Exaro: Government cuts ‘destroying’ Britain’s criminal justice system
Delays following the privatisation of court services are costing the taxpayer tens of millions of pounds, the chairman of the Criminal Bar Association has warned.
Britain’s criminal justice system is being destroyed by Government cuts and changes to the way courts are run, said Michael Turner QC, who represents 3,600 lawyers as the chairman of the Criminal Bar Association (CBA)
Turner claims taxpayers’ money is being squandered, injustices covered up and the judiciary ‘muzzled’ by ministers obsessed with secrecy.
He said: “If you put a contract in place with a private supplier you’ve got to monitor its effectiveness. Otherwise you don’t know that it’s doing what it says it’s doing, which is saving the taxpayer money.”
He told Exaro: “It costs a £110 a minute to run a courtroom with a jury. Every minute of delay is costing someone further down the line. Bench delays are so endemic in our court system now.
“The taxpayer is picking up the tab on a bill that the taxpayer never sees, because GEOAmey, the company charged with bringing prisoners to court, can’t deliver; because Applied Language Solutions supply translators who can’t speak the language that they’re required to.”
GEOAmey won the lucrative deal from the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) in August to escort prisoners between courts and jails.
But last year the £900 million contract covering the transportation of inmates was branded “an absolute farce” by a judge after it emerged the new prison vans are too big to fit through court entrances, causing delays to court hearings.
Turner also questions the amount of profit made by security giant G4S on the back of the taxpayer. G4S holds a five-year £175 million contract for the provision of front-of-house security and facilities management in the North-West, the North-East, the Midlands and Wales.
“G4S is making a near £41 million profit over five years by paying £6.45 per hour to 800 security staff while charging £11.49 per employee hour to the court service,” he said.
Although Turner has received the backing of defence barristers, he believes judges can be pressurised to stay silent about problems in courts because they are frightened of losing their jobs.<
He said: “The whole of the judiciary has been muzzled, effectively by diktat from on high, and they’re subject to internal discipline if they speak to the press other than through the judicial press office or through a release from the lord chief [justice].”
Three weeks ago, Exaro revealed that MPs had suggested that that the MoJ was in “contempt”, such was the extent to which it had hampered an investigation into shortcomings of translation services for courts.
Turner is also concerned about growing secrecy in the judicial system: “Look at the other pieces of legislation that the government is seeking to introduce, secrecy in the courtroom, which is designed to protect the government from the revelation that they’ve been involved in extraordinary rendition and torture.”
He believes the government should not be allowed to interfere in courts on security grounds, as they can already be closed at the judge’s discretion: “There are all sorts of protections for these witnesses [from the secret service] that are absolutely satisfactory.
“In five years’ time, you will not have a justice system that will allow people to expose the dreadful lies that were told in the Hillsborough case, because they won’t be there, the lawyers will have gone.”
In response to Turner’s comments about privatised court services, a spokesman for security giant G4S told Exaro that the company “absolutely refute[s] the misplaced allegations”.
“G4S has been absolutely transparent on the charging structures on its contract to provide integrated facilities management to around 350 Ministry of Justice sites across the North of England, the Midlands and Wales,” he said.
“We absolutely refute the misplaced allegations made about our costs or about our treatment of employees.”
Exaro submitted Turner’s claim about G4S’s profits to the MoJ under the Freedom of Information Act. The Department responded: “The information you have is incorrect. The contract price to MoJ has been submitted based on the provision of output specifications to a required standard and not on the hourly rates per employee.”
A spokesman for GEOAmey said: “We work closely with the Ministry of Justice to ensure that transfer movements are continually reviewed and the highest standards are met, and our efforts have led to improvements over the last year.
“At the outset of the contract in 2011 we discovered that in a very small number of courts, access was not possible for some of our prisoner transfer vehicles. We took action at the time to resolve these issues and have had no subsequent problems.”
A spokeswoman for Capita/Applied Language Solutions, said: “Our interpreters are qualified to at least the minimum standards required to provide services to the criminal justice system and many are qualified well beyond this, to post graduate levels, including the Chartered Institute of Linguists Diploma in Public Service Interpreting.
“Any complaints received about interpreters are investigated thoroughly and, where necessary, the interpreter is suspended from working with us until the investigation is complete. At that point we will remove them from our register, reinstate them or provide further training, as appropriate.”