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Austerity has left UK justice on the brink - the Chancellor must act to save it

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The FDA union's Manifesto for Justice is a blueprint for reversing nine years of cuts to the UK criminal justice system.
Manifesto for justice
  • Years of austerity cuts to the Crown Prosecution Service, the courts and legal aid have left the UK criminal justice system on the brink of collapse.
  • The FDA union has launched a Manifesto for Justice that calls on the government to take drastic action to reverse the damage.
  • It calls for proper resources for the CPS, no more cuts to legal aid, investment in digital disclosure and competitive pay and fee for lawyers.

My name is Roland Zollner. I’m a barrister from Liverpool who has recently retired from the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and I’m really worried about the future of our criminal justice system.

A properly functioning criminal justice system is fundamental to the rule of law.

But almost a decade since the government announced savage austerity cuts to the CPS, the courts and legal aid, our system is at breaking point.

That’s why I’m supporting the FDA union’s Manifesto for Justice, which calls on the government to take drastic action to save UK justice.

It demands proper resources for the CPS, an immediate end to legal aid cuts, investment in digital disclosure and competitive pay and fees to keep lawyers in criminal law.

The UK justice system was once held up as world-class, but now it’s teetering on the brink.

The Manifesto for Justice shows how to reverse the damage. If you care about the future of justice in this country, I urge you to support it too.

A career serving justice

I remember when plans were first floated about the creation of the Crown Prosecution Service back in the 1980s.

Much was promised then, including proper resourcing and enough professional and well-compensated prosecutors to handle the workload. But reality clashed with these promises almost immediately, with offices around the country struggling to cope from the outset.

Yet thanks to the dedication of staff the CPS survived the early hostility and began to flourish. This was because CPS staff at every level were (and still are) devoted to serving both the public and justice.

But just when we thought we finally had enough resources to deliver the best possible service, austerity and organisational changes kicked in.

Austerity bites

Like many other government departments, the CPS had to cope with budget cuts, staff reductions and down-grading after 2010. We were asked to do more with less, and it became increasingly difficult to deliver the justice which the public demand and deserve.

On top of this the explosion of digital evidence has put “an almost intolerable burden on prosecutors” according to an FDA CPS member.

Yet while disclosure has become more time-consuming since 2010, the CPS budget has fallen by 25% over the same period. That’s why 96% of prosecutors surveyed by the FDA now think the department does not have enough lawyers to deal with disclosure issues.

Many have simply opted to leave the department, shrinking the pool of skilled staff at a time when workloads are increasing.

Real term pay-cuts of up to 42% are pushing lawyers away from criminal law towards more financially rewarding areas of practice. And it’s difficult to see how the CPS will attract new recruits with the necessary skills to fill the gaps.

Manifesto for Justice

This is demoralising for people like me who strived to create a CPS that both staff and the country could be proud of.

I may be retired now, but I still worry about the future of this institution and that of the entire Criminal Justice System.

Things are no better for the defence or prosecutors in private practice. The savage funding cuts of the last nine years have had a devastating effect on lawyers and members of the public alike.

The FDA’s Manifesto for Justice is a blueprint for undoing this damage.

It has 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.

It won’t take much investment to put our justice system back on the right track. But if ministers don’t urgently change course I worry about whether it can survive at all.

That's why I’m calling on you to sign our petition, and to add your voice to the nearly 2,000 others calling on the Chancellor to save UK justice.