This is the piece I wrote for CBA’s Monday Message
When Tony Cross asked me to contribute to the Monday Message he suggested “nothing too controversial.” For those of you, like me, who have spent twenty years sitting in Circuit meetings with Tony will appreciate that this is a little like having the Big Bad Wolf suggest you give vegetarianism a go.
So what can I, a middle of the road, middle aged criminal hack, write for inclusion in the MM? It is not for me to issue the parish notices. It is not for me to state the official CBA policy. So I have settled on this – what I would like to see the CBA doing in the next twelve months.
And it is this: Continue being controversial.
The last eighteen months have seen the CBA tackle the issues facing the Bar with dynamism, gusto and tactics previously unheard of. It has moved itself from minor irritant to major representative body. Now is not the time to look back but to look forward.
At the forefront of all that the CBA do must be the preservation and improvement of the Criminal Justice System. Quality should be placed at the very core of everything the CJS seeks to do. Yes efficiency is important. Yes cost is a factor. But the CBA must drive the system out of failure, beyond competence and to a landscape where quality is the overriding feature.
To that end I want to wake up every morning with Tony Cross QC. And no, my head has not been turned by that sleek head of hair. I mean that I want to hear Tony on the Radio, read his words in the national press and see him in the Sky News studio. I want him getting the message out there, to the public, that the CJS is currently in disarray. It is a national scandal.
I dread being a victim of crime. Not because I fear for the lack of a “voice” or because I need a victim’s law but because I know that the prospect of a successful prosecution is hindered by cost cutting. I know that the progress of the case through the courts is getting slower every week. Not because lawyers ask for adjournments. Not because defendants drag the case out. But because a lack of funding means the courts lose hundreds of sitting days a year and the waiting times get longer and longer.
And I am afraid to say that remuneration for the lawyers is still a part of this. Solicitors are still facing cuts in their fees that will damage the availability of quality representation. There exist inadequacies and iniquities in every facet of the graduated fee scheme. And I still have not had an increase for inflation since Carter. The CBA have to negotiate, argue, advocate and then fight to improve the situation of all practitioners within the CJS.
Of course everyone with the desire of seeing the CJS prosper and succeed has that unity of purpose. We must preserve that unity. However unity does not always equal unanimity. It also does not mean that friends need always be on exactly the same page. The Criminal Bar Association has a very important word in the middle there. BAR. And naturally there are times when the CBA must advance the cause of its members. That may sometimes conflict with other protagonists within the CJS. That difference should be recognised and not misconstrued as antagonism.
Some of you reading this will know that I was vehemently opposed to the “deal”. Notwithstanding that, TC still asked me to write this today. Friends and allies can disagree, can tell each other difficult truths, can have differing views of the way forward. Sometimes they can even have competing interests. Overcoming these differences is unity, not pretending they do not exist.
This is where the message and the language can sometimes be so important. So extolling the virtues of the junior Bar is very different from attacking solicitor advocates. Preserving and improving the future for the Bar can still provide strong and vital support for the cause of criminal solicitors. So the Bar can still stand up for itself whilst also standing strong with our colleagues, our friends, amongst the the other side of the legal profession.
To that end, and you must forgive me one parish notice here, we must have all cheered to the rafters when news of the judicial review judgment filtered out. A hearty congratulations to the CLSA, the LCCSA and their officers for fighting the fight on this front. Now let us join together once more in an effective coalition. Not the coalition of convenience like the Government, where the will and wishes of each member of the coalition is subverted, but a powerful coalition where we have right on our side and an understanding of our differences.
To tap into the zeitgeist one might say we are “Better Together”.