Disasters in the criminal justice system should not be viewed in isolation, the former head of a London practitioner group has warned, ahead of unveiling a new justice charter.
The London Criminal Courts Solicitors' Association, with the support of the Criminal Law Solicitors' Association and Criminal Bar Association, has drawn up a 'Charter For Justice', which has been designed to encapsulate key principles that practitioners can unite behind and campaign for. The charter will be unveiled at the Law Society on 26 March.
Jonathan Black, a partner at London firm BSB Solicitors and former LCCSA president, said: 'Over the last few months we have witnessed disaster after disaster within the justice system - whether its disclosure issues, funding issues, court closures or crisis in our prisons. It's time for these issues not to be viewed in isolation but brought together. We want those in charge to look at this and see it's not enough to tinker around the edges and introduce a new initiative here and a new scheme there.'
Black highlighted the need for sufficient access to justice with the help of a profession that requires more lawyers and experience. However, a social mobility report published by the Young Legal Aid Lawyers group this week has found that stress, lack of support and juggling legal aid work with other responsibilities are forcing many younger members to quit the legal aid sector.
One respondent told the group: 'Unfortunately, I no longer work in legal aid. The junior criminal bar became too much; the financial anxiety was overwhelming. Working ten hour days when you didn't know if you were going to be paid or not became too much.' Another said: 'I would not return to private legal aid practice, as it is too stressful and too difficult to make enough money to survive. I am about to have my first child and I would not be able to work the hours that are required to try to make a living from legal aid.'
The report recommends amending a proposed Solicitors Qualifying Exam to ensure areas of social welfare law and civil legal aid are 'properly made available' in the first and second stages of the new qualification route. Employers should also be more open to part-time work, flexible working hours and working from home.