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News Round-Up Week Ending 11.9.15

(Posted on 10/09/15)


Cuts Create Postcode Lottery for Justice.

The criminal justice system is "on the cusp" of breaking down amid growing delays, court closures and funding cuts, magistrates have warned the BBC.

Ministry of Justice figures obtained by the BBC show that magistrates take three times as long to deal with cases in some parts of the country as elsewhere: 124 days in Sussex compared with 37 days in Cumbria.

"I fear we are right on the cusp of things suddenly starting to unravel. The whole court system is Dickensian," said Corby court's bench chairman Terry Knights. "It isn't unusual to get a court appearance which is someone's sixth court appearance for one case. At the end of the day some of the witnesses and some of the victims say I can't be bothered with this - and they don't turn up and therefore the case falls apart. Justice isn't done."

"We are seeing trials taking place something like a year after events that are in court," added a senior Essex magistrate. "During that year people's memories have faded, some people who were prepared to give evidence don't wish to do so any longer, so both the quality and quantity of evidence, which is absolutely critical, starts to slip away. The other thing is the victims of the alleged offence don't get the closure. They have this hanging over them for very much longer than they should do."

"The court system is a postcode lottery,” according to the step-father of a sexual assault victim in Suffolk. “The time cases take really depends on where you live. The whole process was about twice as long as it needed to be and the impact on us as a family was awful and we will never forget how terrible that was." 

"The magistrates are stating the obvious,” countered Justice Minister Shailesh Vara. “There are delays. We know that. We want to make sure that delays are minimised if not eliminated completely, because it is important that justice takes place efficiently and properly and to make a system that is less stressful for all concerned.”

One Law for the Rich, None for the Poor

Writing in the New Statesman, Shadow Justice Secretary Charlie Falconer describes “the increasing collapse of the justice system as a protector of anyone other than the wealthy and powerful”. 

“Increasingly, vulnerable people are being left without protection. The level playing field is wiling away and exercising one’s legal rights is becoming the preserve of the few. It is clear already that far fewer people are accessing either legal help – where people receive advice and assistance about a problem– or representation. In the year after the Coalition's reforms were introduced, the number of civil cases granted funding for representation and/or legal help dropped by almost two-thirds and has not recovered since. Family and social welfare law are some of the most affected areas, with drops of 60 per cent and close to 80 per cent respectively.   

“In just over two years, ten Law Centres have closed. Many which remain open have to either refuse work or lose money, as they simply do not have the funding. Hundreds of thousands of people who previously would have received legal advice no longer do. In consequence any legal rights they may have offer no protection. And this has devastating effects on their lives.”