In his first major policy speech as Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, Michael Gove will on Tuesday call for “urgent” reform of the criminal justice system as advocated by Lord Justice Leveson so that it does not just serve the wealthy.
In extracts of his speech to the Legatum Institute circulated in advance, Mr Gove is expected to say that despite “our deserved global reputation for legal services, not every element of our justice system is world-beating.
“While those with money can secure the finest legal provision in the world, the reality in our courts for many of our citizens is that the justice system is failing them. Badly.”
The speech is entitled ‘What does a One Nation justice policy look like?’ and will consider how the justice system can be made to work for everyone. But in what has been published in advance there is no mention of the impending cuts to what criminal legal aid solicitors are paid.
Mr Gove will say: “There are two nations in our justice system at present. On the one hand, the wealthy, international class who can choose to settle cases in London with the gold standard of British justice.
“And then everyone else, who has to put up with a creaking, outdated system to see justice done in their own lives. The people who are let down most badly by our justice system are those who must take part in it through no fault or desire of their own: victims and witnesses of crime, and children who have been neglected…
“I have seen barristers struggle to explain why a young woman who had the courage to press a rape charge should have had to wait nearly two years before her case was heard. Reporting these offences in the first place must be a traumatic experience – made worse still by having to relive it in court two years later.
“I have watched as judges question advocates about the most basic procedural preliminaries in what should be straightforward cases and find that no-one in court can provide satisfactory answers.
“I have heard too many accounts of cases derailed by the late arrival of prisoners, broken video links or missing paperwork. I have seen both prosecution and defence barristers in a case that touched on an individual’s most precious rights acknowledge that each had only received the massive bundles in front of them hours before and – through no fault of their own – were very far from being able to make the best case possible.
“The waste and inefficiency inherent in such a system are obvious. But perhaps even more unforgivable is the human cost. It is the poorest in our society who are disproportionately the victims of crime, and who find themselves at the mercy of this creaking and dysfunctional system.”
Mr Gove will say that prosecutions need to be brought more efficiently, unnecessary procedures stripped out, information exchanged by e-mail or conference call rather than in a series of hearings, and evidence served in a “timely and effective way”.
“Then we can make sure that more time can be spent on ensuring the court hears high-quality advocacy rather than excuses for failure.”
He will say that the case for reform is “overwhelming”, with the senior judiciary “all convinced of, and convincing on” it.
“They have commissioned work which makes the case for quite radical change. Should anyone doubt the need for dramatic steps, Sir Brian Leveson’s report on the need for change in our criminal justice system makes the case compellingly. He argues with great authority and makes a series of wise recommendations. They need to be implemented with all speed.”
Mr Gove will also describe the rule of law as “the most precious asset of any civilised society” and how it “makes sure that when those who hold power abuse it, they can be checked” – but it is not known at the time of writing whether he will address the changes to judicial review passed before the election which critics argued would curtail this remedy.