Blog - The Verdict
MSB Solicitors Liverpool
Monday, 29 September 2014 00:00

Should Chris Grayling be the next Tory leader? A criminal lawyer’s view.

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Mr Grayling is one of the big beasts of the government.

A darling of the right wing of the party, sound on Europe,  the scourge of criminals and their grasping lawyers and contemptuous  of High Court judges.

Mr Justice Burnett ruled last week  that The Lord Chancellor acted ‘unlawfully’ in the way he consulted on controversial plans to shake up criminal legal aid. The judge said  that the ministry’s failure to disclose the findings of two key reports on plans to introduce new dual criminal legal aid contracts was ‘so unfair as to result in illegality’. Quashing the lord chancellor’s decision to reduce the number of duty provider contracts from 1,600 firms to 525,  he advised a  reconsultation of the profession.
And how did our Lord Chancellor (responsible for the efficient functioning and independence of the courts) respond to being found to have acted unlawfully and illegally on the cornerstone of the criminal justice system?
Undaunted , his officials at the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) tweeted  that it was no more than a technicality and they would press on with their plans after a three week reconsultation of the profession.
Mr Grayling  is the first Lord Chancellor since 1673  not to be legally qualified and many lawyers believe that he treats the legal system  and the courts with contempt.
He has also presided over some of the biggest ministerial cock-ups in recent times stemming from his ideological pursuit of privatisation in all sectors of the criminal justice system, regardless of the impact on the criminal justice system.

As David Allan Green points out, his legal aid proposals were overambitious and impractical; but he pushed them forward anyway. He upheld a nonsensical restriction on books in prisons even though his department elsewhere supported a literacy programme for prisoners. His insistence on heavy cuts to funding for complex cases led to his own department recently admitting to the Court of Appeal that it was in an emergency situation.
The court translation service is in chaos. Last year, MPs castigated the Ministry of Justice for its "shambolic" handling of the court translation contract, which was given to Capita. Interpreters failed to turn up, leading to the cancellation of trials, and others turned up but botched the job. The cost to the taxpayer of hiring court interpreters has almost doubled to £15.5m in just one year.
Electronic monitoring contracts with G4S and Serco to tag offenders have had to be terminated after allegations that they over chargedthe government for electronically monitoring people who were either dead or in jail! The matter has been referred to the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) and is  subject to ongoing criminal investigation.

Serco has agreed to repay 68.5 million . The contract has gone to Capita, the company who have caused chaos in the courts with the interpreters contract !

Notwithstanding this debacle, Mr Grayling has decided to privatise the probation service .Private companies are finalising bids for £800m a year in contracts to run UK probation services. The contractors will be responsible for supervising all the actions required by the courts, such as community orders, supervision or unpaid work, with rewards for cutting reoffending rates.
All this when the probation service has managed to get reoffending rates down to 34.2% after a decade of steady year-on-year decline. Mr Grayling calls that failure.

That reliable old friend of governments of both persuasions, Capita,  will be prominent amongst the bidders. Serco and G4S will probably have to wait for a clean bill of health from the SFO enquiry before being allowed to bid.

The MoJ admits that privatised prisons almost always result in "disproportionate costs" . Yet Mr Grayling wants more of them. Even though the Ministry of Justice does not even know which firms it has contracts with and which prisons they are running.
The government has also uncovered serious problems with G4S's contract to provide facilities management in courts.
And now Mr Grayling intends to press on with his proposals to reduce the number of firms providing criminal legal aid by more than two thirds despite all the evidence showing that the cuts the government wish to achieve are likely to be met by the impact of previous “reforms “ and the steadily dropping number of criminal prosecutions.
Should then Mr Grayling succeed David Cameron if the Tories lose power at the next general election? He may be a conference darling but Conservative supporters should be careful what they wish for.
Last modified on Tuesday, 07 October 2014 15:34
Sean Sexton

Sean was one of the founding partners of MSB Solicitors.
Twitter handle: @seansexton58

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