More money must be found to “reverse the assault” on the criminal justice system that was once the envy of the world, a former senior judge has said.
Sir Henry Brooke, a former Court of Appeal judge, said that on current projections annual public spending on justice would have dropped by 40 per cent in real terms between 2010 and 2020.
“This is not about money for lawyers,” he said in an article for the weekly newsletter of the 4,000-strong Criminal Bar Association. “It is the liberties of England that are at risk.”
Sir Henry, who was a member of the Bach commission on legal aid, which reported in September on the impact of cuts over recent years, said that funding for justice was unprotected.
This was unlike health and education, “two comparable attributes of a civilised society”, he said, adding: “Both the lord chancellor and his permanent secretary have spoken recently about the practical effect of the Ministry of Justice’s lack of protection.
"The ghastly conditions in our prisons are just another testament to their department’s current powerlessness to do what is right for those to whom it owes a sensitive duty of care.”
Sir Henry said it was “clearly high time” that the scheme for advocates’ fees for payments in the crown court was reformed, adding that “new money must be introduced”.
He acknowledged that “seen in isolation, more money for lawyers is not a cause with which to rally the troops, but something has to be done to reverse the assault on a system of criminal justice that was once the envy of the world”.
Sir Henry added that during the gathering of evidence for the commission there had been many references to the deteriorating situation. He cited the evidence of Bill Waddington, a Hull-based lawyer and chairman of the Criminal Law Solicitors Association, who said that the court system was “probably at its lowest ebb”.
“It's slow, it's cumbersome,” Waddington had said, adding: “Listing in the crown court is just a complete and utter farce. It has never been very good, but nowadays it is absolutely appalling. It is all geared around box ticking, because cases have to be listed within a certain period of time and if they are listed, then the box is ticked.”
Sir Henry said: “Things are so bad now that few are opting to become criminal defence lawyers. In the country that sired Thomas Erskine and Marshall Hall, Norman Birkett and Jeremy Hutchinson and their successors whose skills I used to admire when I tried murder cases on circuit long ago.”