Bar Council response to Justice Select Committee report on Criminal Legal Aid
The Bar Council has responded to the House of Commons Justice Select Committee’s report on the current state of criminal legal aid in England and Wales.
This report shows clear and candid cross-party acceptance of what the legal profession has long been warning about: that years of savage cuts have led us to a crisis in criminal legal aid, which in turn threatens the future efficiency and effectiveness of our criminal justice system.
This is casting a long shadow over the rule of law and eroding public confidence in the ability of our justice system to ensure that offences are prosecuted, and that the guilty are convicted and the innocent acquitted.
The Committee is right to add this to the growing list of threats to our international reputation being generated by the implications of Brexit.
The clarion call for both regular reviews of the Advocates’ Graduated Fee Scheme (AGFS) and an urgent cross-departmental review of criminal justice funding must be heeded. This has to include not only criminal legal aid and the funding of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), but also the continuing cuts to the fees paid to prosecution advocates and the fundamental unfairness of failing to pay lawyers for reviewing huge volumes of relevant evidence.
At a time when public servants across Government are finally seeing light at the end of the tunnel of austerity, there is no justification for excluding the dedicated barristers and solicitors whose daily struggles keep the criminal justice system going.
We hope not only that this report signals a shift in political attitudes in Parliament, but that it also leads to a decisive change in the attitude towards justice at the highest levels in Government.