Albert, Paul and Jacqui 

Last Thursday I was in a very excitable state. It had been a good day at work. I was off to see Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbott for the second time this year. And I was about to set foot in the Albert Hall. 

No. Not that Albert Hall. The Albert Hall, a former Wesleyian Chapel in the centre of Manchester and one of Manchester’s shiny tiled Victorian buildings of beauty. It is now a music venue operated by those Northern Quarter types from Trof. They may never have known it, but this was always my plan. I have long looked at the grimy exterior of the building in days gone by and it featured in my dreams should I ever win the lottery. I was going to take this building and give it the Marvellous Mechanical Mouse Organ mice treatment. I would mend it, fix it, stickle it and fix it like new, new, new. And turn it into a music venue.  But I have yet to win the lottery and Trof got there before I did. So I will just have to content myself with bringing the Space Shuttle to Manchester when I win big. 

So I was tremendously excited to go there to see Heaton and Abbott once again. Neither Albert nor Paul nor Jacqui let me down. The building inside has not been knocked around. It is still so obviously a chapel. With a slightly complicated one way system for getting up and down to the toilets. Which may have confused a lady who stopped to ask me directions. 

Shaven headed and basically square in body shape, this is not the first time I have been mistaken for Security. So this lady had good reason to think I might know where she should go as she pointed to a wristband and explained she was the mother of the guitarist. 

“How tremendously fun,” I replied, instantly revealing that I was an unlikely bouncer as I spoke like one of the Famous Five. 

“Well,” she said, evidently wearied by the one way system, “it used to be exciting.”

I hope she found where she needed to be. And I hope that she felt the excitement of the audience as her son took the stage. I am sure she was proud. 

Many moons ago a friend of mine decried my love for The Beautiful South by complaining there was just too much irony. Can you have too much irony? Certainly not when they began their set, up on the altar of a stage and the pipes of a church organ behind them, with The Lord is a White Con from their latest album Crooked Calypso

In between Moulding of a Fool, Five Get Over-Excited and The Fat Man, Paul explained to us that Crooked Calypso missed out on number one spot because of lack of streaming on Spotify. He observed that his audience probably thought that the CD was a new fangled development. And looking around it was hard to disagree. I seemed to be standing amongst a sea of shaven headed/bald men of a certain age. These were very much my people. 

One of my fellow baldies observed to his bald mate (sorry, there were no other distinguishing features) that Paul was “good at lyrics” as Jacqui Abbott applied her pitch perfect voice to the words of Rotterdam;

And women tug their hair

Like they’re trying to prove it won’t fall out

And all the men are gargoyles

Dipped long in Irish stout

As an observation, this is like saying Van Gogh did good at Art and Design. Paul Heaton is the poet laureate of the broken hearted. He gives soul to the heart of the North. He even manages to give beauty to the South. 

Like all true greats at their trade he does the simple things well. Their next song was The Austerity of Love with the part chorus; 

The obesity of love

The propensity of love

The depravity of love

The austerity of love

One word change, each building a tempo on the previous, and each speaking something different of the complexity of love. In a catchy pop song. 

The chap next to me, he was bald by the way, was getting quite emotional around the time of I’ll Sail This Ship Alone and She Got the Garden. I detected a hint of recent divorce. When we got to the line “She’ll grab your sweaty bollocks, then slowly raise her knee” in Don’t Marry Her I think he was convinced the whole show was dedicated to him. 

The last couple of times that I have seen them, both Jacqui and Paul have been behind large music stands. This time they were released, Jacqui to stroll around and Paul to dance. And for fans of the Housemartins you will be glad to know it is still very much a loose knee style of dancing. But we all danced and we all sang and the room pulsated with the joy. So much so that two air cannon’s worth of gold glitter tape were greeted by a middle aged audience like puppies seeing their first snowflake. 

And so they departed the stage having finished with the Beautiful South trio of Don’t Marry Her, Good as Gold and You Keep it All In. They carried on with the nostalgia in their first encore. A Little Time is a song by The Beautiful South which featured neither Paul nor Jacqui but was Dave Hemmingway and Brianna Corrigan. You would never have known it as they sang this tale of marital strife to a hushed room. 

And as Jacqui told us with crystal clarity “promises, promises turn to dust, wedding bells just turn to rust” a very Boltonian voice just couldn’t keep it all in. 

“Don’t they just,” said the bald divorced chap, with perfect timing and a little rhyme. Pop concerts can be therapy too. 

Of course we had Happy Hour. Of course we had a second encore with a Song for Whoever and Caravan of Love. And then it was all over. All over that is until July when they return to the Castlefield Bowl. So I am off to get my tickets for that. I do not claim that this is a review, for there is no hint of criticism. I am a fan.  But I will be a disappointed fan if the fabulous song Market Street does not get an airing at Castlefield. Come on, you know it makes sense.
 

Open All Hours

Fulford LJ is the Judge in Charge of Reform. This is a noble aim. The Justice System should reform. We should look at ways whereby modern technology is utilised effectively (effectively being the operative word). We should strive to make sure that the Justice System remains fit for its stated purpose (this is not the same as being popular). 

I certainly have the greatest of respect for Fulford LJ, the office he holds and even his special responsibility of reform. But this is not what we need right now. What we need is a Judge in Charge of Getting the Basics Right. 

This is not a sexy job title. This is not something which looks good on the CV when going for one of the big jobs. But it is needed in the Criminal Courts. And it is needed before we even begin with the ambition of reform. There is no point attempting to augment something which does not work in the first place. Even Chris Hoy would struggle on a titanium framed penny farthing. 

Let’s examine the Flexible Operating Hours pilot which Lord Justice Fulford has recently defended and the reality of every day life in the criminal courts. The FOH pilot has the stated aim of utilising the court estate with greater efficiency and operating at times which is more convenient for court users. 

Let us look at the reality. The reality is that a trial scheduled to start at 10am today did not get underway until 2.15 because the defendant was not produced from custody. This was because the van set off from the prison housing the defendant at just before 10am, a prison which is over two hours away from Court. This was not because something went wrong. This was not because it was only realised that the defendant was required at the last moment. This is because this is the way it is. This is the accepted reality of life in the courts. Whilst I cannot say it happens every single day (although I would not be surprised to find out it does) it happens with such frequency that every court user will recognise the scenario I have described. 

A courtroom sat empty whilst we awaited the van. A witness who could reasonably have expected their evidence to be concluded today was sent away until tomorrow. 

Now I can predict with certainty that barely a single prisoner will be delivered to court in time for an 830 am start or even a 930 start. Those prisoners who are in the afternoon shift will not get a lie in (you can bet that only one van will drop off so the defendant required for an afternoon hearing will come with the morning lot) and experience shows they will be lucky to get a Pot Noodle on their return in the evening. Imagine that in a trial. Day after day of early starts, hours in cramped court cells, a curled sandwich at lunchtime and no hot meal all week. If this is reform then it is only in the sense of the word used when Pink Floyd reform. We are not putting the band back together, we are putting the workhouses and the squalor of Victorian gaols back together. 

For late defendants you can substitute inadequate interpretation provision, poorly prepared lawyers, courtrooms sitting empty because there is no budget for judges (yes, really) and videolink technology that has all the reliability of an Austin Allegro built on a Friday afternoon. The Criminal Justice System is beset with difficulties. Solving these have to be the priority, not opening all hours. 

We are told that, should the Pilots be a success, the greater efficiencies will allow money to be spent on the rest of the system. We all know that “greater efficiencies” means closing court buildings. And that has huge consequences which are only amplified by FOH. 

Again, an example based on the reality of attending court. It is proposed that Newcastle will operate from 930am. This will require lawyers being there before then to conduct their discussion with their opponents and confer with their clients (if they are lucky enough to be on bail and therefore have a prospect of being there themselves on time). The earliest you can get to Newcastle from Birmingham by train is 9.27. From Liverpool it is 9.14. From Manchester you can get there with an hour before court. If you leave on the train at 5.47. And from London the earliest you can get there is 9.40am (or you could drive and leave the house at about 3.30 am).

This means that those lawyers with a hearing in the 930 court will either have to appear by videolink (not always practical, desirable or even achievable) or will have to stay the night before. The stay the night before will be at the advocate’s own expense (it is relatively uncommon to receive travel expenses and when you do they only cover the trial, not ancillary hearings like the sentence) and that expense may well come out of a fee which is £45. Or even £0. A more efficient use of the Court Estate may require the judicial car park at Newcastle to accommodate a caravan or two. Or maybe a yurt. Perhaps the dormant canteens can be reformed into dormitories. 

So this demonstrates a fundamental problem with the FOH that you don’t need a pilot, or even a train driver, to spot. They instantly throw a time and financial burden on the lawyers. And yet this only highlights a growing problem with the accessibility of courts. As the local court closes it will be the witness, the plaintiff, the victim and the innocent that cannot get to their nearest court by public transport. So the greater efficiencies strived for within the pilot turns the Justice System into a more remote silo of justice physically removed from the community it works to keep safe. 

These FOH pilots cost a small fortune. The CPS have to pay their staff more. Consultants will make a small fortune evaluating the results. Civil servants will devote time and energy writing blogs and implementation strategies. Right Honourable Lord Justices (or Lords Justice) will have to devote judicial time to writing letters to the ill-informed. 

Yet it is the ill-informed that could tell them all they need to know. It is the ill-informed who know the defendants will not be produced in time. It is the ill-informed who can look at a train timetable and realise they cannot get to court on time. It is the ill-informed who know that they will have cases that appear in both shifts in any given day and will be at court from 8 til 7. It is the ill-informed that know that those with childcare responsibilities will have their careers turned upside down by the unpredictability of our work being stretched over two or three shifts from dawn til dusk. 

So I go back to where I started. We do not need a Judge in Charge of Reform. We need a Judge in Charge of Getting the Basics Right. We need defendants produced on time. We need facilities that work and allow us to do the jobs required of us. And where do I suggest getting the money to fund these basics? Well you could start by scrapping the FOH pilot. After all, I don’t need six months evaluating the burns to my lap to work out that a chocolate teapot is not the way to make my morning cuppa. 

Auto Pilot

The Court of His Honour Judge Parr-Teeline QC in the Crown/Magistrates’/Civil Justice/Family Court sitting at the  Georgraphical Area known as “The North”. It is 8:32 am on day 1,735 of the Flexible Operating Hours pilot scheme. There is the customary knock on the door and all stand for the Judge. All, that is, bar one advocate who has his head on the desk and is snoring loudly. 

HHJ P-T QC: (coughs loudly) Mr Van-Winkle…ahem….(louder) MR VAN-WINKLE

Mr Van-Winkle wakes with a start and leaps to his feet. He pulls his gown tight around his body in a defensive cloak. 

MR V-W: Very sorry Your Honour, I was involved in a sentence in Her Honour Judge Worker’s evening shift court last night and it hardly seemed worth heading home so I got my head down here. Seemed a more efficient way of deploying the Court Estate. 

HHJ P-T QC: No problem, Mr Van-Winkle, but perhaps….just….(the Judge points to his own wig)

Van-Winkle’s hand feels the top of his head where he discovers a Victorian style night cap. He quickly whips it off and replaces it with his wig. The Judge now addresses the Court Clerk.

HHJ P-T QC: Right, can we have the defendants into the dock please. 

The Court Clerk stands and speaks loudly enough for everyone to hear. 

CC: I am sorry Your Honour, they haven’t been produced. Apparently the van bringing them here set off at 5.30 this morning but had to drop off at two other local courts and pick up from the overnight midnight remand court. I am told they won’t be here until 2.30 this afternoon. 

HHJ P-T QC: I am sorry, you said “local courts”. How on earth can it take until 2.30 to get here from two other local courts?

CC: Well, since the FOH pilot has been running, coincidentally one or two buildings have been mothballed. The nearest court to here is 100 miles away. 

HHJ P-T QC: Right, well, we will just have to put this case back to 2.30 and we will deal with it then. 

CC: I am sorry Your Honour, but this afternoon this courtroom is being used by His Honour Judge Tardy for day 12 of a 3 day burglary trial. They lost 8 days due to counsel drafting formal admissions and having conferences. They used to do it over lunch, but of course there isn’t a short adjournment any more. Only long ones. 

HHJ P-T QC: So I can’t sit in this courtroom at a time to accommodate an entirely predictable but unforeseen hiccup?

CC: No

HHJ P-T QC: That’s not very “flexible” is it? (becoming somewhat exasperated) We will just have to sit in Court 2…

CC: Ah. Again, a problem I am afraid. Court 2 is the Parking Dispute Hub between 1.15 and 2.30. Then it is sitting as the Tribunal of All Things between 2.30 and 3.30, is hosting a children’s tea party between 3.30 and 4.15 and then is sitting as a Magistrates’ Court until 7pm. Then it becomes the Wizengamot. Harry Potter is in trouble again. 

HHJ P-T QC: But this is still the Crown Court, right? Where we do Crown Court cases? Criminal cases? That do not always start and finish on time? 

CC: If Your Honour wants to look at it from a purely jurisdictional silo point of view….

HHJ P-T QC: A what?

CC: A jurisdictional silo point of view….

HHJ P-T QC: Yes, yes, yes. I heard what you said. But what does it mean?

CC: I dunno. I read it somewhere. You’re the Judge. You are meant to know what it means. 

HHJ P-T QC: I think you may need to lay off watching those old episodes of The Office…Anyway, let’s see if I can make some progress with just counsel. Who is for the first defendant?

(The Courtroom is in silence, apart from the faint sound of heavy breathing as Mr Van-Winkle has nodded off again)

CC: Now I can help you there. Counsel for the first defendant is Miss Life-Balance. Or it was. We have been informed that she has had to leave the Bar because it became impossible to find child care that fitted around the uncertain hours so it is now Mr Tether.

HHJ P-T QC: And where is Mr Tether?

CC: He emailed the Court this morning. If I can just read the email to Your Honour….

The Court Clerk bends down and begins to read from his computer screen

CC: Yes he emailed to say that the only train he could get that arrived on time for court left his hometown at 4.45 in the morning and involved three changes. He says that if you think he is staying overnight for a mention for which he doesn’t get paid then you’ve got another fuc….well, another thing coming. He then goes on to say that he couldn’t do anything anyway as they only found out that the case was listed at this time late last night because he was in the Mags until 8pm. Then there is some more swearing. A bit more swearing. Then he explains that, having got up at the crack of effing dawn to get the effing train, in fact it was effing-well late and he missed one of the connections so now won’t be here on time, despite having not slept and that if this causes a problem you can go….swing….. yes “swing” probably covers it. May not do justice to his full phrase, but you get the gist. There is then a whole paragraph about why the trains are delayed and swears quite a lot around the name “Chris Grayling” and repeats the phrase “what do you expect if you put him in charge of anything”….

HHJ P-T QC: ….that much the Court can take judicial notice of…..

CC: ….and he finishes with a plea that no matter what, could Your Honour refrain from ordering any more skeleton arguments because he has a 9.30 morning videolink hearing tomorrow, followed by a 4.30 videolink in the afternoon and a floating trial the rest of the week that he thinks may float either in the morning or the afternoon, not that he “effin cares any more” because “it doesn’t make a difference what I think as I am the bottom of the pile and no one listens” before he signs off “Up Yours, Enda Tether”. 

HHJ P-T QC: There is nothing else for it but to adjourn this hearing until next week. I myself am not sitting but…

(The Court Clerk rises to interrupt)

CC: Just one small problem for next week….

HHJ P-T QC: What is it? Is the Star Chamber sitting in this courtroom? Are they judging Crufts in here? Is the court needed to accommodate the Supreme Court? Are we hosting the Salem Witch Trials?

CC: No Your Honour, the courtroom is free to hear Crown Court cases….

HHJ P-T QC: What’s the problem then?

CC: With Your Honour being on holiday we haven’t got any sitting days left in the budget…so although we have plenty of space in the building…we don’t have a Judge…..

HHJ P-T QC: (bellows) OH FOR FUC…..

(At this point the transcript becomes unintelligible as Mr Van-Winkle emitted a loud snore. Mr Tether is believed to still be somewhere on the Rail Network. Miss Life-Balance now has a job where she is treated with respect and consideration. This is a new sensation for her.)

Hull, Heaton and Happiness

Things I learnt about Hull last weekend – they have two stadia which are both, somewhat confusingly, referred to as the KCOM; the good people of Hull do not do suncream; they do do vaping; they do not seem to do ticket touts or concert parking; they don’t dance from the start; and they are immensely proud of coming from Hull. 

Hull is the UK’s city of culture, 2017. To many this will produce sniggers. It should not. Phillip Larkin lived there most of his life. Poet Laureate Andrew Motion taught at the university. Stars of stage and screen from John Alderton to Maureen Lipman hail from the Humber. John Godber, he of Bouncers fame, is synonymous with the Hull Truck Theatre Company. The city even boasts a winner of The Apprentice, surely the very epitome of modern culture. And all of that is before we get to music and  surely the most famous sons of Hull, 80s quirky band The Housemartins and members Paul Heaton and Fatboy Slim (before he was fat and/or slim and was just bass playing Norman Cook).

And it was a love of the music of Paul Heaton that dates back to The Housemartins first and penultimate album, London 0 Hull 4, that took me there on Saturday afternoon and the home of Hull KR rugby league club, the KCOM Stadium Craven Park (not the KCOM Stadium of the signposts, as that is the football KCOM, which is different). 

The evening was opened by Billy Bragg, a man a long way from home but very much in his environment with the industrial backdrop of the cranes of the Hull Joint Dock looming over his shoulder. The words “I was a docker, I was a miner, I was a railwayman, between the wars” probably fitted most men over countless generations who lived in the nearby streets. 

He called for cheers from each stand and the standing audience on the pitch. I wager it is the only time he will have called upon the people of the “Joinery Depot” terrace to give voice to their presence. Bragg gave us his version of working class folk and skiffle, interlaced with political comment. And as the lyrics to New England rose towards the sky, Mrs VFTN and I left our seats, stirred by working class, socialist lyrical rhetoric and ordered a wood fired pizza from the mobile pizza oven at the back of the stand. Fight the power. 

The second act was the divine The Divine Comedy. Opening with Something for the Weekend, following up with Alfie and I was back in my twenties. Those unfamiliar with Something for the Weekend should immediately stop reading this and go find it online. It is heady mix of puns, double entendre and story telling. Neil Hannon apologised to the audience for not delivering the political speeches of Billy Bragg but relied upon the fact that he did do pithy lyrics by way of introduction to the 2010 song “Complete Banker“. The lady next to me was so overcome by the pithiness of the lyrics that she failed to pour her rosé into her glass and instead poured it over the back of the chap in front of us. Even this rosé misadventure was forgiven amongst the members of this workers collective. 

Splendid though both Bragg and The Divine Comedy were, this is not why we were here. The people of Hull were not here for any other reason than for one of their own, Paul Heaton. And so the opening music to Heatongrad was greeted with cheers. Heatongrad is a rousing song, Heaton’s very own national anthem. And if Neil Hannon claimed a mastery over pithy lyrics, Heatongrad shows why Paul Heaton is truly a master. Has anyone ever described the Blair years and their aftermath better than the chorus words;

Remember Tonygrad?

The launching of the lad’s mag to the streets of Baghdad

That made you oh-so-sad

The left so far a cleft, like the first meal they’d had

They treated dear old Blighty like some dirt-cheap shag

Now they’re paying zero tax at Richard Branson’s pad…..

And does anyone have a voice more perfect to deliver those words than Jacqui Abbott? Every word beautifully clear in a voice that has just an edge of country and western delivering a pop masterclass. 

Immediately we traveled from the recent Heatongrad back to Hull in 1987 with Me and the Farmer. The whole crowd belted out “Me and the farmer like brother like sister, getting on like hand and blister” in unison with Heaton, everyone joined together as perhaps only music can, everyone getting on, well, like hand and blister. 

Half an hour in and we had the trio of Beautiful South songs, The Prettiest Eyes, I’ll Sail this Ship Alone and Rotterdam and it was like someone had taken my university bedroom and unpacked it in Hull. Which has a personal irony in that Hull was my first choice for my degree but apparently I did not speak good enough French for the purposes of a law degree. But the music carried me back and I could have been sitting at my desk, a beer in my hand, hair on my head and my first CD player filling my room with the angst of sailing ships alone amongst the sharks and the treasure. 

And so Paul Heaton introduced the band by aligning them to their favourite Rugby League teams. Which produced a crescendo of booing until he revealed himself to be the only Hull KR fan on stage. He is a cunning one. 

We were treated to a couple of songs from Paul and Jacqui’s new album (Crooked Calypso, released on 21st July, already on pre-order. And yes, this review is totally biased). I Gotta Praise is a corker and a choral corker at that. By now the band had been joined on stage by a choir and a horn section. For a duo, there wasn’t much room left up there. 

The crowd, seemingly glued to their seats earlier, came alive as we hurtled through DIY, Old Red Eyes is Back, The Austerity of Love and Good as Gold. Abbott and Heaton have been reunited for two albums with a third on the way. And it is in writing for his duets with Abbott in which Heaton excels. So we finished with a funked-up version of Perfect 10, a wonderful concoction of Abbott’s knowing voice, Heaton’s laconic delivery and the lyrics from his mind on the size of sex. 

As they left the stage Heaton, with trademark honesty, told us they were going to stand behind the curtain for two minutes and then come back on. And come back they did, raunching through Don’t Marry Her before introducing what Heaton told us amounted to a dance track – Happy Hour. Hull lapped it up. Every person in the ground was a plasticine model with sliding feet and wobbly legs (if you have no idea what I mean, Google the video). I was at every Footie Club university disco, at every wedding I went to in my  post university years, at every fortieth I have been to and every fiftieth that I am going to go to. I was dancing. I was dancing like a mad man. I was loving it. Everyone was. 

Which is why we wanted a second encore. And we got it. Now I happen to be a connoisseur of a capella singing. As a child I saw the Flying Pickets live in concert. Twice. (My cousin was in the Pickets. And yes, it is the bald one). Caravan of Love was pitch perfect and full of sound. Probably helped by that choir. And every voice in the ground hitting every note. Too soon it was over, Jacqui Abbott taking a photograph of the audience (if she zooms in to the back right hand corner of the pitch, I am the one grinning like a loon with my coat zipped up to my chin à la pd heaton) before they played out with You Keep it All In

As we walked away from the ground, my brand new nylon tour t-shirt stretching over every middle aged bulge (and failing to keep it all in) , the man walking behind us pronounced “I have been to some gigs, me. I have seen Johnny Cash and all them, me. But that were some gig just now…” And he was spot on. 

I was happy in Hull. Everyone in Hull was happy (although the presence of a few more taxis might have prolonged the joy). If I had to give the gig a score? Well it would have to be a perfect 10. Well, almost. I am still waiting for my sun-drenched, wind swept Jacqui Abbott kiss. 

One Love One Heart One Soul

Some people bemoan their hometown, most people consider their hometown the finest place on earth. I fall very much into the latter category. I am a Manc, and proud of it. 

This is the reason why I found myself in bed on Tuesday morning with the radio on and tears on my cheeks. I have never before cried due to some news event, only ever shedding a tear over personal matters. But the accounts of the atrocity at the Manchester Arena filled me with sadness that spilled from my eyes. 

I understand that there are countless tragedies that happen across the world. Terrorism spreads in every continent. We should grieve for the murdered from Istanbul to Mosul and on to Paris and Nice. Yet this terrorist attack hit home like no other. Because it happened in my home. 

Every minute of the day, somewhere in the world, a child loses a parent, a wife loses a husband, a lover loses the loved. One can sympathise with their loss but you feel the grief when it is someone close to you who suffers the loss and the grief is incalculable when you are the one to suffer the loss. And so it is, even in our global age, that the bomb in a market place in the Middle East seems more remote than a massacre on the boulevards of Nice. So when you hear of the targeting of children in a spot which you have stood countless times the loss becomes your loss. The murdered could so easily be one of your family. This was a blow struck in the heart of my city. 

If you do not know Manchester then you will not know what makes it special. Mancunians are simultaneously brash and charming. Older fans of Coronation Street can think Bet Lynch, all leopard print and warmth. There is the swagger of a Gallagher and the laid back attitude of Iain Brown. The City shares the beauty of Tim Booth’s voice and the bleak landscape of a Joy Divisison song. The locals party like Bez with the melancholic wit of Morrissey. We are the music and the bands that manage to span the BeeGees to the Roses. We are the football of George Best and Rodney Marsh, of Eric Cantona and Georgi Kinkladze and of Ronaldo and Aguero. We are the Northern Quarter and the Gay Village. We are friendly and funny. We are mad and mad for it. 

Manchester has all the hallmarks of a big city. There are two premiership football stadia. And not just any old premiership football stadia but the biggest football ground in the league and the homes of the winners of fifteen out of the last twenty five league titles. There is a Test Cricket ground, not just any Test Cricket ground but the ground where Laker took 19 Ashes wickets and Botham performed miracles. There is big business and small enterprise. There is a university with Nobel prize winners. 

We have history. Roman history. Industrial history. Political history. Cultural history. And a history of how we came to be. We boast about Karl Marx, Emmeline Pankhurst, Alan Turing, L.S. Lowry and Tony Wilson. The Lincoln Letter may feature large in Tarantino’s Hateful Eight but he wrote to us first. And we built him a statute because of it. We have a ship canal. A ship canal that Mancunians built to cut Liverpool out of our cotton trade. A rivalry with our neighbours who we love to hate and hate that we love them. 

Every cliche about Manchester is true. We have hard vowels and soft water. It rains. It rains a lot. You can see, if you look hard enough, matchstick men and matchstick cats and dogs. Trams criss cross the city centre. We call siblings “our kid” and we love gravy on our chips.

So Manchester has every right to have big ideas about itself. It is big, it is bold and it is brilliant. But it is also like a village. Two main roads running parallel to each other and you can walk from Cathedral to Castlefield, from Spinningfields to Strangeways and from the Village to the Irwell in about fifteen minutes for each traverse across the city. The City Centre is a compact heart that spirals out to become Greater Manchester. 

And so I return to the bomb, the death and the despair. Proud Mancunians are heartbroken that a son of Manchester, a terrorist born amongst us, could do this to his fellow Mancunians. Targeting children, teens and parents with a callousness that defies comprehension. The City currently seems so sad. Every street corner speaks of sorrow. Every citizen wears a sombre cloak. It is a village in mourning. 

Life always goes on for those left to live it. Condolences are uttered ad infintum to the bereaved. Pledges of strength and recovery are uttered. Help is given. Comfort is received. Manchester will go back to being everything it was and always has been. But it will always bear a scar that will always hurt. Because we care about Manchester and we care about our fellow Mancunians. 

I hope to never cry tears again for the children of my city who have been murdered before they have ever thought a cynical thought. Children who were having a giddy and thrilling night out enjoying life. Never forgotten. 

Sitting in the Dock of Delay

Some of those who walk through the doors of a court building as defendants are criminals. I would suggest the vast majority of them have committed some offence at some time. Quite a few have contributed in some way to them being there that day, whether it is by committing the offence they are charged with or by committing some offence in the course of their conduct or their conduct otherwise contributing to them being there. 

A significant proportion of them, however, are innocent. A greater proportion of them are of previous good character and are there due to the one error they have made in their lives. It is an error that they will be punished for but not something that wiped the good they have done off the slate. They are young men, with anxious parents, who will never again in their lives raise a fist in anger. They are people who gave into temptation in a coincidence of circumstance that will never again collide to propel them through the doors of the Crown Court. They are drivers who face a judgement because their error, their error that has been committed by dozens of un-prosecuted drivers, has led to a serious consequence and police involvement.  And they are people who are guilty of no misdemeanour at all. 

Once convicted, these defendants will be punished. Once convicted they may be subject to piercing criticism of their conduct. And rightly so. But until such time as they are convicted, they remain just one component of the criminal justice system. 

Now I throw my hands in the air in frustration when I hear about “customer surveys” or “consumer feedback” when talking about court users. People do not choose to partake in the criminal justice system. So they are not consumers or customers yet they are fellow human beings. And as such they all deserve to be treated with respect and consideration. Witnesses, complainants, victims and defendants all deserve being treated as we would wish to be treated by others. 

Over time I have witnessed the criminal justice system trying to do much better when it comes to dealing with people. When I began my career I would go so far as to say that the system, and those professionals that operated within it, treated  every other actor with considerable disdain. Where we thought we acted with a degree of sang froid we were in fact being aloof and arrogant. We mistook disdain for detachment. Gradually things have improved with consideration being given to witnesses and their understandable needs. I am not suggesting that it is perfect but the system has worked to improve.

That improvement, however, has not been extended to defendants. So you have the situation where young men of previous good character stand in the dock in their suits on the day when their trial was due to be heard but has been cancelled at the last minute, and refixed nine months hence, to hear the Judge observe that at least no witnesses have attended because the case was pulled the night before. Some Judges will apologise to the defendants. Most do not. 

The fact is that the defendants’ attendance in those circumstances is otiose. They have probably already taken the week off work. They will already have waited a year with this case hanging over their heads. And the reason for the further delay to their case is not because they have exercised their right to deny the offence they are charged with. The further delay is because the courts are under resourced. 

For all the talk of Brandon Lewis announcing that the 28 day bail regime will bring about less delay and uncertainty for the arrested it is just talk. All it means is less people released on bail and more people just released pending further investigation. Like most Government initiatives it is all talk. Talk usually focused on making it sound like it is good for the victims of crime but it is just that. Talk. Talk that politicians hope appeals to voters but talk that is not backed by action to tackle the real problems that beset the justice system. 

Whilst the politicians fail to put our taxpayers money where their duplicitous mouth is, the system creaks on with inevitable delay. And as those delays impact upon all involved the very least we can do is treat everyone with consideration and dignity. Even those in the dock. 

Please Sir, Can I Have Some More?

There are two main areas to consider when we look at the current consultation on advocacy fees – the size of the pot and the distribution of the pot. So let’s look at them in that order.

 
It is vital that we make the case that the size of the pot is not enough. The legal aid budget for advocacy in the Crown Court is too small and is being spread too thinly. We have to make that point time and time again. We have to make it backed by a real threat that, unless this situation is remedied, there will have consequences on the system. And not the consequences that happen as a result of the failure to fund things properly. It is too late when cases routinely go wrong because quality representation has diminished. It is too late when we look around and realise that the Criminal Bar has withered on the vine so the only people left are those that cannot afford to retire. 

The consequences which we have to threaten is direct action. Be that “no returns”, a refusal to do certain types of cases (either way elections perhaps) or days of action, our call for more money has to rely not only on our ability to persuade but has to have muscle behind the logic of fine arguments. 

One thing we must not do is to make up for the inadequacy of funding. I note in the Monday Message that the suggestion is made that chambers should seek to insulate junior tenants against the impact of poor rates of remuneration. This was raised at the recent CBA meeting. And I applaud those who represent us all trying to ameliorate the damage done to junior juniors. It is admirable that we as a profession try to look out for those who have their careers ahead of them. 

But the fact that we are having to consider such things only serves to highlight the inadequacy of certain fees. The Bar are striving to suggest a principled and sustainable fee scheme. The principle at the heart of that scheme should be proper remuneration for work done. £60 for a mention does not reflect that principle. A fee scheme is not sustainable if it falls upon chambers to try to make it feasible for the upcoming to earn sufficient funds to make sure they get where they are going. 

We have to make the point that the money is not enough time and time again. It should be the preamble to every discussion about fees. The danger is that this scheme is introduced and the Government rebuff every entreaty that follows with the line “well, it is your scheme.” Engagement needs to be delineated from surrender. 

The scheme in the consultation is predicated on the basis of cost neutrality. There is a lot of understandable concern as to whether the scheme is cost neutral. Does it take into account predicted volumes? Does basing it on 2014 figures not disadvantage the Bar due to the migration of some VHCCs into grad fee? 

The MoJ tell us the scheme is cost neutral. For reasons of “commercial confidentiality” they will not release the detailed fee information that would allow us to check their sums. I am firmly of the view they are not to be trusted. 

Having said that, we are told Professor Chalkley has done his own modelling and he believes the scheme to be cost neutral. We have every reason to trust him. We must remember that cost neutral is to be seen across the whole scheme. It is not going to be cost neutral to every individual. There will be winners and losers. I do not say that glibly. But seeing that someone has worked out the figures and they are down under the proposed scheme does not equate to the scheme being a cut. If your workload is predominantly fraud and drug cases that have more than 8000 pages then your total fee income will reduce under the new scheme. 

There is only two answers for such people. Either campaign for the status quo or campaign for more money in the pot. I fear very much that the status quo is impossible (not that I am saying more money is a walk in the park). The Government love certainty. Page count payments create uncertainty in the budget. We can see from the LGFS consultation that the Government want a cap on page counts. I fear we cannot cling to them, no matter how hard we try.

Some chambers are also publishing calculations that predict cuts. We need more of this. We need more information. I am not convinced that a month’s billing would be a sufficient sample to tell us anything due to the vagaries of billing. The more information we have then the better our responses can be. 

Is the scheme cost neutral? I do not know the answer. It would be disastrous if it turned out not to be. The only solution, as I see it, is that an annual review has to be hard wired into the scheme. Not an informal Government promise to look at it in 18 months time but a formal review process with the specific pledge that the scheme will be modified if it turns out not to be cost neutral. That seems to only be right in a fair and principled scheme. We of course must accept the risk that, if it turns out not to be cost neutral in our favour, that cuts would follow. As part of the review, and this should be a “red line” in our negotiations, the new scheme should be index linked. No longer is it acceptable that our remuneration reduces in real terms year after year. 

I see much on social media about money being taken from the paper heavy frauds and drug cases. I hear and read much about the Juniors paying for the Silks to have a pay rise. So let us deal with those two issues. 

Many moons ago fees were set in cases at a much higher rate than is being currently paid. Sex cases, violence, fraud, regulatory – all of them took a hit. Actually, all of them took several hits. Over time the volume of material in certain cases has risen with the increasing prominence of telephone and computer evidence and with the development of smart phones that means the downloads from phones have increased from 20 pages from a Nokia on which you played Snake to 5,000 pages from the iPhone on which you run your life. Such material tends to be served in cases of conspiracy and more so in drugs and fraud. The increase in page count has, to a certain extent, insulated such cases from the previous cuts. There is an imbalance in the Force….sorry got a bit Star Wars for a moment….an imbalance in the Scheme. 

More pages does mean more reading. It is not the only factor, however, which determines the complexity of the case. It has always bemused and amused me that “fraud” work is sometimes seen as the pinnacle of the profession, the rarefied pastures for the most adroit counsel. Quite a lot of frauds can often be boiled down to the fact that the defendant is alleged to have told a lie to get money. Of course there are complex frauds. There are frauds where the defendant may have told lots of lies in lots of documents. There are frauds that are complex in their structure or their context. But they are not the only complex cases. 

Let’s talk about sex. Not the birds and the bees but the third party and the ABEs. Some sex cases can be every bit as complicated as a fraud. You can have ground rule hearings, ABE edits, legal arguments on section 41 and a mountain of unused material served from third parties like social service records. And then you can have your defence instructions which can amount to the defendant’s autobiography. 

This involves hours and hours of work out of court. Preparation for cross examination that requires the deployment of “Toolkits”. The cross referencing of a child’s educational, medical and social service records. Yet can be in a case that often has less than 200 pages of PPE. And you are likely to be representing a man of good character who could get double figures if convicted. Complex work in which you are often left to the vagaries of a special preparation claim. Cases of sensitivity where the public interest require and demand advocates of the highest calibre. 

The question for fraud practitioners is whether they are prepared to defend their fees brought by PPE at all costs? If the pot remains the same, should it not be shared more equitably?

And now Silks. The letters most likely to be associated with my career are VFTN so I am not arguing from self interest here. We all should know that fees for things like murder have been the victims of the most vicious cuts in recent times. I understand that the chorus of sympathy for QCs is going to be more Chris Eubank than Brian Blessed. The fact remains, however, that an examination of fees for lots of cases in which there are certificates for Silks amount to inadequate remuneration. Should the Juniors now take a pay cut to fund these fat cats?

Do not be misled by some that should know better. Even if a fee for a category of case for Silks has a 30% pay rise, do not think this represents a cut of 30% somewhere for Juniors. If the extra money being spent on Silks was spread across the entire scheme there would probably be extra pennies on each and every junior only case. Their proportion of work is a fraction of our proportion of work. Additionally, if the larger page count cases are seeing a reduction (and they are) then these are the cases other than murder which are likely to see a smattering of Silks’ certificates so what the new scheme gives with one hand, it takes away with another. 

What is undoubtedly the case is that the “figures in the boxes” for the sort of cases that are the young barrister’s daily bread (section 47s, affrays, low level theft) are just too small. These need to be increased. 

This scheme seeks to address many of the concerns we all share. Not being paid for the second day; separate remuneration for mentions; payment for sentences. That is why it is often said that we all agree with the broad detail of the scheme. What we all need to do is respond to the consultation and do so in detail, making the case for more money in the pot as we do so.