CROSS POSTED ON BYLINE.COM
Michael Gove, the justice secretary, is planning to dump on the citizens of Greater Manchester responsibility for running one of the worst funded and performing courts in England and Wales.
It is being packaged under the slogan ” Northern Powerhouse” but it amounts to making sure Labour has to take responsibility for the court at a time when the government is planning even more cuts to the judicial system which is already in chaos. I have written about this in Tribune magazine.
Already a damning report last month from the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee has accused the ministry of bringing the criminal justice system to breaking point after slashing 26 per cent from its budget and closing courts across the country. Another 15 per cent of cuts are proposed between now and 2020.
The report revealed for the first time how the impact of the cuts had on individual crown courts revealing the best and worst performers in handling trials in a system now bedevilled by delays, lawyer shortages, and inefficiencies. A backlog of more than 50,000 cases has built up.
On average only around a third of trials in Crown Courts went ahead as planned on the day they were due to start. One in 10 cases were not ready and were postponed to another day. Currently, 24 per cent of cases are withdrawn on the day they are due to start, most commonly because the defendant pleads guilty on the day.
In Greater Manchester, only 18 per of cases went ahead on the day (the only worse place was Lancashire with 16 per cent); 21 per cent were withdrawn on the day after the defendant pleaded guilty and more than half, the joint highest in the country, of cases (55 per cent) are put back because they cannot start on the day scheduled.
MPs tried to get information from the government on how the new devolved package to Greater Manchester would work but were told “there is quite a lot of detail to be worked out” even though the move had been included in the March Budget statement by George Osborne, the Chancellor.
To my mind this suggests that the proposal is nothing more than a” back of the envelope ” job by the Tories who have not thought out what exactly this will mean. Any sane person would have a plan in mind before making such a radical change. But then that is hardly surprising given the mess Gove has left behind at the Department of Education by rushing through plans for academies without checking financial controls.
Greater Manchester need to be on their guard that they are not being offered a poisoned chalice by the government – and need to negotiate very carefully what exactly is being offered by Gove to run this part of the judicial system. Otherwise they find themselves the whipping boy for failed Tory policies and be conveniently blamed for the cash starved judicial system.