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24 September 2014

The art of spin and the unlawful actions of the MOJ

4 mins

Chris Grayling has announced that he does not want Scottish MPs with their crazed socialist ways having a say in the administration of Justice in England. To be honest most of us would be far happier if Mr Grayling did not have a say in delivering justice in England.

On Friday 19th September the High Court was asked to consider two aspects of the draconian reform project embarked upon by the Government since 2011 which bore poisoned fruit last year with the introduction of LASPO in April and the summer and autumn Consultations on cuts and restructuring in the criminal justice system. 

It was Black Friday for the MOJ. In the morning the High Court granted permission to campaigning group Rights of Women challenging the legality (post LASPO) of the way legal aid in the Family Court is restrictively granted to women who have experienced or are experiencing domestic violence. In the afternoon, seemingly to the surprise of the Ministry, the Honourable Mr Justice Burnett quashed the Ministry’s decision to reduce the number of criminal defence contracts available in their tendering process ruling that the consultation process did not “enable consultees meaningfully to respond” and that the “failure was so unfair as to result in illegality.”

The unfairness pivoted on the Ministry’s decision to supress two reports on the nature and substance of the proposed new arrangements. In Court the Ministry tried out two different explanations for its failure. Firstly, that releasing the reports to the profession would have resulted in delay, an excuse arrived at on the back of the currently popular fag packet, as it neither appeared in legal pleadings nor was supported by any evidence. Secondly, that releasing the reports would have made no difference as the Ministry could both predict all possible objections and had unanswerable responses to every permutation of complaint. This is ministerial hutzpah as imagined by a Soviet Commissariat. The flimsiness of the official line exposed when the Lord Chancellor backed away from explanation two saying that was merely the personal opinion of the senior civil servant who was the MOJ’s ill starred star witness.

After such a clear judgement which in measured tones described what many believed to be a rigged process leading to defective decision making so serious as to be illegal it might have been expected that the Ministry charged with administering the Justice system would respond in a way that at the very least indicated it respected the decision of the Court and the seriousness of its failure. Instead the Press Office via Twitter said that the  ruling raised “some technical issues which we’re considering.” Using the same medium, leading legal commentator David Allen Green described the Ministry as being in “bewildered denial” while Dinah Rose QC lamented the “corrosive lack of respect for the judicial system”  demonstrated by the MOJ.

The messages coming out of the Ministry of Justice are injudicious and leave the impression, hopefully wrongly, that the Ministry will go into a huddle to work out how they can give the impression of procedural fairness whilst as before running a consultation whose outcome is predetermined. At least this time respondents will have a chance to consider the two reports which the MOJ acknowledged although suppressed. The bonus prize is the eagerly awaited perusal of a third entirely secret report (only revealed in Court)  by an outfit called PA Consulting Group which amongst others things has recently developed a revolutionary paper towel and overhauled Danish air traffic control. Their take on the criminal justice system will be fascinating as spills and near misses are now every day occurrences.

No wonder the Lord Chancellor wants to restrict access to Judicial Review. He does not want forensic scrutiny of his loaded dice approach to law making and reform. The ducking and diving taints most MOJ releases on the criminal justice system.  Journalists asking for a Ministry response to the latest controversy over the scorched earth policy of fee cuts and restructuring are subjected to the same endlessly recycled sound bite “At £2bn we have one of the most generous justice systems in the world”. This is now the incredible shrinking budget as the latest version of the press mantra puts the figure at £1.5bn, a reduction of 25% in under two years.  The system is on its knees and the “crisis what crisis” approach is becoming increasingly untenable as more and more people inside and outside the profession see through the posturing and spin.

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