Members of 1MCB Chambers’ crime team fully support taking days of action to prevent further decline to our criminal justice system.
Since 2006, legally aided criminal defence fees have decreased by an average of 28% in real terms. The Criminal Bar Association’s data shows that, in 2019-20, criminal barristers in their first three years of practice earned a median income of £12,200 before tax; many will additionally be burdened by huge sums in debt from the minimum of five years’ study and training that it takes to qualify into our profession. The goodwill that has been propping up the failing criminal justice system – our goodwill – has run dry, leading to a mass exodus from criminal practice. In turn, the number of trials that cannot proceed because there is either no-one to prosecute or no-one to defend has increased significantly: last year alone, 576 trials were postponed because one party or the other was not represented on the day, leaving complainants, witnesses and defendants placing their lives on hold yet again as they rejoin the queue backlog of 58,000 cases waiting to be heard. We cannot stand by and continue to watch the decimation of our profession and the laying to waste of the fundamental principles of fairness and open justice.
At 1MCB Chambers, we are especially proud of the diversity of our members. Yet, criminal practitioners with caring responsibilities often pay to work, pushing women out of the profession at an alarming rate. Without an immediate improvement in remuneration, there is no prospect of addressing the gender gap at the criminal bar – a gap that is all the more pronounced for women who are black, Asian or from racialised minorities.
None of us takes this action lightly. We recognise the urgent need to safeguard the future not only of our profession, but of the whole criminal justice system.