Friday, 30 March 2018

Good Friday 2018 - Policing issues - Criminal Bar at crisis point

Good Friday 2018.  Easter and Christmas are the greatest of Christian Festivals.  The story of Easter is well-known.  Pontius Pilate - faced with the baying mob - allowed Christ to be crucified.  Whatever the truth of those long-ago terrible events, we can think ourselves lucky that we live under the Rule of Law in the United Kingdom and that it is a law which places great emphasis on civil liberty and the rights of the individual against the State.

Nonetheless, it would be immensely foolish to take such matters for granted.  We need to have good Policing to investigate offending and to bring those charged before the courts.  Once at court we need to have the prosecution conducted fairly but robustly and the fearless independence of the judges, juries and magistrates is to be defended at all times.  Historically, rights such as the right to a fair trial have been hard-fought and have not been readily granted by a benevolent State.  There are serious grounds for concern at the present time.


According to the Home Office (HERE pdf), on 31st March 2017, the number of Police Officers in England and Wales was 123,142.  That was a decrease from 31st March 2016 when the number was 124,066.  On 31st March 2010, the number was 143,734 - (Home Office).

In March 2018, HM Inspectorate of Constabulary, Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) issued an "Effectiveness" report - (HERE pdf) - pointing out that, since their 2016 inspection, there had been a 14% increase in the overall level of police-recorded crime (excluding fraud).  The overall report and also effectiveness reports for each of the 43 Police Forces in England and Wales may be seen via the HMICFRS website.

I have quoted from official reports and readers must draw their own conclusions about these matters but, at least for my part, I believe that the cuts in Policing are a significant risk to public safety.

Release under investigation:

Reductions in Police numbers are not the only concern.  The other day I blogged about "Release under Investigation" and, on 30th March 2018,  a BBC article appeared - "Thousands of violent crime suspects released without conditions."   The article states that - "Thousands of suspects under investigation for violent and sexual offences have been released without condition since a 28-day limit on police bail was introduced a year ago.  In one three-month period, 12 forces released more than 3,000 violent crime, murder, rape and sexual offences suspects, figures seen by the BBC show."

The BBC article followed the latest overall effectiveness report by HMICFRS

The report tells us that the Police Service has 17% fewer investigators than it needs (page 28) and calls for forces to develop action plans by September 2018.  Precisely how experienced investigators will be found is not clear given that many have now retired and have little or no desire to return.

The report goes on to look at "release under investigation." 

Use of bail 

We found there is a risk of unintended consequences in the recent changes in bail legislation. The changes could mean victims, in particular vulnerable people, are not well protected enough.   It is important that chief constables have a thorough understanding of how their  forces are putting the changes into practice and how well their forces are protecting  vulnerable victims. This will help bring potential problems to light early on. The police service can then take action before the problem becomes widespread and entrenched.   We will keep monitoring how effectively forces are using bail in the integrated PEEL assessment in 2018.

Recommendation  4

By September 2018, all forces should review how they are implementing changes to pre-charge police bail, working with the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead.  The review should include an ssessment of how far vulnerable people are being affected by these changes.  As soon as possible, forces should then put into effect any necessary changes to make sure they are using bail effectively, and in particular that vulnerable victims get the protection that bail conditions can give them. 

Crisis at the Criminal Bar:

The Guardian 29th March 2018 reports that - "Criminal barristers in England and Wales have voted to stage mass walkouts and refuse new publicly funded cases in protest against sustained government cuts to the justice system.

In a poll organised by the Criminal Bar Association (CBA), 90% of its members backed direct action from 1 April. They are likely to be supported by solicitors working in the criminal courts and possibly other court staff.

The protest was triggered by changes to the advocates’ graduated fee scheme (AGFS), which barristers claim represents a further cut to their income.

Angela Rafferty QC, the chair of the CBA, said: “The [criminal justice] system is desperate, as are we. We are informing our members today that they should consider not taking any [new] work from April 1, the implementation date of the reforms."

A statement by the Bar Council (29th March) draws attention to the fact that - "legal aid across the board - including criminal legal aid - requires sufficient funding from the Government. There is just no alternative if we want to achieve effective, fair and efficient justice. The current level of funding is just not sufficient."  The statement continues - "The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) budget has been slashed across the board in the last decade. The effects, in every area, are becoming ever clearer: courts and prisons in a deplorable state of repair, leading to unacceptable conditions; litigants struggling to deal with their own cases without legal help in the most trying of circumstances; overloaded courts and judges; increasing delays; and judicial morale at rock bottom, to name but a few."

"Those who suffer from all this are the public; the most vulnerable; the victims of crime; witnesses called to give evidence; and those who are innocent of the offences with which they are charged.  This can only lead to miscarriages of justice - the conviction of the innocent and the acquittal of the guilty - which harm both the public and the rule of law of which we are, and wish to remain, so proud."

There can be little doubt that elements in media will soon be rolling out the "whingeing fat cats" line.  The truth is that the criminal bar is no longer an attractive proposition and many barristers are leaving the Bar altogether or are no longer interested in criminal work.  In the longer term this will have desperate consequences for justice according to law.

It is easy to take the view that this only affects "criminals" and so why worry!  It is tempting for the law-abiding to "wash their hands" of such matters.  The fact is that almost any citizen can find themselves on the wrong side of the law in many ways such as by involvement in a road traffic accident from which charges arise.  It is then that the citizen learns the value of experienced and capable counsel representing them at the trial.

The Criminal Bar Association (CBA) issued this statement on Monday 26th March and this announcement on Thursday 29th March stating - "We are the people who fairly prosecute and fearlessly defend. Without the independent criminal Bar innocent people would now be locked up. Without the independent Bar, the guilty would have walked free. Without the independent criminal Bar and its goodwill the system would have broken long ago.

As the late, great and much missed Sir Henry Brooke recognised “This is not about money for lawyers. It is the liberties of England that are at risk"

Last year, shortly before his death, retired judge Sir Henry Brooke said - "Seen in isolation, more money for lawyers is not a cause with which to rally the troops, but something has to be done to reverse the assault on a system of criminal justice that was once the envy of the world. This is not about money for lawyers. It is the liberties of England that are at risk" - Law Society Gazette 4th December 2017

Crimeline - Advocates' Graduated Fee Scheme

Notes and Links:

Thoughts about Pontius Pilate

Matthew 17:24 - When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said. “It is your responsibility!”

BBC News 30th March 2018 - Thousands of violent crime suspects released without conditions

5th June 2017, The Guardian reported that, since 2010, Police numbers had fallen by 21,500.

BBC News 3rd April 2017 - Police bail limit of 28 days comes into force

BBC News 28th September 2016 - Police Bail restriction plans 'dangerous'

March 2015 the BBC reported that all Police Forces in England and Wales were facing further budget cuts. 

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