JusticeWatch: ‘The Bar is backsliding into a career for the rich’

Backsliding at the Bar
Caighli Taylor, a 31-year-old barrister speaking to the The Times’ Law, reported that barristers were leaving the Bar ‘en masse’. ‘Demanding hours at unremunerative rates, changeable diaries and inflexible listing practices render the career unfeasible for caregivers,’ she said. ‘The Bar is also backsliding to become a career only for the rich: prospective barristers now incur studying and training costs well in excess of £50,000. Reducing these costs and making grants more widely available would help encourage diversity.’

‘Everyone’s knackered…’
Monidipa Fouzder banged the drum for defence lawyers in the Law Society’s Gazette. She reported on her ‘epic 24-hour crime spree’ having been to the London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association’s 70th anniversary bash and then on to the Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association’s annual conference.

It was ‘obvious everyone’s knackered and fed up with trying to convince the public that the criminal justice system matters,’ she wrote. ‘Yes, the law is broken, but it doesn’t feel like it will be fixed anytime soon. That’s why, for all you criminal law specialists out there, it’s important to know that while it doesn’t feel like the government cares, there are some rather senior judges who do.’

Apparently, Sir Brian Leveson, president of the Queen’s Bench Division and head of criminal justice, is ‘acutely aware that criminal defence practitioners get few thanks for the work they do’

Sir Brian pointed out that many miscarriages of justice over the last 40 years ‘have been righted through the hard work of solicitors’.

‘You attend police stations 24 hours per day, 365 days per year dealing with people in crisis, dealing with their mental health and housing issues and the consequent effects on their families. Of all the tasks fulfilled by solicitors, your readiness to attend police stations at all hours, helping people in huge stress, determining the correct legal advice at a pressured time when people who may be upset, ill and visibly silent, is something whose value cannot be overestimated. It is an unglamorous part of the work of a lawyer but provides a vital check.’
Sir Brian Leveson

A few hours later, Lady Justice Macur, senior presiding judge for England and Wales, told the CLSA conference that they were all ‘colossal cogs in the system’. ‘You are cooperative, collaborative, conspicuously motivated by public service,’ she said.

Dilapidated courts
Criminals may be escaping conviction because of a lack of resources for forensic investigations, the Lord Chief Justice warned. Lord Burnett of Maldon said the problem was ‘part and parcel’ of serious funding shortages within the criminal justice system – as reported in the Daily Telegraph.

‘It’s critical to the integrity of the criminal justice system that forensic investigations are conducted when they are reasonably needed,’ he told the Commons justice committee. ‘There’s a concern that simply because of the constraint on resources, there are cases which should have more by way of forensic investigation which don’t… that may well mean that individuals who should be convicted are not being convicted and, more worryingly, that people may be convicted who shouldn’t be convicted.’

He also warned that dilapidated court buildings required a ‘substantial’ cash injection of hundreds of millions. ‘It’s largely the result of an enormous number of problems coming together at the same time,’ he told the MPs. ‘There are roofs leaking, lifts broken, air-conditioning and heating systems that work intermittently.’

Crowdfunding should not be seen as ‘an alternative to a properly funded legal aid system’, the founder of the Crowdjustice reported the Law Society’s Gazette (here).

Julia Salasky was responding to comments from Richard Gowthorpe of North Kensington Law Centre. The centre had been visited by justice secretary David Gauke who had ‘expressed an interest’ in crowdfunding and Gowthorpe sought reassurances that crowdfunding should not be seen as a reason to cut legal aid further.

‘Making statements like that without engaging first with those active in the area of legal aid would be a mistake,’ Salasky said. ‘It cannot work instead [of legal aid]. It should be directed at people who are not eligible for legal aid but cannot afford to bring their case and provide a way for them to share their story’.

According to the Gazette, five cases that were funded on the platform made their way to the Supreme Court and 85% of cases meet their funding target, she said.

Demoralised judges
Hundreds of judges have been asked to work on Saturdays in ‘a gig economy style rota’ because of concerns that their current practice of holding emergency hearings by telephone to decide on custody is unlawful, reported Frances Gibb in The Times (here).

‘The 400 circuit and district judges will be put on a Saturday on-call rota, for which they will only be compensated if actually required to go to court to take a hearing,’ she wrote. ‘The plan has aroused strong feelings, coming at a time when judges are already feeling overworked, demoralised and undervalued, with their pensions reduced.’

The Times also reported that councils have spent ‘about £100 million’ fighting parents seeking support for their disabled children at tribunals despite losing lost nine in ten appeals.

Apparently, the amount covers four years in which local authorities tried to reject appeals brought by families unhappy at the lack of help they were getting for children with special needs. The figure of £100 million was calculated by the Special Needs Jungle website, using data from the Department for Education and Ministry of Justice for 2014 to this year. There were 4,725 appeals in 2016-17.

Homelessness on the rise
According to Shelter, at least 320,000 people are homeless in Britain. ‘This amounts to a year-on-year increase of 13,000, a 4% rise, despite government pledges to tackle the crisis,’ reported the Guardian. ‘The estimate suggests that nationally one in 200 people are homeless.’

‘The figures indicate how homelessness and housing insecurity is spreading beyond its traditional heartland of London into the wider south-east and Midlands, and the impact of high rents and welfare cuts ripples outwards,’ it continued. ‘Outside the capital, high homelessness rates were recorded in Birmingham, Luton, Brighton & Hove, Slough, Dartford, Milton Keynes, Harlow, Watford, Epsom, Reading, Broxbourne, Basildon, Peterborough and Coventry.’

About Jon Robins

Jon is a journalist and has written about the law and justice for the national papers and specialist press for more than 15 years. Jon is a visiting journalism lecturer at Winchester University, a visiting senior fellow in access to justice at the University of Lincoln and patron of Hackney Community Law Centre. He has won the Bar Council’s legal reporter of the year award twice (2015 and 2005). Jon is editor and co-founder of LegalVoice

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