As has now been widely reported, the Criminal Bar Association has recommended that criminal barristers should not accept cases under the new AGFS scheme, which came into force on 1st April 2018. The reason for this is a deep-felt dissatisfaction with the manner in which the government has implemented the scheme, certain aspects of the scheme and above all, a desire that proper investment is made in the Criminal Justice System.
Whilst there was considerable engagement with the government by representatives of the Criminal Bar, such recommendations as were made in relation to a proposed new payment scheme have largely been ignored. In particular, the government’s insistence on “cost neutrality” and refusal to include any sort of index linking means that the new scheme will ultimately involve a further cut to the fees paid to those responsible for defending members of the public who have been accused of criminal offences. Since 2007, there have already been cuts to the Criminal Justice System of some 40%, considerably greater than those which other public services have suffered. There is real concern that such cuts (by stealth or otherwise) will continue, particularly as the new scheme contains no provision for review. As a consequence, many criminal barristers, and particularly the most junior, are looking to practise in other areas of the law. This means that in years to come, there will be a lack of suitably qualified and experienced barristers to both prosecute and defend the more serious cases; and a consequent lack of suitably qualified and experienced barristers from whom the judges of the future can be drawn. Without an adequately-resourced Criminal Justice System, the public cannot have proper access to justice, never mind to what the government says is “the best legal system in the world”. Miscarriages of justice will become more frequent; this means both that people will be wrongly convicted, and that others will be wrongly acquitted.
It is because of a desire that government recognise such concerns as genuine that all members of Zenith Chambers have decided to follow the recommendation of the Criminal Bar Association. This is not a decision which individuals have made lightly. However, it is right that this stance is taken in order to show the depth of feeling at the criminal bar that without adequate funding of the Criminal Justice System, the public will not have access to the top-class prosecutors and defence advocates which is fundamental to the Rule of Law in this country.
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