On 1 April 2014 was the first joint action in history of probation officers and solicitors. Napo and the Justice Alliance, accompanied by a grotesque puppet of the minister of justice, Chris Grayling, protested outside the Ministry of Justice against his grotesque reforms. It was of course Mr Grayling’s birthday.
Napo general secretary, Ian Lawrence said at the time: “The government’s plans to outsource 70% of the probation service are untried and untested. It is a dangerous social experiment that we believe will lead to a reduction in rehabilitation and fragmented risk management, placing the public at risk.”
Nicola Hill, president of the London Criminal Courts Solicitors Association, said of the joint action: “As the government dismantles the criminal justice system, risks are being taken which threaten public safety and the right to a fair defence. The MoJ is taking a gamble on outsourcing the supervision of the most persistent offenders on release from short-term prison sentences. Meanwhile, as the justice secretary scrimps on legal aid, the risk of the innocent going to jail is set to become a nightmarish reality.”
The government responded that they were very disappointed by the action in opposition to their “vital reforms”. Ministers said the “rehabilitation revolution” will raise standards in probation and reduce reoffending. Six out of 10 people who leave prison are reconvicted within two years. On legal aid they said “we have one the most expensive legal aid systems in the world” and that we could no longer afford the legal aid budget. Of course, the statistics never stood up to any scrutiny – not least the last claim made whilst legal aid for disabled people was being cut by 99%.
So four years on what of the great reform revolution? Well the architect has long since moved on –
to “modernise” and reform” the railways. No doubt we have all noticed his impact with more spacious, timely, cheaper journeys to work. Since Grayling’s departure, there have been four more ministers of justice.
The effect of Grayling’s reforms (and the 40% cut to the MoJ budget over these past ten years) is addressed in five new films created by Justice Alliance and Speak up for Justice – located here https://justiceallianceuk.wordpress.com/ . We need to share these films, and every MP must be asked if they have watched them and what they intend to do.
The films confirm barely a day goes by without another crisis in the justice system.
The rehabilitation revolution as predicted has worked for shareholders, whilst 200 prisoners at HMP Dartmoor were released with no Through the Gate resettlement support. Prisons are becoming very unsafe places – between 2011 and 2016 assaults have increased by 95% and self-harm by 120%. Lawyers are literally experiencing the roof falling in, in what decrepit buildings remain following the closure of 250 courts. Miscarriages of justice, like Sam Hallam are back in fashion – whilst nobody received compensation for a quashed conviction last year. Barristers are refusing work due to the iniquities of another fee cut system and The Law Society is taking legal action against fee cuts for solicitors in a system where non-disclosure is rife. The list is endless, and failings now dominate a justice process in tatters.
And so four years on, in April 2018, Napo and the Justice Alliance with the PCS, CBA et al returned again to the MOJ, this time to hold a Vigil for Justice and a formal renaming ceremony projected onto its building.
With the epitaph from Shelley’s poem Ozymandias, written 200 years ago, perfectly encapsulating Chris Grayling’s brave new world:
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Chris Grayling, King of Kings;
Look at my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
Co-founder of Justice Alliance