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Government cuts ‘destroying’ Britain’s criminal-justice system

Criminal Bar Association blasts courts privatisation for ‘squandering public money’

By Alex Varley-Winter | 25 February 2013

Delays following the privatisation of court services are costing the taxpayer tens of millions of pounds, the chairman of the Criminal Bar Association warned.

Britain’s legal system is being destroyed by government cuts and changes to the way courts are run, said Michael Turner, who represents 3,600 lawyers as chairman of the Criminal Bar Association.

Turner claims that taxpayers’ money is being squandered, injustices covered up and the judiciary “muzzled” by ministers obsessed with secrecy.

“The whole of the judiciary has been muzzled” – Michael Turner, chairman, Criminal Bar Association

He told Exaro: “If you put a contract in place with a private supplier you have to monitor its effectiveness. Otherwise you do not know that it is doing what it says, which is saving the taxpayer money.”

“It costs £110 a minute to run a courtroom with a jury. Every minute of delay is costing someone further down the line. Delays are so endemic in our court system now.

“The taxpayer is picking up the tab on a bill that the taxpayer never sees, because GEOAmey, the company charged with bringing prisoners to court, cannot deliver, or because Applied Language Solutions supplies translators who cannot speak the language required.”

GEOAmey won the lucrative deal from the Ministry of Justice in August to escort prisoners between courts and jails.

But last year, the £900 million contract covering the transportation of inmates was branded “an absolute farce” by a judge because the new prison vans were too big to fit through court entrances, causing delays to hearings.

Turner also questioned the amount of profit made by G4S, the security company, on the back of taxpayers.

G4S holds a five-year £175 million contract for the provision of front-of-house security and facilities management in the North West, the North East, the Midlands and Wales.

“G4S is making a near £41 million profit over five years by paying £6.45 per hour to 800 security staff while charging £11.49 per employee-hour to the court service,” he said.

Although Turner has received the backing of defence barristers, he believes that judges can be pressured to stay silent about problems in courts because they are frightened of losing their jobs.

He said: “The whole of the judiciary has been muzzled, effectively by diktat from on high, and they are subject to internal discipline if they speak to the Press other than through the judicial press office or through a release from the lord chief justice.”

Three weeks ago, MPs suggested that the Ministry of Justice was in “contempt” over hampering an investigation into translation services for courts.

Turner is also concerned about growing secrecy in the judicial system. “Look at the other pieces of legislation that the government is seeking to introduce: secrecy in the courtroom, which is designed to protect the government from the revelation that they have been involved in extraordinary rendition and torture.”

A spokesman for G4S said that the company rejected Turner’s “misplaced allegations about our costs or about our treatment of employees”.

He said: “G4S has been absolutely transparent on the charging structures on its contract to provide integrated facilities management to around 350 Ministry of Justice sites across the North of England, the Midlands and Wales.”

The Ministry of Justice also rejected Turner’s claims, saying in response to a request under the Freedom of Information Act that the contract price to the department is “based on the provision of output specifications to a required standard and not on the hourly rates per employee.”

A spokesman for GEOAmey said: “We work closely with the Ministry of Justice to ensure that transfer movements are continually reviewed and the highest standards are met, and our efforts have led to improvements over the last year.

“At the outset of the contract in 2011, we discovered that, in a very small number of courts, access was not possible for some of our prisoner-transfer vehicles. We took action at the time to resolve these issues and have had no subsequent problems.”

A spokeswoman for Applied Language Solutions, said: “Our interpreters are qualified to at least the minimum standards required to provide services to the criminal-justice system and many are qualified well beyond this.”

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Exaro News investigates matters of public interest and seeks to uncover the truth.