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Monday Message – 14.08.23

Many of you will be swimming in chilly or warm waters, balancing on paddle boards, eating endless ice-cream, being dragged, or dragging others around theme parks or hiking on a mountain trail into high wind or thin air. Many of you will be taking entirely different types of holidays and others are still defending and prosecuting each day.

The criminal bar has an invisible as well as a visible diversity. Of course, barristers aren’t alike in how they live but when we meet each other, we easily fall into conversations and friendships. There is a quality in practising at the Criminal Bar that binds. It is sunshine and trudging through the rain. It is feeling at the top of the mountain or at the end of a joy filled day.

Some More Progress

As well as fees, we have focussed on the state of our court buildings and the appalling conditions that barristers have been expected to work in for many years.

A bitter metaphor for the criminal justice system has been the rain coming in through the roof, lack of working toilet facilities and carpets long having given up any pretence of being anything other than shameful, dirty, threadbare hazards.

On the positive side, the Secret Barrister made a successful side career writing about it. As I am not on quick-fire twitter, I add that it wasn’t their motivation.

Our courts should never have been so neglected. The Lord Chief Justice raised in 2021 before the Justice Select Committee the problem of court estate degradation, pointing to his predecessor and his predecessor before that raising the same issues.

You have sent in the photographs and described the state of courts. In a particularly graphic article in December 2022, Bloomberg interviewed several of us at the criminal bar and wrote in deadened letters about a court in Southeast England with sewage seeping out of pipes for months, a court in Wales beset with fleas and a barrister who would spray perfume in the robing room to disguise the smell of mould.

We told anyone who would listen about courts literally collapsing.

On Friday 11th of August, the Lord Chancellor announced an allocation of £220m to maintain and improve the HMCTS estate across the 2 years to March 2025.

As always, I’ve had a dig around to see if there are any catches. It is all capital expenditure and so is not being taken away from the money going into required staff in the courts.

It is a significant increase from recent previous maintenance allocations, which were £50 million a year (with the exception of the 2022/2023 when the increase was to £70 million).

We should see improvements in our court buildings.

It is a strong start.

For the criminal bar, it is a significant achievement.

All the information that you have provided, and the awareness that you have raised about the state of our courts, has paid off.

Thank you all.

The investment is a welcomed positive action by Lord Chancellor Alex Chalk KC MP for the Criminal Justice System. In his announcement he noted the economic importance of the legal sector.

People always have been at the heart of our arguments.

However, I also have pointed to the economic sense in investing in our courts. It has been one of our arguments that a poorly functioning criminal justice system impacts on confidence of those bringing commercial litigation to the UK, which is in itself a multi-billion-pound industry, driving economic growth.

The Lord Chancellor said the following:

This government knows victims want to see justice served as quickly as possible and so we are making sure Crown Court judges can hear as many cases as possible this year.

We have a world leading justice system and a legal sector that is a cornerstone of our economy, and we should have modern, fit for the future court buildings that reflect these high standards.”

More information about the announcement can be found here on Gov.UK

I add that we have world leading barristers, but the criminal justice system no longer can be described as world leading. Sadly, the Lord Chancellor may be aware as he does not specifically describe it as such.

Prosecution Fees

Having worked with the CPS and the Bar Council to secure the same increase to prosecution fees as defence fees, the CBA is turning its focus on the difference in fees between prosecution and defence, particularly where prosecution is paid less than defence, for example in some rape and serious sexual offences cases.

With thanks to the work from Louise Oakley and her clerks at 5 KBW who have provided huge assistance.

Meetings are being organised with the CPS.

Inaugural Chair’s Essay Prize Winners

Open only to under 7 years’ call barristers and pupils, the launch of this competition is the start of an annual prize.

A huge thank you to all who entered and commiserations to those who did not win this time. Do try again. Don’t be disheartened. Practice and experience are a huge part of development.

The Criminal Bar will continue to be an endless resource of learning.

We have a winner in each of the three areas of international, RASSO and Equality and Diversity. All entrants were assessed by the Chairs/Vice-Chairs of each of these CBA sub-committees by blind marking, with the option of additional marking if there was not agreement. There was agreement, although the competition was close.

They are:

International: Ylenia Rosso of Guernica 37 Chambers

RASSO: Chloe Lennon of 4 Breams Building

Equality and Diversity: Tommy Seagull of Garden Court Chambers

Congratulations to our winners who each will receive a prize of £3,000.

Hardship Fund

The hardship fund closed earlier this year, following applications decreasing and then ceasing. However, conscious that you will have had to face down the second tax bill of the year, if you are still struggling from the impact of the action or struggling at all financially, please do contact Aaron.

There also will be applications open for bursaries later in the year.

The Executive and Officers are starting to consider how the remaining funds will be used. In line with the indication to potential donors a year ago, surplus money will be directed to the CBA’s educational activities for its barristers. We will keep you updated on the detail. As always, do communicate with your ideas. Our focus remains on the junior bar.

Thank you to the Bar Council for administering the fund for the CBA.

Above all, thank you to those who donated large and small amounts from chambers and law firms and individuals.

It remains an incredible display of solidarity for the Criminal Bar and a recognition of its importance.
The Law of the Law – Lawyers’ perceptions about the Lay Magistracy

Dr Lucy Welsh (University of Sussex) and Dr Kate Leader (University of York) are completing research called “The Law of the Law – Lawyers’ perceptions about the Lay Magistracy”.

As part of the project, Lucy and Kate are conducting research that deepens the understanding of lawyers’ perceptions of lay magistrates in the adult criminal courts. All of the information can be found here.

Lucy and Kate are hoping the project gets a good range of views and diverse experiences, as we all know how important research like this can be in achieving appropriate outcomes for defendants and victims but also service levels for court users.

University of South Wales and the Centre for Women’s Justice – Survey on Criminal Court Proceedings involving women defendants who are victims of domestic abuse 

The survey is open to all professionals who have experience of working in the criminal courts in England and Wales (e.g. magistrates, judges, defence and prosecution lawyers, probation practitioners or court staff) and other professionals who have supported women defendants who are victims of domestic abuse (e.g. Liaison and Diversion practitioners, IDVAs or women’s centre support workers).

This forms part of a research study by Dr Joanna Roberts at the University of South Wales, commissioned by the Centre for Women’s Justice.  The study aims to identify reforms needed in law and practice to ensure that, where victims of domestic abuse are accused of offending, their status as victims is identified at the earliest possible stage and their experience of domestic abuse is appropriately taken into account throughout proceedings.

Access the survey here.

University of the West of England – Survey on Access to Justice and Autism

A project led by Dr Roxanna Dehaghani (a Senior Lecturer in Law at Cardiff University) and Dr Tom Smith (Associate Professor in Law at the University of the West of England) undertaking research about how autistic individuals accused of crime access justice through legal representation. The aim of this project is to: explore the effectiveness of criminal defence advice and representation for Autistic suspects and defendants; to understand how effectively Autistic suspects and defendants are represented and supported by lawyers during criminal proceedings; and to examine what practical changes, if any, can be made to improve advice and assistance of and representation for Autistic suspects and defendants, such as examples of best practice. We hope that the findings will help police station representatives, criminal defence solicitors, and barristers in their work with Autistic and neurodivergent clients and will help Autistic suspects and defendants to receive appropriate and effective service, by improving knowledge and understanding of how they are advised and represented during criminal proceedings.

In terms of involvement, this short survey should take no more than 15 -20 minutes to complete.

Survey data will be anonymously reported and will be held confidentially. Important information is on the first page of the survey, which will provide further insight into what participants will receive when deciding whether to take part in the study.

Access the survey here.

Communication to accompany the survey

The Home Office Future of Digital Forensics Programme would like to engage with you to understand your experience as a barrister using digital forensic evidence. Your views are crucial in helping to inform our design and development of options for the future of Digital Forensics across Policing in England and Wales.

The purpose of this programme stems from the 2022 HMICFRS inspection report into digital forensics which identified numerous challenges and recommended Home Office work with NPCC, College of Policing, and the private sector to develop an alternative operating model.

We are now in phase 2 of this programme. During phase 1, which ran from September 2022 to April 2023, we conducted a current state assessment of digital forensics across all 44 police forces in England and Wales. Phase 1 concluded by detailing the current approach and effectiveness of the national Digital Forensics capability, and therefore provided us with an understanding of the degree of tactical and strategic change required across the national landscape.

We have now moved into the second phase of work where we will design and develop options for the future of Digital Forensics nationally, and as part of this we are looking to conduct some additional research into the wider Digital Forensics landscape. This will enable a better understanding of the challenges in the end-to-end use of Digital Forensic evidence and help to contextualise our findings against the broader policing and Digital Forensic landscape.

A key part of this research is understanding digital forensic requirements and challenges experienced by bodies within the Criminal Justice System, and to learn how knowledge of digital forensics might impact on its usage. We hope that by engaging with you to understand this we can align requirements and incorporate opportunities for improvement to contribute to the fair prosecution of offenders.

Please could you review the question set below and complete it with as much detail as possible by Friday 1st September. Thank you in advance for your participation.

Access the survey here.

Wellbeing – Leaders’ Film

Wellbeing matters to everyone at the Bar. I’m pleased to be part of this new video, alongside fellow leaders from across the Bar to explore some of the issues and challenges the profession faces, as well as potential solutions and ways for members of the Bar and associated professions to get help if they need it.

The video signposts to wellbeing support for barristers and associated professionals:

Wellbeing at the Bar – a dedicated website for the Bar including a range of support services and resources on mental health and wellbeing.

Assistance Programme– self-employed barristers can call the assistance programme on 0800 169 2040 for 24-hour telephone support and free counselling.

Law Care – free, confidential, emotional support via the mental wellbeing charity for the legal community.

Watch Wellbeing at the Bar – leaders’ film 2023.

Final Words

It’s always interesting to pivot on today and look back in history.

Today in 1880 the Cologne Cathedral (Kölner Dom) was completed. Finally. It took 632 years to finish.

It does remain the largest Gothic church in northern Europe and became a UNESCO world heritage site in 1996.

As fond of them as we may be, I don’t see Inner London or Hove or Guildford Crown Courts vying for a UNESCO position and so happily, we should see Crown Court restoration work happen in a rubbing of history’s eye.

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