Criminal barristers have recently taken a vote and accepted a £15 million pay out from the government to stop strikes against the new Advocates Graduate Fee Scheme. To the lay person the offer on the table seems more than reasonable but when things are put into perspective is £15m really enough to right the wrong of our justice system. The secret Barrister’s recent best seller does this brilliantly.
‘Stories of the Law and How It’s Broken’ blows the whistle on everything that is wrong with the criminal justice system . After reading this book, I hope most will agree that a measly £15m seems like nothing.
The anonymous author of the book (SB) tells stories from every point of view, from the defendant to the victims, to the CPS, the police officers involved in the cases, the judges and those at the heart of the book: The barristers. Nobody is left untouched.
During a recent private conversation with the author, when asking what s/he wanted people to take away from his/her book, his/her reply was,
“The one thing I would like my audience to remember is that criminal law affects us all. It is too easy to assume that it is something for other people that it will never affect you as long as you play by the rules. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Anybody can be wrongly accused of a crime. Anybody can be a victim of crime. Anybody can be dragged into the system. And you will want it to work if that person is you”
Where to start
So, where to start on tackling a justice system that no longer seems to be working?
As of the 1st April 2018 thousands of criminal barristers refused to take on any new legal aid work in protest of the new Advocates Graduates Fee Scheme. Marches across London took place with hundreds of people joining in support, with Justice Alliance being at the very heart of it.
On the 18th April 2018 a vigil for justice was held outside the MOJ with candles being lit and Ministry of Injustice protected on to the building. Many settled in for the night in protest of cuts to legal aid. In speaking to the co-founder of Justice Alliance after the event this was what he had to say
“It was a great success in that we managed to bring together the different parts of the justice system that have been broken by the 40% budget cut to the ministry of justice over the last decade. Lawyers and unions came together exposing the crisis in the system.”
Justice Alliance is still trying to promote five short films that highlight the effects the cuts have had on everyday people, from universal credits to a miscarriage of justice.
On the 8th May 2018 the government did a U-turn after being criticised by the speaker of the house John Bercow MP for not having debated the cuts in Parliament. As such it was decided that £15 million was to be offered to enhance legal aid fees, an offer which was accepted by the CBA.
Over the past decades the cuts to the justice system has had an effect on everyone, and whilst the pay-out from the government will help advocates to continue to work, when will the government stand up and realise that much more needs to be done to reform our system because, despite a pay-out for advocates’ fees, until all other cuts are resolved, our criminal justice system is still in danger of collapse!
That’s not to say there is no hope, the conversation has been started and parliament cannot continue to claim ignorance. The Secret Barrister recently sent a copy of his books to all MP’s in the hope of opening their eyes to the desperate need for reform. The book isn’t going anywhere fast either – it’s still in the top 30 of the best sellers, 12 weeks after its release.
SB’s book has certainly opened my eyes to the real problems with our justice system and, as SB has already said, what s/he really wants people to take away from the book is the fact none of us are immune from the law. It is precisely for this reason that I would highly recommend this book to everyone. What’s more, when asked about a second book, The Secret Barrister replied “watch this space”!
Victoria-Jayne Scholes – OULS Reporter
Header image credit: Macmillan Publishers