The year is 2028 and the last fifteen years have seen more change in English criminal justice than the 150 years before it.
The rapid change began toward the end of 2012. The Winsor report was on coffee tables across Westminster. The Police Federation march had put the rank and file officers in the cross hairs of the coalition.
Meanwhile, after 4% pay cuts across the Criminal Bar, a number of mid ranking barristers have found themselves without employment as the CPS have restricted who can prosecute on the basis of how barristers fill out a form. A number of cases have collapsed as the jilted barristers refuse to prosecute.
And whilst prison numbers have reduced, the Government are not looking to share the scarce resources of the prison service, instead, to target and remove another prison establishment.
The default of Greece in 2013 led to a Europe wide recession. Germany, France and the UK as a result had to restructure public finances to keep the European project alive.
Overnight there is a hole in the public finances. Defence recruitment is frozen. Public sector pay is subject to a wide review. University fees go beyond £10k. Fare subsidies are cut and capital transport projects are delayed. Again, nobody is prepared to consider waste in the NHS or rationing the provision.
The Government have passed early release legislation, a number of prisoners are released early. There is only the support of charities to help them.
Whilst in Eastern Europe organised crime has used its free movement rights across Europe. Multi national, cross border crime is now the norm.
Save money, save it quick
The need to save money quickly caused the Government to look at whole sale reform in crime and criminal justice.
By 2018 every category B and C prison was in the control of private companies, there is no focus on rehabilitation at all. The focus of these establishments is to hold inmates as cheaply as possible. The Prison and Probation Ombudsman was incapacitated by the number of complaints, in particular as regard to use of force. The majority of the open, category D prisons have been closed, the remaining two which are open are run for those coming to the end of life and IPP sentences, they are contracted to charities. Whilst the Government pays for the room and board of the prisoners, it is for the charities to fund rehabilitative and resettlement opportunities.
The recession has had a wide spread impact on crime. Most organised crime has now got a European dimension. In 2016, the European laws with regard to extradition were abolished. All over Europe savings were made in domestic legal budgets. Instead of domestic police forces dealing with extradition an European Marshall Service was created. The European Marshalls have jurisdiction throughout the EU and can arrest anybody to whom a warrant applies.
The police have taken the Winsor report to a new extreme. Entry requirements for officers is high indeed. Most officers are now taken directly at the age of 21 from Russell Group Universities. The low entry pay being offset against the job security that policing officers. This lack of diversity amongst police recruitment has led some to conclude that the police are no longer representative of the public.
In any event, the general public had little contact with the actual police. Instead, the obvious saving was to increase the power, but not the pay nor the training of PCSOs. In 2018, the Police Reform Act gave PCSOs all the powers that police constables have, the only difference being that they only exercised their powers whilst on duty, in full uniform and in their force areas. Despite the Police Federation warning that it might lead to lower standards of policing, UNISON representing the PCSOs demanded the powers and access to weaponry. There was no entry requirements for PCSOs and they could be recruited from the age of 16.
The Labour Party, receiving funding from UNISON could not oppose the new powers to the PCSOs.
By 2019, the public complained that the police were ruder than ever, violent and unresponsive. Crimes went uninvestigated. The IPCC were buckling under pressure and police forces were having to build contingency funds for litigation.
Looking to impress
In 2019, David Cameron was heading toward the next election, the end of his second term. Facing rising crime rates and heavy criticism from the public as to policing, the Conservative government enacted the Criminal Justice Reform Act 2019.
Overnight the Magistrates’ Court was renamed the District Criminal Court. The Magistrates were abolished. Instead, their legal advisors were overnight promoted to District Judges. The conviction rate in the lower court went up overnight. Money was saved to put toward popular public projects.
Appeals from the District Criminal Court to the Crown Court and High Court ended. Instead, appeals were sent to the Senior District Judges, mostly the District Judges who had been in place before the change.
In the District Criminal Court the law was changed with regard to representation. Barristers and solicitors continued to appear. But, also trainee solicitors were allowed to appear in the Court. Additionally, police station representatives with no formal legal qualification and CPS caseworkers were now allowed to do summary trials.
By the end of 2019 the public complained that the Courts were a mess. Victims complained of improper treatment and witnesses went either unquestioned or were subjected to clumsy questioning. The Law Society and the Bar Council complain loudly that justice cannot be done in these new criminal courts. The Government resist any suggestion that these District Criminal Courts ought to be televised.
The Government rejoice that they have increased the success rate of prosecutions whilst saving costs.
The final chapter of the Act was to remove the application of the Human Rights Act to any person or situation involved in the criminal justice system, prompting widespread protests from liberties campaigners and a crisis in the Higher Courts.
The libertarians may not have liked what was said about the Human Rights Act, but the rhetoric of the right wing electronic and visual press helped get the Conservatives a third term. The crime problem was supposedly solved with the increase in successful prosecutions and money was being saved to purchase shiny things.
And in 2020 huge capital investment was provided by Government into transport, energy security, new technological industry and the development of small enterprise.
Part of this was funded by the wider world economic recovery, otherwise by savings from elsewhere.
The big promise to the public was to put local power back to local people. That though had to be offset about the reality that a closer Europe would require European solutions.
The new reality. PSCOs have been doing low level, local policing now for several years, the public though want the police back. The solution? Every local authority becomes responsible for its own day-to-day policing. They can choose from a number of providers, Serco, G4S etc.
The remaining police force is reshaped and the numbers decreased. There is now one national domestic police force, responsible for policing serious offences.
To cope with European Union wide criminal offending the European Marshall Service is extended and expanded. In 2021, the European Union Crime Agency was formed. Their remit to investigate ‘Federal Crime’. A new multi million £ court house is opened in London, Birmingham and Cardiff.
HMP Wandsworth is taken away from G4S control and becomes EUP Wandsworth. It holds those who have committed Federal offences.
Despite British objections all EUCA Officers are routinely armed with Austrian made glock semi-automatic pistols. The proliferation of weapons throughout Europe, in particular of old soviet and adopted pistols, means that the Government decide to routinely arm all members of the national police force. Webley & Scott produce side arms for the first time since the 1970s. A signficant number of officers are sacked when they refuse to collect their weapons.
Just outside of Temple
There is a large stone building with oak doors, brass door knockers and black iron railings. It looks more 1925 than 2025.
The building inside was tidy, but modest. In three open plan offices, INQUEST, the Howard League and the Prisoners’ Advice Service go about their business. They survived the recession and legal aid cuts by sharing a building and some other costs.
On the floors above is one of the few barristers’ chambers which survived the reforms.
There are five criminal barristers’ chambers left in London. And even then, criminal law is not their main source of work. Of those chambers, two will only accept work on a private fee paying basis. The other two only represent the Government and the private companies involved in providing ‘criminal justice.’
The chambers FTD is a member at is the one outside of Temple. FTD’s practice is mostly paid for by wealthy individuals, sometimes solicitors firms are able to persuade their paymasters to get in an independent barrister, but it is in less than 5% of cases. Nobody junior in chambers just has a crime practice. Actions against the police are booming, the untrained PSCOs with greater powers were a liability, the privatised PCSOs are worse.
A number of members of chambers work in the International Criminal Court and in the European Federal Criminal Court. It is very rare indeed they would get involved in a normal criminal offence.
Barristers are now instructed not only by solicitors in their own jurisdiction but others in Europe too.
In 2025, solicitors are in a recruitment crisis. National firms of solicitors won all the contracts to provide criminal defence under legal aid, they squeezed and squeezed each other to do it as cheap as possible under the ‘Best Value Tendering’ scheme which has crippled the profession for the last 10 years. The result is every lawyer has a huge caseload and little support. There has been little to attract high quality candidates into the criminal law as the money at the bottom end is so bad.
People mortgage their homes and sell their possessions if accused of a criminal offence to pay for proper representation.
A number of Judges and retired lawyers are making it clear in their media that they think there are huge numbers of miscarriages of justice. City law firms are taking on criminal appeals pro bono as obvious wrongful convictions flourish.
Another video was released of privatised community police abusing members of the public. One 17 year old private company police support officer was seen racially abusing a group of youths. Another has been indicted for extortion. The English national police force are having to spend large amounts of time investigating their private company colleagues.
Prison is having next to no effect on re-offending rates and crime is on the rise again this year.
Tomorrow, the Sun on Sunday will launch its return to justice campaign, calling for improvement of legal aid lawyers and an entirely public run police force.
FTD is appearing on the Sky E News bulletin to remind the Government that they were warned of the risks many years before.
I don’t mean to be a drip.
But, lawyers who are not properly trained and not properly resourced will not succeed in securing justice. Graduates from top universities will not be attracted to legally aided law if they see it as being unstable and offering no financial reward whatsoever. The slow drip out of the legal aid budget (and these annual 4% gashes) will kill quality. BVT would end it all together.
Would you be comfortable to live in a society where only the rich could access the best criminal defence?
Privatising police forces will lead to injustice, not only in employment terms, but to persons who are policed. Again, reduce training and entry standards you will reduce service.
Would you be comfortable to live in a society where you are policed for profit not protection?
And we ought to recognise that with the continuation of the European project there will come a time that we need to have a serious consideration as to the lines of jurisdiction. The more integrated Europe becomes more integrated crime becomes. Is anyone being honest about the prospect of European criminal justice?
Honesty too must be applied to our policy of imprisonment. If you cut funds to prison the frills go first. The frills are rehabilitation. Without rehabilitation you are merely locking people up in a public funded barn.
Criminal justice cannot be privatised, small slices lead to large injustices in the long run. If you don’t pay for proper criminal lawyers then you will never achieve criminal justice.
Is my vision of 2025 so unrealistic?