Garden Court North Chambers will implement the policy of “No Returns” in all criminal cases in the Crown Court from 25th May 2018

10 Mar 2018

On 1st April 2018 the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) introduced the latest version of the Advocates’ Graduated Fee Scheme (AGFS). Under that revised scheme, barristers undertaking publicly funded criminal work (who have already seen cuts of 40% to their incomes over the last 20 years, with current fees at a lower level than they were in 1998) will experience a further significant overall cut to their fees. This will result in us no longer having the resources to carry out properly the work that would be expected of us in defending people charged with criminal offences.

Cuts to advocates’ fees are part of a wider problem. The Criminal Justice System (CJS) is at breaking point and is failing victims, defendants and the wider public. For example:

  • Police budgets have been drastically cut leading to falls in the detection and prosecution of offences;
  • There have been appalling disclosure failings which have led to the prosecution and even imprisonment of the innocent;
  • The Crown Prosecution Service has seen unprecedented cuts;
  • Courts are being closed and court staff are overwhelmed and underpaid;
  • Criminal solicitors are at crisis point and face further devastating cuts to litigation fees that may drive many out of business; and
  • Prisons are underfunded and understaffed, resulting in dangerous institutions where self-harm, mental illness, suicide, assaults and murder are at unprecedented levels.

The CJS is a matter of importance to everyone – none of us can be sure that we will not appear in the criminal courts as a witness, as a juror, as a complainant, or even as a person charged with a criminal offence, or be sure that someone close to us will not fall into one of those categories.

In response to the latest version of AGFS, on 29th March 2018 Garden Court North Chambers announced that our members would not accept publicly funded criminal workunder representation orders dated on or after 1st April 2018.

In taking that action, which was recommended by the Criminal Bar Association (CBA) and which over 100 other chambers in England and Wales have also taken, we hoped to persuade the MOJ that they needed to re-consider plans to change the AGFS payment scheme.

Unfortunately, the MOJ shows no sign of changing the AGFS payment scheme or indeed of recognising the crisis in the CJS. Consequently, the CBA has invited barristers to consider escalating the action. Part of the CBA’s announcement includes the following points, which we reiterate:

  • There can be no more moving around of money from a dwindling ‘envelope’ exposing the underlying impoverishment of the scheme and the system. Those who undertake the difficult, complex and time consuming work must be properly paid for it. This includes payment for unused material. Junior barristers must see the possibility of career progression. We must be able to recruit and retain those who want to have a career with us;
  • There must be future proofing to the fee scheme so that the Criminal Bar can become a sustainable and attractive profession once again;
  • There must be a halt to the intended cuts to the MOJ budget over the next years;
  • All professionals who work in the system must be treated properly. Remuneration levels are only part of the general crisis;
  • The crisis in court buildings is now well known. The conditions for all court users are completely unacceptable. This must change; and
  • We repeat that the poor and vulnerable in society are being denied access to justice due to the continued onslaught of cuts. Members of the public are at risk of miscarriages of justice and the faith of the public in the jury system is being undermined by the chaos in courts. Access to justice is a critical part of a civilised democracy.

We agree with these sentiments and we agree to implement the action being recommended by the CBA. Accordingly, from 25th May 2018 members of Garden Court North Chambers will no longer accept the return to them of criminal briefs from other barristers.

We hope and trust that our colleagues in other chambers will also adopt this policy since it is vital that the criminal bar acts together in this action. We know we will receive the support of our solicitor colleagues despite the extra burden this action will place on them. Like us they know the seriousness of the current situation and the necessity for this action. We regret that this action is necessary but the MOJ know well the onus is on them to negotiate with the CBA in an effort to resolve this situation.

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