It is politically safe to hammer the lawyer but the Government should not be sold on the myth that criminal law is there for the benefit of the villain, says John Cooper. John Cooper is a barrister at 3 Gray's Inn Square and a TV scriptwriter.
Apparently no one is queueing for the Faith Zone at the Millennium Dome. A new idea should take its place – I hear on the grapevine that the Government is considering the Crime Zone.
The Government would hope to avoid visitors queueing by limiting the right to elect to go to the Crime Zone. Only visitors who are considered serious enough will be given permission to travel there.
Visitors who are not quite so serious will only be given access to Alton Towers. This simple step will ensure that the Crime Zone is not overcrowded and the visitors get to see the exhibits far sooner than would normally be the case.
Of course, this will be at the expense of those visitors who the Government decides are not so serious and they will no longer have any right to enter the zone.
Visitors will not be allowed to dawdle once inside the Crime Zone. Speed is of the essence and money is wasted if too much time is spent hanging around.
Some of the exhibits require careful consideration but, unfortunately, the Crime Zone is more concerned with the bureaucracy of getting people through the turnstiles and out the other end.
Any questions the visitor has will have to be relevant and expressed in plain English. This is a new idea for the zone and Latin is forbidden, but fancy dress is allowed.
The success or failure of the Crime Zone will be judged on how many people go through it – not the quality of what it produces. It will be fashionable to knock the Crime Zone, but the Government, I hear, will have the courage to get their convictions and their votes.
Well, all right, perhaps I am being a little tongue-in-cheek, but the criminal justice system is now in the latter stages of demolition.
When ordinary people face the criminal courts they are probably confronting the most traumatic moment of their lives.
Most people may not experience a corporate merger, but everyone potentially could face a false criminal allegation. Of course, if you lose money in the civil courts it is all very unpleasant, but the stakes are at their highest in the criminal court – people can literally lose years of their lives.
At a time when society is outraged at the treatment and payment of junior doctors upon whom our lives depend, it all seems perfectly acceptable to cut provisions made to criminal practitioners whose job it is to protect us from wrongful conviction.
I suggest that society and therefore the politicians see the criminal client as the disease and the criminal practitioner as part of that disease. What the doctor does is cure disease – that's good and gets votes and it should be paid for; what the criminal practitioner does is "help the criminal" – that's bad and it's politically safe to hammer the lawyer.
The problem with crime is that the very people to whom Tony Blair strives to appeal cannot conceive of ever being accused of a criminal offence. It just does not affect them, therefore it is safe to drain the criminal courts of resources. There will be no complaints "from the people who matter".
The Government relies on the considerable amounts of pro bono work carried out by criminal lawyers. Interestingly, a climate of opinion has developed whereby pro bono work is expected of criminal lawyers. Such work is rightly encouraged by the Bar Council and the Law Society – it was pioneered at the Criminal Bar by the Free Representation Unit. But there will come a time when the criminal justice system will not be able to function without the continuation of free legal representation.
This government, like most before it, sees criminal law as there for the benefit of the criminal. That is a fundamental misconception. It is there to protect the innocent.
Being "tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime" was meant to maintain law and order. At the moment, it is a case of being tough on the criminal system and tough upon those who cause our criminal system, however flawed, to be a role model for all jurisdictions.