Monthly Archives: May 2018

The Charter for Justice-Next Steps

The Charter for Justice-Next Steps

The following text was initially presented at the CLFS Spring Conference on 11 May 2018

What is the Charter 4 Justice and what happens next?

The charter came about as a way of highlighting to the public the crisis in the criminal justice system, and offering proposals to address that crisis by adopting some key principles that everyone should be able to unite behind and we can campaign for.

We ended up with 5 key principles, and those became the Charter:-

1 Access to Justice

2 Prompt and Adequate Disclosure of Prosecution case

3 A Fair and non-discriminatory Criminal Justice System

4 A properly funded prison and probation service

5 Open and transparent justice

Next steps

Collect signatories to the Charter, and the letter to broadsheet newspapers

Meeting with Lord Chancellor to present the Charter.

Please contact Jon Black jonathanb@bsbsolicitors.co.uk if you would like to help us use the Charter for positive campaigning, or be a signatory.

Justice needs a Minister who will stand up to the Treasury and restore the funding of a decade ago . Lets hope the current Minister will respond positively to the Charter.

Crisis? What crisis?

The recent book by the Secret Barrister which so brilliantly identifies the numerous and cumulative failings in the current system, is called

“THE LAW IS BROKEN”. And it is.

The author lays bare the results of the drive to prosecute and defend on the cheap, and warns that “we are moving from a criminal justice system to simply a criminal system”.

The book recounts everyday tales of injustice with which criminal lawyers are already familiar.

Who cares?

But the secret barrister’s rage is equalled only by astonishment at the “wall of silence” and “collective indifference” of the public to the parlous state of affairs.

“What astounds me most is that people don’t seem to care. Or even know… If the criminal justice system were the NHS, it would never be off the front page.”

It is not enough to say the law is broken without adding “but we can fix it”

We know that the broken justice system can be fixed, but we also know that to fix it involves hard expenditure of cash.

And yet MoJ projections currently show further proposed cuts to the budget,

Just a reminder the Ministry of Justice still claims that it needs to reduce spending by around £500m per year from 2015-16 levels by 2019-20. If anything it’s likely to get worse, not better, and only this month we learn of huge proposed job losses to court staff.

Well if it is hard to get the public interested in the problem, it will be impossible to get support for the solution.

Raising Awareness

But maybe the tide is turning in terms of media coverage and public awareness

The prison crisis become (and remains) a newsworthy story.

David Lammy’s report came out last year, and the anniversary of the murder of Stephen Lawrence last month highlighted that issues of racism ands discrimination have not gone away.

Then we have had the recent disclosure stories. Nothing new to us, but amazing that suddenly the right case hit the headlines leading to media attention and a flurry similar scandalous stories.

And even the current action by the bar is gaining media attention.

The charter aims to join all this up, by helping people outside the system see that this is all part of the same problem- chronic underfunding of the justice system.

Previous campaigns

The charter redresses 2 failures of some previous campaigns by legal aid lawyers:-

1 complaining about legal aid cuts in terms of our pay rather than broader consequences

2 reactive or isolated campaigns on isolated issues, rather than focus on bigger picture.

The first one self evidently fails. We are unlikely to shift the perception of fat-cat lawyers, but even if we do, then I am afraid nobody cares, and why should they.

Arguing for reasonable remuneration needs to focus on the consequences of poorly paid lawyers: – inadequate investigation by the police, inadequate review by CPS, cutting corners by prosecution and defence, factory-firms, increasingly inadequate advice and/or representation, a recruitment crisis in an already greying profession, and ultimately miscarriages of justice.

The second is that we have tended to be re-active rather than pro-active. We have been focussed on the day job, responding to MoJ consultations in the misguided belief that the ministry would listen rather than just go ahead with their latest cut, and reacting belatedly to the issue of the day- court closures, extended hours, price tendering, duty compliance etc.

None of these excite the public, and whilst each on their own was iniquitous but survivable we now are at rock bottom after cumulative cuts.

Moving forward with the Charter for Justice

So the Charter sets out 5 principles that are broader, understandable, and if adopted and properly funded would restore faith in the justice system and fix what is now broken.

The text of the charter is here(or scroll down to appendix below)

The Charter is something that we hope legal affairs or justice commentators show interest in, that the public would support, that campaigners can argue for, and that parties and politicians can sign up to.

It offers unity in that all lawyers can support the aims, whereas previously there have been differing interests and factional differences (bar vs solicitors, big firms group vs small, etc) We need a united approach -no back- door meetings with the MoJ by the bar or solicitors alone.

It is backed by initial sponsor signatories including the LCCSA, CBA, Howard League, Transform Justice, CLSA and Jengba.

Launch

The charter was launched on 26th March (summary here)

Angela Rafferty QC (CBA) spoke on funding issues and ACCESS TO JUSTICE

Laura Jane (Howard League) spoke on the Prison and probation crisis (her speech here)

Raj Chada on tackling discrimination, prejudice and the Lammy report. (speech here)

Jerry Hayes spoke on the DISCLOSURE crisis.

Penelope Gibbs (Transform Justice) talked about Open Justice

LCCSA President Greg Powell spoke of the need for Unity (his comments here)

Speaker clips here

With everyone’s attention focussed on the current dispute, we have temporarily placed the Charter on the back-burner, but have planned the next steps as below. Now is the time to let us know if you want as an individual or institution (including law firms and chambers) to back the Charter as a signatory

Next steps

Collect signatories to the Charter, and the letter to broadsheet newspapers

Meeting with Lord Chancellor to present the Charter.

Please contact Jon Black jonathanb@bsbsolicitors.co.uk if you would like to help us use the Charter for positive campaigning, or be a signatory.

Justice needs a Minister who will stand up to the Treasury and restore the funding of a decade ago . Lets hope the current Minister will respond positively to the Charter.

Appendix- the Charter for Justice

Preamble

For too many years those who are close to the criminal justice system have observed the impact of funding restraints and cuts which have led to dilapidated buildings, reduced access to Justice, and a prison service on the point of collapse. The Lammy report has highlighted inequality of outcomes, and recently highlighted disclosure problems have shown systemic failures in the system.
This charter seeks to set the standards for a justice system that is sustainable, workable and fair.

1 Equal Access to Justice

Publicly funded representation is essential for defence and prosecution.

The CPS needs to be properly funded to properly present cases, and legal aid sufficiently available and remunerated to ensure equality of arms in an adversarial justice system, and to allow everyone access to legal advice and representation irrespective of means.

2 Disclosure

There should be full and fair disclosure of the Prosecution case to a suspect at the police station and defendant at court. Criminal justice is not a game, and proper disclosure needs to be made in a timely fashion so that those accused by the state can fully understand what they are accused of, and respond accordingly. Failures in the disclosure process waste huge resources throughout the system and result in wrongful convictions, avoidable appeals and abandoned trials, damaging both the accused and victims of crime and undermining public confidence. There is an urgent need to increase fairness, effectiveness and accountability within the disclosure process.

3 Open Justice.

There should be no further court closures, and court buildings and their fabric should be maintained to an acceptable standard. The latest initiative of online pleas is a dangerous development that will remove the direct engagement that a defendant has with the court and legal representatives. Every defendant or witness or member of the public should have a right to attend a court hearing in person.

The recent change to the Police and Criminal Evidence Act allowing the police to video-interview people wherever they choose without legal advice undermines vital protections for those suspected of crime and should be prohibited. This is especially dangerous for the young, those with mental health issues or learning disabilities, or for whom English is not a first language.

4 A humane and effective prison and probation service

Urgent action is required to upgrade and maintain the quality of prison buildings and facilities. There are too many people in prison and at risk of being sent to prison for failing to comply with conditions and urgent action is required to reduce the number of people in prison. We must learn from other countries where prisons are more forward thinking and humane and reoffending rates are lower. There must be recruitment and retention of sufficient prison officers, and access to properly funded rehabilitation and education courses within the prison system. The part privatisation of the probation service is a costly failure which should be reversed.

5 A Fair Justice system

Urgent action is needed to achieve equality of justice and eradicate the discrimination identified in the Lammy Report. Unless all have faith in the processes as well as the outcomes of our justice system, trust in the system will ebb away. We need to work to eliminate unconscious bias amongst all those involved in the system through diverse recruitment, better training and rigorous monitoring.

Justice cannot be seen to be done when there are the clear differences in treatment and outcome identified in the Lammy Report, or arising through use of the legal concept of Joint Enterprise.