Representatives from the FDA, the Law Society and the Bar Council have called for increased investment in the criminal justice system at a round table event to mark Justice Week 2018.
FDA organised the event to explore the question ‘How can we maintain public faith in the criminal justice system?’, which drew a unified response from panellists and audience members alike.
Opening the discussion, Richard Atkinson, Chair of the Law Society Criminal Law Committee, described resources as the “elephant in the room” of many meetings he attends. He did not shy away from the fact that “improvements in the way we work can be found” but warned that “there is only so much that can be done with the very limited existing resources”.
Outgoing Director of Public Prosecutions Alison Saunders recently called for “an investment of resources nationally” and Atkinson endorsed this message, telling attendees “if confidence is to be restored to our justice system there must be a significant investment in it”.
The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) and Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) have suffered some of the worst real terms budget cuts since 2010 and panellist Richard Atkins QC, Bar Council Chair Elect, said it was “dispiriting” to see “funding for justice cut once again”, after Chancellor Philip Hammond’s 2018 Budget showed no sign of reversing this trend.
David Chrimes, National Convener of the FDA CPS Section, explained how these cuts have had a direct impact on the FDA members he works alongside in the CPS, where pay has fallen well behind inflation since 2010.
Chrimes expressed concerns at the widening pay gap between jobs in the criminal justice system and other career opportunities for law graduates, such as corporate law. “Why is pay important? It’s important to attract the best possible people to the criminal justice system”, he explained.
This view was echoed by Richard Atkinson, who told attendees that real terms cuts to legal aid have seen criminal law salaries fall “dramatically behind those in other areas of law to the point where they are simply no longer viable even for the most committed young person embarking on a legal career”.
The panel’s consensus was neatly summed up by Richard Atkins QC in his closing remarks: “How do we maintain faith in the justice system? It needs funding.”
Justice Week is a new initiative setup by the Law Society, the Bar Council, and the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx) with the aim of boosting the profile of justice and the rule of law, helping to place them at the centre stage of public and political debate.