Monday Message 12.07.21

“If we value justice, we must act accordingly”

The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Burnett of Maldon, delivered his annual Mansion House speech to HM Judges last Thursday 7th July on the same day that the Criminal Bar Association delivered its latest submission to the Independent Review of Criminal Legal Aid. His message in relation to our justice system is one that dovetails with the overarching message of the CBA, articulated not just within our CLAR submission, but consistently across the Monday Messages of the last seven years. Lord Burnett speaks of the need to invest but he goes further focussing, not just on cost and value for money, but on broader, deeper, longer lasting values. He says that, “[t]he delays caused by COVID have exposed the implications if the justice system is not working smoothly and quickly. There are costs in human and financial terms to individuals, to businesses and to society if cases take too long to resolve.As a country, we must not lose sight of what this tells us about the value that should be attached to the courts and tribunals. They are much more than a public service available to those who find themselves using them. They form one of the bedrocks of a free society governed by the rule of law.”

The Criminal Bar Association continues to press the case for a seven-year strategic plan underpinned by sustained increases in funding at every level of our criminal justice system to ensure meaningful access to justice by all. At the heart of that strategic plan must be substantial increases to levels of remuneration payable to criminal barristers.

Under the heading of ‘investment’, the Lord Chief Justice said in his speech that, “[i]f we value justice, sufficient funding must be provided, not just as a temporary stopgap, but on a sustained basis”. This must include significant increases to criminal legal aid rates as, otherwise, there will be insufficient numbers of criminal advocates to manage the case load or to hold together our creaking system. This is no cry of wolf. Lord Burnett made it clear in his speech that we are already struggling with insufficient judges. He said, “[w]e have done well to limit the growth in outstanding cases. But we cannot now reduce levels as fast as we would like. Years of budgetary squeezes have reduced the resilience and flexibility of the courts and tribunals, limiting capacity. We do not currently have enough judges or staff and lack both the quantity and quality of buildings and technology necessary.” A shortage of judges speaks to a depleted Criminal Bar. For centuries, the bar has been the principal source for the next generation of suitably experienced and qualified judiciary who uphold the rule of law upon which we all depend.

The Criminal Bar, however, is being asphyxiated by cuts to legal aid rates of pay whilst, at the same time, the demands placed upon us are ratcheted up to unacceptable levels in order to try and patch together a system starved of resources. If we value our judiciary, Government needs to value the Criminal Bar. It can start by paying up. We echo the sentiments of the Lord Chief Justice, “[I]f we value justice, we must act accordingly.” 

HMCTS Panel Discussion – Tuesday 27th July 2021:

HMCTS is planning to hold an online panel discussion from 17.00- 18.00 hours on Tuesday 27th July 2021 to set out its response to any lifting of restrictions introduced on Monday 19th July. The CBA will be on the panel along with representatives from Public Health England, PECs and various court users. We will be able to ask questions, on your behalf, of HMCTS and others on issues such as court safety, the recovery plan and the use of court buildings. Please send any questions you would like to be asked and any feedback on these issues to the CBA administrator.

Annual General Meeting:

Due to the online webinar with HMCTS now taking place on Tuesday 27th July, the AGM has been pushed back to Tuesday 7th September.   If you wish to attend the AGM, please contact the administrator.

Vice Chair Elections:

The candidates for the 2021 Vice Chair Election are Narita Bahra QC (2 Hare Court) and Kirsty Brimelow QC (Doughty St Chambers).

Please vote via the website before 16.00hrs on Monday 19th July. ‘Manifestos‘ and further voting instructions can be accessed here.

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