Last week the Ministry of Justice published its response to a consultation process on criminal legal aid. It has chosen to implement yet further cuts to funding which the Minister of State, Lord Faulks QC, told the House of Lords in December, “really threaten our justice system”.
The Criminal Justice System cannot operate efficiently without the assistance of specialist, independent, barristers. It takes years to gain the skills and experience necessary to prosecute and defend serious criminal cases properly so that justice can be done to victims of crime and defendants.
Members of the self-employed bar, who prosecute and defend, do not have an infinite capacity to absorb diminishing returns. The independent criminal bar as a whole cannot be sustained in the face of a continuing onslaught, culminating last week in what the Government claims to be an average of 6% cuts in barrister’s fees.
No plausible economic case has been made out for these draconian measures and they must be put in context: there was a drop in advocacy fees of 37% in real terms from 2007 to 2013 (21% in cash terms); a fall in expenditure on criminal legal aid by £125 million between 2011/12 and 2012/13; reductions in Crown Court advocacy fees of 4.5% per year over each of the past three years; and, in December last year, cuts of 30% to the fees paid in the most serious and complex criminal cases.
Today barristers across the whole country have chosen not to work but instead to protest to secure the very survival of the independent criminal bar in the interests of the public. We are sounding the alarm and ask the public to take notice of what is being done by a Government that is prepared to degrade the Criminal Justice System for political ends.
JOHN ELVIDGE QC
Leader of the North Eastern Circuit