Thursday, 11 December 2014

Views of a Litigator after 30 Years in Criminal Law

Today for the first time in many years I have thought it necessary to write about my frustration with the legal system. Believe me, there are so many things that frustrate me about it but until very recently I have not shouted; not screamed at anyone about our failing legal system and the fact that the hours of work we put in are not reflected in our rate of pay.

I have said nothing about reading papers on weekends and having to shut out my family for free; or the fact that I get as much money for ten hours representing a client accused of rape at the police station as I do for an hour on a shoplifting. Nothing about being shut in a room with a client who might assault me waiting for 15 minutes for an officer to open the door for me. The reason I haven't spoken about these things is because at the centre of my reason for doing this job is the value in helping another human being.

This is why I am being moved to write. The notion that it is okay to lock a person in a cell for 23 hours a day because there are not enough people working in a prison. I recently had a Prison Mutiny trial taking place at the Crown Court because prisoners objected to being locked up for 23 hours a day.

Then more recently I saw the effect of being locked up for so long. A client of mine received a prison sentence and I went to visit him to discuss his appeal. While I was there the prison officers, the prisoners and the staff all spoke about the tensions at the prison. Prisoners spoke to each other about it and so did I with the staff and officers. But when I saw my client that morning, the loss in weight, the blank stare, the sense of defeat in his eyes.... who could possibly say that this treatment is okay?

For the record I was at HMP High Down at the time, but does it matter where? What matters is that there are people that think that this is acceptable. And they are not prisoners, prison officers, solicitors, barristers and in the most part not even police officers: they are politicians. It is a National Disgrace that we should never excuse and never accept.

The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the firm or its partners.

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