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5KBW Announcement Re: AGFS

6 April 2018

The Chambers at 5 King’s Bench Walk sets out its position with respect to direct action.

We are a Chambers who prosecute and defend. We are proud of that. It is healthy and promotes true professionalism and independence in our specialist trial advocates.

Each of our members individually supports the recommendation of the Criminal Bar Association that legal aid cases will not be accepted after 1.4.18.

That is not because we believe the architecture of the new AGFS Scheme brought in on that date is, at its core, objectionable. On the contrary.

It is because there has been a refusal by the government to build into the scheme any increase in investment. It is because the government refuse to agree any regular review and potential for increases in fees in the future. It is because there has been no increase in government payments to those who defend in legal aid cases since 2007, even though prices have risen by 37%. It is because, since 2007, there have instead been cuts to the justice system of 40%, which no other public service has had to endure, even in times of austerity. It is because a refusal to invest in the justice system has brought the UK justice system, of which this country could once rightly be proud, to its knees. It is because, in 2018, the Bar Council has discovered that one third of criminal barristers are now dispirited and looking to leave the profession. It is because the best of the young lawyers are no longer looking to practise in criminal law. It is because our future judges are largely drawn from what remains of the profession. The policy drags the entire system down.

It is because we can no longer stand by and watch our justice system continue its descent. If we do not act, we leave behind a legacy which has been our lives and of which we can no longer be proud.

We are one set of Chambers amongst a dedicated, committed profession of criminal barristers that has propped up a woefully under-resourced criminal justice system for a very long time.

Justice done well is not a vote winner. Successive governments know that and put criminal justice at the bottom end of any allocation of resources. Those governments can no longer rely on the good will of the Bar to work for less and less to try to ensure the system continues to get it right. 

If we do not accept a case, we do not get paid. But we will not accept cases when the future of everything we believe in is being decimated.

It is fundamental to the Rule of Law that, in every criminal case, the public have access to first rate prosecutors and defence advocates. Without resources, that cannot happen.  Without quality advocates, miscarriages of justice are inevitable. Miscarriages of justice mean that the guilty walk free and the innocent are wrongly convicted. Only then will the consequences become clear to the electorate, as is now beginning in murder, serious violence and some sex cases.

Enough is enough. It is our responsibility to stand up and refuse to accept cases. We do so with a heavy heart. That is not because we are denying ourselves fees for those cases; it is because we know that we provide an important public service to vulnerable individuals who need our help. 

But we cannot ignore the future to come.  We judge it more important that, if we do not take a stand now, we become complicit in permitting our justice system to collapse. We are not prepared to allow it because it is our legacy.