Nick Lavender QC and Nigel Lithman QC are two men who really do not need my support. I am going to give it them anyway. Cometh the hour, cometh the men with the initials NL. And so it is that the leadership of the Bar at this present moment in time rests in the hands of these two men. They need to know that they have the support of every member of the Bar. If they have the courage to lead, we will have the courage to follow.
So firstly Nick Lavender QC. He has recognised that the struggle of the Criminal Bar is not an isolated struggle. It involves every barrister in England and Wales. It involves very many of the non-criminal practitioners because the Legal Aid cuts make the business model of a mixed set of chambers impossible to maintain. I have always been amazed by the fact that the MoJ recognised in the first consultation that the cuts over the years had rendered the “market” fragile in terms of solicitors but did not recognise the same applied to the Bar and to chambers. I rejoice in the fact that I am in a mixed set. I cannot expect my non-criminal colleagues to carry a Legal Aid practitioner.
However it involves every barrister – employed, sole practitioner, Admiralty Silk or former barrister turned Judge because the Legal Aid cuts impact upon the rule of law. Do not take my word for that. Listen to Lord Pannick QC. Now that Pannick fellow knows a thing or two about the law. So when he says the restrictions on Legal Aid for prisoners “will do enormous damage to the rule of law in prisons and there is no justification for them” I would tend to think he has it right. Indeed the Lord Chancellor himself says these reforms are ideological. He does not believe that prisoners should have Legal Aid to challenge which prison they are sent to. What he is actually saying is that he does not believe poor prisoners should be able to challenge which prison they are sent to. A rich banker with family money to burn can have access to the courts, a heroin addict from a council estate cannot. That is but one example of how these cuts are targeted to restrict access to justice for all but the rich.
That is why the event taking place on 8th February 2014 One Bar One Voice should already be a sell out. It is asking you to give a morning of your time to preserve a lifetime of liberty. I know it is short notice. I know it is a weekend. I know it is in London (albeit quite a large number of barristers do tend to live quite close to London). I also know it is vitally important that the Government realise Nick Lavender does not speak with a lone voice, that Lord Pannick does not speak with a lone voice, that the Criminal Bar does not speak with a lone voice. One Bar. One Voice.
Of course there are those already chomping at the bit to fight. Those that constantly want to know “what’s next?” following on from 6th January. And that is where Nigel Lithman QC deserves your support. Firstly because he has earned it. Nobody has ever led us in to direct action before. Ever. He did. This NL keeps you informed, as others have done before, in the Monday Message. Today’s message indicated when we would know the next step. It is only when we know the next step can we judge whether 6th January gave the leadership a nosebleed or a taste for blood. I have every confidence that the CBA has the stomach for the fight.
Not only has Nigel Lithman earned your support but the one crumb of comfort that the Government could have at this time is the sense that support is waning. Our unwavering support for a whole package of actions directed against the cuts is the very lifeblood of the fight. The VHCC debacle is edging the MoJ ever closer to the precipice. Their only hope now is that the Bar will crack. Your support for the two NLs says one thing “we are not for turning.” I think that is language this Lord Chancellor will understand.