The criminal Bar is threatening direct action. Chris Henley QC, the head of the Criminal Bar Association, in a message to the profession headed ‘Tuesday is the last chance for the CPS’, reported on recent meetings with CPS senior management team. ‘On each occasion we have made it clear that the state of prosecution fees is completely unacceptable and needs immediate action,’ he told members. The CPS has promised a review reporting in the Autumn. ‘We have no confidence that the review will deliver an outcome that is remotely acceptable. All the signs are that it will be a very damp squib. Some fees might even go down.’
‘Almost every day we receive messages from CBA members about a culture endemic within the CPS to pile unpaid work onto the advocate, and if fees are payable to twist and turn to try to deprive you of your proper fee. We do not blame mainstream CPS staff who have to follow instructions and contend with increasingly impossible conditions. The responsibility for the culture lies elsewhere, at the more senior level. Barristers who prosecute are fundamental to the CPS delivering on behalf of the public. It is you in the firing line if cases aren’t properly prepared. It is you who are ultimately responsible for the case – often difficult and complex, always important – being presented effectively. You should always be treated as well as possible, every time. This is not what is happening. Over the past few weeks and months we have provided examples of dreadful mistreatment.’
Chris Henley QC
Fresh from securing a 10% pay rise for Crown prosecutors (as the Law Society’s Gazette put it) the FDA union for senior civil servants issued ‘a call to the government to stop the criminal justice system becoming devalued’.
The FDA’s Manifesto for Justice, unveiled at Chancery Lane, demanded: ‘a properly resourced Crown Prosecution Service; no more legal aid cuts; investment in digital disclosure; and competitive pay and fees’.
Despite successfully negotiating a pay rise for prosecutors, FDA president Fiona Eadie said there was more work to do to ensure competitive payments to the prosecution and defence, and to combat the effects of years of underfunding. ‘This investment in the future is essential to stop a brain drain to other areas of law and ensure a properly functioning criminal justice system,’ she said.
In a foreword to the manifesto, anonymous legal blogger the Secret Barrister said it is a ‘damning indictment of our times’ that those in power need to be reminded that a properly functioning criminal justice system is fundamental to the rule of law.
Grayling’s unacceptable risk
Chris Grayling’s widely derided changes to probation were rushed through at breakneck speed, taking ‘unacceptable risks’ with taxpayers’ money, the Guardian reported. In ‘yet another damning report’ on the former justice secretary’s Transforming Rehabilitation programme , MPs on the public accounts committee said the overhaul had left the probation sector worse off.
Action taken to tackle the problems will cost £467m, the report said, adding: ‘Inexcusably, probation services have been left in a worse position than they were in before the ministry embarked on its reforms.’
More than half of London’s courts were last month inaccessible to those with disabilities, reported the Law Society’s Gazette. Justice minster Lord Keen of Elie, responding to a written question from former home secretary Lord Blunkett, said 31 of the 56 total court and tribunal buildings in the Greater London area were deemed inaccessible. The figures were taken, as the question stipulated, from the week beginning 8 April.
‘Disabled access was typically not factored in when many of our court and tribunal buildings were built,’ he said. ‘However, we have a number of accessible courts that our criminal justice partners are aware of, and these are used to list cases where a defendant might have accessibility needs.’
During an evidence session at the House of Lords constitution committee, crossbench peer Lord Pannick QC said many courts in England and Wales were in a ‘dilapidated’ condition. ‘They are an embarrassment and they detract from the ability of our court staff, including the judges, to provide a public service,’ he said.
Also in the Gazette, the lord chancellor ‘downplayed’ concerns about the number of legal aid housing advice ‘deserts‘ that have been identified across the country. The Law Society had reported that over half of the population of England and Wales was living in a local authority that had one or no housing legal aid provider. David Gauke told the House of Lords constitution committee that advice remains available through a telephone service regardless of where someone lives.
‘We announced we are launching a series of pilots offering support to people with social welfare problems like housing, including expansion of early legal advice to determine the most effective solutions in future. So, in addition to the Civil Legal Advice telephone service, through which housing advice is available, we are investing £5m in an innovation fund to help people access justice wherever they are in England and Wales. I think the area you’ve identified in terms of housing legal aid services is clearly going to be a priority within that area.’
Sharing Solutions Conference
Sign up for a conference aimed at people working in the access to justice sector. It takes place on Tuesday May 21, 2019 at Allen & Overy’s London office. It is a collaboration between LegalVoice, the Advice Service Alliance, the LIP Support Strategy and the Access to Justice Foundation.
Attending the conference is free though a refundable £20 deposit fee will be taken (repaid on attendance of the conference). Travel grants will be available for charitable organisations based further than 50 miles from London.
Please see below for a draft timetable. More here.
- JusticeWatch: Selling off the family silver - 17th May 2019
- JusticeWatch: New line up at the MoJ - 10th May 2019
- JusticeWatch: Last chance for the CPS - 3rd May 2019
- JusticeWatch: Sharing Solutions - 26th April 2019
- JusticeWatch: Toppling the fourth pillar - 12th April 2019
- JusticeWatch: Book now for Sharing Solutions Conference - 5th April 2019
- JusticeWatch: The towns where there’s no access to free legal advice - 29th March 2019
- Hackney Community Law Centre threatened with closure after cuts funding - 29th March 2019
- Mind the gap: the case for a law centre in Lewisham - 22nd March 2019
- JusticeWatch: Sharing Solutions Conference - 15th March 2019