A law qualification opens up a huge range of rewarding, interesting career paths. I didn’t know or appreciate this when I was studying. But, having practised as a barrister, worked in the Crown Prosecution Service, His Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS), central government, and now leading a charity, my legal training has provided me with the skills and ability to follow my interests and contribute in a wide variety of ways. Working across the justice system has also enabled me to learn a range of non-legal skills such as business architecture and programme leadership.

There is no substitute for being on the coalface. My time at the Criminal Bar was invaluable. It helped me understand the system from the perspective of the people who need it or are forced to go through it, and whose lives are shaped by it.

Our justice system is foundational to so much of what matters – fair rules and laws that apply to us all equally give us the firm footing we need to trust one another, form contracts, start families, make collective decisions and meet our shared challenges. Practising as a lawyer showed me the central importance of this legal fairness and how closely entangled it is with the right to representation. This is part of what led me to JUSTICE; working to build a fair justice system within everyone’s reach feels like a brilliant reason to get out of bed in the morning.

I have watched the justice system crack and warp under a sustained lack of funding. Legal aid funding was cut while I was at the Bar and even back then the courts were in disrepair. I could already see how this lack of funding hurt the people relying on the system to give them justice.

I know we can turn things around. I was lucky enough to be part of the HMCTS team who secured £1.6 billion for the reform programme and my team at the Ministry of Justice made the case for the 2018 and 2021 bumps in criminal legal aid fees (which did not go nearly far enough) as well as adjustments to the means test. Most importantly, in joining JUSTICE I joined an organisation that has developed and guided transformational improvements to the UK justice system before – the Ombudsman, the Crown Prosecution Service, and the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board were all proposed and supported into being by JUSTICE, for example. The knowledge that the system can be transformed for the better is written into the organisation’s DNA.

It is important to listen to people far beyond your silo. At HMCTS, I felt we did not talk nearly enough to legal professionals. To get system-level improvements, you need to build relationships with people right across the system. This is one of the unique things about JUSTICE: our members range from senior judges to civil servants, parliamentarians (across all major parties) and law students so whenever I talk to people at our events I get a new perspective on how things are working (or not, as is often the case). I wish I had discovered this charity when I was a junior barrister grappling with these issues in isolation.

We need better data to make the justice system truly people-centred. The right data can tell the story of a system and the people in it in a way anecdote cannot achieve. And it can help reveal key leverage points where the right intervention tips the scales furthest towards our goal. Right now, important justice system data is either missing altogether or collected on a fragmented, jurisdictional level. Building strong, trustworthy data management infrastructure is a vital first step towards redesigning the system around the people who need it.

That’s why we’re scoping for a new initiative that would help policymakers harness data and evidence to improve justice policy and practice. JUSTICE’s work has always been led by evidence and a focus on practical solutions. And, due to the state of the justice system and the pace of technological change, we know the next few years will be key in reshaping the terrain.