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Justice delayed and denied – Bar Council calls for urgent action in election manifesto

Bar Council | Bar Council

4 min read

The next government must commit to investing around £2.5bn more to save the justice system, coupled with a wholly new approach to justice policy, which has reached a “dead end”, according to the Bar Council as it launches the ‘Manifesto for justice 2024’.

The Bar Council, which represents the nearly 18,000 practising barristers in England and Wales, has calculated that spending on justice in real terms per person has fallen by 22% since 2009/10. The Bar Council manifesto calls for significant investment to undo the damage caused by years of cuts and to meet the increased demand on the sector. 

Spend to save

The manifesto also calls for justice to be seen by politicians as a vital public service – like schools and hospitals – and an area where it can ‘spend to save’. Well-funded early legal advice can divert cases from the courts. Investment in buildings and technology will improve efficiency and boost the sector’s international reputation upon which £5.7bn of exports are founded. And making sure fees are reasonable and fairly reflect the work done will help to stem the exodus of legal professionals from publicly funded areas of law.

8-point plan for justice

Following a string of crises in the prisons system and damning reports on the court backlogs, the Bar Council last week called for a Royal Commission on the criminal justice system to stop the lurch from one emergency operational measure to the next.

This policy proposal forms the first ask in the Manifesto for justice, which makes 8 recommendations for the next government under three themes of (1) a strong, effective and properly funded justice system, (2) access to justice, and (3) uphold the rule of law:

  1. Establish a Royal Commission on the criminal justice system
  2. Ensure that Crown Court trials have a start date within six months of the first hearing
  3. Invest to secure a sustainable and resilient justice system that commands public trust and confidence
  4. Recognise the courts as a vital public service that is the foundation stone of a good society – just like schools and hospitals
  5. Support communities by providing easily accessible and trusted early legal advice – online and locally
  6. Ensure access to justice by widening the scope of legal aid eligibility across civil, family and crime
  7. Uphold, respect, and promote the rule of law
  8. Promote the Bar’s position as an internationally respected world leader and recognise the value of legal services

Launching the manifesto, Chair of the Bar Council Sam Townend KC said:

“The justice system is in a critical condition and existing justice policy is at a dead end. We cannot keep lurching from one crisis to the next with ever more surprising temporary measures being implemented by government due to the prisons being full. It is time for a total rethink and our manifesto sets out what we think should be the key priorities for the next government.

“The justice system is the fundamental public service upon which our society is based.  The government should invest properly to ensure public safety and in order for justice to be served. 

“Proper investment would, in fact, save costs across public services. The failure to invest has been at the personal cost of all those who rely on a functioning justice system – victims, defendants, children, tenants, consumers and businesses.

“We are calling for a commitment from every political party for an additional £2.5bn to undo the effects of years of cuts and to meet the increased demands on the system.

“We are also calling for every politician to commit to upholding the rule of law. Recent repeated attacks on the legal profession and on the independence of the judiciary must stop. This negative rhetoric undermines trust and confidence in our justice system – both at home and abroad.

“This General Election is an opportunity to reset the dial – we ask all political parties to commit to the evidence-based policies we set out and provide the funding needed to fix the justice system.”

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