Speak up for Justice held a well-attended, informative fringe at PCS’ annual conference this year in May, at which speakers and delegates discussed the impact of government policies and spending cuts on the justice system, as well on access to justice.
Delegates to the conference heard from a panel of speakers including Chair of Napo’s National Campaigning Committee, Guy Tilbury; Sharon Sukhram, TUC Policy Officer; Alison Burtt, President of PCS’ MoJ Group; and Matt Foot, Co-Founder of the Justice Alliance.
Karen Watts, from PCS’s NEC, who was chairing the event, opened the fringe by reflecting that the last few years have seen ‘unprecedented attacks on our justice system and access to it’, as 142 courts have closed with more and more work centralised, 70 per cent of probation services have been privatised and there have been £220m legal aid cuts a year. Karen pointed said: ‘We believe that legal aid cuts are leading to miscarriages of justice. This is just the start, as we now have a government with a Conservative majority.’
Guy Tilbury told delegates about the catastrophic impact of the former government’s reforms to probation services, which ‘caused a great deal of anxiety among staff’. When the probation service was split in two last year, with 70 per cent of it privatised, Guy recalled: ‘The decision as to who went into which part of the probation service was based on caseloads on one day, and in some cases on the toss of a coin, despite the attempts of Chris Grayling to deny this in the House of Commons.’ One of the most insidious aspects of the reforms was, Guy pointed out, that fearing an election defeat, the last government ‘ensured the contracts for probation services were formulated so that they would be impossible to be rescinded.’
Guy reflected that multinational outsourcing firm Sodexo, one of the key beneficiaries of the probation reforms and provider of several of the new contracts, ‘is planning massive redundancies, in some cases replacing staff with kiosks.’ The use of kiosks in probation was trialled in London Guy explained, during which only one kiosk actually worked. Finishing his presentation, Guy stressed the importance of solidarity – ‘If all unions work together, there is greater chance to alert the public to their plans. We can keep alive the values of justice for all.’