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Collective Voice & A Manifesto For Justice

Collective Voice & A Manifesto For Justice

The FDA last week launched its Manifesto for Justice, calling for investment in the criminal justice system. This was accompanied by our petition to the Chancellor, Phillip Hammond, asking him to meet the Manifesto’s four key demands:

(1) A Properly Resourced CPS

To protect the public with a robust and effective prosecution service

(2) No more cuts to legal aid

To ensure that justice is available to all

(3) Investment in Digital Disclosure

To maintain public confidence in justice

(4) Competitive pay and fees

To recruit and retain lawyers for a sustainable Criminal Justice System

In a notable show of solidarity from lawyers across the criminal justice system, the Manifesto is endorsed and supported by the Law Society and the Bar Council and was described by the Secret Barrister as “a vital document”. This united front is even more impressive considering how fragmented and individualised lawyers are as a workforce. On the CPS side, many of our members spend their time working alone in Court or preparing for trials. Meanwhile, defence and self-employed prosecution lawyers have to navigate the perils of isolated and precarious work.

All of this makes lawyers a notoriously difficult group to organise. But this is why it is so essential to turn solitude into solidarity, and help them access the benefits of a collective voice.

Having worked for Equity, I am fully aware of the power of uniting individuals from across practices, locations and even disciplines. If actors, designers and clowns can come together to affect real change, why not defence and prosecution?

As well as being the voice of prosecutors, the FDA is the trade union that represents the largest number of lawyers in the UK. By teaming up with other major professional bodies, we can speak together to the Government on behalf of tens of thousands of lawyers.

Discussions about criminal justice are often framed in terms of balancing victims’ rights with the rights of the accused to a fair trial, particularly in light of recent headlines over disclosure failures. Defence and prosecution lawyers alike are saying that both of those endeavours must be underpinned by a sustainable and properly-resourced system or they are under serious threat. People have spoken about the issues around disclosure, but even this is intrinsically linked to underfunding. The explosion of digital evidence in recent years demands a similar scaling up of resources to properly process this, and to ensure that justice is done.

At our Manifesto for Justice launch, the Vice President of the Law Society, Simon Davis, explained the impact budgets cuts, and subsequent low wages and fees, on criminal lawyer recruitment and retention. “We’re going to end up with a double whammy; people leaving at the top, and no-one coming in at the bottom,” he said. “And that is what I call a justice desert. That’s why the Law Society is very proud to stand alongside the FDA at the launch of this very important manifesto.”

Chair of the Bar Council Richard Atkins QC insisted that “we must press” the demands of the Manifesto. “We must keep pressing this. We will do so, we have done so, and we’re delighted to do so with the FDA.” As FDA President Fiona Eadie stood next to Davis and Atkins, it was clear that our warnings – spoken, as they were, from one voice – cannot go unheeded.

Together we are stronger and you can help to amplify our collective voice by signing our petition.