Coming a year after the Tories failed to declare the full cost of their local election expenses in the General Election, there has been a further display of corruption by the party in power. Voters across the UK were misled by the Government who withheld information on the state of the criminal justice system prior to the recent Police and Crime Commissioner elections. Information has just emerged from the Public Accounts Committee which shows a ‘system’ that is close to “breaking point” and has deteriorated dramatically since the election of the first Police and Crime Commissioners in 2012. There was a backlog of 51,830 cases awaiting a hearing as of September last year, with an average 134 day wait between cases leaving magistrates’ courts and the start of crown court proceedings. This was up from a 99-day average wait two years ago. Some 55% of witnesses have said they would not be willing to be witnesses again, with one in five being made to wait four hours or more to give evidence in court. The Public Accounts Committee also warned that people faced a postcode lottery in accessing justice. The length of time victims were made to wait between an offence being committed and the conclusion of their case ranged from 243 days in Durham to 418 days in Sussex!
As a candidate in the Police and Crime Commissioner elections in 2012, one of my frustrations was that the other candidates in Sussex and many beyond focused exclusively on the Policing element of the role and ignored the Crime aspect altogether. It was this part of the role which gave the PCC a mandate to bring together the disparate agencies in a way that could deliver timely and effective justice for all of the residents of the area covered. This was why the Government devolved funding for the work of victim support agencies as an early decision for the PCC to take, despite the challenge it created for the agencies involved. I recall listening to Nick Herbert, the then Minister of State for Policing and Criminal Justice explaining in 2011 how frustrated he was with the failure of the various public sector agencies to behave in a system like manner. It is clear from this latest announcement from Westminster that many PCCs, including Katy Bourne in Sussex have failed completely in this area of their responsibility. This is despite the fact that Katy took on the role of Chair of the Sussex Criminal Justice Board for most of the last 3 years, which has the natty strap line, ‘working together for the public’
In the months prior to the 2016 election Theresa May tried to distract us from focusing on crime agencies with her talk of a blue light commissioner. Indeed Katy has written in the last few days to West Sussex County Council, announcing her intention to size up the Fire and Rescue Service to see if it fits her empire. Although West Sussex County Council who currently oversee the fire and rescue service have told her politely to go away, it is well known that she has the ear of Theresa May and no doubt this is not the last they will hear of it. As I have written previously, what we need is an effective Police AND Crime Commissioner, focused on the needs of Sussex residents and an adequately funded Criminal Justice System, not an ineffective and party politically motivated blue light commissioner who is simply carrying out the policies of her friends and colleagues. That is the wrong focus for people elected to improve the way policing and crime agencies operate together. Policing is of course one of the blue light services, but a great deal of its work happens away from the glare of lights and sirens. First and foremost Policing is about delivering Criminal Justice. The PAC report shows that Sussex is one of the worst performing areas in England and Wales, not because of failings of Sussex Police, but because funding for the Courts service has been ignored by the one person who was elected to make things run smoothly. Between 2004 and 2009 I chaired the Surrey and Sussex Courts board, we were a statutory agency, but did not have the democratic mandate that Katy Bourne has. For that reason we were all but ignored by Charles Falconer and Jack Straw who were the Lord Chancellors during that time. It would have been a different matter if a directly elected PCC had demanded resources to be applied to the cinderella of the system that has so much impact on those who are victims of crime. Four weeks after Katy Bourne should have stood on her record since 2012, we discover that she failed to adequately challenge her political chums and one can assume she will continue to ignore this bloody stain on our justice system.