In 2019, the justice system and the rule of law are at risk – Bar Council
It will require the commitment of politicians on all sides to reinstate a world-renowned justice system, writes the Bar Council.
For 800 years since Magna Carta, access to justice has been a long-established common law right under English law.
The independent Bar plays a crucial role in upholding and realising the constitutional principles of government accountability under law and vindication of legal rights through the courts. As the Bar’s representative body, the Bar Council draws on barristers’ expertise and dedication to lead on these issues, in the public interest.
If citizens are obliged to obey the law, they must also be able to challenge its arbitrary or unjust application. Governments neglect this imperative at their peril. To do so undermines the basis of trust on which relations between the citizen and the state are founded and, therefore, the very foundations of our democracy.
By 2020, the Ministry of Justice will have seen its overall budget cut by 40 per cent. This cut is among the deepest of any Whitehall department.
The recent political focus on the state of the criminal justice system is welcome, as are the additional resources, but the whole system is broken or breaking and the focus needs to be on every part: Legal aid and access to legal representation, prosecution, the state and efficiency of courts, forensic science, probation, as well as police and prisons.
The machine cannot properly function if one cog is not turning as it should. The Bar Council, MPs, senior judges and others have been calling for a reversal of the draconian cuts to the justice budget.
Prosecutions and penalties for crimes are at an all-time low: 1.59m in 2019, 29 per cent lower than 10 years ago.
Nazir Afzal, former Chief Crown Prosecutor, said in August this year the crisis in criminal justice was worse now than he had “ever known it.”
Beyond criminal justice
Beyond criminal justice, our democracy, society and our economy depend on a properly functioning, fair justice system, in which the public can have confidence.
The legal sector is playing its part to strengthen and add value to the economy, the rule of law and justice. Barristers, solicitors and the wider legal services sector contributed £26 billion to the UK economy in 2016 and produced a trade surplus of £4.4bn in 2017. Legal sector employment grew nearly nine per cent to 342,000 jobs in 2017.
The Bar of England and Wales also contributes on a pro bono (voluntary) basis to ensure those who are unable to afford legal representation and have been excluded from receiving legal aid can still have access to justice. Over 3,800 barristers have committed to take on pro bono cases on behalf of members of the public through Advocate, the Bar’s charity. Members of the Bar also provide pro bono legal help to some of the most vulnerable in society through other organisations, such as the Free Representation Unit and law centres.
The Bar Council and the wider legal profession will continue to champion justice and work with government, Parliament and stakeholders to raise the profile of and repair our justice system.
The Bar will make the case for further funding of our justice system across the board in the next Government Spending Review and continue to play its role in reinvigorating British justice. But it will require the commitment and support of politicians and policy-makers on all sides to reinstate a world-renowned, sustainable and properly funded justice system for the future; one that is valued by all.
Work with the Bar Council to safeguard British justice.
Read the Bar Council's full 2019 Party Conference briefing here.