I admit it, I’m in a bad mood.
It’s 30 degrees outside and somehow I am laid up with a vicious cold: streaming nose, throat lined with barbed wire, raging temperature, snorting my Olbas inhaler every five seconds.
Maybe that explains why, when I started catching up with the most recent news in the legal sphere, my blood pressure almost detonated the gauge.
The first thing that happened is that I read the latest Better Case Management newsletter (does anyone else apart from me read the Better Case Management newsletters?). Now, I appreciate I may not be the target audience for this weighty tome – I get the impression it’s only aimed at Crown Court judges and civil servants – but issue 10 of the BCM (see link here) is a veritable masterclass in entering the Bollocksphere.
(There is actually a web page called the Bollocksphere, and very entertaining it is too – see link here.)
Clearly our Senior Presiding Judge (or whoever writes the BCM for him) has spent time traversing the Bollocksphere, or has, at the very least, been on work experience at the Wernham Hogg Paper Company, Slough.
Here are just a few examples:
“Strong collaborative working has brought about some truly significant improvements in the way we deliver justice, to the undoubted benefit of victims, witnesses, defendants, prosecutors, defence representatives, court staff and judges. The changes effected in a very short period of time have been simply exceptional.”
So, translated from Bollocksphere to English, what exactly could this mean?
So far as I can see, it means: “We’ve got together with the civil servants who hold the purse strings of the criminal justice system and as a result of their orders we’ve decided that the rules of evidence and procedure which are supposed to form the backbone of justice are an inconvenience so have dispensed with them. Simples!” I could be wrong about that, mind, since I’m not fluent in management speak.
“By way of example, in recent months we have witnessed:
A decrease by almost 50% in the number of hearings that are required to resolve a guilty plea in the Crown Court (this represents a truly substantial saving in resources);
An increase in the number of cases committed for sentence, which strongly indicates that guilty pleas are being entered at a laudably early opportunity in the magistrates’ court;
A significant upward trend in the number of Early Guilty Pleas sentenced at the PTPH, thereby, once again, saving resources and providing a swifter result for victims, witnesses and defendants.”
So underneath all the ‘idea showers’, is what this is all about (i) limiting the Defendant’s opportunity to receive considered advice on the evidence against him/her, (ii) strong-arming him/her into pleading guilty at the magistrates’ court when even the CPS often don’t know what their own case is, let alone anyone else and (iii) jumping into sentencing with both feet even in cases where a report (like a psychiatric report, for example) might provide important information and assistance to the court. All those probation officers must be twiddling their thumbs, eh?
Still, the Powers That Be seem happy with it.
“At the risk of sounding like a Stalinist Commissar from the early years of the 20th century” – too late! – “we are now in my view at a watershed moment: not only must we maintain this momentum but we must ensure these impressive cultural changes become a permanent and embedded part of our criminal justice system.”
Let me, ahem, ‘unpack that statement’.
(Pic by the wonderful Cartoonstock: http://www.cartoonstock.com)
Roughly translated, this means all practitioners are screwed, since the Powers That Be will not brook any dissent from the ranks. Express concerns about the dumbing down of justice, and you will be ignored.
“It is expected that judges will exercise leadership in the courtroom, actively and robustly managing each and every case, identifying guilty pleas (where that is the true position) or establishing the extant trial issues.”
Translated as: Judges will tell the Prosecution what their case is, decide what advice the Defence should give their client, and order the Defendant to plead guilty – because, after all, your client knows whether he/she is guilty, right? Buzzword bingo!
“The LITs will shortly be asked to provide their views on BCM so as to assist the NIT in its objective of continuing to improve the system.”
(Apparently this is something to do with Local Implementation Teams, National Implementation Teams and, possibly, Bollocksphere Central Management. Though of course, I’m only indulging in a spot of ‘thinking outside of the box’ and ‘postulating a cascade of blue sky thinking’ when I say that.)
In the meantime, as if that wasn’t enough, over in the bubble of super-regulator the Legal Services Board, the chief executive Neil Buckley has found time to ‘touch base’ with those legal professionals whose practising certificate dues probably pay to keep his organisation circulating in the Bollocksphere: see link to the Law Gazette piece here.
In a pronouncement which David Brent himself could not have made up, Buckley decides to ‘punch the puppy’ that pays his salary by suggesting that professional lawyers using and promoting the positions of ‘solicitor’ (and presumably, also ‘barrister’) are acting in an anti-competitive way!
In fact, according to the Gazette’s report on his ‘reach out’, “there is a legacy of ‘strong professional identities’ that may impact upon competition. The LSB says that in 2015 solicitors had 58% of the UK legal sector market by turnover while barristers had 9%”.
So, let’s ‘pick this up and run with it’.
“These professional groups by their nature have a tendency towards shared cultural norms which can have some benefits, but which also lead to behaviours that mute competition between providers.” An example of such ‘behaviours’ is the prevalence of the term ‘solicitor’ over individual firm branding, the report quotes.
Taking a ‘helicopter view’, roughly translated this means that the LSB think that consumers can properly be served and protected by reducing restrictions on practice, and those who are regulated to practise in courts in particular, by reducing or completely eroding any semblance of regulated professional standards!
It’s, um, ‘not rocket science’!
In the meantime, those of us down at the coalface have to sweep aside the shit shovelled out by these quangocrats in order to be able to, you know, actually be able to DO THE JOBS FOR WHICH WE TRAINED FOR YEARS. It almost makes you wonder why you bothered spending all that time and money to get professional qualifications.
Truly, we are lions led by donkeys. In the meantime, I am going back to dinner ‘Al Desko’. Such is the life of us ‘professionals’.