James Joseph is a UK staff correspondent for JURIST.
The state of the courts and tribunals in England and Wales has become critical. In previous dispatches about strike action taken by the Criminal Bar Association I have addressed the scale of the issue, and the dire needs of a justice system on the brink of collapse.
Now in an interview with Bloomberg, Chair of the Criminal Bar Association of England and Wales Kirsty Brimelow QC has said that investment in the crumbling court system is needed now.
The scale of strike action that this country is currently seeing is unprecedented. The rail union have been striking and postal workers have also voted for strike action. Britain’s budget crunch also has widespread implications across services, from education to health care. Post-pandemic Britain is looking less prosperous than Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s Mais Lecture during his tenure as Chancellor lately made out. The reverberations of the crisis in the justice system threaten one of the most basic functions of a democratic government: implementing the rule of law. The Chair of the Bar Council Mark Fenhalls KC has said: “Over the last decade, court buildings have been slowly crumbling and staff are forced to scramble to fix plumbing, repair electricity and even replace light bulbs.”
The Ministry of Justice has lost around a quarter of its budget in nominal terms between 2010 and 2020. The UK government announced its biggest round of fiscal tightening since the original era of austerity began after the global financial crisis. While the Ministry of Justice’s spending allotment is set to increase by 4% to £9.8 billion ($12 billion) next year, the increase fails to keep pace with the rate of inflation, which is projected at 7.4%, according to the Office for Budget Responsibility.
The issue has become political. With the Conservatives dropping in the polls, Labour is accusing the ruling party of compromising public safety by removing over 10,000 prison cells over the last decade. Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for Justice Steve Reed wants to extend temporary courts and set up specialist tribunals to speed up the average three years it takes for a rape case to get heard.