31 October 2018

UK justice week kicks off with a bang...and a crash

A wing and a prayer with a creaking system and reduced justice budget, followed by prayer and discussion at the profession's Temple Church.

The UK legal profession’s main representative bodies – the Law Society, Bar Council and Chartered Institute of Legal Executives –  have been stunned by a bang and a crash at the start of their justice week. The bang was an attack in the Sunday Observer newspaper over a creaking system, followed on Monday by a government budget announcement that the justice budget is being cut.

'really creaking'

Justice Week, the first event of its kind is a week-long celebration of lawyers’ pro bono efforts across the globe. The issues were put in stark contrast when Alison Saunders, who steps down as Crown Prosecution Service chief on Wednesday, highlighted two major pressures in a the interview. Firstly, many fraud cases are being ignored 'because it takes time and a skilled investigator,' and secondly the criminal justice system is struggling to cope with an explosion of data being generated by technology. She explained that in some cases downloads of online data takes six to eight months to review, citing a recent rape case where police spent 600 hours going through the digital material. In response to a question about whether the criminal justice system is failing, she answered 'it's really creaking.' Her comments have raised a few hackles, with the criminal legal aid lawyers group asking 'why has it taken five years and your last week as DPP to speak out publicly about the dire realities of the criminal justice system?' Ms Saunders is joining Linklaters, working within the dispute resolution practice as part of the firm’s crime team.

Money and prayers

Concerns about the state of the justice system were further heightened by the absence of any reference to justice in the chancellor of the exchequer’s budget speech and the lowering of the ministry of justice annual budget from £6.3bn in 2018/19 to £6bn in 2019/20. Among the spending commitments are the construction of a new £170m prison, provision of £30m to improve ‘security and decency’ across the prison estate, and, a £21.5m investment in the ‘wider justice system.’ However, figures reveal that by the end of 2019/20, the MoJ’s day-to-day budget will have decreased by over a third in past decade. Speaking after the budget announcement, shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon said 'justice has been cut to the bone, but there's still hundreds of millions of pounds of justice cuts to come by 2020.' Tomorrow the Temple Church, at the heart of legal London, which prides itself on being the ‘London mother church of the common law,’ is holding a choral evensong service for saints and the those in the profession who have departed, followed by a panel discussion on access to justice organised by the Bar Council. It seems in Justice week there is a lot to pray for in the UK legal world.