WE ARE A MAGAZINE ABOUT LAW AND JUSTICE | AND THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE TWO
April 16 2024
WE ARE A MAGAZINE ABOUT LAW AND JUSTICE | AND THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE TWO
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Two hundred trials abandoned in three months because of non-availability of defence lawyers

Two hundred trials abandoned in three months because of non-availability of defence lawyers

Pic: Justice Alliance (2018)

Almost 200 criminal trials had to be abandoned between July and September 2021 because there was either no prosecution or no defence advocates available compared to just six cases for the same period in the previous year. The chair of the Criminal Bar Association, Jo Sidhu QC has revealed that one in four of those 194 cases concerned serious and violent offences. ‘We are dealing with a national crisis,’ he writes in an article for the Times today.

Criminal barristers are threatening to strike closing down the courts, as reported by BBC News. Last month an independent review for the government said the legal aid budget needed an immediate injection of £135m to reverse a huge loss of lawyers. In his Times article, CBA chair Jo Sidhu QC argues that the justice secretary Dominic Raab last week ‘pleaded’ for criminal barristers to be patient in ‘their demands for substantial and expedited injections of funding to legal aid pay’.

He continued: ‘Dominic Raab’s plea came with an assurance – but no guarantee – that some sort of funding offer will be made and implemented by the autumn by which time criminal practitioners will have waited four years since an independent review into criminal legal aid was first committed to by ministers.’ The government’s ‘repeated intransigence’ had led to barristers leaving the profession. ‘But more importantly, patience is not an option for all the victims of crime whose interests are safeguarded by barristers to prosecute, and for defendants who pay the price for endless delays to trials, remanded in prison without trial or left in limbo on bail,’ he continued. ‘Complainants and defendants are like suffer as they see trial dates repeatedly delayed by sometimes five or more years since an offence was first reported. The situation is getting worse.’

According to the BBC, Dominic Raab has promised his response by the end of March, which will then go out to consultation but barristers say that’s too long to wait. ‘The results of our survey in January were resoundingly clear: 94% of criminal barristers who responded demanded that, by 14th February, the Secretary of State for Justice should give an undertaking that he would provide his full response to [the legal aid review] and complete any consultation process by the end of March,’ commented Sidhu. ‘The deadline has now passed and we have received no undertaking. Following a meeting of the CBA executive this evening it has therefore been resolved that we will now proceed to a ballot for action to be issued on 28 February.’