by Richard North
Note: My only experience so far of the criminal justice system was when, in 2007, I tried to lie my way out of a speeding fine. Within the assumptions of the system – ie, bearing in mind that I was guilty as charged – I think the Magistrates treated me rather well. A £300 fine, plus three points, was less than I might have got. Also, the whole experience was a very useful lesson. I was an intelligent, highly literate and fluent middle class white male, with a legal education and some experience of arguing cases in the civil courts. The absolute maximum penalty I might collect was a £1000 fine and six points on my licence. I still did a little leak into my pinstripe trousers as I recited the oath. How must a criminal prosecution feel for those without my advantages?
The bias to the defendant that used to be the most striking feature of our system is an absolute prerequisite for justice. Making defendants liable for their own legal costs is another step into our plutocratic police state. I grant there are arguments against any kind of legal aid, civil or criminal. But these apply in a state of society different from our own. When virtually everything is against the law, or can be pronounced against the law by the authorities, and when individuals within the criminal justice system cannot be held personally liable for corruption or oppressive behaviour, and when legal services are so heavily regulated and cartellised, not to underwrite defence costs is an attack on justice. SIG
In the corporate worlds of modern police forces, it is no longer Parliament which decides what is and what is not a crime. Rather, chief constables and their minions decide between them what is a “priority” crime category – i.e., that which they are prepared to investigates.
One finds that, if the crime is not on the priority list, as defined, then it will be ignored. And the lesson for the criminal fraternity – which includes a large number of local government officers – is that as long as you confine yourselves to “non-priority” crime, you are above the law.
What is also beginning to emerge is the sinister effect of legal aid cuts. Where most people accused of a criminal offence used to have their legal fees paid by the state, that list is now shrinking to vanishing point.
Malicious police, aware of this, can lay spurious or exaggerated charges, in the certain knowledge that they are forcing their victims to gamble thousands of pounds on a skewed court system, in order to prove their innocence.
Small wonder, many take the easy way out and plead guilty in order to reduce their risk of being on the wrong end of court fees, far in excess of any potential fine or other penalty.
In terms of weight of penalties imposed, it seems that the greatest crime of all is to seek to defend yourself against accusations from the state. Win or lose, your defence will invariable cost more that the fine imposed if you lose – and then your penalty is increased because you had the temerity to attempt a defence.
Even to partake in the “justice” process requires of the individual the completion of a highly intrusive “means” form, failure to complete which is not only a criminal offence but legitimises the system to impose the maximum scale of financial penalties and costs.
You can actually see why Booker is complaining about the court system, but his complaints are only the half of it. The system across the board is unfit for purpose and terminally corrupt.
What these people do not seem to realise is that an efficient and fair justice system is the safety valve of society. Screwing down the valve can only ever lead to trouble, yet they seem unaware of what they are doing. In the nature of things, it is only a matter of time before they find out.