The speech made by Margaret Greenwood, the Labour MP for Wirral West, in the House of Commons on 18 July 2022.
This is a Government in whom I can have absolutely no confidence. This morning, I attended a meeting with members of the Criminal Bar Association and listened to junior criminal barristers talking about the deplorable state of the criminal justice system. It is an extraordinary state of affairs that under this Government, barristers are on strike over pay and our legal system is crumbling. They do incredibly important work—the majority of it funded by legal aid—yet the median income of junior criminal barristers in their first three years is £12,200, which is below the minimum wage. As a result, we are seeing an exodus from the profession. Between March 2021 and March 2022, more than 1,000 trials were postponed at the last minute because no barristers were available to prosecute or defend the case. That has had serious consequences for victims, witnesses and defendants in what were already very stressful situations.
The Criminal Bar Association has been clear that without fee increases sufficient to stem flight from the profession and promote recruitment, the systemic failure that the criminal justice system is experiencing will become endemic, rendering the reduction and elimination of the unacceptably high backlog unachievable. I ask the Government to engage with the Criminal Bar Association as a matter of urgency. The Government are due to lay a statutory instrument within days that would increase fees, but it would apply only to new cases, leaving 58,000 cases stuck in the backlog that would not benefit from any increase.
Now for the Government’s handling of the civil service and their pursuit of the small state. They plan to cut 91,000 jobs from the civil service within three years, which will damage the economy and the delivery of public services. In the north-west, it could mean the loss of more than 11,000 jobs; on Merseyside, more than 3,500 jobs; in Wirral, more than 400 jobs. As the Public and Commercial Services Union has highlighted:
“Making cuts will only make things worse, make waiting lists longer for those seeking passports and driving licences, make telephone queues longer for those with tax enquiries.”
As we experience an unprecedented heatwave that represents a threat to life, the Prime Minister has skipped an emergency Cobra meeting and stayed in the luxury of Chequers for a party, yet again putting parties before his responsibilities—another in the long line of insults from this Prime Minister to the people of the United Kingdom. This Government are allowing crucial institutions to fall into chaos, are planning to slash funding from overstretched Departments and are propping up a discredited Prime Minister who is unfit for public office. I have absolutely no confidence in this Government.