Parliament’s most powerful watchdog yesterday published a comprehensive account of the failure of the MoJ to get a grip on ‘unprecedented’ pressures and failures of the justice system.
So great is the backlog of cases in the criminal courts (most of which predates COVID), that cases are now being listed for 2 years’ time. But, says the PAC, MoJ’ s court ‘transformation’ programme, which is failing to deliver promised savings, lacks any clear end point and isn’t supported by adequate information. Barristers and others at the sharp end report on a system now heavily dependent on virtual hearings, which often breaks down, and is disadvantaging the most vulnerable.
The MoJ has chosen to vastly increase prisoner numbers, in any already badly overcrowded system, made more oppressive and unsafe by COVID. But are hugely ambitious prisons building programme (something at which MoJ has repeatedly failed in the last decade) isn’t funded and the growing backlog of essential maintenance may derail it.
MoJ is managing 15 major change programmes over every aspect of its work yet cannot explain how it is managing the extraordinary risks this poses, given its past record of failure on nearly every major programme in the past decade.
There is no realistic basis for funding MoJ beyond April 2022, if that, even though the costs of increasing police numbers, and tackling court backlogs, and increasing sentence lengths are enormous, and the probation and prison service are under enormous stress already.
(The PAC might have added that the criminal legal aid system is falling apart, cut by a third since 2010 and many firms ceasing to take the business.)
The PAC goes on to express concern about the pressures on probation and prison staff: ‘Unacceptable’ Buckland is content to call them ‘heroes’, and then hide behind their heroism, while cynically allowing those pressures to increase.
None of this however is new. Sadly, it has all been obvious for years. What is new is the dawning realisation that for a Government that is sufficiently shameless – and Johnson is a man born deformed, without the capacity for shame – it is perfectly possible just to ignore these things. To the denunciation of Commons Committees or the NAO or well informed reform groups or professional bodies or court findings of unlawful or improper behaviour or exposure by the one or two bits of the press not rabidly tory, just maintain a studied indifference. Because, in our elective dictatorship, none of these critics have any power. If you have a majority in the Commons and those of your MPs who want you out arent ready yet, tthere are no consequences for failure, however gross. One might call it the Grayling Conundrum.
‘Unacceptable’ Buckland doesn’t even need to reply, any more than his Cabinet colleagues do. Our democratic system is toothless, between elections (and the Government has plans to fix those).
I was formerly Finance Director of the Prison Service and then Director of the National Offender Management Service responsible for competition. I also worked in the NHS and an IT company. I later worked for two outsourcing companies.
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