Saturday, 17 May 2014

A call to arms, to comrades in justice

Some days I truly despair at the state of disrepair in our rapidly deteriorating criminal justice system. The grand old dowager aunt of establishments is falling into disrepute and ruin. It's going to take more than Carillion to get this house in order. Today I'm really depressed, 12 days to save probation services and the legal profession on a knife edge. It's like a bad Madonna song.

I write to appeal to probation trusts, barristers and solicitors on the front lines, to douse your heart in the elixir of compassion. This is a fight to extract justice from The Barber of Petty France, our Lord Chancellor whose casual relationship with  the values which uphold justice are as reliable as Katie Price's choice of lovers. It isn't a time for grandeloquent gestures or photo opps outside New Scotland Yard calling for investigation into Serco and G4S. Privatisation is upon us. Wake up and smell the freshly ground.

In March, at The Crown Court at Kingston a leading junior form one of the top defence sets in London had 3 cases, listed at the same time in front of different judges. Unless the CBA have taken shares in the cloning company that manufactured Dolly the Sheep, I would venture that this is impossible.
Militant policies such as the no returns commitment will indeed bring Crown Courts to a halt. Innocent defendants will be remanded or cop early guilty pleas and all measure of proportionality is flung out of the window. Is this the justice you signed up to deliver?

While Hatchet Grayling dismantles legal aid, applying for which is so gruesome and impossible, the process itself becomes an insurmountable obstacle, while he sneaks in increased fees for Judicial Revew applications and ends legal aid for prisoners,  while solicitors are pitted against barristers who were offered an impossible choice (think Matrix- the blue pill or the red pill) the people who need your services the most are left to wither on the poisoned vine of our criminal justice system. Lives are wasted. Who do we serve? The media or our clients?

That leading junior was despondent,  he had to apologise to three disgruntled Crown Court judges, a bail application was unsuccessful and two other defendants left unrepresented while he tried to uphold this dizzying, divisive policy through his loyalty to the CBA.

The criminal justice system should not be allowed to become a vehicle for profit from the lives of the most vulnerable.  But it isn't about money. Leading criminal barristers have offered alternative cost cutting solutions which will not take away its intrinsic value but which will allow the UK to retain its reputation for delivering a world class justice service and excellence. Push these alternatives on Grayling. Push harder.

In the property world he'd be an east end barrow boy, trying to offload a building he doesn't even own. He's a spiv in a cheap suit, a playground bully whose easy rhetoric belies pure  market  driven ideology. It's indefensible. Front it out. He just blinked. Operation Cotton marked legal history.

Someone asked if I would prefer Tesco barristers.  I wouldn't but the ugly divisiveness masterfully unleashed on the profession by Chief Spiv Chris Grayling is heartbreaking to watch from the sidelines and as a very interested party. What do Carillion and A4e know about rehabilitation and vulnerable people and why are they bidding to deliver probation services, privatised?

As someone with a criminal record (last conviction dating back to 2008),  I know first hand how important legal aid is. I was lucky enough to instruct Imran Khan and Tooks handled the brief in the Crown Court.  Now Tooks has been dismantled as a result of the withering cuts to the legal aid budget and I see Imran taking mostly very expensive private prosecutions as an advocate.

It's easy for the police to target me and the rest of the population with a criminal record - profile offences,  they call it. However I could sleep soundly knowing that if I needed it, I could rely on a decent solicitor to accompany me to the police station and poke a finger in plod's eye . I knew that the barrister who took the brief would fight my corner, not overwhelmed about how he'd pay his debts and sustain a career. I don't have that confidence anymore while the legal profession is in disarray and Grayling, Ceasar like, plays gladiator games with two branches of the profession.

Fight the good fight, do right, fear no one and storm the barracks of lies,  dissemination and misrepresentation of statistics emanating from the less than fragrant Ministry of Justice and its corrupt Voldemorte at large. But don't lose sight, while Lord Voldemorte himself distracts you to the death of the bar and the demise of solidarity on the legal profession. 

Above all don't lose sight of society's most vulnerable;  we've seen how corrupt at its heart the Metropolitan Police has become. Your client could be the next Sean Duggan suicided by police. A member of your chambers could be stitched up like an Oswald Boateng suit as was Andrew Mitchell. At what price no returns, strike action and militancy? Come together with probation officers, clerks, translators who are all feeling Grayling's pincers. I know we're all exhausted and worn out but there is strength in numbers.

Let the violets beneath your feet, even in the midst of this bloody battle bring clear thinking,  courage and fragrant outcomes. I don't understand enough about the divisions and the self interests of various groups but you ARE the criminal justice system. Think with your heart and act with your conscience in plain view of True Justice.
Let none of us in the rehabilitation or criminal justice sector forget who we serve. You make the world a better place,  everyday. Because of you, justice blooms.
Courage comrades.
the views expressed in this communication are those of Farah Damji and do not represent the views of any other entity or organisation.

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