Nationalise The Top 200 Barristers?

The Public Defenders Service (PDS) is back in the news

This expensive experiment failed in all but one significant way; demonstrating, beyond all doubt, that a publicly funded criminal defence service is prohibitively expensive.

In all its main pilot areas, notably Birmingham, Liverpool and Middlesbrough it shut up shop. We have some knowledge of the none-too-pretty tale behind the survival of 2 of the four remaining outlets, but perhaps that’s one for another day.

The rationale for their continuation is laughable; protecting against “market failure” and/or providing best practice benchmarks. The existing units could not protect against market failure in their own locations let alone on a wider scale. Equally, the most they have ever provided of the latter are some not very brilliant casework recording forms. (I think ours are better, but then I would).

The rationale for this current development is not articulated – which is a significant worry in and of itself. Worse still is that it is impossible to access any proper, recent evaluation of PDS operation which might justify this expansion. To cap it all it is intolerable, in the current circumstances, that the MoJ has refused to supply any data on which one might reasonably assess performance, it is nearly a year since friend-of-this-site Tim Collins began trying.

So what could possibly justify the recruitment, at what can only be called “fat cat” wages, of a couple of silks?

Practically the “market failure insurance” angle remains utterly nonsensical. Perhaps, given another 10 years, they might be able to provide somewhat more by way of best practice advice, but somehow I doubt it. It does not even make sense as a potential auxiliary workforce to provide “strike” cover.

The creation of a PDS, which could have a hope of achieving the former or latter, would be a massive, strategic undertaking. More importantly it would also have to immediately address the issue of London. The cost would be as astronomical at the task is immediately impossible.

Finally, why in an age of complete and abject obeisance to the out-sourcing of public contracts do the MoJ want to continue with this tiny experiment, in complete antipathy to all recent governmental policy? Given the public money involved I think we should be told.

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