Written by David Tilley, PCS
The meeting on Monday evening, called as part of the TUC’s ‘Speak up for justice’ campaign backed by unions including PCS, Napo, GMB and POA, heard from PCS rep Austin Harney, Tania Bassett from Napo, Steve Gillan, general secretary of the POA and TUC assistant general secretary Paul Nowak.
Speakers said that our justice system is under unprecedented attack by the coalition government. Probation, policing and prison services are being privatised, more than 100 courts have closed, the legal aid budget has been slashed, and there have been drastic cuts to funding.
Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust, who chaired the meeting said: “I can’t think of a time when we have seen such an unprecedented scale and rate of change. We are witnessing the collapse of something most of us value.”
She said it was important to not just talk about the problems but come up with solutions.
Blighted by government
Tania Bassett explained that the probation service was 106 years old and had won awards for its excellent work but blighted by the government’s transforming rehabilitation reforms.
She said as a result of chronic understaffing 2,000 cases remained unallocated. This was compounded by fundamental changes on 1 June when the 35 probation trusts in England and Wales were closed to be replaced by 21 community rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) and a national probation service.
From early 2015 the companies will be run by private or voluntary sector bidders, often with no experience of the service.
Tania said: “Since 1 June the probation service has been in complete and utter chaos and staff are leaving in their droves.”
She said that prisoners were being denied parole hearings and that this summer 2 Napo members took their own lives because they couldn’t cope with the pressure of their work following the government’s reforms.
She also highlighted the appalling track record in the public sector of some of the potential bidders’ for the CRCs, such as Sodexo and its management of Northumbria prison. And also Capita, which despite being fined £54,000 for its failure to supply court interpreters on a language services deal.
Napo is running a campaign to prevent the sale of the CRCs.
Austin Harney, who works at the Office of the Public Guardian, said PCS members have suffered unprecedented attacks under the present government with 23% cuts across the justice sector by 2015 and a further 10% by 2016.
He said that cuts to legal aid has made “access to justice increasingly only allowed for those who can afford it”.
These cuts have caused chaos with more and more people representing themselves in court. He also said that one of the biggest threats to justice was the “government’s love affair with privatisation”.
He also praised strike action taken by PCS members against the privatisation and offshoring of shared services in the Ministry of Justice, which threatens hundreds of jobs and threatens data security, with action in Bootle and Newport earlier this year.
Chronic prison overcrowding was described by Steve Gillan who said the prison population had almost doubled since 1993 from 44,000 to 85,000 at present and this has been
exacerbated by the justice secretary Chris Grayling closing 18 prisons.
“Prison officers do a difficult task on behalf of society for little recognition,” he said. “Prison overcrowding is a stain on British society.”
He called on successive governments to “stop being tough on crime in media and have sensible, cohesive policies”.
Paul Nowak said there needed to be investment in public services and that the public sector pay freeze/cap needed to be ended. He said he wanted to see the end of the idea that the “private sector knows best”.
“I think justice is too important to be left under-resourced and outsourced to the privateers,” he said. “The evidence is on our side, the public is on our side.”
Sign the petition to tell justice minister Chris Grayling and home secretary Theresa May to put Justice before profit.
This article originally appeared on the PCS website http://www.pcs.org.uk/en/news_and_events/pcs_comment/index.cfm/fringe-speaking-up-for-justice