Monday Message 17.10.22
The Opening of the Legal Year
I attended the Opening of the Legal Year Ceremony at Westminster Abbey and Westminster Hall. The ceremony harks back to the religious practice of Judges praying for guidance at the beginning of the legal term.
During the 16th Century, before the Reformation, those taking Communion were required to fast beforehand and so were rewarded with the Lord Chancellor’s “breakfast” before they progressed into the High Court.
There were no prayers for the Criminal Justice System but its crisis is undeniable.
The Lord Chancellor stated that he greatly valued the Criminal Bar when the offer was made by the Ministry of Justice.
It has been a long time since there has been any public recognition of the highly qualified and professional barristers that make up the Criminal Bar.
The actual weight of that statement will be measured by time and in data.
But it also must be measured by the treatment of the people who are in the Criminal Justice System. They are the children, the poor, the mentally ill, the trafficked – the vulnerable; and those living more comfortable lives who crash into the offending – often through a moment as their lives jump off track.
As we return to court, our professionalism will be back on display. Many of you may feel stress. But professionalism is key as we move forward for the people whose lives we handle in the courts.
And we are entitled to expect the same from government in the implementation of the deal.
Unity remains our strength.
The court centres have sprung back to life.
It is a week since the ballot result.
However, the Criminal Bar is not a panacea. Our hard work and dedication will not be abused.
The backlog has climbed to 64,000 cases. This is no fault of the Criminal Bar but the result of years of cuts to proper resourcing of the Criminal Justice System.
Barristers are not expected to stand alone as the pressure valve is released on the backlog cases. Barristers are not expected to bear its full force. We are ready to raise concerns at unrealistic listing of cases.
The CBA Silks panel remains available to help.
Implementation of the Deal
The purpose of the deal is joint working with the Ministry of Justice. The backlog remains government responsibility. We have our duties to our clients and to witnesses and victims in cases. We have our duties to the courts. We have accepted the hand of reconciliation offered by the Ministry of Justice in working on immediate and long-term reform. The “breakthrough” and “constructive relationship” between the CBA and Ministry of Justice can only be evidenced by actions.
15% increase on backlog cases
On 11th October 2022, a Statutory Instrument was laid and applies the 15 % uplift on AGFS 11/accelerated asks cases.
The expected value of representation orders which have yet to have a main hearing by 31st October is £538 million.
There also are 8 older AGFS and LGFS schemes which have different structures and further Statutory Instruments and new software/write arounds will be required. Those 3% of cases are being worked on by the Ministry of Justice and they are in regular contact with the CBA .
It is your achievement that the 15% increase on backlog cases is coming into effect only a month later than the 15% uplift on future representation orders under Criminal Legal Aid (Renumeration (Amendment) Regulations 2022. You may recall that these Regulations were laid before Parliament on 20th July and came into force on 30th September 2022.
On 12th October 2022, I received an invitation to the first meeting of the new Criminal Legal Aid Advisory Board which will be held on 28th October 2022.
Very much at the forefront of these discussions will be the structure of CLAAB so that views and representations of juniors and barristers across all circuits impact upon decision making.
The relationship between the CBA and the CPS remains strong.
I am confident that the CPS is advocating for the same uplift to the CPS fees as has been applied to defence fees.
It is part of the same crisis. Between April and June 2022, when the Criminal Bar action on criminal legal aid defence fees was largely limited to no returns AGFS defence cases, a total of 72 Crown Court trials were aborted because no prosecution advocate could attend on the day.
Nearly half of those involved sexual or violent offences.
The regular Crown Court Improvement Group, chaired by the Deputy Senior Presiding Judge of England and Wales, continues and I attended my first meeting as Chair on 28th September 2022.
Keeping our members’ interests in international work firmly within our sights, on 4th October 2022, Vice- Chair Tana Adkin KC took part in an Amity Visit by a group of around 30 American Judges and lawyers from the American Inns of Court.
Jerry Buting of “Making a Murderer” fame also was back in London. Many of you met him on his visit to the Old Bailey last year. In conversation with him, he took a keen interest in the legal aid pay of barristers and compared to the United States and resulting injustices.
Kirsty Brimelow QC
The Criminal Bar Association