THE criminal justice system will take generations to repair if the Government continues to cut its funding, the retiring top judge at Oxford Crown Court has warned.

Judge Gordon Risius said “almost every part of the system” is being damaged by cuts to areas such as legal aid, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and the Probation Service.

The former Honorary Recorder of Oxford told the Oxford Mail there are “inadequate numbers of people to do the work”, which is putting the rule of law under threat.

In his last months in the job, Judge Risius also spoke out about disruptions caused by prisoners not being brought to court and time being wasted on “unnecessary” hearings.

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And he has highlighted “almost daily” problems caused by private company GEOAmy not providing enough dock officers to guard defendants.

Judge Risius, 69, said the main cause of the problems are “the growing combination of almost every part of the system with inadequate numbers of people to do the work”.

He said: “The CPS – the last Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer and now Alison Saunders – is constantly told by the Government ‘your funding is going down, you’ve got to cut staff’. And the result is that the same amount of work is being done by fewer people and things are going wrong.

“It’s been the same with the Probation Service ever since I can remember.

“And then of course you’ve got [barristers] under attack, as they feel it, and the steady trickle of people leaving the bar to join the CPS or a local firm of solicitors as in-house advocates.

“That’s okay for the moment because they are people who know how to do it from both sides.

“But in 10 years you are going to get a generation of people who don’t know what it’s like to prosecute or defend, and I think justice will suffer.”

Justice Secretary Chris Grayling has announced cuts of 17.5 per cent to the legal aid fees paid to solicitors and a 30 per cent cut to fees paid in complex cases in the hope of saving about £215m by 2018.

The CPS and Probation Service were given targets by the Coalition Government to reduce their budgets by about 25 per cent.

It also plans to have up to 70 per cent of probation work provided by outside organisations, including private firms.

Judge Risius said: “It will of course sound like it’s the lawyers whingeing again, but I do think the rule of law and the criminal justice system is very much under threat at the moment.

“I accept that so is the NHS and the education system and the services, but there is this feeling that if they carry on cutting, in particular legal aid, in the way they have, it’s going to take generations to repair, if and when the financial state of the country ever improves, as no doubt it will. One hopes that it’s short term, because if it isn’t short term, we’re in trouble.”

Stuart Matthews, co-founder and principal of Oxford law firm Reeds Solicitors, said the cuts were already having a “devastating” effect.

He said: “The same expectations exist but the manpower simply isn’t there to meet them.

“In all areas of the justice system those who are committed to providing a quality service are finding it harder and harder to do so through no fault of their own. Future generations will look back in sorrow at the destruction of our once standard-bearing criminal justice system.”

Solicitor with Oxford law firm Turpin & Miller and Oxford Mail legal columnist John McNulty said the cuts were also affecting civil cases.

He said: “If people can’t get redress for wrongs that have occurred, because they can’t get legal aid, they could end up taking the law into their own hands.

“The best-case scenario is they will end up fighting cases themselves, clogging up the court system and making it more expensive.”

The judge’s fears were also echoed by Oxford East Labour MP Andrew Smith, who said confidence in the justice system was being eroded.

He said: “With the probation service being privatised, legal aid slashed and cuts in policing, there is a very real risk of losing public confidence in the whole justice system.”

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: “Legal aid remains available where people most need legal help.

“The reforms we are putting in place will make it sustainable for providers in the sector, and affordable for the taxpayer who ultimately foots the bill.

“Our reforms will mean a fairer, more efficient criminal justice system - as well us a giving us a better chance of keeping our communities safe.”

A spokesman for GEOAmy said the firm had received one complaint from the judiciary in Oxford since 2011, but it would look into the judge’s concerns.

West Oxford and Abingdon MP Nicola Blackwood said: “Obviously, many important public services have to operate in very tight financial circumstances given the global recession and the budget deficit inherited by this Government.

“However, as extensive media coverage has shown, many of the traumatic problems experienced by witnesses and victims in court are long-term, and unrelated to current funding decisions.

“That is why, ever since Operation Bullfinch, I have led national calls to reform court processes so victims and witnesses of crime are better supported in court, and I am very pleased that the Justice Secretary has agreed to introduce a new ‘Victims’ Law’ to address these very problems.”


Judge Gordon Risius was born in Bournemouth and spent 30 years in the Army as a “flying” lawyer, rising to the rank of Major General.

He was inspired to switch from practising law in London after watching Lawrence of Arabia with Peter O'Toole five times and thinking: “Well, the uniform looks quite cool.”

Judge Risius said: “It was the best decision I ever made. One of my regrets is that I never managed to get out to where the action was: The Balkans, Afghanistan, Iraq. I think I had got too senior by then and it tended to be the younger officers who went out. I was the Ministry of Defence legal services desk officer during the first Gulf War when we retook Kuwait from Saddam Hussein, but that’s the nearest I got.”

He added: “The problem I suppose for the military is you give soldiers a weapon, you tell them to use to in appropriate circumstances, and if they get it wrong they end up on a charge of murder. And arguably that’s unfair, because they might say ‘well I was only doing my job’.”

“That's what gave rise to the army’s flying lawyer system.”

Judge Risius left the Army in 2003 and became a circuit judge, arriving at Reading Crown Court in 2005 and moving to Oxford in 2010.


ONE of the most memorable cases of Judge Risius’s long career was working on “the great Cyprus spy trial” when he was an army prosecutor.

He said: “Little did I know that almost on the day I arrived in Cyprus in 1983 a number of soldiers and airmen instead of shredding and burning very sensitive documents, were stuffing them down their trousers and handing them to the KGB. All but one of those involved went to the Old Bailey and were prosecuted unsuccessfully.

“But one of the Director of Public Prosecutions said we could deal with it, so I prosecuted him and everybody had to be specially cleared because it was so sensitive, and he was convicted and sentenced. When the Old Bailey jury a year later acquitted all his mates he popped up and said ‘they've been let off, can I be let off?’. And the answer was no. The Government commissioned David Calcutt, a top QC, to enquire into the practices of the service police in that case.”


ON December 28, 2010, just as he was waiting to be formally made the Honorary Recorder of Oxford Crown Court, Judge Gordon Risius fell and suffered a serious brain injury.

He said: “I applied and I was given the job – and then it all went so badly wrong. Two months later I woke up in the Radcliffe wondering where everyone was – I thought I was still in the Army.

“My memory has come back so it wasn’t a complete loss, but those three weeks unconscious in the Radcliffe I have absolutely no recollection of.

“I don’t recall the paramedics coming to my house in the middle of the night and four of them having to hold me down, apparently I was pretty violent. I bit a doctor on the finger, I was lucky not to be prosecuted for that, it was clearly not intentional. I was incredibly lucky, I think my wife foresaw years of being married to a cabbage.

“The neurologists told my wife that it was a miraculous recovery and I was allowed home after three weeks to start the long process of recuperation.

“In one sense [my time at Oxford] has been extremely satisfying and enjoyable, on the other hand, is has been a terrible struggle.

“But I can’t speak highly enough [of the crown court staff]. All of them, they’ve all been so kind, and that’s absolutely genuine.”

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