Barristers: Criminal Proceedings

Ministry of Justice written question – answered on 15th September 2020.

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Photo of Karl Turner Karl Turner Shadow Minister (Justice)

To ask the Secretary of State for Justice, what assessment he has made of the implications for his policies of the Bar Council's July 2020 survey which found that 38 per cent of criminal barristers are uncertain whether they will still be practising law in 2021.

Photo of Alex Chalk Alex Chalk Assistant Whip, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice

Criminal defence lawyers play a crucial role in upholding the rule of law and the Government greatly values the work they do.

To support the profession through the Covid-19 pandemic, we sought to improve the cashflow for the profession and provide support for legal aid practitioners. The changes made ensured that for work done in the Crown Court, practitioners were able to claim hardship payments for £450 worth of work done instead of £5,000, from 1 month after instruction (as opposed to 6 months). The LAA have also halted debt collection and increased the limits for payments on account claims.

The Crown Court resumed jury trials in May with the full support of Public Health England and Public Health Wales. This was ahead of all other comparable systems. Since then we have significantly expanded our capacity, opening more than 100 jury trial courtrooms safely. The Court Recovery plan, published on Monday 7 September, outlines the steps we will take to open 250 rooms by the end of October.

More recently, we announced in August that we would be taking forward the policy proposals from the accelerate areas of the Criminal Legal Aid Review (CLAR) that practitioners told us mattered most. These areas were:?unused material, cracked trials, paper-heavy cases, sending cases to the Crown Court, and?pre-charge engagement. These policies allowed us to inject between £36million to £51million into criminal legal aid.

As the pandemic has thrown into sharp focus the concerns about the sustainability of the market, in announcing the conclusions to the accelerated areas we also announced that the next phase of CLAR should involve an independently-led review. This review will be ambitious and far reaching in scope, assessing the criminal legal aid system in its entirety, and will aim to improve transparency, efficiency, sustainability and outcomes in the legal aid market.

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