The collective voice of criminal lawyers in the Midlands has been heard loud and clear this week, with the publication of a damning government report on recent court reforms, informed by Birmingham Law Society.
The report, which follows a review conducted by the cross-party Justice Select Committee of a £1bn programme of reforms being undertaken by HM Courts and Tribunals Services (HMCTS), warns that HMCTS “risks excluding the most vulnerable in our society from access to justice.”
Throughout the report, the views of criminal law professionals across the Midlands are represented by Birmingham Law Society, whose Criminal Law Committee provided substantial written and oral evidence to the review.
Concerns raised in the report by legal professionals in the Midlands included the potential impact on access to justice as a result of planned digital reforms (such as the development of an online plea system), HMCTS staffing cuts and widespread court closures. The report also directly references the ‘very strong views’ of criminal experts in the region over the increasing use of video links in trials – a technology that HMCTS is currently piloting in Birmingham.
These issues were expanded upon by Matt O’Brien, chair of the Birmingham Law Society Criminal Law Committee, who was invited by the review panel to make an oral submission alongside representatives of the Magistrates Association, the Criminal Justice department and the Criminal Bar Association.
“While efforts by HMCTS to introduce efficiencies and improve the court system in England and Wales are to be embraced, any unintended consequences on fairness and access to justice should be challenged. I am privileged to have had the opportunity to raise concerns on behalf of our members; that their views are reflected so thoroughly in the Justice Select Committee report is testament to the great potential of Birmingham Law Society to influence government policy, and in doing so, affect meaningful change that will benefit the profession as a whole.”
Read the original BLS consultation response here.