This announcement is made following a meeting of the Crime Group at Goldsmith Chambers on 9th April 2018.
The Crime Group at Goldsmith Chambers contains members who exclusively defend, members who almost exclusively prosecute, and members who act for both the prosecution and defence. We range from barristers with over 40 years of experience in the criminal courts to those who have been tenants for less than a year. Senior members of the group appear in some of the most serious and high profile cases which come before the criminal courts, while junior members have recent experience of the most straightforward of cases. What binds us together is that we all care deeply for the Criminal Justice System.
We are all horrified at the state that the justice system has been left in by the succession of cuts that have been made by successive governments. Some of the starkest examples of the impact of those cuts include the following:
- Before Easter we saw that courtrooms were left empty, and trials of defendants in custody had to be adjourned, because the Ministry of Justice had run out of money to pay Recorders to hear those trials.
- Over and again cases involving vulnerable witnesses and/or defendants are adjourned because there are not enough courts or judges to try them.
- Many reputable and committed firms of solicitors have either gone out of business, or stopped doing criminal legal aid work, as the cuts to their fees have meant that the work has just become not economically viable.
- Redundancies and staff cut backs in both the police and Crown Prosecution Service have meant that the dedicated people who work in those organisations just do not have the time to deal with case preparation properly as their caseloads multiply.
- High profile cases where disasters have been narrowly avoided, have shown that disclosure has not been properly reviewed as a result of underfunding, meaning that defendants have been deprived of the material which would clear their name.
- Cases fail to proceed because the private companies paid by the government to provide interpreters and to transport prisoners to court fail to deliver the services which they are supposed to do.
Against this backdrop, the government now plans to cut the Ministry of Justice budget by a further £600 million by 2019/2020.
The legal aid fees paid to barristers have been cut back time and again over the last 20 years. After travel expenses have been taken into account, there are many days when we find ourselves working for free. The impact of the cuts is felt hardest by the young members of our profession who now start pupillage with eye watering debts from their studies.
On 1st April 2018 a new scheme for legal aid fees for advocates was introduced by the government. In some types of case there will be modest increases to the payments to barristers, but in many cases there will be devastating cuts to the fees paid. These cuts will be hardest in those cases with large quantities of evidence, the very cases which require the most work and hardest preparation. The cuts in some of those types of cases will be of between a third and a half of the fees. This demonstrates a complete failure of the government to understand or appreciate the importance of proper preparation of serious cases.
The Criminal Bar Association has made the following proposals to the Ministry of Justice:
- To delay the implementation of the reformed AGFS fee scheme, or suspend its operation, pending further and more detailed consultation as to its impact on the criminal bar and the wider Criminal Justice System.
- Amend the scheme to invest in the most complex cases, which have been significantly cut and to invest in the scheme generally. The mechanism for this should allow remuneration for large volume of evidence cases previously described as “PPE” or “paper heavy cases”.
- Amend the scheme to include payment for high volumes of disclosed material. This should be reflected in a separate category to ‘special preparation’.
- Commit to a full, costed review of the scheme within 12 months against 2016/2017 figures to ascertain whether the scheme achieves its stated aim of cost neutrality or whether it is under funded.
- Commit to an index linked increase in AGFS fees.
Those proposals made by the Criminal Bar Association are fully supported by the Criminal Group of Goldsmith Chambers.
In support of the proposals made by the Criminal Bar Association, the Chambers Criminal Group resolved in our meeting that we would:
- Refuse to accept any legal aid instructions for cases in the Crown Court where the representation order is dated on or after 1st April 2018.
- Take part with other organisations involved in the Criminal Justice System in targeted days of action to highlight the crisis in the system.
- Support any escalation of the action using methods as decided on and advised by the Criminal Bar Association Executive Committee.
We agree to this course with heavy hearts. To leave defendants unrepresented in the criminal courts goes against every instinct we have, but the criminal justice system is broken. If action is not taken now it will collapse.
Related practice areas: Crime