People accused of crimes in England and Wales have a diminishing chance of a fair trial and victims have a reduced chance of seeing justice as the criminal justice system slides further into crisis due to years of underfunding and neglect.
Neglect and crisis
Law Society vice president Simon Davis said, ‘The reputation of our justice system, one of England and Wales’ most precious assets, is in great danger at a time when the country needs it most.’ Mr Davis was speaking at the launch of the Law Society’s urgent campaign to highlight the crisis. He explained, ‘justice and the rule of law are key exports for the UK, but their integrity depends on the whole system working effectively. Years of neglect have heaped colossal pressure on the whole system and those who work hard in it.’ Mr Davis added, ‘the right to a fair trial is at the heart of a democratic society and sets Britain apart from authoritarian regimes the world over.’
Years of underinvestment have meant the system is facing an avalanche of problems, including: an increasing shortage of criminal duty solicitors; swathes of court closures; impassable barriers to accessing legal aid; victims and witnesses having to attend court repeatedly; solicitors firms providing legal aid services finding themselves in an increasingly unstainable economic situation; longer remand times; failures to disclose crucial material from criminal investigations; defendants on low incomes forced to pay due to the overly stringent means test. Mr Davis stated, ‘all combined, these problems represent a criminal justice system at absolute breaking point.’ The Law Society has called on the government to address the problems though spending and policy changes, ‘without urgent action from the government the system will fall apart.’