‘System is on its knees,’ says UK criminal bar chair

The silk says the mood of the profession is darkening, with many reaching the end of their tethers

‘System is on its knees,’ says UK criminal bar chair

The criminal justice system is crumbling and many barristers and chambers are downtrodden, the chair of the Criminal Bar Association of England and Wales has said.

Angela Rafferty QC said that the bar held a meeting with around 60 heads of chambers and their representatives to discuss the government’s reform of the advocates graduated fee scheme (AGFS), which will take effect on 1 April.

“All present at this meeting agreed that the system is on its knees. The levels of disappointment and worry are extremely high and were articulated forcefully by all the heads of chambers. It was notable how high the levels of concern were for the junior bar and its survival,” Rafferty said.

The reform will change the basis of criminal advocates’ pay from the number of pages of matters to their seriousness and complexity. It is being implemented against a backdrop of a 40% fee cut, she said.

“We are receiving information about the likely effects of reform from you. It is our view that the mood of the profession is darkening. Many at the meeting told us that the scheme would have a catastrophic effect on chamber’s budgets and on some barrister’s careers,” she said. “These messages are deeply concerning; they are constantly expressed, with many from cautious and circumspect barristers who do not voice such opinions lightly. It is vital that you look at the new scheme, as it will affect you. This is your future.”

The chair said that the bar will be discussing with the executive committee how to survey the membership, with balloting through chambers being considered as an option.

“Our members have been telling us constantly that the criminal justice system is reaching a point of no return. Those who work across the system are reaching the end of their tethers,” she said.


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