It's a while since I last had the opportunity to spend a bit of time in Newcastle, although 12 hours (less 4 in sleep - what a luxury ) meant that I didn't exactly get to do the guided tour of this vibrant Northern city. Nevertheless, it was a privilege to be invited to speak with nearly 40 of our members (and a couple of welcome guests) at an emotionally charged meeting which pretty much reflected the prevailing mood as reported to us by your elected representatives. The warmth of my reception and the messages of support for Napo's efforts on behalf of all our members were quite overwhelming
The relevance of this as my headline for today is that I was able to reiterate our aims of the Judicial Review process (which the Officers and myself have reported on this afternoon) and where I provided a snapshot of the things that we had already achieved by way of the legal strand of our campaign. As I said last Thursday, and have said all along, the Officers and myself did not (and could not) promise a victory via the JR. route and we have stuck by our commitment to exhaust all available avenues to try and achieve our prime objective to persuade the Court to prevent Grayling entering into contracts with private providers. We believe as do you, that these people are insufficiently skilled or familiar with the probation system to deliver the solutions that everyone wants, but the Court would not be interested in that claim, however important it is to all of us.
On the specific point about whether JR would in itself stop the share sale, its been no secret (as was clearly explained to the AGM and successive NEC meetings), that the odds were heavily loaded against us. Not because our evidence was insufficient or that our arguments haven't been forceful enough. The JR process has involved thousands of pages of evidence which your officers and staff and the legal team have spent long hours and weekends poring over in order to prepare a specific legal argument that would have persuaded the Court that it had the power to intervene.
The fact is that the Courts are limited in terms of adjudicating on what are ultimately political decisions, and our strategy has been about convincing the judiciary that the issue is about safety and how that should be the determining factor when the Secretary of State makes his decision to sign the CRC Contracts. As you would expect, the other side have been somewhat busy setting out the remedies that they claim to have taken, are taking and will be taking to ensure that they are presiding over a safe system that can be handed over to the new CRC Providers.
Naturally there are some initial responses of disappointment that we have not dragged this out to a full JR. hearing. There are complex reasons including previous case law as to why we decided not to proceed to that point, and as you would expect, none of us in the elected leadership group will have any personal difficulty in accounting for our decisions. Meanwhile, we are seeking the Courts agreement to the release of a document which articulates the key areas that the defendants have acknowledged require resolution and against which we intend to ensure the Minister and his Department are held to account if it all goes wrong.
Until then we are in the frustrating position of being restricted in terms of what we can say and publicise. We are obviously monitoring the questions that are reaching us, and here are some initial answers to some of them. Do we remain sceptical about all this? Yes. Does this mean that the share sale will go ahead? As we understand it Graylings timetable stands. So is this the end of our campaign? Absolutely not.
No climb down by Napo
The courageous stand that our members have taken has secured major concessions from the MOJ during the JR process that we intend to put to good use as we continue our activities. This will include engaging robustly with the intended providers to make it clear that we are not going away any time soon as we approach the run in to the next General Election. I for one do not believe that they have much of an idea as to what really awaits them but they can't say they were not warned and that if there is a change of Government they may find their position somewhat difficult.
Back to that meeting last week then, where I reflected on the various component parts of our campaign up to now, namely: the political, media, industrial, legal and professional aspects. It is worth remembering that this latter route is the one that has got us so far in the legal one; and that the skills and experiences of practitioners has put Grayling, Spurr and all of their Officials who continually asserted that we were just making it all up, think long and hard about the safety concerns to staff and the wider public. We will be issuing more details to members as soon as we can to explain more of the context of what has transpired.
All of these reasons and many more, are why our campaign continues. Our aim remains the reunification of the service to something that better resembles those which encompass the values of accountability, transparency and an effective interface with commissioned partners who know what they are doing. In short, restoring something like that which existed before this Government tried to break it.