Croydon South’s Conservative MP, Chris Philp, has been accused of the serious offence of lying to parliament by one of the country’s most prominent lawyers.
Philp, a junior minister in the Home Office, claims that he has been “grossly misrepresented” over remarks he made to the Commons about delays and caseload backlogs in the English courts system.
Philp has also been called to account over what many say are false claims that the country is unable to accept any more child refugees, after he told a parliamentary committee that Britain is “at breaking point” – exactly the same form of words used by Nigel Farage in a very nasty UKIP election poster.
The accusations come in the same week that Priti Patel, Philp’s boss at the Home Office, was reported to have considered a policy on immigration which would effectively see Britain return to the kind of barbaric deportations and concentration camps practised in the 18th and 19th centuries.
The Conservative government this week also voted through the controversial UK Internal Market Bill that breaks this country’s international agreements, and which today saw the European Union commence legal action against this country.
As the government went ahead with its treaty-breaking legislation, Philp was among the Tory MPs who on Tuesday trooped into the division lobby to vote against a Labour amendment which called on “ministers to respect the rule of law and uphold the independence of the courts”.
Philp never qualified in the law, so unlike other Tory ministers in the Home Office and Ministry of Justice, he cannot be de-barred or struck off as a member of the Law Society for so willfully breaking the law.
But as an MP, and a government minister, Philp risks losing his job altogether if it is shown that he has lied to parliament. And according to The Secret Barrister, that’s exactly what Philp has done over the effectiveness, or lack of it, of the English courts system.
The Secret Barrister is possibly this country’s most famous lawyer since Rumpole.
The Secret Barrister keeps their identity secret, while thousands of people read their best-selling books about the short-comings of the legal system. “Wears a black cape and fights crime. Not Batman,” is the self-description of the barrister who practises criminal law while also being named Blogger of the Year in 2016 and 2017.
The barrister has taken issue with Philp’s misrepresentation of how court business is being conducted. The barrister has long campaigned against cuts to the courts service which are causing lengthy backlogs in caseloads, in some cases seeing the accused and victims having to wait for nearly five years before their case comes before a judge.
As Hansard has recorded, in a debate held in the Commons last week on “Access to Justice” around the coronavirus pandemic, Philp, in his role as Under-Secretary of State for the Home Office, told the House that the courts had been operating better during covid-19 than at any time since 2010.
Replying to a question from a Labour MP, Philp could not resist making a cheap party political point. “I would remind him that the outstanding caseload in the Crown Court, even with coronavirus, is lower today than it was in 2010, so we have managed to run the court system more effectively with coronavirus than the last Labour government did without it.”
But as one report noted, “The evidence, regrettably, for all court users is quite the reverse. The focus should not be on the case backlog but the time it is taking for cases to journey through the system.” The majority of cases are taking an average of 511 days to complete in Crown Court. According to Ministry of Justice figures, by mid-August, the backlog of cases was 46,467 – the highest since 2015.
Being well-acquainted with the law, and the situation in courts across the country, the Secret Barrister made no secret of his anger with the MP’s statement to the House of Commons.
“Chris Philp is a liar,” the Secret Barrister tweeted, “and should apologise to the country, and to Parliament, for his attempts to deliberately mislead.”
And the Secret Barrister added, “As the Crown Courts continue to list trials in 2021-2022 for alleged offences committed in 2017-2018, forcing victims and the accused to wait years for justice, it’s important to call out minister [Chris Philp] for his flagrant dishonesty about his government’s record.”
For his part, Philp said today, “The Secret Barrister has grossly misrepresented what I said. In fact, they have rebutted something I didn’t say at all.
“I said that the number of outstanding Crown Court jury trials now is lower than it was in 2010 – which is true. The Secret Barrister quoted other figures about waiting times, but I made no claim about waiting times (which I fully acknowledge need to be shortened, and we are working on doing that).
“My view remains that our court system is recovering well from the coronavirus pandemic, although there is definitely a lot more to do. Magistrate Court disposals have been exceeding receipts in most of the last few weeks – so the outstanding Magistrates caseload is coming down – and over 100 Crown Court jury trials a week are now being listed.
“The pandemic has hugely affected the court system – jury trials were suspended completely for a time by the Lord Chief Justice and it has taken a lot of effort to get them back up and running with 12 jurors all adhering to social distancing.
“We are on track to have 250 safe socially distanced jury trial courtrooms by end of October, which is back up to the pre-covid level. This has entailed a lot of work, including setting up 18 new ‘Nightingale Courts’, 10 of which are already open.”
Whether Philp will ever be able to explain away convincingly his remarks, made in his role as immigration minister to a parliamentary committee this week seems far less likely.
In the committee room Philp claimed that Britain couldn’t take in any unaccompanied children from refugee camps in Greece and Italy because the numbers were already “so huge” it was a “struggle to find a place for them”,
Philp told the committee, with a Farage-esque flourish, “Not only are we already playing our part, we are playing our part to breaking point.”
Council leaders from around the country – from Conservative as well as Labour-run local authorities – said the remark was far from the truth, and that they had offered to take more unaccompanied asylum seekers, but had been ignored.
“It’s nonsense,” said the former Labour MP.
“We’re talking about a very small number of vulnerable children. It’s completely wrong.”
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