Bar Council: CPS must be properly funded
Andrew Walker QC, Chair of the Bar has responded to the publication of the Attorney General’s Review of the Efficiency and Effectiveness of Disclosure in the Criminal Justice System.
In response to the publication of the Attorney General’s Review of the Efficiency and Effectiveness of Disclosure in the Criminal Justice System, Andrew Walker QC, Chair of the Bar, said: “We will be considering the proposals in detail, but we welcome the focus on practical steps, changes to culture and looking at the system as a whole.”
One recommendation is to incentivise early preparation and engagement between prosecution and defence, and that criminal legal aid needs to provide payment for this.
Andrew Walker QC said: “The review recognises that changes will need to be made to the criminal legal aid fee schemes if early preparation and engagement is to happen, and be effective. Fees for that work, at proper rates, will be essential.
“But this will also require the Crown Prosecution Service (‘CPS’) to be funded properly, so that it can employ the necessary staff. We note the absence of any such recommendation.
“If this review is to lead to real change which ensures that we deliver fair trials and just outcomes, then it is also essential that the experience and views of the legal profession are taken properly into account, so we welcome the decision to include Bar representatives on the Criminal Justice Board’s (‘CJB’) working group on disclosure.
“This will be particularly important if, as the review suggests, the working group is to examine the amount of disclosed material that prosecution and defence barristers are routinely having to scour for evidence which the jury or magistrates need to hear. It is just one of the injustices in the current system that barristers have to carry out this crucial task for little or no payment, so it is encouraging to see this acknowledged. We shall be questioning what is really needed to take this forward, and will continue to press hard for the urgent introduction of a scheme of proper fees for this work.”
“But recommendations about fee changes will amount to little without a commitment from the Treasury ensure adequate funding for our criminal justice system.”
Research recently published by the Bar Council shows that over the last 10 years, CPS funding has been reduced by 34 per cent in real terms, which has resulted in a “substantial fall in the resources” devoted to each prosecution. Funding for the Ministry of Justice fell by 27 per cent in real terms in the same period. Between 2010/11 and 2015/16, the CPS staff budget fell from £738m to £291m, amounting to a cut of over 60%. This dis-investment occurred as the economy and Government spending grew by 13 per cent in real terms.
Andrew Walker QC said: “Those at the highest levels in Government need to accept their responsibility for what a decade of disinvestment in justice has caused. The cases of Liam Allan and many others show clearly the serious risks we take with a poorly funded system of criminal justice. Victims of crime, the tax payer, those wrongly accused, and the whole of society, are all being short-changed.”