Announcement of 15 Winckley Square, Criminal Team in relation to the revised AGFS proposals
The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) budget has been slashed across the board in the last decade. The effects, in every area, are becoming ever clearer: courts and prisons in a deplorable state of repair, leading to unacceptable conditions; litigants struggling to deal with their own cases without legal help in the most trying of circumstances; overloaded courts and judges; increasing delays; and judicial morale at rock bottom, to name but a few.
Previous programmes of reform have failed to produce the intended benefits through a lack of funding and political will. While the current investment in the court reform programme is substantial, it cannot hope to reverse all of the harm that has already been done, and continues to be done, and its focus is really elsewhere. When the required annual savings of nearly £260 million are taken out of the system, then these latest reforms may also falter; and if the intended efficiencies are not achieved, then it may even add to the current problems.
Those who suffer from all this are the public; the most vulnerable; the victims of crime; witnesses called to give evidence; and those who are innocent of the offences with which they are charged. This can only lead to miscarriages of justice - the conviction of the innocent and the acquittal of the guilty - which harm both the public and the rule of law of which we are, and wish to remain, so proud.
Much of the brunt of this underfunding has been borne by the publicly funded Bar, through an ever growing workload, worsening working conditions and a deterioration in the quality of our working lives. That has not been met - as anyone else might expect - by increases in pay to compensate for the changes which have been imposed: quite the contrary.
For the last 35 years the Members of 15 Winckley Square have proudly represented the people of Lancashire and Cumbria. It is our desire to continue to do so in the future. However, since the AGFS scheme was introduced in 1997 there have been cuts in fees due to inflation and money being stripped out by the Governments of the day of over 40%. The new proposals will have the effect of a further cut in the region of 15% to the income from publicly funded defence work. No other area of public sector workers has endured such cuts and they are simply not sustainable. The goodwill which has kept a creaking system running for the last 10 years or more is near exhausted.
The stage is being reached where it is not viable to undertake publicly funded work. These proposals may affect the number of barristers available to both prosecute and defend the most serious cases before the Criminal Courts. The members of the criminal team at 15 Winckley Square are committed to achieving justice in each case undertaken. This cannot safely be done under the new proposals.
As such, the criminal team at 15 Winckley Square have made the decision not to accept instructions on cases with a Legal Aid Certificate granted on or after the 1st April 2018 in line with the proposals of the Criminal Bar Association. Ultimately, the decision in this respect is one for each individual barrister and the clerks should be contacted as to the availability of any individual.
15 Winckley Square recognise that the cuts to funding do not simply affect the Bar and are committed to fighting injustices across the Criminal Justice System.