Criminal Justice System: why the constant public angst?

English: The Scales of Justice Gilded bronze f...
Our CJS Angst?

There is a mass of misunderstanding about the workings of our Criminal Justice System (CJS), a confusion often fuelled by the emotive headlines produced by an often mischievous media machine. This generally results in those who work within that sector being, almost constantly, berated by a dissatisfied public. But is all this vilification actually warranted?

In the main, the majority of those who work at the coal-face of the public sector are there to provide you and I with a service. People like police officers, fire fighters, paramedics and nurses et al, even teachers generally all do what they do because they want to build a better society. Yes they get paid for what they do, many a lot less than they used to, thanks to this govt but in short, the majority take pride in providing a service to others and most are simply trying to make a difference.

It’s strange that we rarely (but rightly) see any verbal condemnation of those who volunteer to do similar work, such as the RNLI Lifeboat crews or our Mountain Rescue teams. The only major difference is the remuneration aspect so does that mean, we expect as a society that, no one should get paid for helping others? Perhaps that thought process is behind many of the politically motivated austerity measures of recent years i.e. public sector cuts are ok because we can fill the void left by them with volunteers. Perhaps politicians should carry out their role on a similar basis?

In general, the public tend to be mostly supportive of the work actually carried out by most of those mentioned above (excepting the politicians I would suspect). They understand the roles performed by each of them however; what they have difficulty getting their heads around is, how come performance so rarely matches expectation these days?

Any failure to meet (or exceed) public expectation, be it justifiable or otherwise, simply results in the tax payers standard retort – “I pay your bloody wages!” Commenting upon the recent news that MP’s are to get an increase in money to pay their staff one respondent wrote…

“We’re all in this together.” Are we? Absolute hogwash. What is the collective name for a group of self-serving, money-grabbing, self-centred morons? I don’t know, but “A British Parliament” springs to mind. Another appalling decision by a group of people who have no idea what it is like in the real world.

In general, the disparity between performance and public expectation actually results from management failures within the sector. That and/or the political agenda being applied by those (often self-interested) individuals employed to manage these agencies on our behalf. The direction and administration of the organisations serving us is the problem, rarely the actual quality of work carried out by the practitioners.

Writing a guest blog for No Offence! Tessa Webb, Director Probation Chiefs Association, penned a brilliantly simple piece which goes someway towards explaining the issue. She equated our public sector to her car…

I just want it to work and if it doesn’t, I want the professional to ‘sort it out’ but I have little interest in what needs to be done, other than I hope it will not cost too much or take too long. A mechanic may wish to share with great pride their handiwork, but the reality is that I am only likely to get animated if it fails to work, after they have told me that they have fixed it, or I think it costs too much. But just think where would we all be if there were no car mechanics? Some jobs are simply essential and it is good to know there are people who will do them with skill and passion. Isn’t this the business that a ‘Big Society’ should recognise and engage with? As when it is effective everyone wins…(Tessa Webb)

There is no doubt that Tessa’s analogy was written from her own field of expertise within the sector however; similar can also be said in support of many public sector agencies, not least our police and the courts.

Despite so many of our public services currently being reduced at alarming levels, as a result of government austerity measures, the general condemnation continues, but why is this? Once again our media need to shoulder much of the blame, they the politicians and senior organisational leadership. All for whom it serves well to detract from the real issues involved here; self-protecting and self-motivated actions designed for self-protection. The actual concept of true public service rarely features in the overall scheme of things.

Because of this, I found it somewhat disconcerting to read the views of that well-known, but often controversial and predominantly left of centre,  journalist and TV presenter Janet Street-Porter. Writing in The Independent this week she said; The police must shape up, knuckle down, and change. Her article started by saying “the police service is stuck back in the days of Dixon of Dock Green!”  Janet went on to deride the police in general but in particular, she condemned the views of Paul McKeever, the chairman of the Police Federation.

Wouldn’t you think that a staff association, representing those who deliver the services that our communities are crying out for, must be in a better position to know what the public actually want? After all, they are the ones interacting with those people on a daily basis.

But again, Janet, like the rest of us, is being hood-winked and taken for a fool by our political masters; not hard when you take into account the ‘broken car’ analogy is it? Many of the current police reforms, already implemented and proposed for the future, have very little to do with delivering better policing services. They are more about placating public concerns and fears around the reduced levels of service we are already experiencing. A situation that is only set to worsen, despite all the “doing more with less” rhetoric.

What we’re suffering from now is actually the product of a myriad of previous failings, as opposed to any massive changes in role requirements per se. Yes there are some aspects of policing now that differ from those of twenty plus years ago however; the fundamentals of policing, the services that our communities probably need (arguably) more now than ever before, are broadly similar. Most of the current reforms are simply born out of the self-interest of senior police leaders and politicians; people who all have deep-seated and vested interest in disguising years of self-serving management failure.

Perhaps a good way of examining the whole issue, given that we’re looking at the legal world, would be from a more legal perspective? Within our civil law, attributing guilt is usually based upon ‘the balance of probability’ (onus probandi) however, some might even suggest that a ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ burden of proof, as within our criminal law, would be even more appropriate.

To prove that someone was guilty of a crime, it must be shown beyond a reasonable doubt that (1) a prohibited act (actus reus) has taken place, (2) the intention or mental state (mens rea) of the ‘offender’ and (3) there was no legal excuse for committing the crime.

The choice of which definition you actually chose, when apportioning guilt to those responsible for the demise of our police (and other public services) is up to you.

Who the guilty party is in all this is debatable, be it the media, police senior leadership, our politicians, or indeed the Police Federation. But, despite all the mitigating circumstances being offered by the defence counsel for ACPO and the Government, someone IS guilty of what can only be described as; the criminal damage of  a once internationally respected system.

To my mind it’s not the rank and file police officers (or even their staff association) that are at fault or to blame. But, as a result of all the PR smokescreens and political spin constantly in play, only our society can be the ultimate judge!

Note: No Offence! is a Community Interest Company, not-for-profit, headed up by a Senior Management Team and Volunteers all with significant sector experience and specialisms. The organisation is focused on reducing waste and isolation in the Criminal Justice System within the Public Sector. It seeks to do this through facilitating and encouraging collaboration. There are currently more than 1500 members of No Offence! forum and that number is growing at a pace.