I am lucky enough to get to travel around and go to different courts (criminal ones) and meet lots of different people.
Previously the commonality amongst the lawyers was their desire to fight their cases to the best of their ability, and whilst that is still there, I have noticed a new commonality, tiredness. In fact its more than that, it exhaustion, and it struck me as symptomatic of the problems in the CJS – its just exhausted.
Exhaustion of the lawyers has two meanings – the current ones are exhausted, and when they are gone, so too will the supply of lawyers be exhausted. The time to act is therefore now.
What worries me – other than for the health of my fellow lawyers – is what this bodes for the future, and none of it is good.
A profession that is increasingly worn out is not going to encourage new members – I don’t know of any Duty Solicitors in Lincolnshire for example who are under 30. Why would anyone want to join the criminal bar for rates of pay that don’t even cover travel costs sometimes, and which are going to eat into your weekends, family time and simply wear you out?
It means that those of us already here continue, and that number is itself decreasing, as people leave the profession for a myriad of reasons, but many I suspect, for a better quality of life.
Many would say that all lawyers just want to make loads of money, and why should I complain if there are less lawyers as those that are left will make more? It is of course not that simple, as there are only so many hours in the day and only so much work you can do in that time. And anyway, if that was the case, then people would be coming into the professions to work in CJS if there was money to be made, the fact that they are not tells you everything.
We therefore face a looming crisis, not today, not tomorrow, not even next year, but perhaps in 5 – 10 years time there is a real risk that there will simply not be the people not just to defend, but to prosecute. The effects of that will be far-reaching – the pool of people to be Judges will decrease, the delay in cases being dealt with due to a lack of people to act in them will increase, witnesses will move on with their lives and cases may be dropped as a result, and all in all, the criminal justice system will be in a genuine state of crisis.
Governments tend to look at issues of today and tomorrow, and perhaps care less for problems that will arise when they are not likely to be in power. But the looming crisis in the CJS is one that cannot be simply ignored as it consequences will have national effects.
What is needed is therefore a pause. A break in the constant round of changes or “innovations”, a ending of the cuts not just to fees, but to the MOJ budget as a whole (so that the court estate can be allowed to be repaired and recover) and a pause so that all those who are involved in the CJS can look and see what can be done to solve the problems that all of see every day.
A break of say two years, so that all parties can catch their breath, consider together not just what the problems are, but the solutions too, and maybe, just maybe, that looming crisis can be averted.