CBA Monday Message – 15.05.17
Francis FitzGibbon QC
Angela and I have written the following Open Letter, highlighting some of the most pressing concerns that the new administration – of whatever political colour – must deal with, to support the crumbling institutions of criminal justice.
The Criminal Bar Association represents 4000 criminal barristers who prosecute and defend in Courts throughout England and Wales. Our work is in the public interest, as we help judges and juries reach the right outcomes, so that the guilty are convicted and the innocent acquitted. The CBA has no party-political allegiances.
After Brexit, the legal system as a whole will be among the UK’s most prestigious and important assets. Criminal justice must be as strong and stable as the rest. The rule of law depends on a properly funded court system, with careers as lawyers and judges open to talent – without restriction by class, ethnicity or wealth.
Governments for at least 25 years have allowed criminal justice to degrade, from the police service, through the publicly funded part of the legal profession, the Courts, to the prisons and the probation service. Violent crime is rising and the system is dealing with a tsunami of highly sensitive sex cases, which are set to occupy it for years to come – it is imperative that enough investment is put in, across the sector, to ensure that the rights of victims and defendants are upheld. Lack of resources will delay justice, and we know what justice delayed means.
If £3bn can be found to repair the Houses of Parliament, then money must be available to invest in justice – it is not an optional extra, but an essential element in a fair and tolerant society.
Here’s what the Prime Minister said in June 2016:
‘If you’re black, you’re treated more harshly by the criminal justice system than if you’re white. If you’re a white, working-class boy, you’re less likely than anybody else to go to university. If you’re at a state school, you’re less likely to reach the top professions than if you’re educated privately.’
These things must stop.
Policy has been characterized for too long by hasty, ill-thought out measures. Apparent cost-savings and efficiencies have brought the criminal Courts to their knees, and shifted costs elsewhere.
There has been blue-sky thinking, but not enough practical, real-world problem-solving. Things need to work now if they are going to work in the future.
The neglect has to stop. The incoming administration must at least:
- Recognise criminal justice as equal in importance to civil and commercial, and invest in the people who are needed to restore and maintain its reputation.
- Reverse the cuts to legal aid: fees have been cut by over 30% since 2007. If not, the supply of future leaders and judges will dry up.
- Support the independent criminal Bar, which works in the public interest and represents excellent value for money.
- Commit to the proposals in the Ministry of Justice’s 2015 paper Preserving and Enhancing the Quality of Criminal Advocacy
- Bring in defence advocates panels, ensuring only advocates of the highest quality do the most serious work
- Rationalise the system of payments
- Root out bad practices
- Repair the collapsing fabric of Court buildings
- Promote equality and diversity with more family-friendly working practices
- Retain the Human Rights Act as a powerful protector of victims: remember that the Hillsborough Inquest would not have happened without it.
Flexible Operating Hours
If anyone thinks that the delay of the pilot scheme due to the general election has appeased advocates, they would be mistaken. And not just criminal advocates: Amanda Yip QC, a personal injury specialist, has said the plan will make childcare ‘financially, practically, and emotionally impossible’.
We have already pointed out the everyday difficulties that advocates will face, the immediate impact on diversity, and the long-term consequences for retention of advocates and appointments to the judiciary in previous messages. I do not want a profession which excludes people who either have no care responsibilities, or who lack the money to pay for hired carers to cover their unpredictably ‘flexible hours’. Entry to the Bar and progress in it are Darwinian enough without their becoming the survival of the richest. In an article in the Times last week about the lack of diversity in the senior judiciary, I wrote
We have had a lord chancellor who advocates greater diversity, but in the publicly funded sector the policy of successive governments has choked it off. Cuts to legal aid are one thing, but HM Courts & Tribunals Service wants to introduce a system of longer and unpredictable court sitting hours that will make work virtually unmanageable for people with care responsibilities. It appears to think that every minute when the judge is not on the bench is time wasted. This is simply wrong. What makes courts efficient is the preparation that goes into cases, and it takes place offstage and out of sight.
The pressures that exist — preparing late into the night, anxiety about getting paid, rates of pay — are not unique to the legal profession. We know we will be working unsocial hours and we deal with it. But if more diversity downstream is the aim, it is folly to impose impossible, career-killing working practices on the very people who would help to make the judiciary more diverse.
Another civil Silk, Will Waldron QC, says ‘It is pure hypocrisy to run this pilot scheme on the basis of improving access to justice for working people…Excessive court fees and withdrawal of public funding across the board – not court opening hours – are compromising access to justice. The court system is on its knees and gimmicks like this won’t fix it.’
The world-wide cyber attack reminds us to keep our operating systems and anti-virus protection up to date. Annoying though it often is, CJSM gives some protection to work emails.
Space is filling fast for Sir Brian Leveson’s lecture on advocacy at the Old Bailey on 23rd May. Please make a booking via Aaron. It will be a fascinating event, and we are delighted that Sir Brian has agreed to give the lecture.
Vulnerable Witness Training
Spaces are available for facilitator training on 13th June & 11th July. It is really important for facilitators to be trained, so that they can go on to train every one else.
Nominations open on 5th June for the election of the next vice-Chair of the CBA. When I stood in 2015 I was a newcomer to the CBA Executive Committee and knew little of what the post entailed. The last two years have been among the most fascinating of my career, and I would warmly recommend people to get involved.
Kalisher Trust Internship
The Kalisher Trust are offering a 4-month paid internship at JUSTICE. This is a great opportunity for an intending criminal barrister to work at one of the most respected and influential law reform organisations anywhere. Closing date is 26th May. Details here.
Youth Justice Summit
Angela chaired a session on sexting and sex offences involving children at the Youth Justice Summit on 12th May – the CBA was one of the sponsors. Daniella Waddoup (of Doughty Street Chambers) was honoured with an award as Rising Star in Youth Justice, for her work representing vulnerable young people.