Monday Message 08.09.14
Mark Fenhalls QC
Monday 8 September 2014
E: [email protected]
The summer seems long gone. The swallows are gathering.
I was struck last week by the headlines surrounding HMIP report into HMP Wormwood Scrubs. As always the sound bites and headlines were only a small part of the picture. The criticisms in the report were stark, but I remain grateful that we live in a world where the Justice Secretary appoints independent inspectors who are meant to report the shortcomings they find; and where the terms of the “Open Government Licence” mean one can reuse the information in such reports “in any format or medium”. Constructive criticism is after all vital part of any healthy system.
In the first paragraph of the Introduction to the Report the following appears.
“As a local prison receiving prisoners from the streets of the capital, it faces a tough operational challenge. The risks associated with running Wormwood Scrubs are great, but at our last inspection we found a prison that had many of the basics right and was improving. Much has changed since then. At this inspection we found a prison that had declined significantly in almost every aspect.”
But it was not all bad.
“One of the better features of the prison was health care which was reasonably good, and mental health provision was particularly impressive.”
Most pertinent perhaps was the following passage
“Major structural changes in late 2013 had led to a significant reduction of resources. We were told that one consequence of this was that a large tranche of experienced staff had left very quickly and that this had been destabilising, not least because the prison had found it difficult to recruit replacements. There was some recent evidence that important steps had been taken to arrest the decline, but there was still much to be done.”
Damage of this sort is most likely to happen when hurried changes are made that are based on an incomplete understanding of the numbers and how systems actually work.
I am committed to doing everything I can this year and next to ensuring that no more changes are made to the way our part of the CJS works without the fullest possible understanding of the consequences. Above all we must strive to find a way to ensure that talented young lawyers see self-employment at the publicly funded bar as an attractive career prospect. We all know that a career at the Bar continues to appeal to students; but I suspect there is a consensus in the profession that there are too many training places offered by the various schools around the country, which turn out vastly more students than there are places for pupillage. Our immediate concern is how to retain the right people through those increasingly difficult first few years after pupillage and tenancy and in ensuring that mothers can afford to return to publicly funded work after having children.
A round of Autumn meetings with the MoJ has begun and many more are planned. You will understand that it is simply impossible to report on the detail of all and that progress may appear slow. Just because we are not able to announce something every week, or even every month, does not mean good progress is not being made. The fact that reform takes some time is actually rather a good thing. Rushed decisions are rarely as effective as carefully planned changes based on robust figures.
I have three requests to make of you.
Court Catering. We have had several emails this week telling us that various Crown Courts have closed catering facilities, making life considerably harder for witnesses, defendants and their families and advocates. If you are working in a court where this has happened please email the CBA with details now. When we have a full picture we will take up with the MoJ.
Your Chambers Representative. If you don’t know who your Chambers’ CBA representative is, please find out. If they have not been actively engaged, prompt them to become more involved or consider finding someone else to perform this vital role.
Complete a short Survey. In April 2014, the Bar Council set up a working party, the Criminal Justice Reform Group (CJRG), led by HH Geoffrey Rivlin QC, to deal with issues arising from the Jeffrey and Leveson reviews. There is an easy to complete survey which gives you a fantastic opportunity to share all your ideas about what is wrong with the CJS and how it can be improved. The survey can be accessed HERE. It is open until 21 September 2014, but do not delay and please try and complete this week.
And finally, this morning the JR proceedings brought by the LCCSA in relation to two-tier contracts began in Court 1 of the RCJ. We wish them well.
Mark Fenhalls QC
Vice Chairman of the CBA