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Lady Hale: politicians should face up to justice system problems

Supreme Court president Lady Hale has used an address at Southwark Cathedral to urge the next government to properly fund the justice system after nearly a decade of "swingeing" cuts.

Lady Hale: politicians should face up to justice system problems
Picture of Lady Hale from Salford University used under a Creative Commons licence

Lady Hale said that the justice system has seen "revolutionary change" with greater use of technology – including defendants appearing remotely via video link – in tandem with "swingeing cuts" imposed since the coalition government launched its austerity drive in 2010.

The Supreme Court president gave an address at Southwark Cathedral during Monday's service of Choral Evensong, attended by representatives of the many courts located in the borough.

The annual Southwark Legal Service brings together magistrates from Camberwell Green with judges from Southwark Crown Court, Inner London Crown Court, Blackfriars Crown Court and members of the coronial service.

The Mayor of Southwark, Cllr Sandra Rhule, was in attendance, and the Queen was represented by deputy lieutenant Simon Duckworth.

Lady Hale told the congregation: "Here we are in the throes of a general election campaign, with all the parties making lavish spending promises.

"I am not making a party political point when I implore them to acknowledge the serious problems that the justice system is facing, to recognise how important that justice system is for each and every one of us, and to promise to give the resources it needs to do the job properly."

The Supreme Court president reminded the congregation that the rule of law is underpinned by the concept that laws are "... applied and enforced by and against everyone, not just individuals and businesses, but government and public officials too.

"As Thomas Fuller put it in 1733, 'Be you never so high, the law is above you.'

"But laws are of no use unless people have access to the courts to apply and enforce them."

Although Lady Hale noted the advantages of some of the reforms of the court system, she observed that claimed benefits did not always materialise: "Court closures can of course free up resources which could be better used elsewhere in the system, for example in properly repairing and maintaining the remaining court buildings ... [but] it certainly doesn't seem to be what is happening..."

She also cited the consolidation of youth courts, which means that cases from Southwark, Lewisham and Greenwich are now heard in Bromley, "... with – according to the Law Society – gang warfare breaking out in court there.

"Indeed, the Children's Commissioner is so concerned about the 'chaotic and dysfunctional' youth justice system that she is planning wholesale review of it next year."

Lady Hale ended with some pointed words for the nation's political leaders: "On Saturday I had the privilege of attending the installation of the new Dean of Westminster at Westminster Abbey.

"In his sermon, he lamented that it had become necessary to remind politicians of the importance of telling the truth: 'As if there were any alternative.'

"I am sure that everyone here today would be grateful if our politicians ... could tell the truth about the justice system."

This year's Southwark Legal Service marked the closure of Blackfriars Crown Court and Camberwell Green Magistrates' Court. Among those named in the prayers was Lorraine Barwell, a custody officer who was killed by a defendant at Blackfriars in 2015.

The absolution and blessing were given by the Bishop of Southwark, Rt Revd Christopher Chessun, and ecumenical guests included the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Southwark, the Most Revd John Wilson.

Blackfriars Crown Court in Pocock Street will close just before Christmas, with the Government anticipating "significant sales receipts" from disposal of the building.

Read the full text of Lady Hale's address or listen to an audio recording

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