Graphic by Vj Eon Artist
We are not experiencing short term ‘Austerity’ to balance the books, we are experiencing the controlled demolition of the welfare state – transferring the UK from a social democracy to a corporate state. Yesterday we covered Schools, Health and Social Security. Today we cover Law and Justice.
We Outsourced Justice to G4S
In 1992, G4S became the first private contractor to run a state prison – taking over HM Prison Wolds. Since then G4S have been allowed, by successive governments, to quietly buy up large tracts of our formerly public police, security and justice sector.
It is increasingly likely that if someone commits a crime in the UK they will be arrested by a G4S provided officer, detained in a G4S cell, transported to court by a G4S van driven by G4S officers, the court will be manned by G4S security officers, they’ll be sent to a G4S prison, and released into the G4S probation service to live in a G4S run half way house.
The list of G4S infrastructure is eye watering:
G4S have been expanding their control of the police service since the mid 90’s and now manage:
30 custody suites
A national database of 30,000 former police officers & staff contracted back to cover resourcing gaps
Large portions of the forensic service
Prison and Detention
Since the early 90’s governments have contracted out the build and management of prisons to the private sector. At present, there are fourteen such prisons out of 139 prisons in the UK.
G4S pioneered the ‘Working Prison’ where inmates work a 40 hour week for next to nothing for private corporations such as engineering firm, Norpro.
G4S run prison transport services & manned security.
They also design and building monitoring services and sell them back to government.
Immigration & Borders
G4S run two Immigration Removal Centres – these are effectively prisons in which to hold migrant families and individuals ahead of deportation.
G4S also run two regions of the UKBA’s COMPASS contract to provide accommodation for immigrants/asylum seekers.
7 specially designed residential children’s homes for children with severe emotional and behavioural problems.
G4S is now focusing on gaining more lucrative PFI contracts to build new prisons, as the government announces the closure of 7 existing prisons. The firm has also built up a new Offender Rehabilitation Team to make use of the government’s decision to almost fully privatise the Probation service. The government has announced it will put 70% of the service out to competitive tender – while banning the existing Probation service from competing for the contracts.
Last year, the public probation service met or exceeded all its performance targets – with victim feedback positive in 98% of cases, and in 2011 the service received the British Quality Foundation’s Gold Medal. This is a service at the top of its game. The government want to hand it over to companies like G4S, who’s performance history suggests our government is putting its ideological commitment to privatisation above its duty of care to the public.
Sexual Assault Support Centres
The government has commissioned G4S to run two support centres supporting victims of rape and sexual attacks in the West Midlands. These sexual assault referral centres, in Castle Vale and Walsall, provide a range if support services for the victims without them having to contact the police.
G4S trained crisis workers will operated the manned support centres, conduct medical assessments and make recommendations for further action and support required by the victim.
According to charity Rape Crisis, 85,000 are raped, and more than 400,000 sexually assaulted every year in England and Wales.
Men, women and children who have faced the personal tragedy of rape or sexual assault are being turned into a source of profit for one of the worst offending corporations in the UK.
Yet G4S is just one of the companies like Serco and others who are seeking to profit from crime. In order to make more profit, it makes sense to have more criminals in the system – and this might well be delivered by the impending cuts to Legal Aid.
The Cuts to Legal Aid
Legal Aid is taxpayer funded financial support provided to people for a range of legal services including:
Legal Help – advice on your rights and options and help with negotiating
Help at Court – someone speaks on your behalf at court, but does not formally represent you
Family Mediation – helps you to come to an agreement in a family dispute after your relationship has broken down without going to court. It can help to resolve problems involving children, money and the family home
Family Help – help or representation in family disputes like drawing up a legal agreement
Legal Representation – representation at court by a solicitor or barrister
Controlled Legal Representation – representation at mental health tribunal proceedings or before the First-tier Tribunal in asylum or immigration cases.
The government is about to cut £220m from Legal Aid provision, which amounts to slashing the £1bn budget by almost a quarter. The cut is combined with punitive changes to the rules which leading Law and Justice Bodies warn will transform the much lauded UK justice system into no better than a ‘banana republic’.
The government is cutting the number of contracts given to firms for Legal Aid from 1,600 to just 400, through a competitive tendering process, with a price cap set at 17.5% lower than previous costs. This is likely to see contracts awarded to low cost, low quality, law mega shops like Tesco, G4S and even haulier Eddie Stobart. Law bodies argue this will deny those reliant on Legal Aid from specialist legal advice and representation, adversely impacting disabled people, those with poor mental health and asylum groups. This process will also auger the closure of more than 1,500 high street solicitors within a year.
The government is also removing the right to choose your own solicitor, unless you are rich enough not to require Legal Aid. This means anyone reliant on Legal Aid will have a state appointed legal representative, giving the state the power to choose the lowest cost option, regardless of the needs of the user.
According to the Guardian:
“Former appeal court judge Anthony Hooper told BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme that the proposals ‘would eliminate choice altogether’ and damage quality. The system would lead to what he called government-allocated providers representing vulnerable defendants, including those who may be mentally ill. Specialist firms of solicitors who represented war veterans who had served in Iraq or Afghanistan, would ‘probably disappear off the face of the earth’ while someone arrested in a city such as Norwich on a complex fraud case would no longer be able to call on an expert in the area from London, Manchester or elsewhere.”
These low cost law firms will also be paid exactly the same fee whether the client pleads guilty early or protests their innocence, creating a longer, more complex case. This creates a personal incentive on legal representatives to encourage an early guilty plea from their Legal Aid clients.
A new residency test is also being applied which will bar those with ‘little or no connection to this country’ from Legal Aid support for civil cases. The Catholic Church has condemned this change as harmful to victims of human trafficking and domestic abuse.
In a quite astounding move, the state will remove eligibility for Legal Aid for Judicial Review where it deems likelihood of success to be less than 50%. Quite how this can be estimated is anyone’s guess. Furthermore, the Judicial Review is being used to great effect by disabled people, and workfare victims to challenge the government’s unlawful welfare reforms. In future, these cases could become impossible as the state (the proposed defendant in the case) will have the power to deny the funding to make such cases viable.
The Law Society, which represents more than 120,000 solicitors, confirm they are willing to sue the government over these planned changes to Legal Aid which they say are “so unworkable and damaging that they are likely to push the justice system beyond breaking point to a devastating collapse”. Law Society President Lucy Scott-Moncrieff said:
“The removal of client choice is a red line. We believe, on the advice of leading counsel, that it is unlawful…Combined with the cut in fees, the potential impact on the quality of justice in this country is profound.”
Time to Wake Up
We have a neoliberal consensus in our parliamentary, academic and media institutions which make it almost impossible to peaceably oppose the status quo. The Justice system is the one institution left with any claim to independence, and now that too has been utterly compromised.
The tax cut gifted to the richest in the land in the last budget will cost the Treasury £3bn a year. This is three times the cost of the entire Legal Aid budget. There is public money enough to provide tax cuts for the wealthiest, yet not enough to provide justice for the poorest. These are not essential cuts, they are choices.
This is not a case of poor people suffering austerity while the wealthiest live large. It is a case of poor people suffering austerity in order that the wealthy live large. The Law and Justice system is being rapidly re-engineered to ensure that those suffering at the bottom are left with no lawful means of opposing their ever worsening conditions.
Austerity is nothing more than the controlled demolition of the welfare state, and social democracy itself. The nation we are turning into is a less compassionate, less equal, less just nation than we have been before. This is a great step backwards and will cost us not only in human suffering, but in human lives.
Join and support the Save Legal Aid Campaign.
Join and support the Sound Off For Justice Campaign.