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Guest Blog: Changes to the justice system

Monday, December 17, 2012

‘Change for change’s sake’ is an article title in a Harvard Business Review. In this review it states that periodically a shakeup is good because it enables new networks to be formed, frees up organisations to be creative and dynamic, and also breaks up outdated power structures. In a change environment do we understand what changes are taking place, why they are happening, and how they will affect us?

Over the coming months we will be exploring the changing landscape and we begin with this guest blog by Dave Pinwell 'Changes to the justice system'

We have a justice system which is fair and equitable, right? I have always thought so, but I see worrying signs of change.

Cost is starting to play a significant part in decision taking within the system. Courts are closing down and consolidating. The ‘system’ could never get enough magistrates, but now there are too many, and some are being ‘let go’, others used less frequently. Family courts, it seems, are being particularly affected, raising concerns about outcomes for children embroiled in such cases.

It also appears that the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) is deciding in favour of prosecution less frequently and fewer cases are coming to court. The question is, does that mean that whether you are sent before the bench depends upon the quality, and thus the cost, of your brief?

This is concerning, and the reason is illustrated clearly through this week’s press ‘speculation’ that the French politician known as DSK was about to reach a substantial out of court settlement with the hotel maid, Nafissatou Diallo. If so, he was not guilty enough for all charges to be dismissed in the criminal case, but guilty enough for the civil case to force his hand deep into his pocket. So, would he now be languishing in jail without his ability to buy in smart and expensive lawyers?

All of this is brought into sharp focus by changes to the Legal Aid system, another area of cutbacks. These are due for implementation on 1 April 2013, with significant changes in scope, particularly withdrawal of Legal Aid support for many housing and welfare cases. Around our region, a number of CABs are having to withdraw from contracting with the Legal Services Commission, leaving it unclear how clients will be supported in such legal cases beyond April.

Everyone is entitled to a good standard of advocacy when they engage with the justice system, not just those who can afford it. As a nation, we need a credible system, built on fairness and equity, not driven by who can afford what. Whether a criminal case of murder, rape or fraud, or a civil matter of welfare, family or employment law, those who are not equipped to stand up for themselves should have someone to stand up for them.

That principle appears to be under threat. We have just celebrated the 80th anniversary of Sir William Beveridge’s seminal report that led to the introduction of a welfare net to our nation. I suspect he would be perturbed if he were alive today.

Dave Pinwell is the CEO of Solihull Sustain. He can be contacted by email on enquiries@solihull-sustain.org.uk