FIRE BREATHING DRAGON AND JUSTICEIn some respects a court can be likened to a transit station or an oasis in the desert. It might be in some instances similar to a “check point Charlie” the name given to a frequently used crossing point between East and West Berlin during the cold war when that city was divided by the Wall. On each side was a fixed point of reference.....the communist east and a free west. But Charlie was in a limited area of neutrality. Likewise the court is a neutral venue. The parties present and their representatives are offered the protection of the court. The pressures on them respectively are to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth and to follow the rules. This process is the second of two functions that must be provided and can only be provided by the state, the other being the defence of the realm. When the cost of providing a justice system is conjoined with “efficiency savings” or similar such terms my antennae bristle.

Camberwell Green Magistrates` Court in South London has been operating as a video court for the last two years. Defendants appear direct from police custody via a video link to the actual court. A recent report has been published evaluating this project. At 63 pages it is quite a read. The final paragraph on pp29 where the heading is “4 Implications” speaks for itself and is copied below:-

The impact of the pilot on judicial processes and outcomes is complex. The evidence points to a series of factors that may be regarded as giving cause for concern, but the frequency with which they occur is very difficult to judge.

Like many initiatives under the guise of improving efficiency without reducing quality of justice this report could be entitled “Never mind the quality; feel the width.” The system was plagued with IT problems from the outset. Reports in the Law Society Gazette on Thursday 11th March 2010 and Thursday 11th November 2010 speak for themselves.

The quality of justice offered, to a great extent a very subjective process, cannot possibly be offered within the confines however supposedly benevolent and tailored for the purpose of the police force which acts with the CPS in the formulation of charging any defendant. Comparisons have been made with the use of video link for bail applications from those held on remand in prison. This is akin to comparing ice cream to fillet steak. Both are delicious foods in their own right but they are not at all comparable.

Her Majesty`s Courts and Tribunal Service is a monster QUANGO in the making. Its purpose like many such organisations is increasing its scope and power. Remarks in print eg from another QUANGO a so called partnership typical of numerous such organisations which have arisen in the last decade or so tells us that “This {video courts} allows most of the first hearings to take place within hours of charge, bringing benefits to victims, witnesses and defendants.” Such arrogance is demonstrated by that sentence that further comment is superfluous.

HMCTS further demonstrates its desire to encompass under direct control from the top down the management structure of the Magistrates` Courts system presently undertaken by Justices Clerks and their Deputies in its "consultation" document; another euphemism in Chapter 1 of the civil service dictionary for control, “Consultation on HMCTS Legal Service and new legal structure for Justices’ Clerks and HMCTS Lawyers”. It is unsurprising that inputting that title into the search box of HMCTS produces precisely no result. Perhaps this blogger cannot properly undertake a simple search. However by any account such a document should be very readily available in the public domain. For those interested tomorrow December 2nd is the last day for the receipt of responses.

Under the cloak of cutting public expenditure this government with its changes for Legal Aid as another example appears even more eager than its predecessor to limit to the ordinary citizen the quality of justice to be expected in a country that was once an example of a model justice system for a free and democratic state. The actions of ministers and their state controlled acolytes are a disgrace to us all who are involved.