Neither rats leaving a sinking ship or the Captain being first into the lifeboats quite encapsulates two former Circuit Leaders joining the Public Defender Service. The Criminal Bar is not exactly a sinking ship, not quite yet. And it is difficult, and in most cases wrong, to criticise people who decide their financial future lies in the fragile employ of the Government. They are not necessarily rats. They are not necessarily scabs.
Taking a job does not display treachery when you are Jo or Joe Bloggs. However the position of two former Circuit Leaders is different to a decision made by the rest of the rank and file. There is so much that is undermined by that action, so much that is betrayed.
I do not get access to the Lord Chancellor; not to be around the negotiating table to negotiate on my own behalf. I have to trust those who get to be “in the room”. There is always the suspicion that those who achieve the positions of leadership do so with one eye on their own advancement. That is why so many election pledges in Bar politics centre around a statement of a lack of personal ambition, “You can trust me, I don’t want to be a Judge….” etc.
Unfortunately, history colours the view of the rank and file. When wise and cool heads have persuaded us to be pragmatic or less rash in the past, one cannot help but raise a sceptical eyebrow when the same wise and cool heads find themselves on the Bench eighteen months later. And there we have the first reason why two Circuit Leaders joining the PDS is the cause for such disappointment. The job of the current Leaders of each Circuit has just become that tiny bit more difficult. We are expected to trust them, we are entitled to expect that they will not betray that trust.
So does the hitching of two more Silken wagons to the PDS train betray that trust? I am rather afraid that it does. When a Silk becomes the Leader of a Circuit they embark upon a difficult and wearisome task. It comes at a cost to many of them. However the important thing is that they do not have to do it. It is, ultimately, their choice. And when they choose to do so they are putting themselves in a position where they expect to lead and expect to be trusted. They know what they are undertaking. And I am afraid that means they are not in a position, as the rest of the PDS recruits are, to make a personal decision. They have forfeited that right when they accepted the honour and privilege, available to only a handful of practitioners, to lead this great profession.
In their time as Leaders they have represented us, rallied us, advised us and directed us. I am afraid that marks their joining of the PDS as a betrayal of each one of their constituents. Their role provided them with access to the higher echelons of politicians and judiciary. It provided them with a shiny entry on a polished CV. It should now preclude them from taking the one job that many of their former colleagues view as being the single most significant threat to their own livelihoods.
In nautical terms rats leaving a sinking ship or the Captain being the first in the queue at the lifeboat stations does not do it justice. They are the Admirals of the Fleet taking their skills and knowledge to the navy of the enemy. It diminishes the trust that the rank and file have in the current crop of Admirals. And it means those who have previously served under them feel like that portion of the journey was no more than a flag of convenience. Full of fight when it suited, quick to flight when it gets real.
Does my condemnation of them and my refusal to condemn others who have followed the same path reek of double standards? Not when it is based on the hypocrisy of decrying Grayling and all his changes and then becoming one of his army of Advocacy Green Goddesses, ever ready to defeat any direct action the Bar may take in the future.