Keep Off the Grass

In the robing room at Bolton Crown Court there is a sign that announces the prohibition of smoking. Transgressors will be reported to the “senior judiciary”, or so it tells us. Some wag has added “what? The Supreme Court??” Although when I say “some wag” I, of course, mean prescient sage. 

Today the Northern Circuit has been issued with an edict from the Presiding Judges. It has come to their attention that meetings have been held in the robing rooms of Liverpool and Manchester to debate the future of the professions. Apparently “no further meetings are to be held or arranged in court buildings.” By order of Her Majesty’s Judiciary. 

On a plus point, at least the dire future of the professionals that appear before them has come to the attention of the senior judiciary. Their conduct otherwise could leave you wondering. But now we know they have it at the forefront of their mind. Not access to justice but access to the robing room. 

From today onwards each practitioner is on a DAPO, a Direct Action Prevention Order. The terms of the Order are that no relevant person (for the purposes of the Order relevant person is anyone paid from the Legal Aid Fund) may gather together in groups of three or more within the curtilage of the Court Building save for in circumstances unavoidable in every day life and the conduct of multi-handed cases. Furthermore, relevant persons are expressly prohibited from discussing, chatting or whining about the level of remuneration. Participation in a ballot and/or survey whilst within the boundaries of the provided map is also strictly forbidden. 

This prohibition is not “taking sides” or an effort to stifle debate. We are reminded that “robing rooms are provided to facilitate the day to day business of advocates in the court building. They are not made available for any other purposes including meetings – regardless of the perceived merits or demerits of the proposals being debated.”

Plain and simple. Court buildings are reserved for court business and court business only. Rules are rules after all. 

Which is a shame, because the concourse at Crown Square is regularly used to host a Macmillan Coffee Morning to raise money for the cancer charity during normal opening hours. This does nothing for the day to day business of the staff and users in the building. So it can no longer happen, regardless of the perceived merits or demerits of charity. 

And then there are the countless retirement parties of the Judiciary that have been hosted in the Court Buildings of Manchester and Liverpool. A table set out with wine and nibbles as the Judiciary chat about their pensions (conversations which I presume are now verboten in the Judical dining room). All banned. 

Of course these other things are not banned. Just the hard pressed criminal practitioner grabbing a few moments before the court day to discuss their future and the health of the CJS. That is banned. 

What a terrible message that sends. 

I am reminded of the park-keeper from days gone by who would chase off the girls and boys whose only crime was to use the public facilities. Who would imagine that one of the core competencies for senior judicial office was policing what counsel did in the robing room?

I am currently on holiday. Next week, when I am back, I suspect I may want to catch up with my colleagues to find out what has been going on. I will now arrange that in a nearby coffee shop. And then we can all turn up to get through security at 10.15. That’ll make the day run smoothly. Particularly if lots of you join me. 

I really despair that the Judiciary have done this. It serves no purpose, other than to leave a bewildered profession wondering how the Judicary can have their priorities so wrong. 

6 thoughts on “Keep Off the Grass

  1. John Lucas

    We all need to unite to support solicitors. The government has little thought for the consequences which will flow from further cut backs. I was at Snaresbrook Crown Court yesterday as I was one of the very few there that was a barrister – the judge I was I’m front of was visibly pleased to see me. Barristers rely on solicitors for their work. We will not survive of things are allowed to carry on as they are. Diminishing quality of advocacy and ‘quick’ justice seems to be the order of the day ? It’s very sad that one of the few remaining building blocks of our society is being destroyed by an underhanded system of ‘divide and conquer.’

    We need to fight this. If we do not this government ( who clearly don’t understand the criminal justice system and concept of ‘standard bearers’ WILL destroy us.

    Upon speaking to relative of mine who is a full judge, I was saddened to hear of how the poor standards of advocacy he sees can make him sad. Lowering the tone of on the most highly regarded justice systems in the world is to further damage this country. Or perhaps we should all adopt the view that it’s too late anyway so let it fall to the drain.


  2. Robert Askey

    Jaime, and to one and all, to those wiser and more learned in the Law than me – can I ask a question please? (In the spirit of your blog, I mean two questions of course, before the pedantry of Britain pick big holes in my style) : By what authority does “the Judiciary” ban the holding of meetings in the robing room? This is a serious question. Judges do not ‘make Law’ – we were all taught that in Lesson #1, Day #1 at University. The Judiciary do not own or control or manage the Court buildings, HMCTS do that and in Lesson #2, Day #1 we learned that the Judiciary and the Executive are not the same. (I may have got the order and days wrong, Uni was AGES ago) so — quite seriously, by what authority do the Judges allegedly ban these meetings please? And if banning the meetings is to be equated with sharing Gove’s and the Government’s sentiments on the cuts said Judges should hang their heads in shame. Quite why they would want to see such harm done to the system they preside over is a total mystery to me.



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