Has the Criminal Justice System already passed ‘breaking point’?


So apparently massive cuts to the Criminal Justice System have driven it to “breaking point”, who knew?!

Well, anyone who has any contact with the system knew, that’s who.

This damning finding by Parliament’s spending watchdog the Public Accounts Committee told us what everyone knew, everyone except, apparently, the Ministry of Justice.

Meg Hillier MP, chair of the PAC said; “Too little thought has been given to the consequences of cutbacks with the result that the system’s ability to deliver justice, together with its credibility in the eyes of the public, is under threat.”

And how did the MoJ react to the fact that, under its direction, the system was found to be failing victims, witnesses, defendants, lawyers and, basically, all of us?

Like a snake eating its own tail, the MoJ said the report was clear evidence that it’s much vaunted reforms were much needed, totally ignoring the fact it’s their cuts which have driven the system into the ground in the first place.

In the wake of austerity – which has seen 27-percent of CPS lawyers chopped, legal aid slashed and courts closed – is a nice backlog of over 51,000 crown court cases. Coincidence?

Back in the autumn Michael Gove suggested, with razor-sharp insight, that one way of cutting costs would be to cut reoffending.

Yet last week we learned the privatised probation services are refusing to report breaches of court orders because it will harm their figures and therefore their bottom lines.

Last month we also heard violence, self harm and deaths are running rife in prisons.

Staff cuts mean there aren’t enough officers to allow prisoners access to education and activities which would actually cut reoffending.

Instead prisoners are spending 23 hours a day in their cells with only bunkmates and legal highs for company.

Between the cuts to police (another issue), CPS, courts, prison and probation, is it any wonder the CJS in slowly sinking in the mire?

The other day I was waiting for a trial to begin at Birmingham Crown a Court where a defendant was facing charges of theft (of a leaf blower), and aggravated vehicle taking.

The prosecution case rested largely on identification evidence which said the offender was a white, tall, ginger male.

Between his arrest, interview, charge, and plea hearing, nobody on the Crown’s side noticed (or bothered to look) at the defendant.

He was white, under six feet tall and had…brown hair.

Literally moments before the trial was due to start the prosecution decided it was best if no evidence was offered and the case was dropped.

This is one of god knows how many cases which are being charged, then free falling all the way to trial because there aren’t enough staff to properly assess them.

Between poor charging decisions, disastrous case management and woeful disclosure efforts, cases are rolling into court with as many loose ends as a plate of spaghetti.

Victims, witnesses and the definitely not-ginger defendant should have been put out of their misery on that case months ago, not to mention the waste of court time having a dead duck of a case taking up precious space in the list.

The MoJ can talk of reforms until the cows come home but you know what’s needed? Cold hard cash.

Investment. Plain and simple.

Pay for adequate numbers of CPS workers and solicitors to properly manage cases, provide legal aid wherever it is needed for justice to be done, pay for court staff and victim services to make an inevitably stressful situation that little bit easier.

Regularly in court I hear more mentions mentions of the public purse than I do of justice suggesting those famous scales may have tipped in the favour of cost.

If that’s the case, surely the system is way beyond breaking point and is, in fact, broken.

So what are the chances of proper investment in the system to revive its twitching corpse?
I wouldn’t hold my breath.

Where’s the incentive when most people don’t see the CJS as something they’ll ever need?

As law abiding citizens they’ll never be accused of a crime and being a victim is something that happens to other people.

The MoJ can wring its hands a little, promise it’s already reforming and then quietly leave the system in freefall until the next report is published.

Attention on Michael Gove’s is solely focused his EU escape plan and quite how he’ll retrieve his knife from David Cameron’s back.

If pushed he can talk about digital advances and proper punishment while ignoring elephant in the room.

All of the issues mentioned are well known. Everyone in the system knows there are too few workers for too many cases with not enough cash to handle them properly.

It’s simply not possible those at the top of the MoJ are working in blind ignorance of the effects of the cuts.

The only conclusion to draw is that neither Michael Gove nor the MoJ give much of a shit.

So long as they can claim they are trying, they don’t care how deeply the cuts bite or the implications for something as intangible as justice.

Until voters are dragged into the CJS it’s not really something that sways at the ballot box. They care about crime, but responsibility for that can be shunted off to the Home Office.

With no hope of investment and a Minister with one eye on Downing Street, the PAC’s report will go down as another marker of the CJS’s sad and lingering decline.


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