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Monday Message 31.08.21

Today is my last day as Chair of the CBA. It has been an extraordinarily challenging year during which I and other members of the CBA Committee have participated in hundreds of meetings with the MOJ, senior judiciary, HMCTS and many other organisations as we struggled in the shadow of the pandemic to get an exhausted criminal justice system safely back on its feet in a state capable of tackling the backlog.

At the same time, we have worked hard to persuade Government actively to take control of justice by forging a system which charges and tries those who commit serious criminal offences rather than leaving them at large to re-offend with impunity but which, at the same time, understands that pre-conceptions are no substitute for evidence and the importance to society of the principle of innocent until proven guilty. This involves planning and investment in every area with a structured court building programme, increased staff numbers and investment in and respect for those criminal advocates who both prosecute and defend often at significant personal cost. As a consequence of our repeated submissions and engagement with parliamentary select committees and the public via the media, the CLAR Review is well aware that there is no justice system without a vibrant, independent criminal bar and that there is no criminal bar without substantial improvements to rates of pay.

I have worked relentlessly to deliver this message over the past two years, first as Vice Chair alongside Caroline Goodwin QC and this past year as Chair ably assisted by Jo Sidhu QC.  It has been a long and, at times, tortuous process but there is no doubt that the message has been received. One need only look for confirmation to two recent Parliamentary reports whose views have been shaped by input from the CBA.

On 30th March 2021 the House of Lords Select Committee on the Constitution published its “COVID-19 and the Courts” report, which addressed the risks to the justice system from criminal barristers leaving the profession, including warnings from the Lord Chief Justice that this “could, in turn, lead to a reduction in suitable appointees to the judiciary.”

On 21st July 2021 the House of Commons Justice Committee published “The Future of Legal Aid Third Report of Session 2021”, which expressly concluded that fees and rates in publicly funded criminal work were inadequate, did not reflect the work required and needed to be subject to regular review whilst citing with approval the CBA’s interim submission to the Bellamy team.

For the first time in a generation, the failings of the criminal justice system are headline news and the integral role of the criminal bar in any coherent system has, at last, begun to be understood. This would not have been possible without the hard work and support of a substantial number of CBA members for which I, personally, would like to express my considerable gratitude. It is now down to the CLAR Review and Treasury to deliver.

Finally, remember that we are at our strongest when we stand united and continue to support Jo Sidhu QC as you have supported me so that we can continue to work towards an effective, efficient and humane criminal justice system worthy of the 21st century.

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