6th April 2021
Anyone who knows and cares about the criminal justice system in England and Wales knows that the system is collapsing – and that the word ‘system’ is itself hardly still applicable.
On the face of it, however, this presents a paradox.
For we have a government – with loud and shouty political and media supporters – committed to ‘Law and Order!’.
You would think that a government with such a stated priority would ensure that the substance of policy would have some correspondence to the rhetoric of its politics.
You would be wrong.
For, as this blog has averred elsewhere, there is a distinction – a dislocation – between the politics and the actuality of the criminal justice system.
It is easy for a politician to get claps and cheers with demands for ‘tougher penalties’ and ‘crackdowns on crime’!
Time-poor political reporters will type easily about ‘new laws’ and ‘longer sentences’ and so on.
And voters will nod-along, as they are fooled into thinking some useful thing is being done.
But there is no point having tougher and tougher penalties, and longer and longer sentences, and more and more laws, if the criminal justice system itself is not working.
As the former attorney general Dominic Grieve sets out in this article, the reality is that the system is halting and crashing.
Part of the problem is lack of cash – and for the the reasons Grieve submits.
But another part of the problem is a lack of policy seriousness – an assumption that it ultimately does matter that the criminal justice system comprises a motley of inadequate court buildings, demoralised staff, badly let contracts, ancient IT systems, health and safety horrors, a general lack of safety for everyone involved, and a general drift of the system towards discharging greater re-offending, and not less.
If you invited a demon to devise the worst possible state of affairs in the criminal justice system the current situation is pretty much what you would get.
But: ‘new laws’ and ‘longer sentences’ and ‘tougher penalties’ and ‘crackdowns on crime’!
Slogans that are like loose gear sticks and brakes, not attached to any other part of the vehicle.
Perhaps the only consolation is that such an absolute system failure tells against England and Wales becoming, in practice, an authoritarian state.
But it is not only authoritarian states that need a functioning criminal justice system – modern liberal democracies need working criminal justice systems too.
And so we have a system that should satisfy nobody – other than of course, dishonest purveyors of easy criminal justice solutions: fraudsters of modern politics.
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