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Nevermind lawtech, courts often don’t even have working photocopiers: Bar Council fights back against legal aid cuts

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While Lord Neuberger warns UK legal system ‘is in danger of falling over’

A series of frontline reports have been published by the Bar Council highlighting what happens when you slash funding — as the legal profession fights back in response to budget news last week that the Ministry of Justice will see further drastic cuts.

‘The Justice Papers’ are personal accounts of the justice system across the criminal, family and civil courts, and make for VERY grim reading.

Take, for example, Sarah Vine from Doughty Street Chambers writing about criminal cases. She portrays a system that is chronically short of judges, short of skilled lawyers, increasingly short of court buildings, indeed, short of something as simple and functional as a photocopier.

She says that “efforts to save money on judicial salaries and pensions now routinely leave criminal courts without enough judges to deal with the caseload”. And then cites “a lack of lawyers working for the CPS with the necessary experience to consider and prepare cases that have life-changing consequences for the people involved. She continues:

“They frequently do not have so much as a working photocopier at court or folders to put documents in front of a jury.”

Other shocking testimonies include this from Carmelite Chambers criminal barrister Joanne Kane:

“Most barristers can tell you a cautionary tale about the youth court. Perhaps they turned up at court to find their client terrified in a waiting room filled with members of opposing gangs.”

Meanwhile, Landmark Chambers‘ Richard Drabble QC highlighted the impact of removal of legal aid in housing cases, noting that “the employee without representation [in tribunal] will very frequently face an employer who has a lawyer — or someone from Human Resources — to put its case. This is an unequal battle.”

The Justice Papers follows hot on the heels of a troubling report from the Bar Council on austerity and the justice system in which its author, Professor Martin Chalkley, argues that cuts cannot be blamed on austerity alone.

According to the report, between 2008 and 2018 government expenditure has grown by 13% in real terms but ordinary funding for the Ministry of Justice has fallen by 27%. Worse still, if you focus in on the Criminal Prosecution Service (CPS), funding fell by 34% and by 32% for legal aid funding. Professor Chalkley concludes:

“That is a huge withdrawal of public finance support for what must be regarded as a fundamental and integral part of the state’s functions and obligations.”

The dire state of access to justice was also the subject of Lord Neuberger’s recent speech at Toynbee Hall to mark the 120th anniversary of its free legal advice centre. The former president of the Supreme Court highlighted the widening gap in access to justice and why legal representation is even more important in our times not less. He said:
“The regrettable truth is that, in an increasingly complex and diverse society, our laws are very detailed and are often amended … far too complex for even the great majority of well-educated and intelligent non-lawyers.” He continued:

“It is very hard to overstate the importance of being able to get legal advice and legal representation in the complex legal 21st century world which we now inhabit. If people cannot get advice about their rights, if people cannot enforce those rights when they are infringed, something has gone seriously wrong.”

Neuberger’s speech also outlined the role of lawyers and judges in realising access to justice. “It is not just the government who should be doing more to ensure that people have access to justice,” he argued, “it is also the legal profession and judges. We should be doing our best to ensure that legal advice and hearings in court and tribunals are as easily and cheaply available as possible and are as simple, and as user-friendly as possible.”

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13 Comments

Anonymous

Scandalous. The sad thing is that we have become desensitised to this.

Anonymous

We expect anything sent to the court to be lost and have to take duplicate copies to all hearings.

So many hours have been wasted on skeleton arguments and cost scheduled to be informed by the judge they never reached the court file despite read receipts or fax transmission reports.

Anonymous

The solution to this is clearly an AI enabled blockchain algorithm that will reduce the need for lawyers in criminal cases by 68%. With the huge costs savings, iPads can be given to all defendants, which will simultaneously reduce co2 emissions by preserving 400,000 trees annually, boost innovation and create a new golden age of social mobility.

Anonymous

LOL

Vg

It’s a scandal what’s happened to the Bar

Concerned member of the public

Somewhat OT other than the fact that the defendant was Legally Aided, but does anyone else think that minimum 29 years sentence handed out to a murderer today for killing a woman AND her 11 year old daughter is way too short?

Anonymous

Sentencing guidelines. One to take up with your local MP sadly.

Double murder of citizens (I.e. not police, prison guards, etc) without any additional angle such as terrorism, religious motivation has a starting point of 30. A late guilty plea probably caused a nominal discount on that amount.

Anonymous

A serious question – what do you want the sentence to achieve, and how does a minimum of 29 years fail to achieve that in such a way that a longer minimum would not?

Anonymous

A longer minimum would mean that said nutter (currently aged 28) could only be released when aged, dribbling and harmless.

As it is he could be released in his late 50s, having murdered two people including a child.

Would a 50 year minimum or whole life order really seem disproportionate in those circumstances?

Anonymous

Unionise in the legal profession and express solidarity with barristers!

Raise taxes on city fat cats to pay for legal aid!

They’ve taken our pay and pensions – we expect the same as doctors and we fee justly entitled to the same as those twenty years ahead of us!!

STRIKE NOW!!

Anonymous

A few points:

– it is exceptionally rare for anyone to be released at the end of the minimum term and people often serve years or even decades longer
– release is subject to conditions which last for the rest of that person’s life, designed to prevent future offending, with the threat of further, indefinite imprisonment if they are breached
– prison is an environment that, in general, causes or worsens mental ill health

You didn’t really say what you wanted the sentence to achieve, but we can infer that the primary aim is the prevention of the offence being repeated. Personally, I’m not convinced that this would be achieved by 50 years’ imprisonment, but not achieved by 29 years.

Whether you think 50 years is disproportionate to the harm caused is a personal matter for you, but it’s wildly out of step with what we do to other people who cause similar harm.

Anonymous

This is obviously supposed to be in reply to a different comment

Anonymous

Is it?

As Islamic nutter who killed a soldier got whole life.

Why should whole life be disproportionate for killing two people, including a child?

55% of

Death penalty.

Anyone can kill one person by mistake/ fit of rage.

Killing two or more shows you are a psycho that needs to be put out of action permanently.

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