What is a government for if not to ensure justice? Surely that is one of the key tests when deciding if a group of politicians is fit to govern us? Sadly, it is becoming increasingly clear the current government has an entirely different ‘bottom line’: namely, money.

Hardly a surprise, you might say. But the mess the current government and their ex-coalition partners, the Lib Dems, have made of our justice system – once touted as the envy of the world – is a master class in incompetence.

At the heart of the problem is a decade of deliberate underfunding and austerity. So much so, the current justice system is in meltdown.

Recently, for example, courts of all kinds across England and Wales were disrupted for a fortnight because of successive IT failures which began when the criminal justice secure email system went down, depriving 75,000 lawyers and staff of communications. A failure that was long-predicted and warned as imminent.

Chris Henley QC, the chair of the Criminal Bar Association, wrote in a message to members lamenting the lack of investment in our court system: “Trials adjourned, evidence inaccessible, secure emails vanishing, wifi down, Xhibit just a blank screen, prisons beyond communication, the stuff of satire … But it’s OK, it had nothing to do with a chronic lack of resources.”

If only the crisis stopped there. The government have axed 21,000 police officers at a time when recorded crime is rising at the fastest rate in a decade. Locally, under Theresa May’s tenure as Home Secretary and Prime Minister, we have seen 129 police officers and 6 community support officers cut in North Yorkshire alone.

A huge problem for many citizens is the on-going cuts to legal aid, from a £2.5bn bill in 2010 to £1.6bn today. As a result, large areas of civil legal aid have been removed from legal aid coverage. These include most cases involving housing problems, family law, immigration, employment disputes and challenges to welfare benefit payments. The end result is that ordinary people – rather than the wealthy folk our well-heeled political elite increasingly represent – have been effectively excluded from access to justice for large areas of civil life.

In addition, half of all magistrates' courts in England and Wales have closed since 2010 so that many people seeking to access justice have to travel long distances or even rely on video-conferencing to state their case. A total of 162 out of 323 magistrates’ courts stopped operating between 2010 and 2018, according to data published by the House of Commons library.

Is it any wonder, combined with cuts in police numbers, that the proportion of reported crimes prosecuted in the UK has fallen to eight per cent?

Wherever you look into the justice system in austerity Britain we see waste and mismanagement. The part-privatisation of the Probation Service, according to the government’s own figures, has cost the taxpayer at least £110m in fines written off for private contractors failing to meet performance targets.

This has led to trust breaking down between judges, magistrates and the probation service, according to a study by a justice thinktank, so that there has been a 24 per cent fall in the number of non-custodial sentences imposed in England and Wales. A crazy situation when our overcrowded prisons are already riddled with violence and drugs, making rehabilitation less likely for offenders. Repeat offending has a huge cost for victims and communities alike. It is simple common sense to do all we can to re-integrate offenders into society.

What lies behind this catalogue of failure is an unstated assumption that people only deserve the justice they can afford. It is a dangerous, profoundly undemocratic idea, one that undermines our basic human rights. Everyone is the loser by the current situation. As Shakespeare pointed out when it comes to true justice: ‘It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.’ None of us know when we or our family will need ‘our day in court’. Money needs to be diverted from tax cuts to the wealthy to our crumbling justice system without delay. That should be the top priority for any decent, moral, responsible government.