Tag Archives: Austerity

Bridget Jones’s Diary

Chris Grayling is a terrible lover. No, stick with me for a moment whilst I rephrase that, Chris Grayling is like a really terrible boyfriend. I feel like Bridget Jones in the throes of a romance with the Hugh Grant character. His communications regarding Legal Aid are like being dumped by letter by a University sweetheart who tells you she has met someone called Barry and although she thinks you are really sweet “can you just go back to being friends next term because that would be really nice” and “she just hates the thought of upsetting me”, like that’s going to happen after you have spent the whole of last term following her around and forging tickets to get her into the sold out Law Soc Social… Anyway, back to Grayling.

Reading his letter, his foreword to the response and his parliamentary statement it was as if he knew he was being a cad (I am choosing my words carefully now) and wanted to try and appear, well, all nice. When he wrote “please also be assured that I am not singling out legal aid – the savings from this area are consistent with those for the Department’s budget as a whole” he may well have just said “look its not you, it’s me.” And when he stated “when the Chancellor of the Exchequer asked for further savings from my Department in the Autumn Statement in December last year, I was very clear that we should not seek any further savings from criminal legal aid” he was effectively saying, “come on Jones, I’ve changed, I really have, I’m a one woman man from now on.”

And it doesn’t stop there. Ever been told whilst being dumped that you’ll look back one day and thank him/her for breaking up with you? Well Chris gives you “the review led by Sir Brian Leveson will increase the speed, efficiency and effectiveness of the criminal justice system which will bring benefits to everyone within the system, including the Bar.”

It was not just the letter that had overtones of the insincere, self justification of the break-up letter. The Foreword to the response brought you “the Government will review both a year after implementation of the respective new arrangements”. I cannot be the only one who thought about Ross from friends hysterically repeating “we were on a break“.

The terrible thing is that I also have a vision of a chat-up line amongst the platitudes and excuses. “I have genuine respect for the traditions of the independent Bar, and the high quality advocacy that you provide” had all the hallmarks of the I-will-still-respect-you-in-the-morning precursor to a one night stand *shudders*.

So there we are. I guess I should now confess that I have had two glasses of wine, have lost three pounds and smoked no cigarettes this week (I do not smoke and have embarked upon the 5:2 diet, were today not a fast day, the wine consumption would have rocketed). When it comes to the dating game, Chris and I were just not meant to be. I can see now that the break-up is going to be acrimonious. In the future I can see myself in the street, outside the pub, high heels in hand and mascara staining my face as Chris shouts “Get over it, I am with the PDS now and I really think we have a future together.” The big question is whether Nigel Lithman is about to do a Darcy and punch his lights out in a Greek restaurant?

Two Little Things

It is often the little things in life that irritate – a man constantly coughing on the train, an unnecessary mention, Jimmy Krankie…. So today was a day when something big came along. Today was the day the MoJ announced their plans for the criminal justice system, or rather their plans for the carcass.

There is much to be irritated about in the big document that the Government have produced. The impenetrable and misleading “Chart B1” for example. Or the contention that we will all be able to make up the cuts in income by us all doing lots of other work that would otherwise have gone to our talented colleagues who have left. Solicitors may find the idea of an 8.5% cuts being introduced in three weeks time somewhat irritating as it wipes out the profit of most firms overnight.

However two “little things” have really got my goat. The first is the letter from the Lord Chancellor. He-who-should-be-forever-ashamed has finally got the idea of what his job entails as he has told the Chancellor of the Exchequer that in the next spending review no more money can be cut from Legal Aid. I imagine the Lord Chancellor has similar conversations with his barber. You cannot cut what is no longer there. Sadly this is all too little, too late. Apparently he could not protect Legal Aid from the first onslaught.

Another thing in his letter (although this is still part of my first “little thing”) is when he says “I want to make clear today that under this Government, there will be no further reduction to advocacy fees, and in my view there are clear limits to how far fees can be cut.” That is exactly the point we have been making all along Mr Grayling. There is a limit. And it has been reached before this round of cuts. Have you listened at all over the level of cuts? No. Just the mechanism. Which, incidentally, started out as PCT and tapering daily fees so that shows what an expert you are. At least we have the promise that there will be no further reduction under this Government. In other news, turkeys surviving Easter are told that they have nothing to fear until the next major festival based around Christian beliefs.

The second “little thing” truly made my blood boil. I hope I have the technological knowhow to add a picture to my blog

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If I have failed miserably I will tell you what it is. It is a screenshot of a Tweet from the MoJ. It says that they have increased the fee paid to lawyers if the CPS drop the case. Oh joy unconfined! O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay! Well not quite. All the MoJ have done is partially reverse a bad decision. They have allowed the advocate to be paid properly when the CPS drop an either way offence where the client has elected trial “because that is not our fault”. Well it is not “our fault” when the same client pleads guilty because they change their instructions. Or when they plead to something because the prosecution change their stance. That is not our fault either. However it is is not this policy, utter bollocks though it is, that gets me angry. It is the presentation of this as good news. That confirms for me everything I always suspected of the MoJ. They are not to be trusted. They lie. They twist. They cheat. To pick this one piece of news out of the savagery of the proposals and present it as good news is like telling an amputee they will save money on shoe leather.

Without a shadow of a doubt the news today about Legal Aid, if implemented, will lead to people losing their jobs. Not just lawyers but support staff. To attempt to blind anyone with a Tweet about “improvements” is dishonest and distasteful. It also galvanises me for the fight ahead.

Responsible Government?

I am not an expert in politics or economics. Between you and I, I am barely an expert when it comes to the criminal justice system but I ask you to keep that to yourself. However I am a citizen living in the society governed by the current administration and existing in the world at large.

It would be impossible for a citizen of this country not to realise that this is a time of “austerity”. The fact is that the world is in one of those cycles when economies have and continue to struggle. That may be the fault of the bankers. It may be the fault of the politicians. It could just be a combination of many factors coinciding together to create that perfect storm of economic recession. However we are where we are.

All of that means that budgets are tight. Money is an object when it comes to what the Government can do. As a citizen of this country I expect, I want the Government to concentrate on three areas – Health, Defence and Justice. I believe these to be the central responsibilities of Government in respect of the society it governs. Of course other areas cannot be neglected such as the economy, infrastructure and welfare. However one thing that the credit crunch showed us is that factors outside of politics can bring the whole thing crashing down all over the world but these core responsibilities are entirely within the control of the Government.

When the politicians in power look to reduce their budgets I would suggest that the three core responsibilities are those that are accorded the greatest protection. And that within those core responsibilities the greatest protection is given to the provision of frontline services. Let us make a comparison with household budgets. When times are tight domestically the important things are warmth, food and clothing. So the Sky TV subscription would be sacrificed before the weekly food shop. And although you try to get the best value for money from the weekly food shop you make sure that you have enough money for that by making your sacrifices elsewhere.

To continue with the domestic comparison it is at times of economic woe that you try to maintain the status quo so when things pick up you have the best chance of making progression. You protect, as much as you can, what you have achieved. If you own your home via a mortgage you meet those mortgage payments before you book a holiday. And you certainly do not pick that as a time to put in a new kitchen and upgrade the television.

Translating that across to the running of the country the Government should look very carefully at itself and stop eroding those vital frontline services. They should look very carefully at itself and stop tinkering with things. At the present moment in time a successful and responsible Government would seek to protect what we have. It should not be constantly seeking to make alterations which are minor at best. Each of those policy announcements costs the nation money it is supposed not to have. Every data sharing NHS proposal or putting magistrates in police stations lunacy costs this nation a fortune the moment that the proposals tumble from the mind of someone in the corridors of power.

The current Minister of Justice should not gauge success by the garnering of headlines about “getting tough on terrorists” (does anyone believe we are soft on terrorism!?!). The current Minister of Justice should regard the preservation of a system whereby terrorists are prosecuted by highly skilled advocates as his duty at this time. It is ironic that Shailesh Vara responded to the inaccuracies of MoJ figures on payments to advocates by saying “it is not up to me how they choose to spend their money.” His Ministry is currently planning a brand new conservatory to stick onto a house which is crumbling. Preservation of the system should take priority over the next big idea to be shelved in twelve months from now.

And We All Stand Together

In 1986 I was asked by the Careers teacher at school what I wanted to be. “Barrister,” said I.

“Boys from this school do not become barristers,” came the response.

Well that was wrong. The careers advice was a little outdated. The Bar was changing. Boys and girls from comprehensive schools could now enter this profession. Not exactly an easy route but the barriers had come down and the Bar had begun a journey to an increasingly diverse future.

So with my D in Latin (another example of the outdated careers advice) I ultimately joined my chambers for Pupillage and then tenancy. I was one of three pupils at the time and all of us were taken on. This was not due to my brilliance. This was due to the fact that I was good enough and there were no impediments in my way. It took a couple of bank loans and a bit of luck but I joined a chambers of about 30 practitioners. A grand total of 4 of them were women. Now there are 86 members of chambers, 36 of whom are female. That means back in the day 13% of chambers were female and now it is 41%. The Bar has changed. For the better.

However I fear it is changing again. If I was now doling out careers advice to a modern day me I would not suggest that being a comprehensive school boy should stop me being a criminal barrister. I would just suggest that I should do something else. Something with better prospects. Something that was better respected. Something which had a future. A GP maybe. A chief executive (I am not sure these had been invented in 1986). The modern day me would also probably discover that I could not obtain the loans required, that the student debt would cripple me and that I simply could not afford to do it. Comprehensive school boys would still be welcome to come to the Bar but only if they could afford to do it.

The 1986 version of me would never have dreamt that one day I would be part of a “strike”. The closest I would get to a Flying Picket was the a capella band. The 1996 version of me would not have imagined it. By 2006 I probably had justification to want to. In 2014 I have no qualms about it being the right thing to do. When fees were frozen I could have gone on strike but I did not. When I did not get an increase to even keep me in line with inflation I could have gone on strike but I did not. When the cuts started to come I could have gone on strike but I did not. Tomorrow I will do. Not because I am demanding more. Because the Bar cannot take any less.

Nothing makes me prouder of the Bar than the fact that it no longer matters what university you went to. Nothing makes me prouder than the fact that the daughter of a caretaker or a deaf comprehensive school boy or a more mature entrant changing careers can come to the criminal Bar. All of that, all that has been achieved in terms of social mobility will cease overnight if these cuts come in.

So the Criminal Bar have to stand together. This great, diverse collection of individuals have to speak with one voice. We owe it to ourselves. We owe it to our clients. We owe it to victims. We owe it to boys and girls in comprehensive schools who dream of advocacy. We are not used to this type of fight. But fighters we are. And we are bloody good at it.

Bigmouth Strikes Again

I am about to quote from a document that was created on behalf of the CPS. I guarantee it is accurate. It was created for a case in Manchester and is currently pinned to the wall of the Crown Court robing room. The document reads:

The Crown asks the defence to indicate which of the exhibits they require reproducing. The Learned Court will be aware that there will be a costs implication to the public purse by the production of copies of the said exhibits and at the sentence hearing the Crown will raise the issue of this cost for each and every one of the exhibits required to be served in the light of the guilty pleas entered.

Now pause for a moment. I am not making any comment about the particular circumstances of that case as I know nothing about it. But pause and think what this is saying about the state of criminal justice in this country as we enter 2014.

The state brings a case against an individual. The prosecution disclose the material they base their case on. The prosecution also have a positive duty to disclose information that assists the defendant in the preparation of his defence. And that includes in relation to sentence. What this document seeks to do is to limit the opportunity of the defendant to see the evidence upon which the prosecution base their case. It throws a burden on to the defendant and the defendant’s lawyers to think very carefully before they ask for copies of the exhibits in the case against them. It is a burden backed up with the threat of sanction, of either the defendant or their lawyer having to pay costs.

Now I firmly believe that no court would impose such costs. I also believe that the CPS are not trying to withhold anything. However it is indicative of how low our criminal justice system has sunk, how beholden effective justice is now to cost, that the CPS would even contemplate such a suggestion.

So the CPS feel that to save costs the defence need to be able to justify in advance why they should see the evidence in the case where they have pleaded. It is not farfetched to say that in exhibit-heavy cases things can often emerge from unexpected places. Some thing which puts a different slant on the case or demonstrates the hierarchy of offenders. Some times it may provide support for a basis of plea. Other times it is not there. You only know when you look.

I can appreciate that simple cases, a shoplifter who admits it in interview, can be dealt with without the need for a full set of papers. I do not like it but I am probably too traditional in thinking people should only plead after knowing the full nature of the evidence. The risk of an injustice is slight. Paper heavy cases are different. They are usually more complicated than someone stuffing some razor blades down their trackie-botts. Injustices do not just occur when an innocent woman is convicted. They also happen when anyone serves a day in custody more than is necessary or justified on the basis of the evidence. Which is why there should be no question about it all the evidence being served on all parties. In a case to which the above direction would apply the prosecution advocate would have the exhibits, I guess the Judge would have the exhibits and the defence advocate? Well,I guess they will just have to guess what everybody else knows.

If the resources are so stretched that the prosecution wish to cut corners in the service of their own case then how far does the corner cutting stretch? If you are not freely allowed the exhibits in the case against you, how confident can you be that the unused material will be scrutinised for material that assists you? I would never think that unused material is not properly reviewed but then again, I would never have thought that I was not going to see the exhibits as a matter of course.

On the document posted to the wall of the robing room somebody has written “now you have to pay to see the evidence against you.” Which is a joke…..isn’t it? Every day now I see some reason why the criminal justice system is a joke. It just isn’t a very funny joke. To quote from another, somewhat different, Mancunian source: “But that joke isn’t funny anymore, It’s too close to home, And it’s too near the bone, It’s too close to home, And it’s too near the bone, More than you’ll ever know …” The problem is that the public think this happens in other people’s lives and it does not matter until it happens in their’s.

The criminal justice system is not about delivering savings. It is about delivering justice. It is not about winning votes. It is not even about winning cases. It is about putting justice above all else. Above the cost of photocopying.

That is why this Monday 6th January barristers and solicitors up and down this nation are taking part in an unprecedented protest. This is not just about fees. The Criminal Justice System cannot withstand any more cuts. We need a Lord Chancellor who protects the courts, not one who plays politics with them. Perhaps the next time the Government want to publish some ad hoc statistics they may like to tell the public how much money they have taken OUT of the effective prosecution of cases. Maybe compare it to the amount of money they spend on things like Police and Crime Commissioners. In times of austerity the priority should be frontline services, not pointless initiatives aimed at “public confidence”, otherwise known as “trying to win votes.” Like the DPP, the Lord Chancellor should a legal, not a political appointment.

An Act of Madness

As a very young barrister I did not own a car. So the first months of being on my feet in court involved a lot of travel by public transport. One day I was due to appear in Liverpool to conduct a mention. This coincided with a rail strike. A limited service was running which thankfully included a direct train from my local station to Liverpool. As I waited on the platform it was announced that this train had also been cancelled. So I did not think twice about jumping in a cab and spending £50 on the fare to Liverpool. Despite it being 20 years ago I still recall the cost of the fare because I only received £46.50 for doing the case. A loss of £3.50 before I had even stepped inside the courtroom.

So why am I telling you this? I am telling you this because on 6th January I am not going to go to court because I am joining a legion of lawyers who are protesting about the chronic underfunding of the criminal justice system. I am telling you this because it demonstrates that I do not fail to go to court lightly. I have gone the extra mile to attend court in the past at personal expense. I have prosecuted a case on a day that I had to lie on a conference room table in between appearances in court because I was in so much pain and was admitted to hospital the following day. I have gone to a relative’s funeral during the lunchtime adjournment of a trial and been back for 2.15. So why I am now prepared to make the ultimate act of defiance?

Well, let’s go back to my case in 1994 in Liverpool. Twenty years ago I would go to court for £46.50. And I still do to this day. Not every day and not every fee. But it still happens. In 2014 the taxi fare would be closer to £90. The taxi driver has probably had his income go up. Certainly the cost of everything has gone up. Things like petrol. Yet, in some instances, my fee remains the same. Thinking about that for a moment, these days every time I drive to Liverpool if you take in to account the cost of petrol, parking, my clerk fees and everything else that day at work costs then on those days that I am getting the £46.50 fee I am probably doing no better than breaking even.

I will admit that the £46.50 fee is relatively rare these days. This is because there was this thing called Carter and I am someone who believes that the Carter review of fees was broadly speaking okay for the Bar. Clearly it was a good deal for the administration. It saved the Government money overall. For the Bar it spread the money available more evenly though the range of cases. At the very least it was a workable system which considered what was appropriate remuneration for the case undertaken.

So yes, since Carter in 2007, the £46.50 days have reduced. However since 2007 a number of things have happened. Firstly inflation has happened. £46.50 in 1994 is now worth nigh on £80 in today’s money. And £100 (the replacement level of fee for many of the £46.50 days) in 2007 is worth nigh on £120 in today’s money. However since 2007 the level of fees have not increased. So in real terms I get £80 compared to the £100 I was getting seven years ago. No cost of living increase for me.

In fact no increase at all. Actually, now you ask, quite the opposite has happened. A number of arbitrary cuts have lowered the level of many of the fees. There have been arbitrary alterations to the scheme that mean I now go to court for free. Yes, you have read that right. Instead of getting £46.50 I now go to court for free some days. Oh and some further alterations have slashed up to 40% from some of the fees. And then the administration has been slicing a percentage from the fees each year for the last three years.

The Carter Graduated Fee Scheme was predicated on a system of swings and roundabouts; some £46.50 days were worth taking the hit because some days produced healthy fees and you took the rough with the smooth. In modern times the fee system is predicated on a system of guillotines and chopping boards. We go to court for free. We have been cut more often than a Mary Berry “cut and come again” cake. And yet we have ground on as we have been ground down.

The Government now reward the professionalism of a body of advocates who were prepared to spend more on travel than the fee for the case by designing a fee scheme based on their idea that we milk cases for all they are worth. They reward our professionalism by demeaning us in the press. They rely on our professionalism to ensure that we will go gentle in to the good night of further fee cuts. WE WILL NOT.

The refusal to work on 06/01/14 is an act of madness. We are mad not to have done it before. We are mad to only take half a day of action. There are those uneasy about what is happening. Yet we cannot carry on doing nothing any longer. Talking gets us nowhere. The Lord Chancellor closes his ears and says “I have to make cuts”. Until he will listen we have to say “I have to make a stand”.

Martin Luther King said “a genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a moulder of consensus”. Attend a meeting outside a Crown Court on 06/01 and you will see a consensus amongst the Bar which is unprecedented and has been moulded by the CBA. When I am at the meeting at Manchester I will have no doubt whatsoever that I am doing the right thing. In fact, in true Mancunian style, I am mad for it.

A Christmas Carol – Stave Five

You can see the beginning of this series here or read the Second Stave here if you missed it. Stave Three is published here. Steve four can be viewed here.

A Christmas Carol

Stave Five – The End of It

Dear Reader, A Christmas Carol is a tale of redemption so beautifully told by Charles Dickens. The final stave of the Carol sees Scrooge importune a street urchin (and all you lawyers can put that kind of importuning out of your mind) to buy a huge turkey and then visits his family with joy in his heart. Upon his return to work he is a new man.

So the final stave of this pale imitation could have seen Ebeneezer Grayling visit his Junior Official with seasonal cheer. He could sit down with the wife of his aide and discuss with her the travails of working at the coal face. He could instruct his staff to cancel the changes and the cuts and instead order that a proper examination of the criminal justice system be undertaken. He could realise that the appropriate starting point is proper remuneration for the work undertaken. He could have behaved exactly the way someone should behave when they have learnt some valuable lessons.

Would he learn these lessons? Scrooge was a man moulded by events in his life. He lost the essence of joy. He lost the meaning of family. However there was still space in his heart for the Spirits to sow the seeds for their re-emergence. He was just a man that needed pointing in the right direction.

The difficulty with the main character in this version of A Christmas Carol is that he is not just a man. He is a politician. Not only does politics allow greatness to flourish it also allows defects to magnify. That is never more true than when the politician is ambitious. And not just a decent degree of personal ambition but a visceral, all consuming appetite for power.

Something which is beyond the influence of supernatural visitations is the modern career politician. Back in the day of Hailsham or Elwyn-Jones The Lord Chancellor was a lawyer of considerable experience who became a politician. In many ways the modern career path of the politician – student politics to party politics via a brief sojourn in PR or a role in “Head Office” – is least suited to filling the role of Lord Chancellor.

Other officers of state are responsible for a “thing”, Health, Defence, Business, Education et cetera. The Lord Chancellor is there to upheld a concept, an ideal – justice. Due to the importance and enormity of his responsibility it is not a job in which he is the departmental head in control of a budget. He sets the tone for democracy. Which is why visits by three Spirits with hamfisted attempts at showing him the error of his ways bears little prospect of success.

The present Lord Chancellor will not heed a lesson that requires him to accept that, in terms of justice, value to the taxpayer should be calculated by the quality of the system that is there to prosecute the case when they are the victim or provides them with representation when they stand accused. Justice is not a business and cannot be governed by economic principles.

So I am afraid this Christmas Carol is not concluded with a cheery scene to warm you on a cold December night. I return to the original version. Dickens writes in his final paragraphs;

“some people laughed to see the alteration in him, but he let them laugh, and little heeded them; for he was wise enough to know that nothing ever happened on this globe, for good, at which some people did not have their fill of laughter in the outset; and knowing that such as these would be blind anyway, he thought it quite as well that they should wrinkle up their eyes in grins, as have the malady in less attractive forms. His own heart laughed: and that was quite enough for him.”

I doubt that the present Lord Chancellor would ever allow the world to laugh at him because he had the strength to change his mind. But this would not be a U-turn, this would be a wise man changing path. If he fears laughter then the only prospect of him making the wise choice is because he fears he is being laughed at because people are coming to realise that he presides over a crumbling system. The only way to achieve this before it is too late is by Direct Action.

Unless anyone does have a direct line to three time travelling ghosts…..

A Christmas Carol – Stave Four

The story ghostly story continues. You can start at the beginning here or read the Second Stave here if you missed it. Stave Three is published here. Only one more to go…..

A Christmas Carol

Stave Four – The Final Spirit

At the end of his bed stood a hooded, cloaked figure. An arm was raised and a long bony figure extended beyond the cavernous sleeve. The hand was just skin covering bone, the skin yellow and lifeless.

“Who or what are you?” asked a weary but still somewhat frightened Grayling.

“I am the Spirit of Justice Yet to Come,” the spectre answered in a ghostly wail.

“And who were you in life?” Grayling asked as he sat up in bed.

With a flourish the Spirit removed his cloak. And left standing before Grayling was what appeared to be a plump bank manager from 1955 in a three piece suit and looking in the flush of health.

“How? What? The hand? All skin and bone? How?” a series of questions poured forth from a started Grayling.

The Spirit held up a prosthetic hand on a stick. “People weren’t getting the ghost bit from my appearance so I needed a couple of props so people did not think I was just a well dressed burglar.”

There was something familiar about the round face and balding pate of the Spirit. A neatly trimmed moustache adorned the top lip.

“Do I know you?” said a quizzical Grayling.

“Beeching’s the name. Richard Beeching. Dr Beeching. You know, the train man?” responded the Spirit.

“Oh Bloody Hell. Alright I get it. Not exactly subtle imagery is it? A man known for getting rid of something you could never get back. A choice between value to society and cost.” The Lord Chancellor sounded a touch defeated.

“Experience has shown that you politicians don’t always get the nuanced allegorical devices. It took three days of constant visits from myself, Richard Nixon and George Washington doing his “father, I cannot lie, it was me!” schtick to get Chris Huhne to plead. And if only a few politicians had been a bit more susceptible to visions and lessons then we could have avoided the whole Poll Tax debacle. That’s when I got the hand and the cloak. If only a couple of the cabinet had not thought I was some sort of valet….”

“So is that it then? Are you the lesson in itself?” a hopeful Grayling asked.

“No. I am just a means of transport…” Beeching’s ghost allowed himself a little chuckle, “…ha ha… a little irony there. But yes there is more for you to see.”

Beeching beckoned, with a pink, fleshy hand, for the living politician to step from his bed. They walked silently towards the door. Beeching laid his hand upon the doorknob and suddenly they found themselves in the office from whence Grayling had come only a few short hours ago. Sat at his desk was another politician that Grayling recognised and had always secretly despised.

Mr Junior-Official entered the room and walked straight through Beeching. Mr Junior-Official paused for half a heart beat and looked behind him as if he had just stepped in something. Beeching looked at Grayling and simply shrugged his shoulders.

“Lord Chancellor, the car is waiting for you now,” Junior-Official declared. Senior cabinet minister and lowly civil servant walked out of the room, the door closing behind them.

Grayling walked over to the desk. With a pained look on his face he ran his hand over the back of his chair. Or, he thought, his chair as he looked to the recently closed door. The desk was familiar yet strange. The familiar mish-mash of official papers. A collection of family photographs but someone else’s family. He picked up one of the documents from the desk. It was a report in to a disturbance at a prison. A disturbance was a euphemism for a riot. A riot followed by a rooftop protest. He scanned the document. Apparently it all started due to a group if prisoners being dissatisfied by various administrative decisions. Small things maybe, but for men locked up 22 hours a day small things could become big things. Particularly when you felt you had been treated unfairly.

He picked up another report. He did a double take. It was virtually identical to one that was in his ministerial box back at his house. Only the name of the company changed. “Incredible,” he said aloud to no one in particular. He took some comfort that it was not just on his watch that over-charging happened with tagging contracts.

Beeching looked over his shoulder, “Yeah, we tried to do something about that. Sent the likes of Freddie Laker and Robert Maxwell to pay some CEOs a visit. I’m afraid even the undead cannot guarantee results.”

As he spoke Beeching touched the sleeve of Grayling’s pyjamas and the room rotated around them. They were stood in the exact same spot but the room had changed. Some different furniture. A bit of redecoration. Same desk. Stood by the door was Mr Junior-Official, who was helping a lady on with her coat.

“Is it you turn for the boys this year?” the woman asked Junior-Official.

“Yes Ma’am. Pick them up from their mother’s on Christmas morning,” he replied.

Their conversation continued as they left the room. Grayling thought it remarkable, seeing his aide looking about ten years older.

He looked down again at the desk. Tidier than before. One report awaiting consideration. “A Report on Diversity in the Legal Profession”. Grayling thumbed through. Pie charts, Venn diagrams, bar charts – all sorts of data analysed. As he went through it one theme was repeated time and time again. Social diversity was running backwards amongst lawyers.

A touch of the sleeve, a spin of the room and it was all change. Remarkably the desk remained in the same position. A different desk though. Different reports upon it. He picked up the first he saw. It was from HM Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate. Dated December 2033. A report commissioned to explore the causes and cures for the absence of experienced advocates to prosecute the most serious cases in the criminal calendar. Once he saw his own name, in three places in quick succession, he quickly put it back down.

“Time to go,” as Beeching touched Grayling’s sleeve once again.

A cemetery was a cold place to be in just your pyjamas. Beeching obviously felt the cold, even in death. The cloak was back on with the hood up. The arm raised and the ghoulish finger pointed once more.

“Do we really need the costume?” Grayling asked. No reply. Just pointing. At a gravestone.

Grayling turned and approached the indicated headstone. “I know how this ends, you point out my grave in a silent, sinister way and I fall to my knees and recant,” he spoke to the hooded Beeching over his shoulder.

No response. Just pointing.

Grayling finally looked at the inscription.

HERE LIES THE REMAINS OF

CRIMINAL ADVOCACY

DIED 1st NOVEMBER 2013

and also

THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM

WHICH PASSED SHORTLY AFTER

Dearly missed by all who valued them

Grayling awoke with a start in his bed. Daylight streamed through the bedroom window. He heard the familiar dulcet tones of Noddy Holder wishing everybody a Merry Christmas from inside one of the neighbouring houses.

A Christmas Carol – Stave Three

The story ghostly story continues. You can start at the beginning here or read the Second Stave here if you missed it.

A Christmas Carol

Stave Three – The Second Spirit

In the midst of a prodigious and industrious snore Grayling caused himself to awake. The signs of his previously disturbed sleep still lay on the floor. The luminous clock on the DVD player across from him told him that it was shortly before one. Whereas he had previously awaited the lapse of time to disprove the workings of his mind he now simply waited to see what appeared before him. The figures changed to signal that it was now one in the morning. He swivelled his head from side to side to see what appeared. Nothing. Not a former Lord Chancellor nor an executed child joined him. The electronic clock showed him five minutes had gone by and he was still alone.

Somewhat surprised but relieved he picked the broken pieces of plate and glass from the carpet. He foreswore the eating of cheese on toast for his suppers from hence forth. His tremulous hand caused the contents of the tray to ring as he walked towards the kitchen. Pausing to balance the tray on one hand as he reached for the door handle through to the kitchen he was suddenly disturbed by a booming voice calling his name from within. The contents of the tray once more met with the floor.

With no intervention from him the door opened and allowed Grayling in to his own kitchen. There he was greeted by the sight of a large garrulous man with a beard sat atop a throne made from every type of food one could imagine. Hams, roast turkeys, cakes, biscuits and loaves of bread, all of them mounted high and spilling out across the floor. He was curiously attired in the robes of a judge, except that rather than the normal red, purple or black robes these robes were varying shades of green, the body of the robes being an emerald green with the sash and sleeves being a lighter shade. His colour and bands were light still. Even his wig was verdigris.

“Grayling my dear old chap, come in, come on in,” the jolly green judge boomed.

Grayling walked hesitatingly in to his kitchen.

“Come on, don’t be shy now. Come closer dear boy. The dead Viscount let you know I was coming didn’t he?” enquired the judicial giant.

“Yes, yes he did,” stuttered Grayling, “I was told to expect three visits and I have already had one.”

“Yes, yes, yes. Quite right too. The child came first didn’t he? The Spirit of Justice Past. Such a sad looking fellow. Cannot speak. The noose crushed his voice box just before it snapped his neck. Do you see? Can’t speak as a result.”

“And who are you?” Grayling enquired.

“My dear boy, how rude of me. Of course, my fault,” roared the uninvited guest, “I am the Spirit of Justice Present.”

“So, and I hope you don’t mind me asking, are you a dead Judge?”

“My good fellow, I am not just one dead Judge, I am every dead Judge,” exclaimed the Spirit of Justice Present, “there is not just one of me, there are thousands of me, ready to come in my place. My brother Judges and now my sister Judges. My sister Judges probably object to me representing them on this side with such a bushy beard but here I am and here I jolly well stay.”

The Spirit rose from his chair of food and towered above his host.

“Now my dear fellow, we have much to do. Take hold of my robe,” he said as he held out a portion of fabric that Grayling seized, “that’s it my good man. Now hold on tight, we have much to see.”

Grayling gripped the piece of cloth tightly in his hand. He had the queer sensation of travelling at speed whilst seemingly standing stock still. He left his kitchen behind and now found himself stood in a courtroom once more. This was not an ancient courtroom but a modern courtroom with flatscreen TVs, a digital clock and light coloured wooden tables. Counsel’s row was packed with the familiar sight of wigged lawyers. A kindly looking Judge presided over proceedings.

“Now what we have here, in this jolly little scene,” the Spirit began to speak in his deep, rich voice. Despite the fact that it was a voice that could carry through solid stone walls not one person in the court seemed to notice him speak, “What we have here is the end of a long, complicated trial. The Judge, His Honour Judge Barr-Friend is just about to address the prosecutor, Miss Fair. The trial has done its job, according to something from what the young folk seem to call the Criminal Procedure Rules that is known as the overriding objective, that the guilty have been convicted and the innocent have been acquitted. But now the Judge is about to speak.”

As predicted His Honour Judge Barr-Friend addressed the assembled advocates.

“Miss Fair, if I may address my remarks through you,” the Judge began and Miss Fair stood, “this case shows how important it is for Judges to be helped by an experienced Bar, not just by those who prosecute but also by those who defend. It is only possible to do justice in a serious criminal matter if both sides are represented by skilled and experienced Counsel.”

The Judge continued, “Sadly, it is clear that the Criminal Bar is being slowly destroyed. People of ability are leaving or transferring to other fields of work and new recruits are either choosing not to come to the Bar at all, or not the criminal Bar at any rate. Valuable skills are being lost, and will continue to be lost, and once gone it is difficult to replace.”

“The continuing erosion of the Criminal Bar is a matter which acutely concerns all criminal Judges. The Judges need a Bar which is well trained, properly motivated and adequately remunerated. Otherwise the Judges’ task in dispensing…..”

“Humbug,” Grayling interjected. Like the ghostly Judge his voice went unheard by the parties in the room.

The Judge, the living Judge, continued, “…..miscarriages of justice will occur and the results will be felt by the whole of society.”

“Humbug,” said the Spirit.

Grayling continued to stare at the court, “I couldn’t agree more,” he said, “Humbug indeed. Utter tosh.”

“No dear boy,” Grayling turned to face the ghost as the deep voice spoke to him, “Humbug?” Grayling could now see that the ghost had in his massive hand a paper bag containing mints.

Grayling shook his head. “This is nonsense. What does this Judge know about how important a well trained Bar is? My officials have done research. We have evidence.”

“Now then, I can assure you, we know. We know all too well.” The deep voice of the Spirit hardened as he spoke, “Now take hold of my robe once more.”

The instant his fingers clasped the robe they were transported to the dining room of a house somewhere in the suburbs of London. The detritus of a Christmas meal lay upon the table. The babble of excited children could be heard in the background. At the table sat two figures, Mr Junior-Official and his wife.

The wife sighed, “Well I suppose I will have to go. Being on the duty roster is no fun on Christmas Day.”

“I suppose it is too much to ask the police not to lock people up today,” laughed Mr Junior-Official, “Before you go darling, charge your elderflower cordial and join me in raising a glass of port in a toast to ‘the Boss’.”

Mr Junior-Official raised a small glass of ruby liquid in the air. His wife did not join him.

“I cannot bring myself to toast that man,” she hissed, “cut after cut has come until we can face no more John. You know that. You know that either I have to find another job or we sell the house. The firm have had to make so many savings just to stay afloat. I cannot look clients in the face any more, knowing how little time we can spare their cases.”

“It’s not the Boss’s fault. It’s a financial envelope. Savings have to be made (hic!). It is time for posterity. I mean posterior. Austerity! That’s it. Austerity. Everyone is in it together,” replied John, a lopsided grin on his face.

“How much of a pay rise is your boss getting?” asked the sober Mrs Junior-Official.

“11%”

“How much has my firm had to cut?”

“17.5%. But nobody should cut less than the Prime Minister gets in his pay rise…… no….. hang on…. got that a bit wrong,” John’s glass swayed in the air, mid-toast.

“How much have G4S had to cut from their contracts?” continued the wife, pressing home her advantage.

“Come on, that’s not fair. They are mid-contract. Can’t go around making unilateral cuts… oh hang on, no, wait….. VHCCs seem to be different. Can’t fathom why. Blasted Port…. ”

Mrs Junior-Official rose and kissed her husband on the forehead. “I will not toast to a man who will destroy so much for so little in the way of savings.”

As his wife put on her coat to travel out to a police station Mr Junior-Official pondered for a moment, “I will still toast him. Can’t believe someone would come in to politics to see cuts being made unless there was no other way. If there was waste which could be cut, efficiencies that could be found, I am sure he would.” The most civil of Civil Servants stood and raised his glass to the light above his head “Merry Christmas, Lord Chancellor.”

Grayling and the Spirit stood jammed in next to the Christmas tree.

“I wonder what will happen in this house next year?” Grayling said aloud.

“Well I cannot foresee all of the future for it is not yet all written. But I can see this house, this day a year from now. Mr Junior-Official sits all alone. The poor old chap. Financial pressures puts a strain on the marriage you see. By October his wife and children are gone,” the Judge spoke wistfully, “it is not written in stone, but that is the course I foresee.”

The Spirit offered his gown again, “One more thing to see, dear boy, one more thing”. And with that they were in another house, another dining room. This time Northern accents chatted excitedly. Grayling recognised not one single face. The conversation touched upon nothing legal.

“Have we come to the right place?” Grayling asked.

“Oh yes, most definitely,” came the response.

“I don’t understand…..” Grayling shook his head.

“See the young mother? See her two children? Do you see them my friend? Well four years ago the mother was accused of burglary. The case seemed stacked against her. Her fingerprint at the scene. It was only because a lawyer was dedicated and experienced that they asked the right questions. Turned out to be a terrible mistake. It was a turning point in her life. Without Legal Aid, without dedicated lawyers, without experienced representation, she could have, would have gone to prison. Then no meeting her husband at her job. No children. All this scene, all of this Christmas Day, came at a fixed fee cost to the taxpayer. The cost was small. The value given……”

A heavy hand rested on his shoulder and the room vanished before his eyes. Grayling heard an alarm clock sound. His eyes opened to discover he lay in bed. He turned to look at his bedside clock. 2am. He reached out his hand to silence the alarm but he was beaten to it by a wizened, bony, yellowed finger that pressed the button to turn it off. The third Spirit was with him.

TO BE CONTINUED

Three Little Anecdotes

One of the many allegations levelled at those who oppose the Government’s proposals on Legal Aid is that our evidence is purely anecdotal. The Government like statistics. Unless they do not like the statistics, in which case they become anomalies.

This is not anecdotal evidence. I simply want to tell you a story. My story begins with a caveat. This is not intended as a criticism of the Lay Magistracy, their court clerks or the CPS. It is not a criticism of those involved.

Once upon a time I had a pupil. Now that pupil is all grown up. Her practice accelerated, overtaking that of her pupil master. Her last two cases were far more serious than anything I had ever been entrusted to prosecute. One of them was more serious than any of us are ever asked to prosecute. I say her last two cases because sadly, and I hope temporarily, she is no longer in full time practice. But that is another story. The last thing I say about that here is if the authorities do not believe that there is a drain of young talent away from the criminal Bar I can put you in touch with a number if Judges and you can ask them about the fact that my pupil is not in their courtrooms any more.

As I say, I digressed. One day I was not in court and pupil was nearing the end of her first six. I suggested that we went to the magistrates to watch a traffic court as I anticipated that prosecuting as an agent may well occupy her early months. We took our seat at the back of court, the only people in the public gallery.

We saw three cases. Just three. The court was being prosecuted by an associate prosecutor. For those who do not know what that means they are not fully qualified lawyers. They are often able, often very experienced, but not legally qualified. They are not extensively trained. Therefore they are cheap. The magistrates sat as a trio of lay members. The Court Clerk was the only person legally qualified in the room in an official capacity.

The first case was called on. An Asian gentleman answered the call. He was not represented. As the court began its process it immediately became apparent that the defendant did not speak English. The court clerk, quite sensibly, told the bench that the case would have to adjourned to provide an interpreter. With the leave of the bench the clerk took the defendant outside try to explain to him what was happening. The magistrates remained on the bench. The Chair announced to the room (at this stage only the prosecutor, my pupil and I remained) “if they don’t speak English, how do they expect to drive in this country?” I must confess that is an anecdote and one which reflects badly on one person.

The next case was also called on. A typical magistrates case. A man had been stopped by the police and issued with a notice to produce his licence, insurance and MOT to the police station within a certain time. The documents had not been produced. The person named on the form was then summonsed to appear at court. Often it is claimed by the person summonsed that someone else has given their details to the police.

The defendant who came in to court for this case was, by my estimate, about five foot tall. He had a bushy black moustache and wiry, explosive grey hair. He was comfortably in his fifties. He was also an Italian who did not speak sufficient English for the purposes of explaining his case. He was not represented. It was obvious he was saying it was not him driving that day. Again the court clerk suggested an adjournment to obtain an interpreter. Again she left the court to explain to him. I held my breath as to what the chairwoman was about to say….

Fortunately the prosecutor spoke this time. She explained to the court that the adjournment may also prove useful. The officer who had spoken to the driver had helpfully written a description on the back of the police copy of the notice. It transpired that the driver was not wearing a top on the day he was stopped. Part of the description revealed that the driver had a distinctive mole on his chest. The prosecutor suggested that in the period of the adjournment the officer could visit the defendant and check whether he had such a mole. A sensible suggestion. To prove her point the prosecutor then read out the description “Male, white, 20-25 years old, short black hair, 6’2″ tall. Shirtless. Distinctive mole on chest.”

My head sank again. My pupil looked at me to make sure she was not the only one to have thought the case could and should have ended there and then. Even if, by sheer coincidence, our little Italian friend had a mole on his chest he was not the man stopped by the police.

The next case to be heard was a case of no insurance. A lady came in to court. The prosecutor explained the case to the court. This defendant was unrepresented but did speak English. She began to explain the circumstances by which it transpired she had allowed her insurance to lapse. Quite correctly the court clerk explained to both the bench and the defendant that this did not amount to a defence or special reasons. Special reasons are reasons of a particular type that would stop the court having to impose penalty points on the driving licence of the offender.

It transpired that the lady already had points on her licence. The minimum points for the offence of no insurance would lead to her being banned under the totting up provisions. This was explained to the defendant. She was asked if she had anything to say by way of mitigation. She began to cry. She began to explain some of her personal circumstances. I will not rehearse them here. They were truly deserving of sympathy. However they were not special reasons and were did not amount to exceptional hardship. Undoubtedly some tragic things had happened in her life. They clearly had an impact upon the chairwoman of the Bench as, unprompted and without consulting her colleagues, she suddenly announced “it’s alright Tracey, we’ll find special reasons.” Despite this being wholly outwith of the law and the procedure, the magistrates duly found special reasons and Tracey kept her driving licence.

Now people may say that they are glad “common sense” prevailed and Tracey got to keep her licence. I did not leave the court room feeling that any great injustice had been done. What I was left with was the feeling that I was witnessing cut price justice. Society had deemed that driving matters did not require the expense that having lawyers on both sides of the case could bring. However I also witnessed the fact that underinvestment can cause undue delay and cost (little Italian man should have been acquitted there and then). I also saw that it was too easy for the magistrates to apply the law as they saw it, rather than as it actually is.

The reason why I tell these stories now are because our system is being developed in a way that such cut price justice is being introduced to deal with more and more cases. What began as an insidious creep is now a full scale gallop. What I witnessed that day was not adequate. I fear that the rush to the bottom being encouraged by the Government is going to spread such inadequacies right the way through the justice system.

I know that these are only anecdotes. I know that they would be dismissed by The Lord Chancellor. I will have to remember that the next time that I am asked to prosecute a case based only on eye witness accounts. “Anecdotal,” I’ll say, “No Evidence Offered.” If The Lord Chancellor would prefer statistics then I can say to him that 3 out of 3 cases I witnessed that day suffered due to the lack of proper funding. I have no doubt, and the Bar Council’s survey demonstrated, that the public want a properly funded criminal justice system. The public, this nation deserves a justice system which is better than adequate. It is the responsibility of the Government to provide it. Even in times of austerity.

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