Chris Grayling is a bit like Bono. Last week in an interview with the Bolton News, the Dark Lord Chancellor said: “I have not been surprised by the strength of feeling we have faced. But, strike action won’t change anything I’m afraid to say.”
My first thoughts were how much I relished the challenge. I also thought it was a bold, potentially unwise statement. “Strike” is not a word I am afraid to use but it is a word too simple to explain the complex mess that Grayling has created. The VHCC position is not a “strike” it is the straightforward acknowledgement that the market is not prepared to work at the rates on offer. And that is part of Grayling’s problem. He views the imminent collapse of the provision of criminal solicitors as a consolidation of the market. He is to the high street solicitor what Fred Dibnah was to chimneys. (Younger, more southern readers can discover what that means here)
And this is why he is like Bono. He is beginning to believe the hype. Of course he thinks that strike action is not going to change a thing. He is being told that on 7th March 71% of courts sat as intended. This shows the strike on that day was barely an inconvenience so of course he believes it is not going change anything. Although this percentage is utter nonsense as demonstrated by Tim Forte in his excellent blog. Saying that 71% of courts sat as intended is a little like saying 100% of trees not blown down in last night’s storm are still standing the morning after. So we can forgive Chris if he is lulled into a false sense of security by what he and the public are being told. It is a tad misleading.
Then again Chris should be wise to this. The administration, his administration, have got a bit of form for this sort of thing. As the the South Eastern Circuit pointed out the whole justification for fees spiralling out of control was based on a false premise.
He probably does wonder what the Barristers are getting so annoyed about. In the pretty Chart B2 on page 47 of the Government Response he has been told that those earning less than £50K will a suffer a reduction of less than 3%, those on between £50K and £100k a reduction of less than 5% and those earning £100K to £200K will suffer a reduction of less than 8%. Now they don’t explain quite how they have worked it out but it must be right. Of course it is. So when my chambers compared the grad fee billing for January with what it would be under the new fee scheme and found it was a reduction of just over 16% it must be an anomaly right? Because if we are all having a reduction that is no greater than 8% and for us all is in the range of 2% to 8% a broad spectrum of practitioners cannot have a reduction of 16%. Must be an anomaly. Oh and Lincoln House’s calculation of a 14% reduction for the same period must just be down to the phases of the moon and the alignment of Venus with Saturn. It cannot be that the Ministry are misleading us.
So he tells us that the junior end have been protected. They will have a reduction of less than 3%. They are the future after all. The lifeblood of the criminal justice system. They are the ones who will go on to prosecute the terrorists of 2030. They are the High Court Judges of the future. So lets have a look at the sort of trials they cut their teeth on. I have done a few rough calculations, including only the basics. I have not included evidence uplifts which would increase the fees in current cases. So lets look at a section 47 assault. The typical trial for new barristers. That’ll be a 5.6% reduction for a three day trial and an 11% reduction for a five day trial. Burglary trial? A 2.1% decrease for the three day trial. Not so bad. But that becomes a 9% reduction for a five day trial. Theft by shoplifting trials lose 6% for a three dayer, increasing to a whopping 11% if the case gets on late on the first day and the jury take some time to decide, turning your three day case into a five day case.
Of course there are some increases in fees in these type of cases. An affray lasting three days has a 3.7% increase. However the fairly across the board cuts of 20% to the daily attendance rates means that by day five the affray is now running at -6%. And I repeat, I have not included the evidential uplifts which have been slashed.
So the juniors must get their increase in those guilty pleas. Exactly the sort of cases the Dark Lord, somewhat mistakenly, believes is the everyday trade of the young advocate. That’ll be a 22% reduction for the burglary, a loss of 8% for ABH, minus 12% for an affray and a whopping 22% reduction for lower value theft.
There are some increases in these areas for cracked trials. But the nominal increase is soon swallowed up when you factor back in the evidential uplift, wiping out the increase. Oh, and a proportion of such cases will be either way elections which makes the cracked trial fee an irrelevance.
I would love to see the data that allowed the Government to calculate the average reductions. Within the data I expect I could find proof the moon was made of cheese and a map demonstrating that the earth was flat.
The Government are misleading the public and trying to kid you. The Lord Chancellor will dissemble and obsfucate in his public pronouncements. Truth and unity will give us the strength to change how this ends. Let the lies be the fuel for your indignation.
If nothing else, it allowed me to get Bono and Fred Dibnagh into the same blog, which must be a first.