‘Don’t blame Covid!’ says a UK law crisis as barristers and solicitors refuse to work weekends.
COVID is being blamed for the backlog of criminal cases, but diligent barristers and solicitors argue that this is untrue, and that the problem is the “product of years of underfunding of our criminal justice system.”
Solicitors and barristers addressed the COVID-19 recovery document produced by HMCTS in July 2020 in an open letter to Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS), the Ministry of Justice, and the Lord Chief Justice.
The paper in question featured a plan to immediately increase the operating hours of the criminal courts, including weekends and evenings on top of the already hectic schedules that specialists in the field maintain – a move that barristers and solicitors have rightfully opposed.
The open letter addresses this issue, disputing the solution’s authenticity, claiming that “the backlog of cases in the criminal courts is not due to the COVID-19 outbreak,” but rather “it is the inevitable result of selling off courts, lowering judges’ sitting days, and other cost-cutting measures.”
The letter goes on to argue that the government has “ignored our warnings” and is “completely unmoved” while well-known legal aid businesses have collapsed and substantial numbers of duty solicitors and criminal barristers have left the profession.
This action has resulted in the Government advising those who remain in the profession that it is “all hands on deck,” a move that barristers and lawyers in England and Wales’ criminal courts believe is intended to “repair a calamity that is entirely of the Government’s own design.”
The letter also mentions “the obliteration of our profession,” which includes the fact that students and trainees are paid less than the Real Living Wage, a move that is likely to discourage people from choosing a career in criminal justice.
Government policies have “left the courts – our places of work – leaking, dirty, and damaged,” and many defendants have been compelled to represent themselves “when their livelihoods, families, mental health, and liberty are at jeopardy” due to low means requirements for legal aid.
Law enforcement officers are being asked to forego evenings and weekends, as well as opportunity to recover from long days and spend time with loved ones, as part of the government’s strategy.
A decision was made “without our representative bodies having been consulted in.” Brinkwire Summary News, according to the letter.