The Law Society has released a short, animated film about nurse and single parent Peter, who is charged with affray following a fight that he was not involved in, to launch an 'urgent' campaign to fix the 'broken' criminal justice system.
The Society says the chances of a fair trial are diminishing and the system is functioning so poorly that it is affecting the UK's international reputation.
Simon Davis, the Society's vice president, said: 'The reputation of our justice system - one of England and Wales’ most precious assets - is in great danger at a time when the country needs it most. Justice and the rule of law are key exports for the UK - but their integrity depends on the whole system working effectively. Years of neglect have heaped colossal pressure on the whole system and those who work hard in it.
'The right to a fair trial is at the heart of a democratic society and sets Britain apart from authoritarian regimes the world over. In our country, people are innocent until proven guilty after a fair trial – yet those accused are forced through a frequently unfair and nightmarish journey through the criminal justice system regardless of whether they are guilty or not. This is something we should all care about because crime can affect anyone at some point in their lives.
'For a democracy to function properly, the rule of law needs to be enforced. The rich and the poor should have equal justice, and cases should be resolved quickly and effectively to allow victims to see justice done and to return to their everyday life and focus on their recovery.'
The video, called 'Peter's journey through our broken criminal justice system' and released on YouTube, deals with the potential impact of a shortage of criminal duty solicitors, the 'overly stringent' legal aid means test, court listings issues and disclosure failings.
The Society, which has also published a parliamentary briefing, is calling on the Treasury to adopt its policy recommendations in relation to criminal duty solicitors, legal aid fees and the means test.
Davis said: 'The fabric of society is built around legal rights and obligations. These are what British values are based on and should be a cause of pride. By allowing our criminal justice system to crumble like this, we are disregarding and undermining centuries of progress. Without urgent action from the government the system will fall apart.'