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