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One Love One Heart One Soul

Some people bemoan their hometown, most people consider their hometown the finest place on earth. I fall very much into the latter category. I am a Manc, and proud of it. 

This is the reason why I found myself in bed on Tuesday morning with the radio on and tears on my cheeks. I have never before cried due to some news event, only ever shedding a tear over personal matters. But the accounts of the atrocity at the Manchester Arena filled me with sadness that spilled from my eyes. 

I understand that there are countless tragedies that happen across the world. Terrorism spreads in every continent. We should grieve for the murdered from Istanbul to Mosul and on to Paris and Nice. Yet this terrorist attack hit home like no other. Because it happened in my home. 

Every minute of the day, somewhere in the world, a child loses a parent, a wife loses a husband, a lover loses the loved. One can sympathise with their loss but you feel the grief when it is someone close to you who suffers the loss and the grief is incalculable when you are the one to suffer the loss. And so it is, even in our global age, that the bomb in a market place in the Middle East seems more remote than a massacre on the boulevards of Nice. So when you hear of the targeting of children in a spot which you have stood countless times the loss becomes your loss. The murdered could so easily be one of your family. This was a blow struck in the heart of my city. 

If you do not know Manchester then you will not know what makes it special. Mancunians are simultaneously brash and charming. Older fans of Coronation Street can think Bet Lynch, all leopard print and warmth. There is the swagger of a Gallagher and the laid back attitude of Iain Brown. The City shares the beauty of Tim Booth’s voice and the bleak landscape of a Joy Divisison song. The locals party like Bez with the melancholic wit of Morrissey. We are the music and the bands that manage to span the BeeGees to the Roses. We are the football of George Best and Rodney Marsh, of Eric Cantona and Georgi Kinkladze and of Ronaldo and Aguero. We are the Northern Quarter and the Gay Village. We are friendly and funny. We are mad and mad for it. 

Manchester has all the hallmarks of a big city. There are two premiership football stadia. And not just any old premiership football stadia but the biggest football ground in the league and the homes of the winners of fifteen out of the last twenty five league titles. There is a Test Cricket ground, not just any Test Cricket ground but the ground where Laker took 19 Ashes wickets and Botham performed miracles. There is big business and small enterprise. There is a university with Nobel prize winners. 

We have history. Roman history. Industrial history. Political history. Cultural history. And a history of how we came to be. We boast about Karl Marx, Emmeline Pankhurst, Alan Turing, L.S. Lowry and Tony Wilson. The Lincoln Letter may feature large in Tarantino’s Hateful Eight but he wrote to us first. And we built him a statute because of it. We have a ship canal. A ship canal that Mancunians built to cut Liverpool out of our cotton trade. A rivalry with our neighbours who we love to hate and hate that we love them. 

Every cliche about Manchester is true. We have hard vowels and soft water. It rains. It rains a lot. You can see, if you look hard enough, matchstick men and matchstick cats and dogs. Trams criss cross the city centre. We call siblings “our kid” and we love gravy on our chips.

So Manchester has every right to have big ideas about itself. It is big, it is bold and it is brilliant. But it is also like a village. Two main roads running parallel to each other and you can walk from Cathedral to Castlefield, from Spinningfields to Strangeways and from the Village to the Irwell in about fifteen minutes for each traverse across the city. The City Centre is a compact heart that spirals out to become Greater Manchester. 

And so I return to the bomb, the death and the despair. Proud Mancunians are heartbroken that a son of Manchester, a terrorist born amongst us, could do this to his fellow Mancunians. Targeting children, teens and parents with a callousness that defies comprehension. The City currently seems so sad. Every street corner speaks of sorrow. Every citizen wears a sombre cloak. It is a village in mourning. 

Life always goes on for those left to live it. Condolences are uttered ad infintum to the bereaved. Pledges of strength and recovery are uttered. Help is given. Comfort is received. Manchester will go back to being everything it was and always has been. But it will always bear a scar that will always hurt. Because we care about Manchester and we care about our fellow Mancunians. 

I hope to never cry tears again for the children of my city who have been murdered before they have ever thought a cynical thought. Children who were having a giddy and thrilling night out enjoying life. Never forgotten. 

Jo Cox MP

It is impossible to imagine the unexpected loss of the person with whom you have chosen to spend your life. I cannot begin to imagine what it is to be a child who is told that their mother has been taken from them by an act of violence. We all experience loss and grief; yet the loss of a parent and a partner, in the circumstances of the murder of Jo Cox MP, must be the hardest of blows to take. 

Any loss of life is a tragedy. Some deaths touch the general public more than others. Often it is either due to the esteem or affection in which the departed is held or because something about the death touches the public. Think of Princess Diana or Aylan Kurdi. 

I confess that I had never heard of Jo Cox MP before this afternoon when I first saw the news that she had been attacked. What I have learned of her since then indicates that she was a person that it was very easy to admire and plainly somebody who was loved. 

And, of course, one cannot help but be moved by the death of a mother of young children. Everyone, every individual who has a heart, every person who has decency in their soul, will lament her loss and express the deepest of sympathy for her husband and children. 

Yet the murder of someone with whom I was not familiar has saddened me in a way which I could not, at first, fathom. And then I realised, probably along with the rest of the nation, that the murder of an elected representative of the public is a loss to every single one of us. 

Whatever your views of policiticans in general or the doctrines they represent, first and foremost they represent you. Even if you did not vote for them, even if you did not vote, they represent you. This is the form of democracy we have chosen. It is woven into the fabric of our society. Small pockets of the country sending their representative to the House of Commons. 

In all likelihood this role, representing us, has led to the murder of this politician, role model, wife, mother and friend. We will learn over time why this happened, in the sense of what motivated her murder. I doubt I will ever understand why someone would do this. 

For the moment the loss of Jo Cox is a wound to the whole of the country. It is a tangible reminder of the connection of each in society to one another. And as we mourn the loss; as we express our shock at the crime; as we reflect on what it says about our society; we also need to have at the forefront of our minds that the taking of the life of this public servant, in a public place whilst carrying out her public duties, is a private tragedy for her family and friends.

May they find comfort in their time of sadness. May we find a way to celebrate the life of Jo Cox so they always know she was someone that we could all be proud of. 

What a very, very dark day. 

Throw Me A Bone

On Monday I was meant to start a trial. Unfortunately the trial was listed before a Judge who was part heard until Tuesday. Courtrooms and trials are a little like runways and airplanes that are coming in to land – two into one just doesn’t go. 

So we were given a new Judge to start before on Tuesday morning. As it turned out it was Tuesday afternoon as our new Judge also had other cases to deal with. 

This delay is not what this blog is about. But it is important background information. This blog is about Thursday. 

On Thursday I had a PTPH which was very likely to be a guilty plea. That PTPH was listed in the same court building as my trial. It was likely that once the plea had been entered there could be a stand down report and the defendant could have been sentenced there and then. 

The problem was that my jury was not going to be going out until the Friday. The trial took almost exactly three days from opening speech to the jury retiring. Had I even got underway at some point on the Monday I would have been free for my PTPH. 

My clerks and I thought it was a good idea to ask for the PTPH to be moved. Our first port of call was asking for consent from the CPS locally. In this instance it is only polite to ask because we all know it is also pointless. They never agree. 

So we sent a written request to the Court. We thought it polite to ask them. Yet it is also almost as pointless. This Court does not agree either. Even when the reason I cannot do the PTPH is because their listing has caused me the difficulty. All I was asking for was that it be moved from Thursday to the following Monday or Tuesday. 

The Court were prepared to list it at 945. And frankly I took a huge risk and did the case because I was so hacked off that the Court had refused to move it that I was quite prepared to stand my ground when it all went wrong, which, of course, it did. Client arrived at 10 and the case was called on at 1020 with the only thing that saved me from being in a trial and a sentence at the same time was the fact that the lower court had totally cocked up an associated committal for sentence. 

So what are the consequences of intransigent listing policy from both a CPS branch and a Court? Firstly they are financial. The trial that did not get into Court on Monday had already been adjourned through lack of court time previously. So, as I was prosecuting, that equates to one previous mention fee, then a mention fee on the Monday the case wasn’t reached and then a free day on the Wednesday as that was the second day of the trial. 

When the case had previously been adjourned it had been refixed in a slot in my diary. The Court did not like that date so it was relisted and forced in. The nature of the case was such that I had to stick with it so I returned another trial that was listed that Monday. And, as inevitably happens, as I sat around the robing room whilst I had no prospect of getting on, my other trial cracked. 

And, as is also nearly always the way, because my jury only went out on the Friday I had to miss another PTPH in another court centre on the Friday. That was a tad embarrassing because that Court had been accommodating and reasonable and had previously moved my PTPH to a date when I thought I could do it. So someone else had to go along (an appearance which comes out of the fixed fee) and I had to pen an apology. I also had to draft the documents required for the PTPH I was absent from and fill in the form. 

The second consequence is that I ended up almost letting down one solicitor and actually letting down another. I think some Judges believe that work still grows on trees. It does not. Not these days, not in this market. Not being there for things like PTPHs is the sort of thing that can stop solicitors using you, no matter how good they think you are at the job. Gone are the days when I went to court with a fist full of PCMHs. 

The final consequence is that it erodes a little bit more of the goodwill. I know that the CPS will not consent to moving cases of this nature. It is making us all a little less inclined to help when they need it. I know that the Court will not move such cases, even when my non-availability is also their fault. And that makes me more prone to take risks with listings, more likely to keep courts waiting and less likely to add oil to the wheels of the system. 

I have known that the Bar are at the bottom of the pile for a very long time. Our availability should take second place to the efficient running of the judicial system and things like the needs of vulnerable witnesses.  But the efficient running of the system would also, from time to time, benefit from throwing us a bone or two. 

Better case management might benefit from a tiny little bit of sensible management of the players involved. 

Roger Farley QC

One of the remaining joys of being a barrister is that you meet some remarkable people. Some are great intellects, some are great characters, some are advocates of such conspicuous brilliance they make you feel inadequate. There are some that you cannot imagine functioning in the real world, yet they blossom in the law. 

A man who was very much at home in the real world was Roger Farley QC. He was, in every sense of the word, a colossus of the Northern Circuit. It was, therefore, with very great sadness that I heard he had unexpectedly passed away this week.

Now Roger was someone I knew from as early as my second six. The reason why I say he was very much at home in the real world was because Roger would treat everyone – second six pupil, junior clerk, High Court Judge, man in the betting shop – in exactly the same way, with a generosity of spirit and a twinkle in his eye. 

A son of Blackburn, he was equally at home in the public bar of any pub in the world (and I wager he had visited a high proportion of them) as he was in the courtroom. Roger was a repository for every story about the Northern Circuit that there has ever been, and a fine narrator of each of them. 

As an advocate there was just a hint of the Columbo about him. He was quite softly spoken but with more than just a hint of a Blackburn accent. There was a decent chance there may be a trace of his lunch on his jacket. Yet he allied an understated charm with a clear and precise mind. He may have been big on laughs but he was no joker. 

I was once the prosecution junior in a case in which he defended. Every time I had a speaking role in the case the Judge found fault with what I was doing. Roger said to me “every time you open your mouth and the Judge starts I can’t help but think of Captain Manwaring saying ‘you stupid boy’. I am surprised the Judge hasn’t started calling you Pike.” And when I finally stood up to the Judge and got him to back down over something it was Roger who came up to me at the end of the day and said “I was holding my breath there for a minute, hoping you were right. And you were. Well done. He won’t come for you again.” And he was right. 

He loved sport and the regular trip from the Circuit to Dublin to play Rugby. He loved the Rugby, of course,  and the bars of Dublin loved their increase in takings when he was in town. And not just from the copious amounts that Roger could put away, he would buy anyone standing within three feet of him a drink without a second thought.

So it is very sad that the Circuit has lost a very kind, very funny and very able man. Those of us who knew him will not forget him. He may have known every Circuit story but he also stars in one or two of them. 

Roger, it was a very great pleasure to have known you. 

Magna Carta Shocka

I did not write this. But I bring you news concerning the Magna Carta. Warning, contains adult language, but only about Nigel Farage, so that doesn’t count.

HISTORIANS are studying an edition of the Magna Carta found this week in Kent that makes England French property from June.
Found in council archives, it contains an additional paragraph that says France can have England in 800 years’ time if the country is still a dump by then.
Historian Susan Traherne said: “If verified, this document means on June 15th we all become French, which I intend to mark by starting smoking again and having that affair I’ve always wanted.
“It’s not going to be an easy period of transition but people can console themselves with the spectacle of Nigel Farage losing his fucking mind.”
The key section of the document states: “Let it be agreed that England, its lands and chattels and peoples thereof, be surrendered unto the kingdom of France 800 years from the signing of this charter if it be shewn that the place still is somewhat of a shitehole”.
After June 15th, football fans will have to chant “No world wars but two world cups” when playing Germany and rectangular loaves will be made illegal.

Towering Inferno

The current Lord Chancellor likes to see the criminal justice system as a business. Pieces to be sold off to the highest bidder, success being measured in cost saving rather than quality. The boss wants to achieve efficiency and cares nothing for justice.

If it was a business then the reality is that we would torch it and claim the insurance money. It is difficult to think of a single element of the CJS that is currently working at all, let alone working well.

It is a system that is hugely inefficient. It seems the Crown Prosecution Service are incapable of getting a single set of papers out on time. The result? Wasted hearings, poorly prepared hearings and wasted money.

Preliminary hearings in every Crown Court case clog the lists. “Provisional” trial dates are set with no idea as to witness availability. Actually that’s not true. The dates are set with no idea as to who the witnesses are, what they say or even if there are any witnesses. You may as well book me in for an appendectomy in six months time, just in case my appendix ruptures.

The result? Wasted hearings, poorly prepared hearings and wasted money. Oh, and huge delay. Every day a Circuit Judge deals with orders that the Magistrates could have dealt with in a dozen or so cases. Meanwhile that Judge cannot hear a trial. Elsewhere in the list another a Judge fixes a whole series of trial dates that probably are not needed. Meanwhile in August 2014 a two day, non-custody burglary trial is listed for April 2015. Utter lunacy.

If the boss is bothered by “results” and “efficiency” he needs to reach for the petrol can and the matches. If the boss cares about quality and justice, he needs to reach for the chequebook.

Another Step

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.