Barristers urge next government to reverse cuts to legal aid, abolish ‘innocence tax’ and invest in court infrastructure.
In a manifesto called ‘Urgent Action Required’, the Bar Council says the justice system is ‘on its knees’ and cites ‘swingeing’ cuts, court closures, an under-resourced Crown Prosecution Service and growing numbers of litigants in person.
The Bar Council makes six recommendations to the next government, urging them to fund the justice system properly, place accessible justice at the heart of the court system, reinvest in legal aid, abolish ‘innocence tax’ – where the state prosecutes an individual and refuses to pay their costs when they are acquitted – to recognise the value of legal services, and to promote the bar’s position internationally by ensuring the free movement of lawyers is protected.
The manifesto says: ’A properly funded justice system is long overdue. For years, successive governments have damaged it. The cumulative effects of ill-conceived, short-term decisions over the last decade is undeniable.’
The manifesto refers to the fact that the Ministry of Justice budget has been cut by 40% since 2011 – it currently stands at £6.9bn – and the fact that 277 courts and 18 tribunals have closed in the past decade.
Speaking at the annual bar and young bar conference, Richard Atkins QC, chair of the Bar Council, told young barristers that they should not be despondent, however. ‘We just need to keep plugging away at the Ministry of Justice. There are reasons to be cheerful,’ he said.