Wednesday, 4 April 2018

Direct action by the Criminal Bar

An E Mail I received 3rd April .... I am happy to add it to this blog ...

The Criminal Bar is to take direct action as a result of new legal aid cuts. This email explains why action is being taken and why you should care about it. 

From today, most criminal chambers will be refusing to take on new government funded legal aid cases; this means that defendants will go unrepresented in the Crown Courts (where the most serious cases are tried). Such action could bring the courts to a halt - a matter not lightly embarked upon. Action is being taken because the criminal justice system is in crisis.

Chronic underfunding of the criminal justice system has resulted in: 
  • cases not being heard for months if not years after an incident, 
  • victims and witnesses unsupported through the process, 
  • many defendants unrepresented - (legal aid restrictions),
  • police fail to disclose vital evidence until the 11th hour, 
  • prosecutors given only 15mins to prepare trials in the Magistrates’ Courts (where most cases are heard),
  • despite the backlog of cases, judges are unavailable to hear them and courts are being closed,
  • the prison estate is in meltdown, with violence and drug use soaring each year,
  • the probation service fails to appropriately manage offenders in the community, 
  • some forensic labs operate without proper certification, affecting the reliability of scientific evidence presented in court, 
  • and in one terrifying incident, part of the ceiling of a Crown Court fell in .... 
The most likely result of a broken criminal justice system? Miscarriages of justice.

This is not theoretical. Last week, the Chief Inspector of the Crown Prosecutor Service told the Commons Justice Committee that disclosure failings were the single most frequent cause in the steady stream of miscarriages of justice. Today’s exposé in the Times adds weight to this claim. 

Miscarriages of justice have already occurred. You might be its next victim. And the situation is about to get worse…

From 1st April, legal aid rates have been cut by approximately 30%. This is on top of previous cuts to legal aid. Why should you care about this? 

The principal consequence is that it makes it more likely that more of the guilty will go free and more of the innocent will be imprisoned. 

In addition, swathes of the bar will no longer be able to survive in practice, with women, those from BAME backgrounds and those at the most junior end bearing the brunt. Barristers are independent, self-employed individuals who represent clients at court; as a result, they must prepare for cases during the evenings and at weekends, often at low rates or sometimes for free. Currently, the average yearly earnings for a junior criminal barrister is around £12,000 gross, less than the minimum wage. 

If the bar remains a profession where only those with wealthy parents can afford to enter, it will neither become representative of the people nor will it guarantee high quality advocacy. Moreover, judges are predominantly drawn from the bar and their judgments have enormous impact upon the country. We need talented advocates at all levels of expertise in order to ensure a fair justice system. We must retain our advocates and call for proper funding of the system as a whole. 

As the late Sir Henry Brooke said, “This is not about money for lawyers. The liberties of England are at stake.”

From today, lawyers are taking action to save the criminal justice system. Please support them. 

How you can help:
  1. Pass on this message to anyone who you think may be interested.
  2. Please buy and read a copy of The Secret Barrister’s book ‘Stories of The Law and How It’s Broken’. It will both inform and entertain you about the crisis in our justice system. No legal knowledge needed. Published 10 days ago, it is already no 3 on the Sunday Times best sellers list, it has been quoted in Parliament, and lawyers have crowd funded to send a copy to every MP. Available on amazon at:
  3. Write to your local MP. Let them know that their copy of the Secret Barrister’s book will be arriving; ask them to put it at the top of their reading list and ask them to take action to save the criminal justice system.
Thank you for reading this message.

Postscript 5th April:

This announcement by KBW Chambers appears to be a fair statement of the position barristers find themselves in as a result of the government's AGFS policy.