Time for a little reaction to the VHCC deal. This time it is a little less violent than my reaction to the original “deal”.
It is clear that the Bar had to reach some form of agreement when it comes to VHCCs to limit or halt the expansion of the PDS. If Op Cotton and other cases remained without advocates the Government would have been forced to employ advocates to do them. Those involved are therefore to be congratulated for having reached an accord.
Whether or not it is a “good” deal is more difficult to judge. We have no figures to judge it by. We have the MoJ proclaiming it is within the budget of the 30% cuts. Therefore I am certain it is not. That would not really be much of a negotiation, would it? If one side came out with exactly what they went in with. Also I doubt very much that counsel would now be prepared to do the cases if the reality is that they are being done at the reduced rates. I am also pretty certain that the figures would not be “secret” unless they were greater than the proposed reduced fees. My guess is it will be somewhere in between the old rates and the new rates. Counsel have the advantage of not having to wade through bureaucracy to read a page of evidence and the Government get consequential administrative savings (the sort of thing the Bar have been urging on the MoJ for ages.)
It also allays some of my fears about the return of the AGFS cuts that have been sent to the “long grass”. I am now more confident that they nestle in the nettles beyond the long grass. It is clear that the collective action taken by the Bar has caused serious concern at the MoJ. We were told that the MoJ would not budge on VHCCs. Well they have budged. We had a little luck along the way with the brief stay in Op Cotton but they have now had to come up with this deal.
Another positive is that it is a deal which completes the circle by including the “41” potentially left behind by the original deal. The Circuit Leaders, the Bar Council and the CBA should be congratulated for what they have achieved up to this point.
However, now is not a time to rest on our laurels. With our own fee position secured for the moment we need to turn our attention to the other matters of importance. Now we have secured our “bottom line” it is vital we return to matters of wider concern, matters of conscience, matters of principle.
We need to, urgently and with urgency, come to the aid of the solicitors. I have said before and I say again – we cannot fight for them as effectively as we fought for ourselves unless they unite. However the problems faced by the majority of solicitors are problems that threaten our continued existence. We have to use our current influence to get those solicitor “activists” such as Nicola Hill and Bill Waddington into the the room with the MoJ.
We also have to turn our thoughts, arguments and actions to repairing the Criminal Justice System. Not initiatives designed to tinker with it. We need to get the MoJ to see that the basic functions of the CJS are unravelling on a daily basis. The CJS does not need root and branch reform. At the moment it just needs intensive watering to make sure it does not shrivel and die.
Looking to the future let us not lose sight of the fact that we are working at rates which have been slashed from rates that were set many years ago. On Thursday thousands of public sector workers strike over the fact that the are not getting a “real term” pay rise. At the moment we are celebrating the fact that we have managed to preserve our nearly decade old pay real pay cut. For the criminal Bar to survive and flourish we need to fight for proper remuneration.
So, having achieved much, I say “let’s go back and achieve more.” How about starting with the cracked trial fee for either way offences in the Crown Court when the defendant has elected? This is something the MoJ recognised as unjust in the consultation process. This is something which is so palpably wrong. This is something that has a disproportionate impact on the most junior of juniors.
This is not a time for cigars and back patting. Now the real work begins.