Amongst my Christmas post a few days ago was a rather fearsome looking brown envelope. Rather assuming it was the usual threat to send the bailiffs in to collect last year’s tax, I ignored it. In fact, I was about to throw it out with the rest of the recycling when the franking caught my eye. Instead of the usual HMRC it bore a stamp from the Ministry of Justice. I opened it. To my surprise it was not a summons for jury service, but it was the next best thing: a cheery Christmas card from “Chris, Ursula, Damian and family.” Better still, tucked inside the card was a round robin bringing me up to date with all the family news. I thought you might like to read it.
We MoJs have had a really hectic year but we don’t mind because we’re never happier than when we’re busy!
This time last year – and we’re not ashamed to admit it – neither Chris nor Ursula knew very much about justice, so it’s been a steep learning curve! I’ll let you into a secret: Ursula did think about studying law once but she didn’t bother because she found it terribly tedious. But we’ve found it incredible fun learning on the job! The last 12 months have been packed with incident!
It came too late for last year’s card, but Ursula and Chris were enormously proud to be honoured by the barristers at Grays Inn who decided to make them, like Churchill and Roosevelt, “honorary Masters of the Bench”. The rules of Grays Inn say that :
“Honorary Masters should be elected only from among people of outstanding public eminence and distinction or who have rendered great service to the Inn.”
Obviously it’s an honour to have one’s outstanding eminence and distinction recognised before one has even started to do the job. It’s a massive boost to one’s morale! The only worry we have is, how will this year’s successes be honoured? Her Majesty made a good start when she became a Dame Commander of the Bath in the New Year’s honours. She often tells him this when Chris accuses her of using too much hot water!
Joking aside, I expect you’re all wanting to know about the kids. Capita – as we thought she would – has done really, really well. As I told you last Christmas, we thought she was now old and responsible enough to have another contract so we gave her Court Interpreting (it only costs about £45M a year). We were a bit nervous at first because she’s never had a contract like that before and most of the existing interpreters weren’t very nice to her. In fact quite a lot of them wouldn’t even work for her, which was very ungrateful of them. Not that she’s let that worry her in the slightest. When they were nasty she showed her initiative and found masses of these amazingly cheap interpreters who had failed their exams, and some even cheaper ones who haven’t had any training at all. Funnily enough she’s found that they are much, much cheaper and some of them are almost as good as the old ones – the odd misunderstanding aside! Capita often makes us smile with her stories of court-room chaos and the way she tells them they can be quite hilarious!We’re so proud of her!
Obviously there were a few thousand complaints, actually four times as many in 2013 as there had been in 2012, but sensibly she puts that down to teething problems. Capita’s contract will be two in January (can you believe it?)! Any mum will tell you that that’s the worst age for teething problems. So the increase in complaints just proves how well the contract is developing. Anyway, Ursula’s secretary got quite used to fielding calls from people whining that they had a Mandarin when they needed a Tagalog or moaning that they had the wrong sort of Kurd. She tells them all not to worry and found that more often than not you don’t need an interpreter at all! Apparently there’s usually an aunt or an uncle or someone in the public gallery who can help out and what’s more they’ll do it for free!
Chris’s old friends the Ukips think these foreigners should either learn English or go back home and certainly not clog up the courts with their weird languages. Actually Chris has quite a lot of sympathy with the Ukips and he’s going to stop the foreigners getting legal aid until they’ve been here at least 12 months. Fair’s fair: if they want justice they should be prepared to pay for it, and if they can’t pay for it they shouldn’t come here.
The news about the twins is good, but not quite so good. As you may remember we gave Serco and G4S each a tagging contract for their 21st. It seemed just the thing for a couple of strapping lads who, like most youngsters, absolutely loved making money from locking people up. For years we thought that they were doing a good job. Well the good news is that they were making lots of money. The bad news is that they were making a lot of it by charging for people they hadn’t actually tagged at all. Now we still love them loads of course, and we’re not talking about big money, only about £50M – £100M (we don’t know exactly how much), but we did find it rather sad. If they needed the money of course we could have let them have it, or we could have given them other contracts if they didn’t like the tagging ones. Now we’ve been forced to give their contracts to Capita instead. If all goes well Chris thinks he might even give her the courts next year.
That would certainly ease Chris’s task. He’s really had his nose to the grindstone this year choosing a new Lord Chief Justice. In the end he simply couldn’t choose between Lord Justice Thomas and Lady Justice Hallett, so he set them an essay competition: “Why I’d like to be Lord Chief Justice.” Thomas won. How much better, though, if he could have left the whole thing to Capita, she’s so good at that sort of thing. In fact, Ursula often tells him that Capita would do a splendid job of running not just the interpreting, the tagging, and the prisons but also probation, the courts, the Crown Prosecution Service, the police and the defence lawyers.
Capita is certainly up for it, and in anticipation has set up an arms-length outsourcing arm to provide strategic leadership, leading strategically to key stakeholders providing oversight of a transparent acquisition process morphing organically into a one-stop justice outlet. That’s the sort of woman Ursula is: she does her blue sky thinking outside the box, outside the envelope, and indeed left field.
But until that can happen poor Chris has had to deal with legal aid for criminals. He has been at his wits’ end because giving money to criminals is the very last thing he wants to do. The situation was so bad that some of them were receiving more in legal aid than the Prime Minister’s salary! Fat cat criminals were sitting around in Serco’s cells all day, licking the cream off each other’s whiskers, while obese barristers were drinking cream liqueurs liberally sprinkled with real gold and all that cream and gold was being paid for by hard-working people like the Prime Minister.
Someone had to tell the truth, and Chris felt he had to. It was a ridiculous situation and we have put a stop to abuses. First we asked for suggestions to see what to do about it. Fortunately there was no need to read most of them because a fat cat lawyer called Mr Fluck from the Law Society had the splendid idea that just a very few enormously fat solicitors should get double-cream, at least for a year or two until Capita is gargantuan enough to be able to digest it herself. Ursula has worked out that this will save 17.5% of the cream, and ensure that most criminals are convicted. Chris – according to both Grays Inn and Mr Fluck – the most distinguished and eminent Lord Chancellor since Sir Thomas More, is convinced that the plan will lead to greater justice for all (except foreigners, prisoners, fat cats and criminals obviously). Next year we shall see how successful Chris’s plan has been.
A Merry Christmas to you all.