The 10 commandments of British justice: No surrender

Posted: 17/05/2012 in Barrister, Civil Rights, Jury, Legal aid, Magistrates, Police, Pupil barrister, Solicitor, Stephen Lawrence, Trainee solicitor

If you follow me on twitter you’ll know I’ve had one of those weeks. There’s a pain in my neck and I’m not entirely sure if it’s from leaning over a computer or sleeping on a train.

When I finally got out tonight I was ready to switch off. So I dialled up ‘Pretty Boy’ – not that he’s inane, but when I phone him I don’t have to talk about crime, criminals, coppers, prisons or anything like that …. the conversation is much more… extra curricular. And, after ‘Pretty Boy’ I was going to call ‘TV Blonde’ – neither answered.

So as I wandered along through the streets of legal London, dragging wheelie bag behind I got thinking.

First, I smiled to myself, a helpful message @MPSWandsworth my local police, they looked into something I had concerns about. And, they’re fans of my blog, I laughed to myself, funny how many police readers I actually have.

Then I looked at twitter as I wandered along. The tweets were quite sad really. Sam Hallam was a happy piece of news in a sense, but sad that justice had taken so long. The Law Society announced what can only be described as a laughable minimum wage for new trainee solicitors and the police continued to talk about Winsor. Meanwhile home affairs correspondents and police commentators were talking about police privatisation. In other feeds human rights heroes, Hugh Southey QC and Mark George QC were talking about the death penalty.

I was shocked to see how many people had retweeted, my simple missive of the day:

‘Cut legal aid, lower advocacy standards, destroy the independent Bar, privatise the police and then #samhallam will be the norm. #legalaid

There is a divinity that shapes our ends, rough-hew them how we will

I had a total selfish moment. Bloody hell I thought, when I signed up for my wig it was meant to be simple, do a job I love, defend people in a fair forum, be paid a decent wage, get silk if I’m good enough, retire, die happy.

Now it hardly seems possible.

And then I thought, look at what I’ve missed,Bushel’s case, Somersett’s case, defending the suffragette, marching with the civil rights campaigners for racial integration here and in the US, busting the corrupt police squads, the Guildford 4, Birmingham 6.

And it’s only going to get worse, hellish vision posited here: http://forthedefence.org/2012/04/14/the-way-were-going-criminal-justice-2025/

I got quite depressed, as if I’d missed my moment to make a difference.

But then, I actually realised that we’re standing at a moment in history. A fundamental change in how we deliver criminal justice in this country. It started slowly under the Labour Government.

So: PCSOs, unqualified prosecutors in the Magistrates’ Courts, cuts to legal aid, erosion of the rules as to hearsay, the right to a jury trial and bad character evidence going before juries. A prison service which was underfunded and actively supplanted by the private sector. The probation service’s culture fundamentally changed virtually overnight. Indeterminate sentences handed out all over.

And nobody really paid attention to the slow drip. People complained about the individual changes, but nobody stepped back and looked at things in the whole.

In that environment, Barry George, Sam Hallam wrongfully convicted, probably with many others. It took what, almost 20 years to get justice for Stephen Lawrence.

Now, because of the economic circumstances, that drip has become a gush.

The police have marched against Winsor.

Court staff have walked out.

I’m going to have to learn four languages as there’s no interpreters left.

Barristers are trying to work out if there’s a right for them to strike.

Judges are complaining about declining standards in prosecutions.

People are worried about declining standards in criminal defence.

Trainee solicitors in legal aid fields are looking at a better living in Tescos.

People are asking whether you get a better service if you pay for your own defence and some lawyers are saying yes.

Naturally, we’re all concerned about our own position. We’ve all been reviewed individually, the Bar had Carter, the police have Winsor, the prison service have endless reviews and the probation service have a new name every other week.

Now, we’re saying there should be a Royal Commission on Policing, there should be advocacy tests for defence barristers, we ask Serco to fill the gap where public services used to.

When we say, we don’t like that, we’re accused of self-interest. And, of course that’s true, we are self-interested to a certain degree. But I hope people who don’t work in the criminal justice system accept this:

We were never in it for the money. If I’d wanted to earn more, I could have sat in the office next to ‘Pretty Boy’ in the city.

We’re vulnerable, why, because we’re in a vocation, our vocation is to secure justice, that I hope is the same for lawyers, coppers, probation officers and the rest…

And that should be our focus.

Hold the line

Has been a popular hash tag of the police in their campaign. A terribly British phrase which conjures a mental picture of other glorious moments in British history.

So rather than fighting individually (with the risk of being accused of self-interest), explaining how the gush will wash away our part of British criminal justice, why don’t we fight together for a single vision.

My Moses Moment

In my view, the ten commandments of British criminal justice are these:

1) The purpose of the criminal justice system is to protect the individual. Be it, to protect individuals from crime, protect individuals from the coercive power of the state, stop individuals from patterns of destructive behaviour and provide their safety through the passage of the system if Defendant, witness or victim.

2) The police, must police by consent. The police are holders of public office and can never be privatised. They must remain independent from Government, prosecutors and the media.

3)  Every person accused of a crime deserves quality legal representation. Quality of defence should not depend on ability to pay or the financial arrangements between legal services providers and the state.

4) Every person accused of a crime deserves to be tried by an independent body of their peers. The Magistracy must be diverse in age, race and gender and reflect their local communities. The Magistracy must be able to perform their function without excessive interference of the state. If accused of a serious, indictable offence, then every person has an absolute right to trial by jury.

5) Children should not be criminalised for trivial offences. Grass roots discipline comes from teachers and parents/carers not from police officers, lawyers and Judges.

6)The mentally ill should not be punishment for offending. Their treatment is from the social welfare element of the state not the imposition of punishment by the criminal justice system.

7)Prison shall be used as a last resort. Effective community punishment should be the preferred method of disposal. Restorative justice should be common place. For those who custody is the only option, they should be held in public owned prisons where their rehabilitation is the main aim. Punishment, be it in the community or in custody, ought never be for profit.

8) The purpose of the probation service is to prevent re-offending. This  is not an actuarial science, instead it is an idiosyncratic process where well funded probation officers aid offenders in re-integrating into society.

9)The Crown Prosecution Service must remain independent. They must make decisions as to prosecutions free from pressures of the police and the executive. Prosecutions should be based on local need and the prosecutor’s code not concerns of the media and/or pressure groups.

10)The Criminal law protects all and applies to all. Nobody will ever be subject to scrutiny by the police or punishment due to their race, age, gender, nationality or sexual preference. Nobody is above the criminal law due to their occupation, office or income. The Criminal law is deaf to the media but is open and accessible so that the public can see that justice is done.

At the bottom of Mount Sinai

I hope we could all be there together. Those above are my ten commandments. I am sure some of yours would be different. But imagine if we could agree them.

What an amazing message that would be to Government and to the public.

If we all held that line together.

Imagine the march, where I stood there wig and gown, next to me was a Magistrate like Bystander, on the other side a cop, or @Chairforce1, maybe some senior members of the judiciary, QCs too and solicitors from the £6 per hour trainee to the big hitting leaders  of major legal aid firms and the prosecutors, probation officers and YOT workers. Marching behind, coppers in their tunics, Occupy protestors with their banners, victim support workers, legal advisors to the magistrates and qualified criminal justice foreign language interpreters.

That’s not just a line. That’s a dam which could stop the gush from washing away 100s of years of British justice.

FTD

Comments
  1. Brilliant round up. It has indeed become a crazy couple of weeks. It will not let up, but get tougher. I may print and display your commandments on my study wall as a reminder…

  2. ystewart says:

    We are from different jurisdictions but (!) you write a fantastic blog. From your ‘Recipe for Respect’ to the post above – it offers intelligent analysis and a high quality of personal comment that’s sensitive, respectful and insightful.
    You also remind me of why I studied law. You remind me of the nobility of purpose that I used to believe in and which I now just struggle to recall in occasional desperate attempts to keep myself going.
    I’m in-house now (for a Trade Union). Easier than the life you’ve chosen. But you’ve given me a renewed sense of hope that the law and legal practice I was (and am) committed to has champions who really can protect it.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s