The white heat of anger feeds the desire to fight the Government at every turn. And we have plenty to be angry about. Years of cuts. Years of politicians badmouthing us. Year after year of our working conditions being eroded. It is the unprecedented sense of fury that now means the Bar stand on the brink of unprecedented action. The sort of action about which I have always dreamt. So why would I say that we should pause now? Why would I say, again, let’s take what is on offer and come back another day?
Some will say I lack back bone, that I am a coward. Some will say that I have self interest at heart. Some will say that I was wrong to say we should back down last time and I am wrong to do so again.
And that is okay. I do not hold a right to be right. I am not someone with all the answers. I am just doing what we all must do, I am listening to the views of others; I am weighing up what I think to be important; I am considering what can be achieved; I am learning the lessons of experience; and I am making my decision.
I have voted to accept the offer.
In 2012 I wrote a very angry letter. It decried the imposition of Fee Scheme C by the CPS. It railed against how wrong it was. It foretold the end of adequate representation of cases on behalf of the CPS. It was signed by 90% of Counsel on the newly formed advocate panels from Manchester. It was sent to the Chair of the CBA, ironically Max Hill. I had meetings with Maura McGowan about it. I had all the anger knotted up inside me. And yet nothing changed. Importantly we carried on doing the work, myself included.
Many will think that this would be an argument in favour of taking action. Again, we have been ignored for years. But I now appreciate that the rhetoric of being abused dogs means nothing in the cold reality of our fight to improve remuneration. What matters is actually improving our remuneration, not Shakespearean speeches or fantasy fee levels. It is about making sure that someone called in 2012, called in the year I was writing angry letters, is paid for things like the second day of the trial, is paid something which is worthwhile to conduct an appeal from the mags and is paid something approaching a reasonable fee when a trial is adjourned.
Once we have achieved that, we can continue to fight to get even better remuneration. We can fight to restore some sense of value to cases with higher volumes of evidence. We can fight to get paid for unused material. We can fight to get paid for the work we do. These are battles to be won, these are battles that can be won. They will not be won all at once.
By mid-July, a point at which we would be mid “no returns”, we will have a new Prime Minister and a new cabinet. That shiny new Boris or Jeremy will have made a lot of promises to get that new job. Those promises will have been to the public about headline grabbing initiatives and tax cuts and to their fellow politicians about jobs in that new cabinet. Those promises will not included more money for the Bar. We have the certainty of an improved offer on CPS fees that we can lock down right now, and a timeframe when we know that we will have to go in battle once again should AGFS not be improved. We need to secure those improvements now, before the political chaos of modern Britain means that cases going unprosecuted is just a footnote to what may lie ahead in Brexit Britain.
The bravery which many talk about being lacking in the leadership of the CBA is in fact the bravery that the Bar show time and time again in being prepared to take action. It is not the route of a someone that lacks courage to stand down from the fight, knowing that they will have to step forward again on another day. And that is what we are doing.
I didn’t back down in 2012, I just didn’t achieve what I wanted. I won’t have backed down in 2022, even if I achieve what I want in 2019. This is a war to be won battle by battle, and on Tuesday the 3rd of September, every counsel who is on day 2 of a trial, every junior counsel who has their non-custody, non-sex case stood out through lack of court time and every junior member of your chambers doing an appeal will be reaping the benefit of having won this battle and the battles that went on before.
That’s why I voted yes to the offer. I do so knowing we will probably be called upon again to act. I do so knowing that there are still cases which are not properly remunerated. But I believe this to be the best way. If I am wrong, if more people believe that we can do better by fighting on in this battle, I will be alongside you, refusing returns and taking part in whatever it takes. But I take the view that we can fight alongside each other now, or after we have secured this win. And I would much rather do what we didn’t do in 2012. I would much rather we improved things now.