From time to time on Twitter I name my “Legal Hero of the Day”. Previous lucky recipients have been Hannah Evans for her barnstorming speech at OneBarOneVoice, Mukul Chawla QC for his robust letter to the CPS and Tim Thomas for his selfless decision to return a VHCC at great personal expense. For my next “Legal Hero of the Day” I need more than the 140 characters that Twitter allows. And here is why. I give you Greg Bull QC – Legal Aid hero.
Please stop throwing things at me and hear me through. I am not going to criticise the personal decision of one person who decides to take a job. We know little of each others personal circumstances and what each of us has to do. I, of course, applaud those such as Tim Thomas who put principle ahead of self. I rejoice in the likes of Nigel Lithman and Tony Cross who are able to show true leadership. I celebrate Andy O’Byrne who finds such consensus through information. However that does not mean I greet those who make certain decisions with a chorus of boos. No doubt behind each decision is a particular reason. Until you’ve walked one step in another man’s shoes etc etc. I have one exception to this rule, Chris Grayling. I am more than content to hiss and boo at him like a pantomime villain.
Still, no doubt you will say, that is one thing but it is quite another to make Greg Bull a Legal Aid hero. However he is this week’s hero because of news that comes from Liverpool. There is a trial listed there due to commence soon. For good reason the instructed defence counsel is unable to conduct the trial and it has become a return. The solicitors have searched high and low for a counsel to take the case on and the only person they have found is Greg Bull QC, employee of the Public Defender Service. And there we have our first reason to celebrate GB QC. He is the living embodiment of the unity at the Bar. Other than one advocate contractually obliged to the state the solicitor could not find an advocate to take on the case. The no returns policy has near universal support. We are as one.
And then there is this. A while ago, back in the crazy days of PCT being the Government’s doomed grand reform, the then Minister Lord McNally trumpeted the fact that they were ensuring that a defendant would always have the choice of advocate for their Crown Court case. Look what their policies have done just a few short months later. The defendant has absolutely no choice of advocate. He can have any barrister of his choosing, so long as it is Bull. The Ministry of Justice have managed to create a wasteland of the Criminal Justice System much sooner than they thought. The Bar are demonstrating what the future will be like whilst there is still time for the MoJ to think again.
Which leads me on to the next reason to slap Bull on the back. Yet again he demonstrates the value to the taxpayer of the independent Bar. He is available to undertake this case at very short notice. Were it not for the no returns policy of the Bar it would be reasonable to assume he would have been twiddling his thumbs for the duration of his new instruction. And the taxpayer would have been picking up the bill for his thumb twiddling. Employed advocates have to be paid, whether there is work for them to do or not. Freelancers like the Criminal Bar cost the taxpayer nothing as we wait on our imaginary cab rank with the yellow light on. Think of it like this – only the very rich can afford a chauffeur to drive hither and thither at the drop of a hat. Taxis are a much cheaper option in the long run.
Whilst we are on the subject of value for money this employee of the PDS also helps the opponents of these iniquitous reforms prove another valuable point. Let’s say that he is, for argument’s sake, getting paid £100,000 per year. Not an unreasonable assumption given the level of remuneration of jobs recently advertised with the PDS. Allowing for a holiday entitlement and statutory holidays this works out at something like £2,100 per week. Now even if we do not allow for all the ancillary costs that an employee brings with them (back office support staff, training, pension etc) there are not many juniors (Bull is taking a junior’s brief in this forthcoming case) who under the new fee regime will receive £2,100 for a week long trial. Not once the PCMH and the mentions have been deducted from the fee. Bullseye – the Bar is cheaper. Bull should be carried aloft for proving it.
Finally let us look at what this says about the attitude of the MoJ. If you are an ordinary citizen charged with serious criminal offences you can have an advocate of reasonable quality being paid less and less every time we want to seem tough on you sponging middle class wrongfully accused people of good character. Unless the stand being taken by the Bar is starting to look bad for us, in which case we will throw a Silk at your case whilst we try to tough it out.
Hero though he is, Bull cannot be everywhere. He cannot plug every gap left by the MoJ’s increasingly damaging attitude to criminal defence. He is but one man. He cannot do every VHCC, cannot do every return, cannot do every case that will come through under the new rates and people vote with their feet. Unless I was in the case, ordinarily I would have no idea who this case had been returned to and would not care a jot. The fact that I do know about it is because the tactics of the Criminal Bar Association are having a real degree of success. This is the desperate last stand for the MoJ and a beleaguered Lord Chancellor. If we hold the line the true leaders of the Bar will be able to put an arm around those who had the chance to show real leadership and selfless courage and utter those immortal words “lets have a look at what you could have won….”
In the meantime I say three cheers for Greg Bull QC. Legal Aid Hero. And exhibit number 1 in the case against Grayling and his thoroughly discredited reforms.