Criminal Law Committee Report

Matt O’Brien

Committee Chair

The Criminal Law Committee remains a vital forum for BLS members practising criminal law, and, more widely, for the criminal justice system in the region. We meet on a monthly basis, with members drawn from a range of criminal justice system stakeholders: criminal and regulatory solicitors; the independent Bar; the Crown Prosecution Service; the Probation Service; and Birmingham City Council.

As I complete my third year as Chair, I reflect on the Committee’s achievements during the last twelve months.

Our record of representing members’ interests continues unabated, with our evidence to the Justice Select Committee on the Future of Legal Aid being quoted extensively in their 2021 final report. During the early part of this year, we worked hard and at pace to produce a full response to the government’s controversial consultation on legal aid reform. The outcome of the reform programme remains to be seen, but we will continue to advocate on behalf of the membership and the region as the dialogue with the government continues.

As Chair, during the last year I addressed the Regional Disclosure Forum to talk about the potential benefits of early engagement in criminal cases, and the challenges faced in doing so. I also addressed the Magistrates’ Court Association on the work done by defence solicitors to ensure that trials are fair. Both were great opportunities to promote the BLS and our membership, and to engage with other stakeholders in the criminal justice system.

The Committee organised training events on engaging with victims of trafficking within the criminal justice system, and trauma-informed perspectives on representing young people in custody. The focus of both events was, in essence, how we can better serve the most vulnerable people we represent.

My thanks to the members of the Committee for their hard work and dedication during the last year. Some longstanding members stepped down during the course of the year, due to retirement, changes of career, or insufficient time to devote to the Committee. Looking to 2023, it would be great to see some new members stepping up to take part in the Committee’s important work, and who reflect the talent and diversity of the region.