By seeking too many prosecutions we can lose everything and get no conviction at all. Should we not be concentrating on recovering the money and compensating the victims rather than delighting in the criminal serving an extra year or two in prison and rejoicing as the total number of years sentenced increase beyond last year’s figures?
We all recognise that it is not desirable in society to have criminal gangs operating with a law unto themselves be it county lines gangs, large international cartels or and here is the real problem rogue governments who have the benefit of diplomatic immunity, huge financial backing and protection from their acolytes. Such people will use the money not merely for personal financial benefit to the leaders but also to spread whichever particular obsessive philosophy the particular group of zealots and political ambitionists may wish to promote.
If we are fighting a losing battle then surely we should use our forces where they will be most effective rather than bolstering numbers by prosecuting low-grade criminals such as the man making his socks. Although he may not be troubling the taxman, and tax avoidance of course is flavour of the month at the moment, at least we will recover VAT at 20% on some of it when he spends his money and every time the money continues to circulate. It is not ideal but given what we are facing and what funds are available prosecuting him and putting him in prison with the cost of keeping him there does not seem very attractive in the context of the real threats.
If the law is to be enforced on an international stage whether we are in or out of Europe we should not stay silent when countries including larger countries fail everyone by their corruption nor keep quiet for fear of well-organised and well-financed groups. Despite the delicate balance of on the one hand keeping on good terms with those who buy our products and yet weighing it against trying to do the right thing perhaps the time has come to speak openly to countries including large countries and apply the same standards to everybody rather than picking on smaller countries to criticise.
If we have genuine concerns internationally about law enforcement, law-making and standards which come with the maturity of a legal system such as the UK’s then we need to look beyond the man with his socks and join with other countries to create and maintain a higher standard of moral behaviour which applies to everybody equally whoever they are.
The key is persuading people to buy in rather than ever-increasing punishment. In some instances, armies can support criminals using weapons supplied to the governments who sponsor them by governments who deplore such activity. We will not wipe out crime, be it carried out for the motive of need or greed without education as distinct from doctrination. The legislators currently are fighting a losing battle.
What is probably unintended rebalancing in favour of the prosecution and encouraging people to plead guilty whether or not they have a defence in law is not reducing the burden. Our legal system is a mess. Courts stand empty whilst the backlog of cases grows. One is driven to the inevitable conclusion that of the Government is just not prepared to pay for the judges and juries etc and would rather leave people dangling on a string for months or perhaps more accurately years before their case is heard. Quite why many seem surprised that some of those people dangling are innocent is a mystery to me given the way that they are steamrollered trough the system.
What do I mean by re-balancing? Well the legal aid system is broken. Whilst there is no sympathy for lawyers surely it is time that the public recognises the efforts of those working at the bottom of the scale doing their very best and behaving not just as lawyers but social mentors and agony aunt. That army of criminal legal aid lawyers and paralegals who are paid so frugally that they will go out of business and I include the very large conglomerates which have been encouraged by successive Governments. Yes, it is easier to control the bigger law firms but that does not make them better or more profitable in this area; assuming of course that they do a job, which matches the public’s reasonable expectations.
Those who seek to escape what is, despite the gallant efforts many people involved in that system, in my view the mediocrity of a publically funded (legal aid) defence, can spend all their money savings and even remortgage their home to be acquitted only to find that having been told by Judge that they leave the court without a stain on the character they have become paupers and cannot recover their legal costs. What kind of justice is this? I suppose it is the kind of justice system which doesn’t burden the prosecution with costs incurred by innocent defendants therefore keeps the figures looking good or at least not as bad as they would be if cost was designated where it should be.
So as I set about the year 2020 and look for positives my thoughts turn to all those working in social services, the probation service the courts, law firms and charities and all of you working to improve our society. I think in particular of those who are not living in the past but who will look forward to the future and what working together we can all do to improve the moral fibre of not just our immediate family but also those around us. As all good lawyers should, let us look at the arguments of those with opposing views to ours and understand those arguments before we reject them or perhaps even buy into them.
This blog was written by: Stephen Fox
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