Last night 200 Solicitors and Barristers assembled at the Law Society on Chancery Lane to agree on the fundamental principles required to underpin our justice system by joining the launch of the Charter for Justice

These principles are set out in the #Charter4Justice set out below:

1 Equal Access to Justice
Publicly funded representation is essential for defence and prosecution - the CPS needs to be properly funded to present cases; Legal Aid needs to be properly funded to ensure equality of arms in an adversarial justice system, and to allow everyone access to legal advice and representation irrespective of means.
2 Disclosure
Failures in the disclosure process waste huge resources throughout the system and result in wrongful convictions, avoidable appeals and abandoned trials, damaging both the accused and victims of crime and undermining public confidence. There is an urgent need to increase fairness, effectiveness and accountability within the disclosure process.
3 Open Justice
We need to stand against court closures and the introduction of online pleas which removes direct engagement defendants have with courts and their legal representative. We also need to oppose the recent changes to PACE which permit interviews with suspects to be conducted wherever the police choose without the right to legal advice.
4 A humane and effective prison and probation service
Urgent action is required to improve the quality of prison buildings and the recruitment and retention of prison officers. Prisons should rehabilitate as well as punish and there needs to be access to properly funded rehabilitation and education courses within the prison system. The part privatisation of the probation service is a costly failure which should be reversed.
5 A Fair Justice system
Urgent action is needed to achieve equality of justice and eradicate the discrimination identified in the Lammy Report. Unless all have faith in the processes as well as the outcomes of our justice system, trust in the system will ebb away.

The meeting was chaired by LCCSA member Greg Foxsmith who introduced the charter and explainined that once approved and signed it would be presented to the Lord Chancellor.

This five point charter was described as the 21st Century’s answer to Magna Carta by Angela Rafferty QC, Chair of the Criminal Bar Association and the first speaker to address the room.
Highlighting why solicitors & barristers must fight to save the broken criminal justice system, she quoted the late Henry Brooke: ‘It’s not about money for lawyers, but the liberties of England that are at state’.

Jerry Hayes  reminded us that the British Justice System so frequently described as the envy of the world may be true for high profile divorces and footballers seeking super-injunctions,  but is certainly not the case for those involved in the legal aid side of the Criminal Justice System, and he also highlighted the need to reform the disclosure regime in criminal cases. He urged us to fight to save the system we are all so dedicated to and not let it be eroded further.

Next, Penelope Gibbs from Transform Justice urged us to push back against court closures and the worrying move towards more and more hearings over video-link, recounting a tale of a 17 year old recently sentenced to 10 years imprisonment over a video-link from the YOI he was in.

Laura Janes from the Howard League for Penal Reform spoke compellingly about the state of our Dickensian prisons where staff numbers have been reduced by 40% despite us locking up more people than any country in Western Europe; where we see a prison suicide every five days,  and quoted the depressing statistic that at least 30% of those who survive their incarceration go on to reoffend.

Raj Chada of Hodge Jones Allen then spoke to the David Lammy Report which revealed that 45% of those in youth custody are from ethnic minorities – a higher figure than what is seen in the USA and despite ethnic minorities only making up 18% of the population as a whole. Inequalities such as these are devastating to the Criminal Justice System and lead to a climate of mistrust in the system as a whole.

LCCSA President Greg Powell rounded off the meeting by pointing out that the erosion of fees reflects the erosion of justice and that it has been a deliberate conspiracy between the Ministry of Justice and the Government to pauperise justice.

The message from #Charter4Justice event was clear - It is only through unity that we can reverse the degradation of our Criminal Justice System. We need to band together with our colleagues from every aspect of the system: Police, Probation, Prisons, Judges, Magistrates, Court staff as well as Solicitors and Barristers- we all know that the system is broken, we all have been moaning about it for far too long. Now is the time to take action and it is by standing together that we can put an end to the years of chronic underfunding which has resulted in a system that was described as not being at breaking point but now, completely broken.

Everyone needs to get behind the #Charter4Justice so tell your colleagues, lobby your MPs, and ask your firms to sign the charter.

Also join together at the Vigil  for Justice being held outside the Ministry of Justice at 7pm on 18 April 2018

Laura Porteous, Tuesday 27 March 2018

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