Author Archives: jaimerhamilton

WHY I THINK WE SHOULD REJECT THIS DEAL by Simon Csoka QC

Whilst Simon and I disagree on the way forward I am more than happy to host this blog written by him. It is very important that everyone who is voting equips themselves with as much information and viewpoints as possible. The act of disagreeing is a healthy way to make a decision.

I am struggling to understand how anyone can see this deal as anything other than shameless divide and rule. I do not underestimate the immediate impact that the conditional increases from September will have on junior juniors who prosecute.

Any pragmatic strategy against us by the MOJ and Treasury is to determine what is the least costly way of defeating any disruption by the Bar. The CPS advocacy budget should inevitably always be less than the defence advocacy budget. Multihanded cases mean that there are more defence advocates per case. An extra refresher on short cases, appeals and interlocutory hearings make huge differences to junior juniors but are not particularly costly from a Treasury point of view. Paying properly for the prosecution of large cases would require massive investment. There have been no increases for over 20 years. In fact, there have been cuts. Inflation amounts to 73% since 1998: https://www.bankofengland.co.uk/monetary-policy/inflation/inflation-calculator . The reality is that to even to get back to the position in 1998, there would have to be a doubling, at least, of the CPS advocacy budget. I fail to see how taking this offer provides any prospect of that occurring. It will be a cold day in hell first.

Likewise, in relation to AGFS we are 73% down by inflation and actual fees are at best no more than half the remuneration in 1998. It would require an increase in the budget of at least 300% to restore current incomes to the level in 1998. Does anyone believe that there will be a 50% increase let alone a threefold one?

I say this in order to put into perspective how easily pleased we can be. It’s rather like a badly treated dog that is overjoyed when its abusive owner occasionally pats it on the head. At least a dog does not congratulate itself when its abusive owner pays it some attention.

There is no commitment in the joint CBA and MOJ press releases for there to be any extra investment. I fail to see why remuneration for unused material or PPE would amount to extra money as opposed to simply a redesign within the current budget. This applies largely to AGFS but there is no reason why the redesign of the CPS scheme would not follow the same premise with some illusory increases.

The justification provided for suspending action is that the offer to increase prosecution fees will be withdrawn. This is taken seriously by the CBA. If it is a genuine threat, then the same would apply in a few months time. The blackmail then would be along similar lines irrespective of whether it’s a modest increase to the defence or the prosecution. We would be played off against each other on each occasion. A credible threat by the Bar to stop working is being averted by a very modest spend. This is a superb model for the MOJ “going forward” to deal with any dispute. For us, it provides no realistic prospect of ever achieving any significant improvements.

I have not attended any of the meetings with the LAA or MOJ. Perhaps the CBA are right. I doubt it but I cannot be sure. But it is better to test our opponent now than get into an intractable position in 6 months time. The threat of “push it to the members or lose it” has been used for many years. Each time we have ended up with appalling fees. Each iteration of the new AGFS was presented by the MOJ to the Bar Council and Circuit Leaders on the basis that we will only make this offer if you push it for us. Each time the leaders said it was impossible to get more. Each time we got more by not doing what the leaders were being told to tell us to do. Scheme 11 is dreadful. If we had done what we were told originally, we would have got a scheme that was worse that scheme 10. That too, was pushed by the Bar Council and Circuit Leaders as an achievement. Ultimately, we believed scheme 11 was bad, we were told it was good, the CBA now accept it was bad having told us last year to vote for it.

It seems to me that the whole process now starts with an expression of bad faith. One the one hand an acceptance that prosecution fees are wholly inadequate and unfair but a refusal to increase them unless we do hereafter exactly what the MOJ propose. It demonstrates that the MOJ is motivated by pragmatism and by the Treasury. It is not governed by doing what is fair. Who would rationally believe otherwise? We only get near to what we want when it becomes cost effective. The reality of the collapse of the criminal justice would be very costly. We are not obliged to prop it up. We told them we would no longer do so with these derisory fees. Now we are saying we will continue to accept cases even though we have only been offered a fraction of what we asked for. The proposed amendments to the AGFS scheme were supposed to be a stop-gap. We are now told to give up without any commitment to the stop-gap, let alone a proper solution. The collapse of the criminal justice system is now no more than a remote prospect thanks to our acquiescence.

I fear that the real problem is that this shambles of an AGFS scheme was largely designed and then pushed by CBA and the Bar Council. We were told on multiple occasions to vote for it last year and the year before. We were told that the fee projections were scaremongering. This self-inflicted fee cut (which is still presented as a fee increase by the Bar Council) is preventing any effective representation in negotiations. It’s all too easy for the MOJ to claim (as they did last week) that they made further investment last year. I cannot believe that the advocacy spend is actually greater. We can only base it on our own experience. We can’t see the data. There needs to be some acceptance of the huge failure last year so that we can move forward.

I cannot have any faith in the MOJ when they have dictated that the CBA cannot disseminate contrary views to its members. Any deal that has to be pushed by the CBA on MOJ terms is not worth having.

The CBA now argue that the Government will be persuaded by November to make significant increases to AGFS. A year ago they claimed that Scheme 11 was the best we were going to get. Nothing has changed except a belief that this time it will be different. They now believe that we will do much better but do not explain why.

The only thing that changed was the threat of massive disruption. If we call the action off, then the threat will never again be taken seriously. It will have taken nothing more than loose change in Treasury terms to defeat a Bar that was united. Who is to say that the Bar could even be led out to battle again? We instinctively feel that we are being led into another capitulation just as we are winning. I think most of us are getting too cynical to be led out by any fighting talk after this. It’s action now or never.

SIMON CSOKA QC

The Mistake They Made

There are many that believe that making of a single offer in respect of CPS fees and AGFS is a tactical masterstroke by the MoJ or the Government, that this is a tactic of divide and conquer which we are fools to fall for.

I believe it may be the single biggest mistake “the Government” side of these negotiations have ever made.

Each time we have been involved in days of action and no returns up and down the country prosecution counsel have received very similar letters (an example of which is here) telling us that those briefed on behalf of the prosecution should not be involved in the proposed action as the complaint about AGFS is nothing to do with the CPS.

Can you see where I am going yet?

Joining the two issues together is the biggest mistake they could have made. The CBA have made it perfectly clear that the action will be suspended as a whole. That is the term stipulated by the Government. The CBA have also made it perfectly plain that, should the reviews not happen in a timely fashion or should the outcome of the reviews fail to produce new money to cure some of the ills of AGFS, then the action will return. And that, logically, should be all of the action. Defence and Prosecution briefs.

No matter what the outcome of the vote, the CPS have allowed their own argument to be torpedoed. What they have always sought to set apart, this offer has joined together. Rather then dividing us, this offer produces the unanswerable case that action in support of changes to the AGFS is action taken by the whole of the criminal Bar, no matter which side of the courtroom they are due to sit on.

I would also venture to suggest that it would be incumbent on those that prosecute to support those that defend should the decision be to accept the offer. That support is at its most crucial if it should come to us taking action again. I imagine it would be very difficult for the CPS to take back that which they have given by that point but the offer is a global one, if the Government renege on their promises of a speedier review or fail to set right that which is wrong they should face the chaos of both Prosecution and Defence action.

This need not divide us. It provided us with a stronger lever with which to apply pressure. It turbocharges the impact of no returns and days of action. And it was all the Government’s idea….

Internal Combustion

I am a fairly level headed chap. I pride myself on being the calmest person in the room. Right now I am livid.

Anyone following my Twitter or this blog will probably appreciate that I am not a fan of the unpaid internship. I have made my views plain over the last couple of weeks. The news I heard about today has taken my view of the unpaid internship and shaken it a little. I now realise there is something worse out there – the internship which the candidate actually pays for.

I have been forwarded an email which was sent by the Student Lawyer Magazine. The email makes the following offer

Did you miss out on a vacation scheme or mini-pupillage this summer? Make sure you secure a legal internship to enhance your CV and maximize your chances for next year.

Our friends at Virtual Internship Partners offer legal internships, working remotely and flexibly, between 15 and 30 hours a week. Work from home, campus, or your favourite coffee shop. You’ll work on meaningful projects and get real world experience in a legal role designed to develop key skills needed to further your career prospects, whilst receiving valuable training and coaching. You can even go global with an international experience through Virtual Internship Partners’ network of amazing host companies!

This seems like a kind offer from the friends at Virtual Internship Partners. An opportunity to have a work placement that fits around you. Brilliant. But there is more.

They offer a comprehensive professional development course helping you develop your competencies for the workplace. They will give you regular 1-to-1 career mentoring sessions. And you get references from your host company. So that seems fair, right? You give your labour for free but nothing in the business world should be given away for free so you get something back in the form of mentoring. Win/win! Right?

One small catch. You pay for this. You pay £695. Virtual Internship Partners are placing people to do work and asking them to pay for the privilege (plus some mentoring thrown in, and don’t forget the reference).

I suppose the silver lining is that The Student Lawyer Magazine has at least been able to secure applicants £100 off from their friends at Virtual Internship Partners. Which is the least they can do. Particularly when a little cursory internet searching tells you the “sister” company of Virtual Internship Partners is CRCC Asia. The co-founders on VIP’s website are named as Edward Holroyd Pearce and Dan Nivern. Edward is a director of CCRC Asia. Both Edward and Dan are also directors of Gradmedia….the company that publishes The Student Lawyer.

I am sure this is all above board. Edward has been interviewed about it on the BBC. He is upfront about the fact that the participants bears the “costs”. There are testimonials from satisfied customers, although one of them is actually an investor who one suspects did not complete his internship through VIP. What it is, however, is morally wrong. The email is morally wrong to not disclose the connection and the concept is wrong. It is charging people to work and giving them some support along the way.

Law firms – if you want an intern, pay them a wage.

Applications Open!

If you are reading this you probably know that there are three paid work placements on offer with myself, Nicholas Clarke QC and Chloe Ashley. Myself and Nick are at 9 St John Street in Manchester whilst Chloe practises at No5 in Birmingham. The remuneration is a bursary of £700 for the two weeks plus up to £300 towards your expenses. It is hoped that this will be more than just an extended mini-pupillage following people to court but will include marshalling and other experiences of life as a barrister.

This is the process by which all three placements will be selected. The initial application is by email and ten candidates will be selected for an interview by Skype/FaceTime. The ten on the shortlist will receive a signed copy of The Secret Barrister’s book and a copy of Rumpole of the Bailey.

I am afraid I am not going to be able to provide feedback to those unsuccessful and I am afraid only those invited for interview will be notified directly of the outcome. I will announce the names of the final ten on my blog and my Twitter account, so you will be able to check there. Once I know how many applications I am dealing with I will announce the date by which the successful candidates will be notified.

The initial stage will be an application by email to internship@9sjs.com. This email account will only be used for the purpose of this application and will be disabled once the shortlist is announced. Please only use this email address, do not contact my chambers as this is a personal arrangement and not something that my clerks or others at chambers have any role in organising.

The initial application should include the following details in the body of your email;

  1. Full name
  2. DOB (the placement is open to those who are 17 years or older on 31/07/19)
  3. Postal address (if you are a student it may be best to use an address from which you can collect your post outside of term time)
  4. Email address
  5. Contact telephone number
  6. Educational history (A-Level or equivalent onwards, just let me know what you studied and where, I don’t need grades)
  7. Previous legal work experience
  8. Please indicate which three of these areas you would like to have some experience of in the course of the placement Crime; Family; Employment; Civil PI; Civil Commercial.
  9. Preferred location Manchester or Birmingham

None of that information will be used to decide to who is placed on the shortlist. Some of the information may become relevant at the next stage but will be explored at interview. All of that information should be provided in the body of the email. Then you need to attach a separate document to the email, either in Word, PDF or Pages format, which is a written piece by you which answers the question “Why you should be offered the placement”. The STRICT word count is 750 words. For the shortlist I will be looking at the reasons you give why it should be you AND the manner in which you seek to persuade me.

I am going to give you one or two hints and tips. This is not the X-Factor. I do not need to know the incredible journey you have been on. I want to be persuaded with reason, not with adjectives. I will take it as a given that all of you that have applied really, really want this opportunity! Stick to the word limit – concise arguments are key to the successful barrister.

My aim is to provide these placements to candidates with real potential for a career at the Bar but for whom work experience opportunities are limited.

The closing date for applications is 4pm on 17th June 2019. The dates of the placements are flexible to suit the candidates and the availability of the three of us supervising. I cannot thank Nick and Chloe enough for joining me in this enterprise. I also have to thank an anonymous individual who has provided the funding for the placement with Chloe. I also have to thank the Judges and solicitors who have assisted so far and Tim Collins, a legal recruitment consultant.

I look forward to reading your persuasive pieces of written advocacy. Good luck!

Work Experience

A little while ago I criticised a London chambers for the fact they were offering unpaid internships. I believe this to be totally unacceptable. Undoubtedly aspiring members of our profession would gain valuable experience from such an opportunity but I believe that people should be paid fairly for their work and I also believe that such an opportunity should not be dependent upon the individual’s ability to fund themselves. An unpaid internship gives someone with the money to afford to work for free an advantage over someone that does not have the same means.

An internship is more than just the shadowing type of work experience that a mini-pupillage brings. No matter how well meaning a chambers is in providing such an opportunity there will come a time when a task undertaken by the intern will be of some value to the organisation, whether it be taking a note in a conference or doing the photocopying. Yes, the intern may get the chance to see Miss Tenant doing a great cross-examination but that is not the same as paying someone for the fruits of their labour. If you want someone to do the photocopying, pay someone to do the photocopying. Any other arrangement is simply exploiting an uneven relationship. It is preying upon the desire of those seeking to get a foot in the door. It is wrong.

That is all well and good. It is very easy to be vocal on Twitter. Talking about wanting the Bar to be a diverse is as easy as saying you would like it if you could win the Lottery. Even telling an inspirational tale of your own progress through a comprehensive school education and a job in a bike shop, in the hope that others in the same position will see that it can be done, can only plant the seed. It does nothing to nurture the person coming after you.

And so, as I sent out another Tweet which explained why I was so critical of what someone else was doing, I thought about what I was going to achieve. And the answer was not very much. A few likes, a few retweets. It wasn’t even going to prompt the chambers in question to pay the next intern. So the question was – what could I do? Another talk at a school? Another blog about how my grandad was a roofer?

The answer was obvious. I had to put my money where my mouth is. Hence my offer of two weeks paid work experience. And here is more detail about what that will mean.

This year I will select someone to spend two weeks gaining an insight into life as a barrister. That is not just going to be two weeks of following me around, I want to give someone a wealth of work experience. I want to make sure that those two weeks have real value. So the two weeks will not be just spent with me telling stories of when I was brilliant in court or sitting there whilst I demonstrate that I am not so brilliant in court. I hope it will be much more than that.

Before getting into the detail of what will happen and how to apply, let’s deal with the most important issue. I will pay. For the two weeks spent with me I will pay the successful candidate £700 as a bursary. In addition I will also pay up to £300 for expenses arising out of the two weeks so that the offer is available to those who do not live in Manchester. I hope this means that those who are in a position where they would normally not be able to take a two week placement out of the necessity to work during that period will be able to apply for this placement.

I am a criminal Silk but this placement is not just for those who are interested in crime. As part of the application process candidates will be asked to identify three areas of law from a list of those that I will be able to provide experience of during the two weeks. The placement will be overseen by me but, with the kind assistance of some of my colleagues and friends in chambers, the successful candidate will have a wider experience than I can offer alone.

During the course of the placement I will undertake two sessions of advocacy training, one towards the beginning of the period and one towards the end. Tim Collins, a consultant in legal recruitment, has kindly offered to give the successful candidate a CV and interview clinic via Skype. I will then build on that session with a further discussion about applications to chambers. There will be a day spent in the clerks room, seeing how the administration of chambers works. Subject to their availability, I have also arranged that the successful candidate will spend a day marshalling with a Circuit Judge and will spend a day with a firm of criminal solicitors.

The placement is open to those aged 17 or over. There are no other requirements. Once I have selected the person to undertake the placement then we will find a convenient date (so it does not necessarily have to be over the summer).

The application process will open on 3rd June and will close at 4pm on 17th June. I will provide an email address from which those interested can obtain a relatively simple application form which will then be sent back to the same address. The applicants will also be asked to provide a 750 word explanation as to why they should be offered the placement. This will be the most significant factor in deciding which candidates make the shortlist. As well as content, the potential to communicate effectively will also be assessed.

Ten applicants will make it on to the shortlist (if there are at least ten applicants….). Those who make the shortlist will be interviewed via Skype by myself and one of my colleagues from Chambers.

From the ten we will be selecting two candidates. Yes, two. My fellow QC, Nicholas Clarke, head of the criminal team in chambers, has volunteered to replicate my offer. So I will be selecting one placement with me and also one with Nick (the details of his placement may differ from mine, it may not contain the same elements but will come with the same bursary, provided by Nick himself). I will put Nick and this second candidate in touch with each other so that they can sort out the details.

I am sorry that we are not able to offer all ten shortlisted candidates this opportunity. As a significant consolation, all ten shortlisted candidates will receive a copy of Rumpole of the Bailey and a personalised signed copy of the Secret Barrister’s book. Yep. That’s right. The Secret Barrister and their publisher, Pan Macmillan, have very kindly offered to supply personalised copies of the bestselling legal book of the decade to those who make the shortlist.

So watch this space. Make sure you are following me on Twitter @jaimerh354 or my blog, View From The North, to find out more about the application process, including the email address. Please do not contact my chambers about this process, this is something I am doing and organising on a personal level. All correspondence concerning it should be sent to the email address that I will advertise in due course.

A House with No Mirrors

With little or no sense of irony, Kate Hopkins is all over Twitter and Facebook decrying those who expressed sympathy and condolences for the victims of Christchurch as just individuals out for retweets and likes. She ranges over familiar territory, that white conservatives are a put upon sector of society; that free speech is under attack from the liberal elite; that banning semi-automatic weapons is not an answer; and that Islamophobia is not the problem.

All of these things are open to debate. All of these things are capable of rational discussion. She is entitled to express these views, even though I consider them to be incorrect. I can respond by pointing out that white conservatives are a pretty visible and dominant proportion of our society. I can tell her that the fact that she is able to publish her views and that I am able to publish mine shows that feee speech thrives. If I ask the question “what makes it more difficult for the evil amongst us to kill dozens of people” then I can tell her the answer is banning semi-automatic weapons. And sadly I can point to the slaughter of children because of the religion into which they were born as proof that Islamophobia is a problem.

The difficulty is that Hopkins cannot simply have this debate. She is incapable of discussion without immediately descending into the language of bigotry and violence. And this is a problem. A very real problem.

Her opening line is “a war for the world is underway” and that “the victor has already been declared”. She speaks of “feeling threatened by one religion, seeming determined to take over all that was once ours.” Her voice goes on to cry that we are “forced out from within….strangers in our own land.” She perpetuates the myths of no-go zones for whites and links this to her “war” and the fact that “Christians in Britain [are] looking Eastwards for a new place to call home.”

And she concludes with the two sentences I reproduce here

This is not subtle. The subtext is about as sub as the Eiffel Tower. There is a war, she says, between white Christian culture on the one side and Muslims on the other, between the born here and the immigrant. What else can she mean? And she says that the fight is lost, the enemy, our enemy, has won.

This is not some discussion she is having about immigration. This is not the telling of difficult truths. It is the language of warfare. It is a call to arms. A call to arms in the aftermath of a man taking up semi-automatic firearms and shooting those which her post portrays as her enemy. As the enemy of Christians. As the enemy of indigenous populations. As the enemy of us all.

This is not simply in bad taste. This is reckless. This is exactly the sort of language that will cause individuals to hate every Muslim. It invites them too. It is the language of division.

It is entirely standard fare for Hopkins. Just six hours ago she tweeted

Not a critique of policing. This is not her view of the effectiveness of Sadiq Khan’s policies or decisions. At its heart is the fact that the Mayor is a Muslim. If Hopkins does not know what Islamophobia is, her house has no mirrors.

Society has many problems. We face the threat of Islamist terror. We face the threat of right wing terror. But that does not mean every man born a Muslim or who votes Conservative or UKIP is my enemy. Terrorists act on behalf of themselves, not every person with whom they share a characteristic. Hopkins is not my enemy because she is a right wing “conservative”, but she is someone that risks the safety of others with her toxic views and the violence of her expression.

I invite her to reflect and act as her own critic. Take down this post that talks of a war between us and those who share our streets and our lives.

The Silk Road

My road to taking Silk begins not with watching Crown Court as a schoolboy with my leg in plaster and unable to go to school. It starts not with my first lecture at University with my new friend (now my old friend) Richard. It did not commence with my pupillage in Rumpole’s chambers or my first day in my one and only set in Manchester. And it did not get underway with a lengthy application form and an £1,800 wager on myself.

It starts in 1870.

1870 is a very long time ago. In fact, it is 149 years ago. 1870 saw the 20th Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland (the current jamboree of confusion and indecision is the 57th). In 1870 Queen Victoria had 31 years of her reign still to go. She was only about half way through an era which shapes much of Britain today and to which she gave her name. It was the year in which Charles Dickens breathed his last breath and Lenin his first. And so did my grandfather.

My father’s father, born in 1870, may seem like an odd place to begin. Why not with my maternal grandfather, the only one of my grandparents that was still alive when I came along, known to me and my siblings as “Pop”? Why not either of my grandmothers? The possessors of such grandmotherly names, Edith and Annie?

I have started it in 1870 because I bet there are not many of you out there that have a grandfather who wasn’t just a Victorian by dint of a birth at the turn of the century but who was 31 years of age when Victoria died. Being the youngest son of the youngest son of a man who fathered a son at 64 means that I leap in just two generations from a man writing a blog on his MacBook air to a man who was born at a time before universal education. He lived in a time that was not WiFi enabled wireless….it was sewerless.

My paternal grandfather made a physical move from Cumberland to Levenshulme which was the move that eventually led to all of my grandparents being present in Manchester. In a very real sense his journey was the start of a road that led to me being born in 1971.

But as any devotee of reality television talent contests will know, journeys are not just geographical. My grandfather was described in the census as a labourer. In 1915, when he joined the Flying Corps (lying about his age in order to do so), he was described as a Carpet Warehouseman. Would the 48 year old version of my grandfather have ever envisaged that the 48 year old version of his grandson would be described, somewhat pompously, as one of Her Majesty’s counsel, learned in the law?

Reintroducing the other grandparents, what would my other grandfather, a roofer, have made of me being a barrister? Would my grandmothers have ever looked at their own children and thought that one day Annie’s daughter and Edith’s son would be in a hall at Westminster watching their own child being sworn in as a QC?

I do not claim for myself any triumph of a working class hero. My own parents were established in the middle classes by the time I came along. Neither of them had themselves been to university, or even had that as an opportunity open to them, but the battles had been fought and won long before I came along. All of which meant I could go to do my degree, not as a groundbreaker, but as an opportunity that the circumstances of my birth, my gender, my race or my sex was not going to deny me.

From a labourer to a QC in three generations, albeit over 149 years. That is social mobility. And is the challenge that still faces the Bar today. Not only that anyone with the talent to succeed should have the opportunity to do so; not only that discrimination on grounds of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation should be anathema to anyone involved in the profession; not only that it should not matter whether your father was a High Court Judge or a purchasing manager; not only that it does not matter which school or university you went to; it has to be that we all take responsibility in doing something which makes this an accessible profession. Something which tells a schoolgirl in Rochdale, either by deed or by words, that this is a career to which she can aspire without fear.

The honour and role that I receive today was simply impossible for my grandfather. It was so impossible that Dickens himself would not have imagined it. Lenin would have scorned at the idea of it. It would have been almost as impossible for my mother or father to have gone to university and then be called to the Bar.

I am not going to lie. Today I burst with pride. This would not have been possible without a man making the journey to Levenshulme and then parents who supported a boy who turned round one day and announced he wanted to be a barrister. Being called to the Bar and being an advocate in court was a dream come true. Acquiring two letters after my name is incredible, but not, it turns out, impossible. What would George, Edith, Annie and Pop have made of that?