This is the email that I have sent this afternoon to the leadership of the CBA. I have not done so lightly. If you agree with me then please comment on this blog or, even better, send your email thoughts to the CBA. Both Nigel Lithman and Tony Cross have their email addresses on the contacts page on the CBA website. I am afraid it is not enough to moan on Twitter or in the robing room. I may be a lone voice of dissent but if I am not then it is important to say so now and to say it to those who can do something.
Before I simply reproduce my email can I say I started this blog because of the whole Save UK Justice thing. I have enjoyed writing it tremendously and have appreciated all your kind words. I have no idea whether I will have any need or desire to return to this blog in the future. Time will tell. However I can say, and this is no exaggeration, this is my saddest day at the Bar.
Good luck to you all.
Dear Nigel and Tony,
I write this open letter to you because what I have to say is important. I will publish this eleswhere because debate has never been more important than it is right now.
Nigel – you do not know me but Tony does. I hope that Tony would vouch for the fact that I have always been very much a team player. I have been incredibly grateful for the leadership you have shown in the fight so far. It is against that background that I feel tremendous sadness in saying that the CBA have got this as wrong as they could have. However it is not too late.
Can I remind you of the palpable anger at the Law Society having been praised by The Lord Chancellor for the way they “engaged” in the discussions about PCT? How the Bar felt that we had been blindsided by their engagement? I probably do not need to remind you Nigel as you had this to say in your Monday Message on 23rd September
“I understood that the agreement was No to PCT, No to QASA and No to Cuts. I am sure solicitors having achieved the first will now demand that the Law Society take steps to deliver the latter two. Nothing less is honourable.”
A gentle reminder to the solicitors to keep in step with us. That their fight and our fight was a fight for justice. That alliance lies shattered this afternoon. Our support for the solicitors means nothing at all unless we are prepared to back that by action.
And now we have seemingly surrendered the taking of that action. And received what in return? A stay in respect of part of the cuts. Is that a victory? No.
Nigel you have rallied us constantly and consistently under the banner “not a penny more”. The message was clear. No more cuts to barristers’ fees on your watch. Today the damaging cuts to VHCCs remain. It is unforgivable that we have all encouraged a small number of practitioners to rescind ongoing contracts and hand back their VHCC cases, in some instances virtually decimating their diaries, to now abandon them. That should not happen. Not on your watch.
At the CBA delegates rally you compared yourself to Joan of Arc and instead of hearing the voices of the saints you heard the voice of the minister saying to you “I will cut the rates in this order. First I will cut VHCC’s by 30 %”.
Your response was “Then that is what we will oppose first with all our determination and there is no reason why we would not defeat these cuts.”
The only reason why we have not defeated those cuts is because we have compromised too early and too much. There can be no mistake other than your promise of “not a penny more” was to include those VHCC cuts. I hold you to that promise. Not because I handed back a VHCC or turned one down because I did not. It is because, like the American Marine Corps, we should never leave a man (or woman) behind.
And that is what we have done. We have left behind the solicitors, we have left behind those that do VHCCs and we have left behind justice itself. I did not walkout mid trial, exposing myself to wasted costs, disciplinary action, censure by the CPS and all it entailed so we could get a stay of execution until such time as the Government come again and we are in a weaker position. I have not refused returns so a deal could be hammered out and then agreed to in a (proverbial) smoke filled room.
When there was some ongoing discussion about the no returns policy the whole CBA position on that was the meetings of Heads of Chambers was not the way things were done in the democratic CBA. I have been constantly trumpeting the mandate you have and the processes that you go through to represent and not just dictate. We have all just completed a consultation that concludes tomorrow about the way forward. Was that just tokenism?
Today the Criminal Bar has not won a victory. What we have demonstrated is what we might achieve through unity and action. What we have shown is the Ministry of Justice are feeling the impact of what we were doing. Sadly we have been the ones to blink first.
I could be a lone voice of dissent. There is only one way to find out. I hold you both to your promises and the ideals I thought you held dear. Tell the MoJ this deal is not done. Consult with the rank and file. Not Heads of Chambers. The juniors. The ones who have been let down time and time again. Let us have a process by which we can decide whether to accept or reject it. If we accept it you have my apologies. If we reject it then we have a chance to put this right.
We all appreciate the effort you have put in. We all realise you have been faced with difficult decisions. The white hot glare of a struggle like this can cause good men and women to make mistakes. This decision, this ultimate decision was not yours to make. It was not for the Silks to make, the Circuit Leaders to make or my Head of Chambers to make. It is a decision for all of us to make.
Give us back our voice. Give us back our choice. It is our future.
Yours in sadness,