Archives For G4S

Corporate Profiles: G4S

kamsandhu —  October 16, 2014 — Leave a comment

In part one of our profile on G4S, we focused on the UK services that this security giant has taken over, click here to read.

In part two, we look at G4S’ international record of human rights abuses and violations.

G4S-logo-for-website-feature-2

INTERNATIONAL COMPLICITY IN HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSES

Palestine:

G4S bought two major Israeli private security companies (Hashmira in 2002 – now G4S Israel – and Aminut Moked Artzi in 2010) and signed a contract with the Israeli Prison Authority and are now providing security and prison services in Israel and the Occupied Territories, including:

• providing security for the apartheid wall

• providing security and scanning for checkpoints in the West Bank and Gaza.

This raises issues of legality – some of these checkpoints form part of the illegal route of the apartheid wall

• protects businesses and residential clients based in settlements in the Occupied Territories – also may be legally problematic due to it’s potential link to complicity in violations of international criminal law

• installed a command room in a West Bank prison, where visiting is also highly restricted

• providing services to a number of prisons and a detention facility in Israel: Israeli prisons house detainees who have been transferred from arrest in the Occupied Territories, which violates the Fourth Geneva Convention, along with Palestinian child detainees. Violence, torture and detention without trial are all known to take place at these prisons and family visits are often very difficult to obtain.

• providing security equipment for Israeli Police in West Bank

Private Military Security contracts:

G4S bought the private military security company ArmorGroup in 2008 – part of a booming industry of Private Military Security Companies (PMSCs) which undertake activities that used to be carried out by state militaries. For G4S these have included contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Guantanamo Bay:

In 2014 G4S won a £70m contract to service Guantanamo Bay Naval Base

HUMILIATION, EXPLOITATION, ABUSE, INJURY – AND DEATH

Although a lot of the above could also fit under this category, there are some key cases where individuals have suffered or died in the care or at the hands of G4S.

• 2014: violence broke out at Manus Island immigration detention centre – Australia. Iranian asylum seeker, Reza Barati, was killed and 79 other people were seriously injured. G4S were ‘directly responsible’ for the violence in which their staff directly participated and ‘went on what can only be described as a violent rampage’. G4S staff running the detention centre were also ‘grossly under-trained’.

• 2014 – 79 year old disabled former serviceman awarded £6000 damages after suffering humiliation at the hands of G4S prison officers

• 2014 – G4S criticised for using immigration detainees as cheap labour, paying  as little as £1 per hour for cooking and cleaning duties

• 2013 – G4S were running Mangaung prison in South Africa where they were accused of ‘shocking’ abuses (including electric shocks and forced injections). South African government temporarily took control from G4S to investigate allegations.

• 2012 – ‘Unacceptable force’ used by G4S staff on a pregnant woman in a wheelchair who was being forcibly removed from the UK .

• 2010- Jimmy Mubenga died at the hands of G4S security guards who were restraining him while attempting to deport him to Angola as part of their contract to deport foreign nationals. The inquest into his death concluded that he was unlawfully killed. G4S have since lost their deportations contract, but the case highlighted a number of serious concerns with the way deportations are carried out and the treatment of deportees, including the use of dangerous restraining techniques and a payments system which prioritises keeping detainees quiet, ‘pervasive racism’ within G4S detention staff and lack of important training and legally required accreditation.

• 2011 – G4S fined $285,000 for its involvement in the death of Mr Ward, an Aboriginal elder who died of heatstroke while being transported in a prison van.

• 2010 Khu Mlotshwa, a Zimbabwean asylum seeker, sustained a broken wrist whilst being deported from the UK by G4S guards.

• 2009 – An armed guard employed by G4S in Iraq murdered two colleagues and was employed there despite warnings of his violent behaviour

• 2004 – 15 year old Gareth Myatt died while being restrained by staff at G4S run Rainsbrook Secure Training Centre

by Tekla Szerszynska

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1. Iain Duncan Smith used false statistics to justify benefit cuts

Image: theweek.co.uk

Image: theweek.co.uk

Following a complaint from the charity Parkinson’s UK, the official statistics watchdog has revealed that the DWP repeatedly used false disability statistics to justify welfare changes and cuts.

The DWP and it’s spokespeople repeatedly claimed that the majority of those on DLA (Disability Living Allowance) were give benefits for life without supporting medical evidence. But the UK Statistics Authority (UKSA) has revealed that only 10% of those passed for life support had no supporting medical evidence.

“The DWP also claimed that “under the current system of DLA, 71% of claimants get indefinite awards without systematic reassessments. However the UKSA found that in the last two years of the DLA, just 23% and 24% of claimants were given indefinite awards.

…..Last year Duncan Smith claimed that 8000 people who had been affected by the benefits cap had moved back into work. The UKSA found that this figure was “unsupported by the official statistics.”

Politics.co.uk

Parkinson’s UK policy advisor Donna O’Brien said:

“The Department of Work and Pensions has a long track record of misusing statistics when it comes to the benefits system, and it’s clear this was a tactic to vindicate further welfare cuts.”

 Read more about this story here.

2. Farage’s excruciating LBC interview forces him and the public to face his hypocrisy, finally

Farage faced a difficult interview when he agreed to appear on James O’Brien’s LBC radio show which resulted in UKIP’s communications director intervening to stop the interview.

O’Brien questioned Farage on racism and discrimination, highlighting that Farage’s attitude and comments were discriminatory against his own wife and children who are German.

Well done James O’Brien. Just a shame it took so long for this sort of questioning on UKIP policies and rhetoric to happen.

Watch the full interview here.

 

3. Universal Credit could lead to increase in error and fraud, warns Work and Pensions Committee

The government has stated that the IT system IRIS (Integrated Risk and Intelligence Service) will be used to perform safeguards against fraud throughout Universal Credit, as it does with housing benefit now. However, there are now problems with how the system will run, and access the necessary data – which could mean the overhaul of the system and a design of a new one which could put the system back, and increase fraud and error in the meantime.

Chair of the Work and Pensions Committee, Dame Anne Begg MP, said:

“Through the use of RTI—real-time information on PAYE earnings—Universal Credit has the potential over the longer term to substantially reduce fraud and error in the benefits system. However, this could be seriously undermined because of the uncertainty about how DWP will administer the housing element of Universal Credit without increased risks of fraud and error.”

Read more about this story here.

4. Government quietly announces proposals to privatise child protection services

The Department for Education, under Michael Gove, has a proposal to permit the outsourcing of child protection services to companies like G4S and Serco.

Image: The Telegraph

Image: The Telegraph

This has alarmed experts, who say “profit-making companies should not be in charge of such sensitive family matters, and warn that the introduction of the profit motive into child protection may distort the decision-making process.”

Professor Ellen Munro, who was commissioned by Gove in 2011 to carry out a review into child protection services, said:

“……establishing a market in child protection would create perverse incentives for private companies to either take more children into care or leave too many languishing with dangerous families.

“It’s a bad idea,” she told the Guardian. “It’s the state’s responsibility to protect people from maltreatment. It should not be delegated to a profit-making organisation.”

Sign the petition to keep profit out of child protection here. 

Read more about this story here.

by Kam Sandhu @KamBass

The government have been taking steps towards removing access to justice. New laws and policies mean that government and authorities cannot be held to account or even appealed against, unless you are very wealthy. The changes are not motivated by saving money.

“If these proposals go through they will stop people from disputing unfair evictions from their homes. They will stop babies from having their interests represented in family disputes. And they will stop the families of people killed in custody or detention from fighting for the truth.

“This isn’t a cut that we’re talking about. The changes to legal aid won’t save even one penny, in fact they will cost money by causing havoc to the legal system. They are not motivated by a need to save money – these are ideological changes aimed at ruining justice for poor people and handing more contract cash to G4S and Serco.”

UK Uncut have now called for a day of civil disobedience, blocking the roads outside courts across the country, to show that this assault on our rights, equality and justice will not go unchallenged.

Find out more here. 

Image: UK Uncut

Image: UK Uncut

1) Social care for children to be privatised

Government plans to allow companies to bid for contracts to manage social care for vulnerable children in England. At the same time, there are plans to relax and drop laws that safeguard the quality and compliance of those looking after children.

Labour have voiced concerns over the removal of safeguards and profiteering code of companies who may bid for the contracts, particularly after it emerged that two of the biggest outsourcing companies, G4S and Serco, had ‘over-billed the taxpayer for charging to tag offenders who were dead or in prison.’

G4S is one of the largest outsourcing companiesin the UK Image: The Guardian

G4S is one of the largest outsourcing companiesin the UK Image: The Guardian

G4S have already had several inquests into fatal restraint methods which lead to the unlawful killing of Jimmy Mubenga and the death of a 15 year old boy, after which ‘the Coroner, Judge Pollard wrote personally to then justice secretary Jack Straw to ensure that no other child should be harmed by improper restraint methods, and to highlight the remarkable failure of G4S’s management to act on reports of abuses.’

Lisa Nandy, shadow children’s minister, has written to the regulatory reform committee to urge them to reject plans:

“It appears to remove the obligation for a national minimum standard relating to the fitness of providers and any mechanisms for removing providers who fail to meet these standards. The implications are potentially very serious and could have a profound impact on the lives of some of the most vulnerable children in the country.”

Read more about this story here.

2) DWP admits ATOS failing, a day into Westminster recess

Despite claiming for months that the controversial practices of ATOS were improving, the Department for Work and Pensions has revealed that there are severe problems within ATOS which will require an in-depth review and removal of its monopoly status as supplier of the fit-to-work tests. The news came a day into Westminster recess.

This means that Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Iain Duncan Smith can avoid being questioned on the matter in the Commons until September.

The problems with ATOS have been found to be so severe that staff across the board will require re-training and strict monitoring processes if they are to continue.

Read more about this story here.

3) Archbishop wants to rival payday lenders

The new Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has said that he wants to rival payday lenders such as Wonga, by helping re-build and invest in credit unions.

However, a day later it was revealed that the church had indirectly invested in Wonga.

Thankfully, rather than standing down from the challenge the Most Rev Welby, admitted that he was embarrassed and would launch an inquiry into the investments of the church. He told the BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme:

“It shouldn’t happen, it’s very embarrassing, but these things do happen and we have to find out why and make sure it doesn’t happen again” adding that there are difficulties in deciding the ethical values of certain businesses, and this needed reviewing.”

Having previously worked as an oil industry financial executive, the Archbishop of Canterbury does seem to have a grounding in understanding money, and has previously campaigned for a cap on the interest rates of payday lending. Through this new project, the Archbishop hopes to provide more choice to those in need.

The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby Image: The Telegraph

The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby Image: The Telegraph

Mayor of London, Boris Johnson said:

“[The archbishop] is not turning over the tables of the money lenders, he’s bringing in his own money lending tables.”

Perhaps the government could take a leaf out of the Archbishop’s book.

Read more about this story here.

4) Bedroom Tax Protest sees thousands make a stand across the country

The pressure remains high on the government to remove the bedroom tax, as thousands up and down the country took part in a national day of action on Saturday. Protests were help in Barnsley, Newcastle, Wembley, East London, Manchester and more.

The below video is from the protest in Manchester where attendees and drummers took their message to the Manchester Civil Justice centre:

See more about the protest here.

by Kam Sandhu @KamBass
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In another blow to the coalition’s efforts to streamline welfare spending and increase employment, figures released on Thursday suggest that the Work Programme, brought in during 2011, isn’t working.

Image: Parliament Uk

Image: Parliament Uk

The Work Programme, now two years into practice, was a coalition initiative which aimed to get 1.2 million long-term unemployed people living in the UK, back into a job.

The programme runs by using private contractors such as A4E and G4S, to help lift the long-term unemployed, those who have been out of a job for more than a year, into employment. These contractors operate on payment-by-result basis, meaning that the more people they move into employment lasting 6 months or more, the more money they are awarded by the government.

However, the latest figures released by the Department for Work and Pensions show that just 1 in 10 people have been helped back to work by the £5 billion scheme in the last two years, meaning that so far, each job has cost the taxpayer around £40,000 to secure.

Despite the seemingly obvious shortfalls of the scheme, on Thursday after the release of the government’s latest figures, Employment Minister Mark Hoban said: “The improvement in performance over the past year has been profound and the scheme is getting better and better. And because providers are rewarded for success, the Work Programme is designed to give taxpayers a far better deal than previous schemes.”

Crisis Homeless Charity accuses government of spin on Work Programme figures.

Crisis Homeless Charity accuses government of spin on Work Programme figures.

Although the figures do suggest that the scheme is improving, many have still accused the government of “spin”, with homelessness charity Crisis pointing out that statistics also showed just 1 in 20 sick and disabled people on the scheme have managed to find lasting employment.Despite improvements in its overall employment numbers since last year, which saw just 9,000 people finding a job lasting 6 months or more, the programme has missed government targets across the board. The most alarming of these missed targets is the Work Programmes effectiveness to get those who receive Employment Support Allowance (ESA) back in to work.

ESA is the benefit for those who are ill or disabled and therefore find it hard to find a job – the very people that the programme was supposed to be helping the most, as invariably, those who receive ESA have been unemployed for the longest terms. From March 2012 to March 2013, just 5.3 per cent of those who received ESA found a job that lasted 6 months or more – well below the governments own minimum target of 16.5%.

When asked about the effectiveness of the Work Programme, Crisis Chief executive Leslie Morphy said: “The Work Programme was set up to help those furthest from work back into employment. On that measure, it has been a miserable failure. The Government’s own statistics, our research, charities and thinktanks are unanimous: homeless people and others who need more support have been left parked without meaningful help.”

The DWP has issued ‘improvement notices’ for 12 contractors who are “lagging behind” their contracted levels for helping claimants in to jobs, in an effort to try and boost numbers by the end of this year, with the threat of termination of the contracts if the companies do not show “significant” changes with their job success figures.

Shadow work and pensions secretary Liam Byrne has also waded in to the debate over government spin, saying: “The Work Programme is still failing and failing badly.

“The government missed every single one of its minimum targets and in nearly half the country, the Work Programme is literally worse than doing nothing.”

Careers Development Group in East London, Pertemps in Solihull, Newcastle College Group in Solihull, Rehab Job Fit in Wales and Newcastle College Group in Yorkshire have the worst conversion rates for getting those who receive ESA into work, managing to help just 2% of those who are on the Work Programme as – opposed to the minimum set target of 16.5%.

According to the Independent, the Government was warned by the private contractors that the cost of helping those on ESA could not be met by the scheme.

Kirsty McHugh, chief executive of the Employment Related Services Association, said: “It will inevitably take longer to help those on ESA into sustained jobs as many are a long way from the labour market. Over 25 per cent of people on ESA have been out of work for at least 11 years and therefore we’re going to need to pool skills and local health budgets with Work Programme cash to help more of this group into work.”

If this is indeed the case then why have the government not already started looking into other ways in which they can help those on ESA? Well, the answer, as always, seems to be money.

George Osborne delivering the Spending Review Image: The Telegrapg

George Osborne delivering the Spending Review Image: The Telegrapg

In his budget speech this week Chancellor George Osborne announced that as part of a bid to save £11.5bn in 2015, the DWP will have to find a further 9.5% of savings in the department’s running costs.

He warned that this will require a “difficult drive for efficiency” and a “hard-headed assessment of under-performing programmes”.

Richard Hawkes, chief executive of the disability charity Scope, agrees: “These figures will confirm what many disabled already know about the Work Programme – it’s not working for them. A one-size-fits-all approach means disabled people aren’t getting the individual, tailored support they need.”

Head of the Commons Work and Pensions Select Committee, Dame Anne Begg has also warned that change is needed if the government want to get the Work Programme working: “We remain deeply concerned that the Work Programme, as currently designed, is insufficient to tackle the problems faced by more disadvantaged jobseekers. Doing nothing and hoping things improve is no longer an option.”

Let’s hope that this means there will now be a re-assessment of how contractors can help those who are furthest away from securing jobs, such as recipients of ESA, as opposed to just focusing on those that will yield the contractors the easiest and fastest payment securements.

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Welfare To Work Words

The image above illustrates the large network of what policy academics call ‘active labour market policies’ (ALMPs); or what politicians refer to, in the increasingly Americanised language of social security, ‘welfare-to-work’.

ALMPs are big business.  They are in large part carried out by huge private sector providers, such as A4E and G4S, as well as a ‘supply chain’ that consists of hundreds, if not thousands, of smaller organisations and companies. According to the BBC, the Work Programme alone is expected to cost up to £5bn.

But as well as being big business, ALMPs are an integral component of the social security ‘contract’ that exists between the state, the public and benefit claimants.  The contract, so it goes, is that unemployed people agree to a wide range of – often stringent – work-related conditions: this in return for (a) benefits and (b) the provision of back-to-work ALMPs.

The state then, like the unemployed, has rights and responsibilities: the right to expect benefit claimants to take certain steps to get back into the labour market, but also the responsibility to provide good services that enable a transition back to work.  So this raises an important question: how well do we actually provide for the unemployed in terms of labour market programmes?

A simple but effective way to answer this is to look at what other countries do.  The OECD is a useful resource here, as they collect statistics on how much countries spend on ALMPs.  The graph below shows how much other European countries spent in the most recent year of data collection, as a percentage of GDP.

Spending on ALMPs in the OECD (% GDP)

SpendingonALMPsintheOECD

As is obvious, we don’t do very well: spending on ALMPs is just 0.38% of our national income.  In fact, the only countries that spend less than us on ALMPs are the former communist states of Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Estonia.  What’s far more normal for countries like us, in terms of GDP, is for over 1 per cent on all spending to go on welfare-to-work, such as in the Netherlands (1.2%), France (1.1%) and Belgium (1.5%).  Denmark, meanwhile, spends a whopping five times more than the UK does on back-to-work schemes.

Our poor record on ALMPs is reflected even more intensely in what the EU calls ‘the activation rate’.  This is the number of unemployed people, per 100, who are enrolled onto welfare-to-work programmes.  The image below shows the pitiful coverage of UK provision: for every hundred unemployed people, just over one person is participating in activating schemes.  This compares to rates of over a fifth in other major West European economies, such as Italy, Sweden, Spain and Belgium.

The ‘activation rate’ in EU countries

Activation Rate in EU

In fact, the UK is bottom of this league table across the entire EU.  This means there are a higher proportion of unemployed people on ALMPs in countries like Bulgaria, Romania and Lithuania.  Even tiny Malta has a higher activation rate than the UK.

So, whilst the state asks a lot from the unemployed, it simultaneously fails to provide them with a relatively high standard of labour market programmes.  The key point here is not that it’s unfair to ask – or even compel – unemployed people to take steps back to work.  Rather, it’s unfair that we ask so much of the unemployed yet do so little, compared to other countries, to help them.

David Cameron and George Osborne like to talk about the ‘Global Race’ that the UK is in: a race where we must compete more effectively and efficiently against our economic competitors.  Yet if we really are in a ‘Global Race’, then surely a test of how where we stand is by how much our government invests in reskilling the unemployed.  And on this test, we are miserably failing.

Daniel Sage

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by Kam Sandhu @KamBass

On 4th June, the consultation on new reforms to legal aid ended. The last few weeks have seen hundreds of barristers, lawyers and firms condemn the proposed changes, in a bid to stop “catastrophic“, elitist, and “unjust” cuts to legal aid. Despite strong feelings from the Bar and the public to protect this vital service, it is difficult to understand exactly what is happening to our justice system. So, to get an insight, we caught up with Criminal Barrister and joint secretary of the Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers, Mike Goold, to find out in detail, what we stand to lose.

In the first part of the interview, we find out what is happening right now in legislation, how changes will affect fairness of trial, and also discuss the Justice Secretary’s elitist attitude to the reforms.

Scales of Justice. Image: The Telegraph

Scales of Justice. Image: The Telegraph

Talk us through what is happening in terms of legal aid cuts right now. How will and how are they affecting people? 

There’s [been] a consultation proposed by the government, which they launched a week or so into April and which [closed] on Tuesday [4th June]. They’re proposing quite substantial cuts to criminal legal aid in particular, but also civil legal aid – immigration, housing law and criminal law, those sorts of areas.

“Withdrawing legal assistance that hits some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in society.”

This comes off the back of already very substantial cuts that were introduced in April. There was an act that came in called the Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act which was passed in 2012, but provisions came into force in April, which took a lot of areas of civil law out of legal aid altogether.

This covers housing law and things like social welfare law, so advice and representation in relation to people making claims for benefits and appealing against refusals of benefits.

The cuts that came in April very much focus on civil law, but are very nasty, because people that tend to rely on or require that kind of legal advice are some of the most vulnerable people – people who are facing eviction, people who are being mistreated by their landlords and in relation to social welfare – people who are on benefits, disabled people, people maybe who have been wrongly refused benefits. So withdrawing legal assistance that hits some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in society.

So this already came in, in April, at a time when the government is looking to make cutbacks in public spending [with] the bedroom tax, housing benefit cap and such. So coming in at a time when people are increasingly needing support in housing areas and benefits. There’s quite a big incentive at the moment for examiners and people making decisions over benefits to refuse people benefits for cost saving. So there’ll be a lot of people being refused benefits who’ll be needing assistance and now can’t get it.

So all that came in April and about a week after these cuts came in, they released a further consultation. This time, mainly focusing on cuts to criminal law, but there are some nasty things for civil law as well.

Socialist Lawyer is a journal run by Haldane. Image: haldane.org

Socialist Lawyer is a journal run by Haldane. Image: haldane.org

One of the main things they’re doing is introducing price competitive tendering. So effectively, they want organisations to bid to have a contract. You have to have a contract to do legal aid law, but at the moment there’s no limit on the amount of organisations that can get contracts. What they’re proposing in criminal law, is reducing the amount of contracts to a much, much, much smaller level than it is now. In geographical areas, they’ll enforce companies to bid and basically offer to do the work at the lowest price. They’re saying that they will only accept bids 17.5% lower than the current rate. So that’s the maximum you’re allowed to bid. So there’ll be at least a 17.5% cut in legal aid rates.

“It’s going to be a race to the bottom for the quality of the legal aid that’s going to be provided.”

And they sort of sell this by saying that all this money goes to fat cat lawyers anyway, but in reality, legal aid solicitors, junior barristers and solicitors that work in criminal legal aid are pretty poorly paid already, and it’s going to get much worse.

But the main issue isn’t whether the lawyers will survive, it’s what happens to the clients. Because they’re asking companies to bid for the lowest cost. It’s going to be a race to the bottom for the quality of the legal aid that’s going to be provided. And what the government want is for big companies to come in and do it by economies of scale. So there’s already talk about organisations such as G4S, Tesco and Co-op and even Eddie Stobart. In fact Eddie Stobart has already set up a company called Stobart Law – they’re clearly going to be one of the organisations bidding. So organisations with no specialist knowledge are going to try and churn out this work at the lowest cost and it’s really going to affect the quality of the service people get.

The people representing civil cases will be chosen by a government agency. How will that affect the fairness of the trial and how important is it for a client to choose their own lawyer?

It’s extremely important for a number of reasons. At the moment when someone gets arrested and they go to the police station, they can request a solicitor to attend, and may already have dealings with a solicitor they want. They can pick their own solicitor, and that’s very important because it means solicitors, firms and lawyers at the moment are competing essentially by quality. So the better firms are, the more likely they are to get clients because they’re better at the work they do. What’s going to be introduced now is after they have a much smaller amount of organisations with contracts, there’s going to be no client choice. Effectively, there’ll be a rota. If there’s eight companies offering legal services in a geographical area, the first client that goes into a police station gets organisation number one. The next will get organisation number two. So there’s no client choice.

 “It’s going to stop firms from being able to specialise and therefore stop clients from being able to get that specialist support…and if you get an Eddie Stobart pop-up lawyer who just cares about getting the case out the way very quickly, there’s nothing you can do to challenge that.”

That’s a trap for the client for a number of reasons. Firstly, it’s going to be very, very difficult for any organisation to offer specialist legal support. At the moment there are organisations that are known for doing say, human rights work, or protest work in criminal law. A lot of students who got arrested after the student demonstrations went to particular firms because they knew they were good at doing protest law and that kind of political law. But you won’t be able to do that anymore because you’ll get whatever one that happens to be on the rota. So it’s going to stop firms from being able to specialise and therefore stop clients from being able to get that specialist support. So taking away any idea of client choice, and if you get an Eddie Stobart pop-up lawyer who just cares about getting the case out the way very quickly, there’s nothing you can do to challenge that.

Haulage Firm Eddie Stobart is likely to bid for legal aid contracts. Image: The Guardian

Haulage Firm Eddie Stobart is likely to bid for legal aid contracts Image: The Guardian

Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling, justified these changes by saying, “I don’t believe that most people who find themselves in our criminal justice system are great connoisseurs of legal skills. We know the people in our prisons and who come into our courts are often from the most difficult and challenged backgrounds”. What is Grayling saying here? And what does this mean about the attitude of the government towards these cuts?

It’s an astounding quote from him. People in the profession thought that [quote] showed such disregard, and such arrogance, and instead of trying to do better for the people using the legal system, what he’s saying is this incredibly elitist position that the average criminal is too stupid to know whether he’s got a good lawyer or not. If it was true even, it would not still not justify giving them a cut, because if someone was particularly disadvantaged that wouldn’t justify giving them a terrible lawyer. But of course, it isn’t true.

Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling. Image: johnnyvoid.wordpress.com

Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling. Image: johnnyvoid.wordpress.com

That’s one of the annoying things, they claim they’re introducing these changes to introduce competition into the market, but there’s already competition because solicitor’s firms compete on quality. Clients do know whether they’ve had a good lawyer or not before, and they’ll go back to that lawyer or firm because they’ve had good quality representation. So it’s completely wrong to say that clients aren’t aware of what a good lawyer is, and I’d say even if it was true, it’s unjust and wouldn’t justify what they’re trying to do in any event.

What you’re saying about fairness of trial, there’s two big issues there. Firstly, the quality of the representation is going to go down, which is obviously going to have an impact on fairness of trial and whether people get good quality representation. I think we can predict there’s going to to be a huge increase in miscarriages of justice just because there’s going to to be such an incentive for the organisations providing legal service to get through cases quickly.

There’s going to be a big incentive, therefore, to get clients to plead guilty, because it means you can get the case out the way much quicker. So I think clients will be pushed to plead guilty when they’re not. And also, even if they do go to trial, if things are being rushed over, there’s not going to be anywhere near enough time for the lawyers to analyse the case and go into detail and pick up things they might otherwise not in the papers. Some of the biggest miscarriages of justice in history are either evidence that wasn’t given by a prosecution or things that just weren’t picked up, small things that didn’t seem important and analysed, and we’ll see a huge increase in that.

But the other main reason it will effect sentencing of trial over the quality of representation is, in theory, especially if organisations like G4S get involved, there’s going to be a huge conflict of interest. I don’t think it’s been confirmed that G4S are bidding for contracts yet, but it’s very, very, likely. G4S currently run some of the prisons and transport clients between prisons and courts, and already have a very involved role in the justice system, and the punishment point. If they’re also going to be representing people as lawyers, then that’s a huge conflict of interest, because you’ve got someone representing a client, from a company that also has a financial interest in them being sent to jail because they’re running the prisons.

KS
Catch the second part of the interview on Thursday.
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