Monday, 4 July 2022

Criminal justice ~ action by barristers

Criminal court statistics for January to March 2022 reveal 58,653 outstanding Crown Court cases at the end of March with 27% of those being open for a year or more.

The tendency within government is to blame the backlog on the coronavirus pandemic. Certainly that is part of the story but by no means the whole picture. 

The criminal justice system has suffered cuts and underfunding for years. Police numbers were reduced, Crown Prosecution Service employees cut, numerous courts across the country were closed. 

Even where courts remained,

restrictions were imposed by government on the number of days they were able to operate. The result was - BEFORE Covid - a considerable backlog of cases as shown in this September 2019 Law Society Gazette article - Crown court sitting days decision 'political' - senior presiding judge | News | Law Gazette

Rates of pay for lawyers under the legal aid scheme are fixed by government and have been deliberately kept at an unsustainable low level. 

Barristers who practise in the criminal courts are now entering a second week of action over their remuneration under the legal aid scheme - The Second Week of Action – 04.07.22 – Criminal Bar Association

The Secret Barrister blog has published a clear explanation of why barristers feel that this action is necessary - please read the article - The Criminal Bar on strike – 9 things you need to know – The Secret Barrister

As Secret Barrister points out - "

"The median income for junior criminal barristers inside the first three years of practice is £12,200. For a seventy hour week. After they have paid tens of thousands of pounds to qualify. Unsurprisingly, this is unsustainable. People cannot afford to stay in the job. Nearly forty per cent – FORTY PER CENT – of the most junior left in a single year.

And even though income increases after a few years, the pay combined with the intolerable conditions mean that we are haemorrhaging criminal barristers. A quarter have left in the last five years. A further twenty five percent are seriously considering leaving. The profession is falling to pieces, and something drastic has to change."

Earlier this year, the government announced a fee increase of 15% for the Advocates' Graduated Fee Scheme (AGFS) to apply from 30 September 2022. The Bar Council welcomed this as a first step - Criminal legal aid fee increases a welcome first step, but next stages critical to rebuilding justice system, says Bar Council

That alone will not solve the problems facing the criminal justice system. If the system is to have a sustainable future then, at the very least, there ought to be full implementation of the recommendations of the Independent Review of Criminal Legal Aid - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk) which reported in November 2021.

In March 2022, the government responded to the Independent Review Report - Response to Independent Review of Criminal Legal Aid - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)

Statement by Lord Chief Justice:

Update from the Lord Chief Justice regarding non-attendance at court by members of the Bar | Courts and Tribunals Judiciary

Scotland:

Legal aid: Scottish government forced to make offer to practitioners | Scottish Legal News

Links:

Why are criminal barristers taking part in an “unnecessary and irresponsible strike”? – The Secret Barrister

London lawyers refuse legal aid jobs in dispute over fees | Legal aid | The Guardian

5 July 2022 - Dominic Raab accused of failing to address concerns of criminal barristers | Law | The Guardian

6 July - FT - Barrister strikes are symptom of Britain's crumbling criminal justice system

22 July - Guest post by Joanna Hardy-Susskind: Attrition – The Secret Barrister

Original post dated 4 July 2022


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