CBA Monday Message 19.03.18

Chair’s Update:
Angela Rafferty QC

This week the roof literally fell in at Sheffield Crown Court as the profession continued to grapple with the fall out from the proposed AGFS reforms. Every member will agree that the lack of funding in the Criminal Justice System has resulted in near collapse. You cannot have a national asset and treat it like this.

It is illogical for successive governments on the one hand to market our system as the best in the world and then refuse to ring fence a budget for it, increase spending or ensure those who do the essential work in it are properly and fairly remunerated. Indeed it is clear this week that the Ministry of Justice faces further budget reductions in 2019. It is illogical to expect any profession to accept cuts for 20 years and not eventually crack.

Sir Brian Leveson in the case of R v Crawley and others (2014) EWCA Crim 1028) made it clear that disputes about levels of legal aid remuneration will not usually involve the judiciary. However he said this:

The criminal justice system in this country requires the highest quality advocates both to prosecute and to defend those accused of crime……..We have no doubt that it is critical that there remains a thriving cadre of advocates capable of undertaking all types of publicly funded work, developing their skills from the straightforward work until they are able to undertake the most complex’.

The new AGFS reform has exposed this impoverishment of the system like no other event in recent legal aid history.  There is real concern that the more complex work will not be adequately paid for. Money has been moved around the AGFS system but there is no new money to go in.

Investment was one of the key premises set out by the original negotiators. Whilst the structure of the scheme has made attempts to right iniquities and to help the most junior the overall effect is that it is now crystal clear that there is just not enough money.

The reality is that the Statutory Instrument implementing the scheme will make the reform law on 1st April. The Executive Committee this week decided to make a formal request for the MOJ to “delay, withdraw, amend or reconsider”implementation of the Statutory Instrument.

We meet officials tomorrow and will inform them of our position and the various levels of feedback we have received.

We have also decided to survey our members’ views and to collect information as to the profession’s stance in respect of action for justice. It has been decided to do this through Heads of Chambers. This will allow us to see responses by region and practice area and to consult the profession directly and in confidence. It will also ensure maximum participation.

We have sent the Circuit Leaders and all heads of Chambers the survey questions. We have also sent them to Chambers administrators.

Please respond. If you have any difficulty in gaining access to the survey please let Aaron Dolan know as soon as possible.

We will collate all information by 27th March (next Tuesday).  You will appreciate that we have not been given much time to absorb the full implications of these reforms and we know you haven’t either. It is vital that you look at the scheme as it affects you and don’t just adhere or adopt the views of others.

We are told there may be differences of opinion around the country. We need to establish what appetite there might be for action.

It is clear that the Criminal Justice system cannot continue with this level of underfunding.

We have organised the following CBA meetings on circuit. If these are in your area it would be of immense value to have your views.

26th March, 5.30pm
Cardiff – Park Plaza hotel on Greyfriars Road

27th March, 5.30pm
Birmingham – No5 Chambers

27th March, 5.30pm
Leeds – Zenith Chambers

28th March, 5.30pm
Sheffield – St John’s buildings

Campaign for Justice
This is an important event involving the LCSA, CLSA, prison reform groups and other CJS ‘stakeholders’. A Charter for Justice will be unveiled. At this critical time for the system unity is essential. You can read about the event and book a place here.

Wellbeing event
The Lincoln’s Inn Social & Wellbeing Group and the South Eastern Circuit are holding a joint wellbeing event for the bar and judiciary following the success of the last joint event on the 11th of April 2018 in the Old Hall at 18.00.

The Inn and the Circuit consider the wellbeing of its members and the judiciary of significant importance.  A drink’s reception will follow the event at 19.30.

The event will be free but must be booked in advance.  Please contact Aaron to reserve your seat.

Transform Justice Press release
Imprisoned on remand by “skype” – the dystopian future for an already broken system. Read the release here.

Lunch survey
If you haven’t filled this in yet please do so here.

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