September 21, 2020

Retired judge Sir John Royce criticises legal cuts

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_78445539_78445538From BBC

Sir John Royce Sir John Royce said it “saddened him” to advise his own sons not to join the publicly-funded bar

A recently retired judge has said he thinks government cuts to the legal system have gone too far.

Sir John Royce, from Bristol, described the cuts as “savage” and said he had advised his own sons against joining the publicly-funded bar.

Ministers are planning to cut £220m from the annual criminal case legal aid budget in and Wales.

_78445543_78445542A Ministry of Justice (MoJ) spokesman said: “Legal aid remains available where people most need legal help.”

‘Solicitors’ firms closing’

Sir John, who was leader of the Western Circuit before becoming a High Court judge, said: “I have real concerns about where we are going to be in a few years’ time, it’s bad enough now.

“The publicly-funded bar has depended upon a lot of solicitors and barristers being prepared to work extremely hard to ensure members of the public have proper access to justice and are properly represented.

“Savings have to be made and there have been very substantial savings. But for the bar and solicitors now, it is very, very tough and I think the cuts have been far too savage.

“I don’t think there’s sufficient recognition of the importance of a good quality service – solicitors’ firms are closing, young members of the bar of real talent are not coming to the publicly-funded bar.

_77702123_77702122“It saddens me that I had to advise my sons not to come to the publicly-funded bar for that reason.”

Sir John Royce Sir John Royce: “Judges tearing their hair out”

Steve Brodie, BBC Home Affairs correspondent, West of England

For a judge of his standing to talk openly about his concerns about the future of his profession and to give an interview is rare.

The former solicitor who became a barrister more than 40 years ago in Bristol has little time for the present , Chris Grayling. He agrees with the view of the profession that “he doesn’t listen”.

Sir John told me how he’s spoken to judges up and down the country who are struggling to make the crown courts work – with lack of the proper staff “of the right ability”.

The former Cambridge hockey blue and keen cricketer admits that like all public services there must be cuts but the government has gone too far and is endangering the the system.

Sir John, who presided over the high profile trial of paedophile Lostprophets singer Ian Watkins last year, said there was a feeling among the profession – “a non-lawyer” – was going the wrong way about making savings.

“You will have seen the protests the bar made by going on strike for a day or two. That’s unprecedented,” he said.

“The very powerful view of the profession is that he [Chris Grayling] is not listening sufficiently to other ways of achieving savings.

“There have been massive cuts in the court system. The CPS [Crown Prosecution Service] is under-resourced, they’re not properly in a position to do the job they’re supposed to be doing.

“There aren’t the people, or the right people, in the courts’ service itself or the probation service, they’re all very stretched up and down the country.”

‘More efficient’ system

He said: “It’s obvious to me in every court that I go to, talking to the resident judge and other judges, they’re facing the same problems.

“You’ve even got no canteen facilities any longer, which is a very short-sighted approach in my view.”

Sir John said this meant judges having to give juries an extra 15 minutes for their lunch break.

“You lose court time. It’s the same story everywhere. You see judges tearing their hair out,” Sir John said.

Shadow Justice Minister Andy Slaughter described the comments as an “extraordinary attack on the government from one of Britain’s top judges”.

“The swingeing cuts to legal aid have led to chaos in the courts. David Cameron must act urgently to address the damage his government have wrought on the legal profession,” Mr Slaughter said.

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: “The reforms we are putting in place will make it sustainable for providers in the sector, and affordable for the taxpayer who ultimately foots the bill.

“We are also making sure offenders are rehabilitated, so they don’t return to a life of crime, by extending support to an extra 50,000 prisoners a year serving short sentences.

“At present they receive little or no help at all on release.

“Our reforms will mean a fairer, more efficient criminal justice system – as well as giving us a better chance of keeping our communities safe.”

For more on this story go to: http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-bristol-29722510

Related story:

Legal aid reforms: Judge overturns duty lawyer contracts cut

A High Court judge has ruled that part of the government’s legal aid reform in England and Wales is unlawful.

Lawyers challenged the reforms, which cut the number of contracts for duty solicitor work in magistrates’ courts and police stations from 1,600 to 525.

And Mr Justice Burnett ruled the consultation process had failed to let lawyers comment on two reports and was “unfair as to result in illegality”.

Ministers said they would consider the ruling but cost-cutting would continue.

There are currently about 1,600 solicitor firms doing duty solicitor work in magistrates’ courts and police stations, and in February the government announced plans to cut this to 525.

The judge told Lord Chancellor and Justice Secretary Chris Grayling to scrap the plan and run the consultation again.

Ministry of Justice

“They had long argued that the cuts are ideologically driven and would push the courts and justice system to breaking point,” he said.

London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association president Nicola Hill said: “This is a great day for justice.

“It shows that no-one, not even… Mr Grayling is above the rule of law.”

She said the reforms were being “sold in the name of austerity” and were being “railroaded through by a justice secretary determined to push through an ideology”.

She added: “The cuts have been nothing short of an assault on justice – compromising fair representation for people accused of a crime in police stations and courts.”

Mr Grayling has faced vehement opposition to legal aid reform from lawyers, including strikes and protests outside Parliament.

‘Generous system’

The solicitors’ groups also objected to cuts in criminal aid legal fees – an 8.75% cut already in force and a further 8.75% due to take effect in spring 2015.

The judge rejected this aspect of the legal challenge, saying the groups had not established a “sufficient connection between the flaws identified in the consultation process and the decision to reduce fees”.

“The claimants failed in their challenge to the fee cut,” a Ministry of Justice spokeswoman said.

“However, the judgement has raised some technical issues about the consultation process, which we are carefully considering.”

She said the government would “continue to implement reform of the criminal legal aid system” to ensure it was “sustainable”.

“Even after reform we would still have a very generous system at around £1.5bn a year,” she added.

IMAGE: Lawyers protesting outside Parliament Lawyers have protested outside Parliament in response to the planned legal aid reforms

For more on this story go to: http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-29283993

 

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