Margaret Greenwood MP has spoken out about the “deplorable state of the criminal justice system” and has highlighted that backlogs in the courts are having “serious consequences for victims, witnesses and defendants.”
The Wirral West MP met with representatives from the Criminal Bar Association in Parliament this week to hear their concerns about low levels of pay.
She subsequently raised the issues in a debate in the House of Commons, and she has also written to Dominic Raab, the Secretary of State for Justice.
Criminal barristers are self-employed, and the majority of their defence work is funded by legal aid.
According to the Criminal Bar Association, junior criminal barristers in their first 3 years of practice earn a median income of £12,200. This equates to £6.25 per hour for a 40-hour week, significantly below the minimum wage.
As a result, there is an ongoing exodus from the profession.
Between March 2021 and March 2022, more than 1,000 trials were postponed at the last minute because no barristers were available to prosecute or defend the case.
The government has this week laid legislation to implement a 15% increase to barrister fee payments, but only on new cases from the end of September 2022. This means that the 58,000 cases currently stuck in the backlog will not benefit from any increase.
Given the unprecedented size of the backlog and the slow speed at which existing cases are being concluded, the Criminal Bar Association has warned that it will be years before criminal barristers will see the benefits of any increase to fee rates because the new cases will be at the back of the queue.
The Criminal Bar Association has asked the government to attach the proposed fee increases to existing cases in the backlog.
Margaret Greenwood MP said, “Criminal barristers do incredibly important work and without them our criminal justice system simply can’t function.
“It is extraordinary that criminal barristers are on strike over pay under this government. Ministers really need to get a grip on the situation because as things currently stand, victims and their families are being let down.
“Justice delayed is justice denied. It must be very stressful for people who have been victims of appalling crimes to find that their court hearing has been postponed.
“It is completely unacceptable that there is a backlog of around 58,000 court cases waiting to be heard. The system is crumbling and in chaos.
“Junior criminal barristers must be paid properly for their work. As things currently stand, an income of £12,200 a year equates to around £6.25 per hour for a 40 hour week, which is significantly below the minimum wage.
“The government must resolve this issue by ensuring junior criminal barristers are paid properly for their work and that our courts can function efficiently.
“I have written to Dominic Raab, the Secretary of State for Justice, calling on him to engage constructively with the Criminal Bar Association so that a solution can be found.
“People should be able to have confidence in the criminal justice system. As things currently stand, those seeking justice and those working in the profession are being very seriously let down.”
Image: Margaret Greenwood MP with Jo Sidhu, Chair of the Criminal Bar Association, (left) and Lucie Wibberley, Secretary of the Criminal Bar Association, (right).