'Kickstarting' criminal justice, and serious succession: your letters to the editor
Time to 'kickstart' criminal justice
On 28 June, the government announced its intention to build four new prisons across England over the next six years. These prisons will purportedly: boost efforts to cut crime, by making the prisons ‘environments which will more effectively foster rehabilitation’, reducing recidivism; ‘kickstart the economy’; and ‘support the construction industry’.
Whether prisons can ever constitute rehabilitative environments is up for debate. Can a stint inside fix problems embedded over a lifetime? There is no sign as yet of any evidence-based research underpinning the government’s bold claim that its new prisons (unlike its existing ones) will be equipped to assist (for example) the 16% of the male prison population, and 26% of the female, who received treatment for mental health issues in the year before incarceration – and the significant proportion with learning disabilities/a learning difficulty.
It is encouraging that the government seems to be taking steps to address the longstanding problem of overcrowding in prisons, though this is not the first time it has announced it is building a new prison at HMP Full Sutton (and other sites). It did so in August 2019 and March 2017. It is to be hoped that it also intends to direct funding at tackling the root causes of crime – homelessness, poverty, drug addiction and so on.
If the government wants to invest in the criminal justice system (CJS), there are other areas screaming out for funding. The court estate is falling down around our ears. Worse, successive cuts to legal aid have left many people priced out of justice. The steady closure of criminal courts over the past few years (recently exacerbated by the coronavirus lockdown) has contributed to a gargantuan backlog of court cases that leaves victims, defendants and witnesses in a state of painful suspension for years. That is to say nothing of the underfunded, stretched services that operate within the CJS: the NPS, YOTs, mental health services.
Once again, it seems clear that the CJS has no inherent value to this government. Only when it offers an opportunity to ‘kickstart the economy’ or ‘support the construction industry’ does it become worthy of investment.
Criminal barrister, Red Lion Chambers, London EC4
Succession gets serious down on the farm
If my email inbox is anything to go by, lawyers are about to see a sharp rise in the number of enquiries they get for help with succession-related topics from rural clients.
The Covid-19 crisis is already resulting in big changes to farms and landed estates and has reminded us all, even if only at a subconscious level, of our own mortality.
This is prompting succession to be discussed in many instances where it had been avoided for years or even decades, sparking a new demand for professional support – everything from making wills to whole-business restructures.
Factor in the big drop in income that many in the countryside were already facing as a result of the changes to the farm support system, and there is a preparedness to address the potentially prickly topic of succession with a candour and urgency I have not witnessed before in my 20-year career as a farm business consultant.
I always tell clients that succession planning is not actually about retiring or even dying. It is about putting their business on the best possible long-term footing. It is about creating a foundation that will serve their children and grandchildren well, and giving everyone a clarity of direction, a peace of mind and a new focus which can re-energise a business.
Getting it right and doing it in a timely fashion allows the more senior generation to step back, while allowing the younger generation to take on more responsibility at the time that is right for them. The net result is a more profitable and resilient business that (whether it is in family, corporate or trust ownership) is better placed to pass through the generations undamaged by taxes and more enjoyable to be involved in. After all, the current tax regime can also be extremely beneficial to many in the rural community. The post-coronavirus tax bill will inevitably be higher and the system will be harder to navigate.
There needs to be a more joined-up approach, however, as the process requires input from a range of professionals. Lawyers, farm business consultants, accountants and potentially tax specialists need to sit together around the table more often with a farmer or estate client if they are to be able to offer the best advice. We need to do this if we are to help families and corporate clients truly understand what they want, give them the options as to how best to achieve it, then make it happen.
Lawyers might do well to make sure they have got a pair of wellies handy over the next year.
Managing director, CLM Farm Business Consultants, Hartfield, East Sussex
Fat of the land
It made me smile to see the headline in your 29 June issue, ‘NQ pay cuts herald tough year ahead’, above an article highlighting the predicament in Wales, where government cuts to legal aid have devastated real access to justice. The NQs in London will have to struggle by on £90,000 and it will be a ‘rocky year ahead’ for them, and yet the tens of thousands of hard-working solicitors across England and Wales, with many years’ experience, will battle on earning perhaps a third of the newbies.
I am not surprised the public still consider the profession to be awash with ‘Fat Cats’ – something which is so far removed from reality.
Solicitor and partner, Chattertons, Newark
Sites for sore eyes
I cannot help noticing the need for additional sites for courts to sit, in order to overcome the pressure arising from the impact of Covid-19.
It seems like only yesterday that the great closure of magistrates’ courts was put into effect.
I guess that is what happens when you take all the slack out of the system.