Both are now being undermined by the subversive power of some governments and the pervasive influence of the social media at a speed which is comparable with the devastation of the rain forests.

In August the British criminal justice system was almost brought to a standstill by a strike of barristers who claimed to have reached a crisis point of protest caused by the austerity measure imposed by successive Tory governments. These included the sacking of judges, magistrates and specialist staff and the sale of nearly one half of decrepit court buildings without any expenditure being envisaged for the construction of modern replacements or the improvement of old. Inevitably this has resulted in a huge back-log of cases with defendants being kept indefinitely in custody and the unavailability of witnesses due to death, illness or emigration . There has been no review of fees paid to lawyers for at least a decade and now, in 2022, cuts are proposed as part of Trussian policies for economic austerity

By contrast , justice in the Civil Division is booming with many Queen´s Counsel earning huge fees for appearing on behalf of the elite in cases ranging from messy celebrity divorces to battles between rival foreign oligarchs .

Things are worse in the U.S.A. The Supreme Court of Justice is controlled by four Republican appointed judges whose opinions have been based on views to the hard right of politics ; even though the Democrats have won the popular vote in seven out of eight past presidential elections. Because of the restrictions imposed by the Covid-19 epidemic the court building has been closed to the public so proceedings have effectively been held in camera. Since early May, when a draft of the opinion that over-ruled the controversial Roe v Wade decision was leaked, the ultimate home of American Justice has been surrounded by a high wire fence with separate entrances for judges , lawyers and accused guarded by a specially selected security force . For inexplicable reasons, the justices have stopped announcing their judgements from the bench which are now delivered in digital form. Thus the traditional freedom of expression by minority judges, defence lawyers and accused and the questioning of sentences is now denied.

In Portugal, the justice system has long been criticised for its interminable delays and the cloak of secrecy which conceals procedural irregularities. Low wages and poor working conditions have caused trained staff to strike or “go slow”. But more disturbing has been the suspension or arrest of magistrates who have been accused of participating in the same crimes of corruption and economic fraud which they are supposed to be investigating. To what extent this has existed and to what degree have accused persons been wrongfully convicted will never been known because the obstacles built into the system are so many.

More importantly, there hangs over the globalised legal framework the impending transition to much of the clerical and investigative work being given over to robots using Artificial Intelligence (AI) . Recently the lead in such an application has been taken by the Chinese who have used a basic track and trace method to analyse the data given by epidemic victims and this will soon be extended to the management of legal proceedings. From the U.S. come reports of passengers at airports being asked to temporarily surrender their i-phones the contents of which are then clandestinely up-loaded to “cloud security” for later analysis by FBI trained AI robots. Progress in surveillance is astounding and one may reasonably expect that quite soon court judgements and sentencing will largely be digitalised. Will this be transparent and just ? That will very much depend on the mood and mode of whoever sets the program.

by email, Roberto Cavaleiro,Tomar