Fresh from securing a 10% pay rise for Crown prosecutors, a trade union for senior civil servants has issued a call to the government to stop the criminal justice system becoming devalued.
The FDA's Manifesto for Justice, which will be unveiled at the Law Society today, demands: a properly resourced Crown Prosecution Service; no more legal aid cuts; investment in digital disclosure; and competitive pay and fees.
Despite successfully negotiating a pay rise for prosecutors, FDA president Fiona Eadie said there was more work to do to ensure competitive payments to the prosecution and defence, and to combat the effects of years of underfunding. 'This investment in the future is essential to stop a brain drain to other areas of law and ensure a properly functioning criminal justice system,' she said.
In a foreword to the manifesto, anonymous legal blogger The Secret Barrister says it is a 'damning indictment of our times' that those in power need to be reminded that a properly functioning criminal justice system is fundamental to the rule of law.
The Secret Barrister says the manifesto is a vital document setting out the challenges the system faces, and identifying the decisions that must be taken 'if we are to pull back from the brink'.
Society president Christina Blacklaws said: 'Criminal legal aid lawyers - solicitors and barristers - ensure that anyone accused of wrongdoing has a fair trial. A stable pipeline of defence lawyers, to safeguard the rights of the vulnerable and to protect the reputation of our legal system, is essential to ensure that justice is served. Yet, rates for criminal legal aid work are now so low, young lawyers no longer see a viable career in this specialism.'
Richard Atkins QC, Bar Council chair, said the 'crumbling' court estate was an obvious example of fiscal neglect. 'Leaking roofs, leaking lavatories, broken lifts and broken seats are but a few examples of the dire condition of the fabric of our court buildings. The problems with technology, Wi-Fi, the digital case system and CJSM secure email are partly the result of underfunding,' he said.
The manifesto document contains several startling statistics. CPS prosecutor numbers have fallen by 28% over the past decade. A 2018 FDA working hours survey shows that 79% of CPS members had worked while on sick leave. From May 2014 to January 2018, the overall number of practising solicitors rose by 7.8% but the proportion specialising in criminal work fell by 9.4%. Norfolk, Suffolk, Cornwall and Worcestershire currently have no practising criminal law solicitors under the age of 35. The number of barristers up to five years' call is down by 30% over the past 10 years.
Steven Littlewood, the union's national officer, told the Gazette that the union wants to raise awareness of the severe challenges its members face ahead of the next spending review. The union has also set up a petition for members of the public to sign, to send to the chancellor.