As criminal barristers ponder whether or not to take direct action in protest over prosecution fees, the head of the criminal bar has made an unprecedented call for the courts to shut down to allow emergency talks to take place.
In the latest of increasingly militant weekly messages to the profession, Chris Henley QC, chair of the Criminal Bar Association (CBA), states that the ‘genuine emergency’ faced by the criminal justice system ’requires all the courts to close for several days (with a skeleton service continuing to run) to allow an urgent national criminal justice summit to be held across the country.’ This would involve ’every sector, police, the judiciary at every level, the CPS, HMCTS, probation, solicitors, the Bar, prisons, charities, campaigning groups, and of course politicians’, he said. It would aim to identify ’sustainable solutions’ to problems that ’diminish and tarnish’ the criminal justice system.
Henley has previously said that the profession would take direct action - which would include refusing to accept returns and boycotting hearings - unless the Legal Aid Agency acts on grievances over prosecution fees.
However the latest message seems to suggest some exasperation at colleagues' readiness to take action. Henley comments: 'Some voices have been urging caution, and encouraging the CBA to pause pending the outcome of the [Ministry of Justice] review. Why would there be a review if they aren’t going to do something positive, comes the argument. Well, my answer is "what would you do if you were in their position given the momentum that has built up?’" You’d announce a review, but with absolutely no commitment to do anything.
'Of course you would announce a review. It’s from a picture playbook.'
Heads of chambers will meet in the next week or so to map out next steps, Henley said.