Dispensing justice will become ‘impossible’ if the ‘erosion’ of the criminal bar continues, a Crown court judge warned at the end of a multi-million-pound drugs and firearms trial.
His Honour Judge Woolman said the ‘continuing erosion’ of the criminal bar caused by the government’s funding cuts is a matter which ‘acutely concerns all criminal judges’.
‘The judges need a bar which is well-trained, properly motivated and adequately rewarded. Otherwise the judges’ task in dispensing justice will become difficult if not impossible,’ he said. 'Miscarriages of justice will occur.’
The results, he suggested, will be felt not just by defendants but also by victims, the police and society at large.
In addition, he said, cases will take longer and require more judge days, costing the taxpayer more.
In a speech at the end of a lengthy and complex multi-handed trial of a criminal gang at Preston Crown Court, Woolman said: ‘This case shows how important it is for judges to be helped by an experienced bar, not just by those who prosecute but also by those who defend.’
He said it is only possible to do justice in a serious criminal matter if both sides are represented by skilled and experienced counsel.
‘I have no doubt that this experience has enabled weeks if not months of court time to be saved and that such trials as there have been have been considerably shortened, said Woolman.
Even in the sentencing process, at the end of which the 14 defendants were jailed for a total of 91 years, Woolman said the ‘skill and economy’ displayed by prosecuting and defence counsel had enabled him to deal with the complex sentencing exercise in a reasonably short time.
But he warned: ‘It is clear that the criminal bar is slowly being destroyed. People of ability are leaving or transferring to other fields of work, and new recruits are choosing either not to come to the bar at all, or not to the criminal bar.’
Valuable skills, he said, are being lost and once lost cannot be regained.
The criminal bar, he suggested, will be an option only for those backed by ‘personal or family money’.
‘No longer will it be possible for those youngsters who come from ordinary backgrounds, let alone poor backgrounds, to contemplate a career at the criminal bar.’
Criminal barristers have indicated that they will return very high cost cases and are prepared to go on strike over further cuts to criminal legal aid fees.