Third letter to the Lord Chancellor, Secretary of State for Justice,
Mr Chris Grayling,
28th May 2013,
Dear Lord Chancellor,
Thank you for your reply and especially for including the very interesting list of Ministry of Justice contracts with outside suppliers/contractors for 2012. I looked, on your behalf, at all the entries and I agree with you, not one item of expenditure (out of the 1219) seems to have been inappropriately spent by the department and absolutely no savings can be made. In particular:
• £110,00 was spent in 2012 on breathalyser testing of prison staff (item 205). I agree entirely they cannot be trusted to be professional enough to arrive at work sober.
• The MOJ spends £1,132,550 a year on dog food (items 219 and 752). I have to admit I’m not quite sure why there are dogs within the MOJ (prison governors’ pets at work maybe) but wherever they are and whatever they do, they’ve got to be fed.
• There are three entries for hairdressing services: HMP Hindley £18,000, HMP Liverpool £43,680 and HMP Kennet £22,500. I think that the MOJ spends this total of £84,180 of taxpayer’s money wisely here. The staff at these institutions must be used to their perms being paid for by you in London by now. You surely can’t take that perk away.
• It is a bit surprising that £5,143,709 was spent by MOJ staff on taxis for 2012. But I see no savings here either. I suppose the MOJ could buy its own vehicles and reduce the cost, but taxis are much cosier aren’t they? And you don’t have to do the actual driving. (See items 10, 11, 12, 54, 58, 77, 85, 111, 113, 140, 150, 171, 262, 282, 332, 455, 559, 653, 657, 680, 696, 724, 758, 811, 818, 1007, 1011 and 1073).
• Members of staff are surely entitled to Cognitive Behavioural Therapy on the department at £654,000 per year (item 168).
• £10 million was spent on mobile phone denial work in the London area. That is so much easier than searching everyone before they enter prison to make sure they don’t smuggle a mobile phone inside.
• The spending of £720,000 on professional actors for pre-employment role play scenarios seems fine (item 966). How else are people going to be properly assessed for the suitability for a job at the MOJ? CVs and interviews are so old fashioned, don’t you think? A good role play scenario for a potential governor of a prison with actors playing prison staff and prisoner is much more inventive, and fun.
• The water softener for the West Midlands at £137,000 seems very good value (item 261).
• As is £192,000 for the press cuttings service (item 291). How else is the department meant to keep track of how it is viewed in the media? It’s not as though they could monitor twitter and Facebook, or anything.
All in all, this spending seems watertight to me. But, just a word of advice, it might look bad if this list was released more widely. So I return it securely to you: http://t.co/1I8C2jAIHv , but for goodness sake do not let it be seen outside the department.
Secondly, your plans to privatise HM courts and tribunal service and transfer 20,000 staff from the government’s payroll, as revealed in that leaked memo to The Times on 27th May 2013, is a master-stroke if I may say so. That should put a rocket up these troublesome civil liberties people who think that justice in the courts should be about nothing but fairness and the rule of law. Don’t they see that profits can be made here? The two fingers up at Magna Carta “we will sell to no man, we will not deny or defer to any man either Justice or right” shows them that you mean business.
Not many people understood the ramifications of your speech to Parliament on 26th March 2013 when you said “We should be proud of [the English courts] international reputation and the contribution they already make to our economy” and how you wanted to explore “appropriate vehicles” to generate additional revenue for the UK plc. Once private companies and corporations are running the courts, especially the courts dealing with civil law, then the opportunities for private enterprise are very interesting.
The private companies who will own and run a particular court centre should be able, of course, to charge litigants a pretty sum for using their service. It may mean only wealthy people have access to justice, but it will speed things up by clearing away the clutter. The courts that have attracted extensive business can then invest to improve the facilities and so even higher fees can be charged. In time courts with “good outcomes” (i.e. welcome result for complainants bringing the actions) will be favoured by litigants shopping around for courts that provide such a service. All those Russian oligarchs and French libel hunters and German divorcees. And in time the courts with “poorer outcomes” for complainants will fold. It will expand the compensation culture, so hated by the tabloids, but think of the tax revenues! And remember the poor will not be able to afford the higher fees to bring cases and so at least those troublesome litigants will be refused entry. Remember your motto of service as Lord Chancellor: “In England justice is open to all, like the Ritz.”
I see that the Supreme Court already has a You-tube channel. That can be extended to the privatised courts and you could make the more sensational libel and celebrity divorce cases pay per view. Judges gowns are ideal for displaying sponsorship logos (discretely of course, like snooker players) which will enhance brand awareness for the firms that are kind enough to invest in our justice system. In time High Court Judges who are not providing good outcomes for their customers can be sacked and their function outsourced to the Indian High Court in Kolkata. It should be relatively easy to have them give judgements and rulings via video link, and that should save some money.
In the US recently, a county court judge called Mark Ciavarella Jnr took bribes from a company that ran a private youth prison and then savagely sent many youths there, some as young as 10, on the most frivolous pretexts. That kind of conflict of interest cannot be seen to happen here. So as part of the reforms I advise that you make sure the judiciary are independent of the companies owning the courts by putting all judges under government supervision with a Royal Charter. Then politicians can monitor all judges to see that they are not acting inappropriately.
Returning to the thorny subject of your legal aid reforms: I see that Dominic Grieve, when he was shadow Attorney-General, said at the Conservative Party Conference in Bournemouth in 2004 “there are ideas creeping into the system that treat legal aid as if it just about the economic provision of a service. That approach will lead to problems with lowered standards.” What he and many others (including those 90 QCs who have written today stating their objections to your plans in a letter to the Telegraph) fail to see is that the lowering of standards in criminal court is the solution not the problem. They fail to understand that the government’s austerity programme is just the excuse that is needed to make it look as if the system is being ‘reformed’, whilst actually politics is being played in the background. How on earth did Grieve end up in the cabinet? And well done agreeing to even further cuts with HM Treasury for the spending year 2015. It used to be traditional for ministers to fight hard with the Treasury on behalf of their departments to avoid cuts, but given the importance of your wider, and more subtle, strategy you were right to lie down like a lamb on this one.
Yours, with no astonishment