The criminal justice system is in crisis. Examples are everywhere: from the crumbling fabric of court buildings, to the regular adjournment of trials due to lack of court time, to the collapse of cases due to failures in the investigation and disclosure processes and to the inadequate supervision and management of offenders – every part of the system has been dangerously damaged by years of underfunding.
The criminal justice system, which the Ministry of Justice itself has described as the envy of the world, hangs by a thread and that thread is formed from the dedication and goodwill of those who work within all sectors of it. That goodwill has been stretched and tested over many years and is now at breaking point.
The Criminal Bar Association (“CBA”) has highlighted the latest assault on the criminal justice system – a revision of the system of payment of barristers who defend those accused of crimes and has made recommendations to its members, firstly setting out action in protest at the revised payment scheme and second, listing what is demanded of the Ministry of Justice.
It is now well-established that there has been no increase in the level of fees paid for that work for over 20 years. Not even an adjustment to reflect the effect of the changes in the cost of living. The fees paid are now worth 40% less than they were in 1997.
No other profession working in the public sector has had to endure such a level of attrition. Nor should they.
The unsocial hours, work for which there is no payment at all and the level of responsibility are all hidden from public view, but are examples of essential requirements of the work of a criminal advocate.
The revised Advocates Graduated Fee Scheme (“AGFS”) will be imposed by the Ministry of Justice on 1st April. The CBA’s request for a delay in implementation and further discussion have been rejected. The criminal team of Exchange Chambers agree with the recommendations of the CBA and have decided to adopt those recommendations in protest at the long term failure properly to fund the criminal justice system and in particular, the refusal of the Ministry of Justice to provide a proper level of funding for the work done by barristers and higher court advocates in the criminal courts.
Accordingly, the criminal team at Exchange Chambers will not accept cases which fall under the revised AGFS scheme – that is any defence case for which a representation order is granted on or after 1st April 2018.
The criminal team also intend to support action by our solicitor colleagues and other groups in the criminal justice system who also seek the urgent injection of money into their own areas, as well as such further action as may be appropriate in the future.
The decision whether to accept work under the revised AGFS scheme remains a personal one for each of our barristers. In accordance with the ethos of our Chambers and our professional obligations, all members of our criminal team will continue to act in the very best interests of our clients. As always, our criminal clerking team are the point of contact for barristers.