The price of justice

The real cost of our justice system compared with Europe; the Practising Fee Certificate changes and survey; understanding the Bar Representation Fee; international views on the rule of law and human rights protection; and Black History Month.

The European Commission for the Efficiency of Justice published a report on 9 October 2014 which prompted some newspapers to say that England and Wales has the most expensive legal aid system in Europe.

But they failed to mention the figures comparing the total cost of the judicial systems in different countries. Total expenditure on the judicial system in England and Wales in 2012, measured as a percentage of GDP per capita (0.318%), was below the European average (0.33%). The total cost of the judicial system includes courts, prosecution services and legal aid. Different countries have different legal systems and a different balance between these three items. It is misleading to compare the cost of legal aid alone, without recognising that fact. In particular, most European countries have inquisitorial systems, which require many more judges. Germany has 19,832 professional judges, compared to 2,016 in England and Wales. Germany spends more (0.351%) of its GDP per capita on its judicial system than England and Wales.

The report stated that the overall cost of the justice system in England and Wales was less than 2 euros (about £1.58) per person, per week. Less than the cost of a cup of coffee a week is a small price to pay for justice.

PCF and BRF

From 2015/16, the amount of the Practising Certificate Fee (PCF) which we pay will be dependent on our income rather than our seniority. Stephen Collier, the Treasurer of the Bar Council, will be conducting a consultation soon on the proposals for the Bar Council’s budget and the PCF. The consultation will be available on the Bar Council’s website, together with a short webcast. You will be sent a link to the online survey. Please take the time to complete it. For more information, please contact PCF@BarCouncil.org.uk. Please also continue to support the Bar Council through payment of the Bar Representation Fee (BRF), formerly known as the Member Services Fee. There are important aspects of the Bar Council’s work which cannot, by law, be funded through the PCF. The BRF helps pay for our work in representing the profession, lobbying Government and providing support and guidance to barristers.

The annual cost of the BRF is a modest investment in the profession’s future. It also gives access to many benefits, such as this magazine, discounted rates for Bar Council training and other events and access to Xexec, the online loyalty programme with discounts on hundreds of products and services, including supermarkets, holidays, insurance and cars. The most popular are discounts on Apple products and preferential rates for travel booked online.

The Bar Council has helped develop other services, including: the Chambers’ Pension Scheme, helping chambers meet their auto-enrolment obligations; specialised aged-debt finance from Vector; and management liability insurance from Arthur J Gallagher.

World views on the rule of law

It was humbling to hear Lloyd Mhishi, the President of the Zimbabwe Law Society, speaking in Middle Temple Hall on 30 September 2014 about what it is like to practise law in Zimbabwe. Another Zimbabwean lawyer, Beatrice Mtetwa, spoke on 10 October 2014 of her experiences, which have included arrest and beatings. We are lucky to live and practise law in a country where the rule of law is observed.

The rule of law and constitutional change in Hong Kong were the subject of a speech on 15 October 2014 by Hong Kong’s Secretary for Justice, Rimsky Yuen SC. As evidence that the rule of law is observed in Hong Kong, he cited the availability of both judicial review of government decisions and legal aid to pursue judicial review applications. While the Hong Kong government boasts of these things, ours is seeking to restrict them. Beatrice Mtetwa was invited to London by the Bar Human Rights Committee. This Committee is independent of the Bar Council, although all barristers are free to join and many prominent individuals have done so. Talking about human rights can be controversial, as the Lord Chancellor has demonstrated, and not everyone will agree with everything the Committee says. But it would be difficult to deny that the many barristers who work overseas on the Committee’s various projects are a force for good in the world, whether they are promoting action against child sexual abuse in Nigeria, the investigation of the rape of detainees in military camps in Sri Lanka or the peace process in Colombia.

Black History Month

October was Black History Month, with many lawyers attending an event at the Law Society on 10 October 2014. This inspired me to look again at the judgments in three cases. The Dred Scott decision of 1857 is the worst ever decision of the US Supreme Court. The Court not only denied that Dred Scott was a free man, they also decided that because of his race he was not even capable of being a citizen of the United States. Contrast Lord Mansfield’s judgment in the Somersett case in 1772, which was taken as deciding that the common law did not allow slavery in England.

Another common law decision came in Constantine v Imperial Hotels in 1944, when Mr Justice Birkett upheld the claim made by Learie Constantine, the West Indian cricketer, when he and his wife were refused hotel accommodation because they were black.

We can be proud that four members of the Bar pleaded Somersett’s case, and two represented Constantine: Patrick Hastings KC and Rose Heilbron QC. Constantine himself was called to the Bar by Middle Temple 60 years ago, in 1954.

Category: