Spend an afternoon in any magistrates’ court (take a drink, the water machines have long gone) and you’ll see for yourself the justice system is not working terribly well. The law, to borrow the hashtag, is broken.
What is clear is that one thing stands between the system teetering and the system falling over: its people.
These are the security guards frantically running round to a vacant reception to help the same people they just frisked. These are the ushers juggling bulging caseloads and absent defendants, moving cases between courts like an elaborate game of chess. These are the court staff playing the role of counsellor to vulnerable people representing themselves in tragically sad family cases, all the while trying to get on with their actual jobs.
These are the chaplains effectively acting as quasi-legal helpers, guiding utterly clueless and bewildered people to the right courtrooms.
Now we hear that court staff numbers are due to be reduced from 16,500 to 10,000. Mass redundancies appear inevitable and further court closures seem to be in the pipeline.
Let’s be clear: the system as it stands cannot cope with fewer people. It barely manages with the people it has. Cutting this number of staff means either making the system worse or fundamentally changing how we administer justice in this country. Anyone trying to argue differently is either blind to the consequences or is simply not telling the truth.
Consultants appear to be making these decisions without the faintest idea what is happening on the ground, with changes nodded through by unquestioning senior judiciary.
We should be lauding the hard-working people of our court system and paying them properly (you’ll often hear of vacancies because salaries cannot match those paid for other local civil service roles).
Instead we reward their efforts with the threat of job losses. It’s like watching your house burn down and handing a P45 to the firefighters trying to put out the flames.