Tag Archives: CBA

The Unmentionable Fee

In my previous post about the AGFS consultation I promised I had more thoughts to share about it. And whether you want them or not, here are some more of those thoughts….

If you spend any time hanging around robing rooms (and thanks to floating trials and/or it being a cheaper way of keeping warm on a winter’s day I tend to spend a lot of time hanging around in robing rooms) then you will hear some common complaints from criminal practitioners. We complain a lot about not being paid for the second day. We moan about doing mentions for free. We really moan about paying people to do our mentions in other court centres whilst we do the second day of a trial for no additional payment. And never ask counsel how much they are being paid for a sentence hearing. 

I have no doubt that the working group who had input into the draft scheme had these sort of moans very much in mind. And they have tried to rectify them. Again it is important to remember that this is moving money around the pot. So the money for the second day’s refresher sees brief fees reduced. The current brief fee included an amount for the second day and fairly directly the money has now been split into two. Which is morale boosting to know that your second day does actually attract its own reward but is one of the reasons why we now look at the fee for the first day, the brief fee, and say “really?” That has a definite knock on effect when it comes to cracked trial fees but that is a whole separate blog (I bet you can’t wait).

It is proposed to pay for the first six standard hearings in a case under the new scheme. We are told that it is only a very small number of cases that have more ancillary hearings that this. I must confess it is not entirely clear how exactly the seventh mention should be remunerated, save for the fact that it is going to come out of the graduated fee, albeit at no specified rate. 

I would suggest that mentions for the purposes of onward remands which are required by statute should be remunerated as being outside the standard appearance regime (including hearings related to custody time limit applications). 

But at least we are getting paid for those first six standard appearances. That should silence the moaning mention miseries in the robing room. We are going to get £60 a pop. Which is nice. 

It is not, however, as nice as the £100 we got for such hearings in April 2007. Or the £96 we got in April 2010. Or the £91 we got in April 2011. Or the £87 that we have been paid for such hearings since April 2012. I know the pot is staying the same but that kind of feels like a pay cut. In fact it looks like a pay cut. It sounds like a pay cut. And it is a pay cut for the Junior Bar who are not swanning around picking up brief fees left right and centre but will, in the early days, often only do “standard appearances” for days on end. It is a pay cut based upon cut upon cut. 

I know that junior practitioners will do mentions and standard appearances for days on end because that is what I did when I was first on my feet. And I was getting £45 per mention back then so at least £60 is a bit of an improvement. Except it isn’t. Because I did my first £45 mention in 1993. And in today’s money that equates to £64.09. So I am getting paid less for those standard appearances than when I was a pupil. That is time travel that Doc and Marty McFly would be impressed by. 

I am not dependent on standard appearances for my income but for the very most junior it will be an important part of their income. And it is being slashed to the bone here. And serves as a perfect example for the general depletion of fees over the years. 

This is not the fault of those from the Bar Council, the CBA and the Circuits who have tried to come up with a better scheme. This is a result of the fact that those who control the overall level of fees have cut and cut again. This latest redistribution of the pot only serves to highlight that we are trying to stretch a sandwich sized piece of cling film over a football pitch. Every time we try to adequately cover one square inch we expose acres. 

The £60 mention fee, less than we were being paid 24 years ago, simply highlights that they stated intentions of the scheme – to provide payment that matches work and feeds the young barrister – is impossible to achieve if the size of the pot remains the same. 

Once upon a time, Andrew Langdon QC tweeted “And what we need to do is work together in resisting dual contracts and winning a rise in the summer of 2015”. He is now Chairman of the Bar. Dual contracts are in the long grass with most of Grayling’s output. But it is now heading towards the spring of 2017. Our voices of complaint should not be against those who have worked hard to design a modern scheme that reflects how evidence is served. Our voices of complaint should echo what the Chairman had to say in in that Tweet in March 2014. 

If the Government want a sustainable scheme, if they want the cost savings that removing PPE undoubtedly bring, then they should reward our contribution to the design of the scheme with more money. It is plain and simple. We should not work at these rates. 

So answer the consultation. Make your suggestions. But I respectfully suggest that your submissions should make the case for more money. And that you begin to press those in positions of inlfuence, power and organisational control to make the case with you. And to invite such people, those who lead our profession, to be in a position to lead us in a fight to obtain proper remuneration, with everything that entails. 

Pots, Pages and Pay

I have now read the entire consultation on fees. I have cogitated and calculated. I have some views to express (which is a good job or else the starting of a blog would have been a pretty pointless exercise). My thoughts have been concerning the figures in the boxes and the execution of parts of the scheme. In this blog I am going to deal with problem under which those shaping the scheme have had to labour – there is no new money. Fees that were set for cases many moons ago, fees that have been subsequently reduced, are still being paid at the same, reduced rate.  

It is also undoubtedly the case that the current AGFS remunerates some cases in an inadequate manner. There are times when you do a case and then see the bill. You do a double take. Surely there has been some mistake in the calculation of the fee? Surely all that work and worry must be worth more than this? 

There are those at the Bar who are canny and dodge the under-paying cases. There are those of us who think “never again”, right up to the next time you take on a similar case. The long and the short of it is that there are winners and losers when it comes to a fee scheme that pays by the piece rather than by the work put into the piece. 

When it comes to designing a scheme that is based on the same size pot, there are always going to be cases where payment goes down if money is shifted to other parts of the scheme. It is impossible to do it otherwise. 

In my opinion it is the inescapable truth that Silks are not paid enough for murders under the AGFS. I find it impossible to argue otherwise. It is right that these fees should be increased. The increase in these fees should come from extra money being paid into the scheme. The scheme under current consideration requires that the money comes from elsewhere within the scheme. And that means fees for other cases are going to be decreased. 

And here you have the point of tension. No one likes the idea of a pay cut. Those that see themselves as being the losers in this equation are going to cry foul. That is entirely understandable. 

I am not a Silk. I have never applied for Silk. I have no intention to apply for Silk in the next application round. I am a junior that does the occasional drugs conspiracy with a decent page count. I do some fraud type work. So I am going to be in a position where future fees may be reduced. I also do a fair amount of sex cases so I could see some fees increase. And no matter what it means for me, I can see that Silks are not properly remunerated for some murders at the present time. 

The information that accompanies the consultation indicates that the Silks’ slice of the pie is going to increase by 10%. This does not mean every Silk in the land is going to get a 10% pay increase. This does not mean that every Silk’s fee in every case is going to go up. It does not mean that there are no situations where a Silk is going to end up being paid less. It also means that, in some cases, a Silk is going to end up getting paid more than 10% extra on the current fee. But this 10% thing strikes me as a bit of public relations disaster for the new scheme. It makes it very difficult to sell to the rank and file. That 10% is coming from somewhere and it is coming from the fees paid to the junior bar. So I know that a fee increase for Silks is the right thing to happen. It is just that there is not a spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down. 

It may have been easier if just a little bit of the extra money for Silks (produced by a formula explained within the consultation) had just been moderated slightly and the extra money put back into the fees that are being most significantly reduced (paper heavy fraud and drugs). It would have sugared the pill if it was the case that the consultation told us that the formula had worked out that the Silks should have been put up by more but that this figure had been adjusted due to the fact that the fees were being cut elsewhere and that the reduction would therefore be less. 

Of course this is a consultation. I am entitled to make that point. I am not arguing that Silks should not have some of their fees increased. I am arguing that, when the money in the pot is too little to begin with, such adjustments as are necessary should be dealt with not only by way of formula but also by way of sensitivities. 

I am not convinced that one can argue against the removal of page counts per se. It is a clumsy tool by which the seriousness of a case or the work involved is calculated. It worked better when it was first introduced, when it was used to differentiate between cases within a relatively small compass. But as page counts got bigger and the page count payments got extended to thousands rather than hundreds of pages it became less of an accurate measure of a case and more of a lottery in which you hoped for lots of pages on the PPE and a case summary that spoke of only one witness naming your client.

If you are to argue about the numbers in the boxes, it cannot just be by the slogan “save our PPE”. It cannot simply be by the cry that this time round your practice profile is going to mean you are in the column of fees being reduced. If any one wants to make the case why the figures in the boxes are wrong then I am more than happy to host any blogs on the subject. But I also repeat this request – those are argue that the figures in the boxes are right need to release more information to us. The Bar Council, the Circuits and the CBA need to provide us with information. Quickly. 

I will post another blog soon about one or two areas of detail in the proposed scheme. 

Those Pesky Silks

Have you ever been sitting in the robing room and witnessed one of those exchanges between opponents where Prosecution counsel tells Defence counsel something that the police have done and Defence counsel flies off the handle? So you get lots of “outrageous!” exclamations interspersed with “abuse of process” laced with “prosecutorial misconduct” as Prosecution counsel tries to finish her sentence. Off flounces the Defence barrister in high dudgeon. Fast forward four days and you are still in the same chair in the robing room (probably waiting for the same floater to get on) and you realise the trial in which they were involved has reached the stage when the jury went out. Whatever the first, intemperate, reaction there was no foul play; the process cured any prejudice, should there have been any. 

We learn valuable lessons in life. I learn them from exchanges like that. I also learned one from the time of the infamous “Deal”. The lesson I learned there was that the mistake made by the CBA was not in striking the “Deal” but in doing so without a chance for the membership to have their say. Ultimately I was on the wrong side of that argument, but I was allowed my place in the process, albeit belatedly. 

So we now have the proposed consultation on a new payment scheme for advocacy in the Crown Court. And there have been a lot of instant reactions to it. I am yet to get to grips with the detail of the scheme, certainly in terms of the numbers in the boxes. The important thing is that this is a consultation document, not a final scheme. 

When I have mentioned this on Twitter some have responded by saying “History shows us how the MoJ do not listen to consultation responses…” I would respectfully disagree. History shows us that they may well be prepared to listen to responses on the detail of things. Back in the days of the Transforming Legal Aid consultations the “Next Steps” sequel was the consultation in which the proposals had been refined to take into account some of the concerns raised. I appreciate that we were not listened to across the board, but remember this consultation is not about a headline grabbing policy like BVT. This is all about the detail of a scheme. And this is your opportunity to have your say about the detail.

What you say about the detail is entirely a matter for you. I imagine, however, that a response which just says “This is a pay increase for the Silks, arranged by the Silks, at the expense of the Juniors and we are getting sold down the river like we did in the Deal” will not achieve much in the way of change. And it lacks a certain degree of rational thought. 

I was dead against the Deal. But it is history now. Quite ancient history. And has about as much to do with this proposed scheme as…let’s say, the solicitors revised protocols on dealing with new cases at the new Legal Aid rates. 

The reason why I say it lacks a degree of rational thought is because the Working Group that has been (as the name suggests) working on this scheme has not been some Bond like committee of super villains exclusively made up of Silks meeting in the CBA’s secret volcano bunker. It has comprised a cross section of the Bar, including Juniors of a wide range of call and this scheme is, in part, a product of their work. Their honest and freely given endeavour. Please do not fall into the trap of lamenting the avaricious Silks who have the ear of the Government. In doing that you are insulting many a fellow Junior that was worked on this scheme. And you are falling into the very worst of the Daily Mail style traps. 

Disagree about the detail. Do not rely upon a lazy “s’not fair” attack.

And that is very much the point. We all need to not rely upon the fact that the Circuit Leaders back it, that the CBA back it, that the YBC back it or that we take as read the good intentions of the Working Group. We all need to look at the detail. To inform ourselves of what is being proposed with, perhaps, less concern about how it has been proposed. 

So we need information. I note that, once again, Martin Chalkley has been crunching the numbers on behalf of the Bar Council. Such numbers will show why it is that this scheme is cost neutral. I anticipate that it may provide great detail about the impact it will have upon “baskets” of typical grad fees. We need that sort of information and I encourage the Bar Council and the CBA to release such detail as they have and as soon as they can. We cannot have too much information when it comes to our livelihoods and the future of remuneration. 

The detail is required because it takes more that just working out how much one case would pay under the old scheme versus the new scheme. It requires people knowing the impact it will have on them,  not on their best paying case but on every case. 

And the CBA, The Circuit Leaders and the Bar Council cannot rely upon “And so we pronounce it good, therefore it is good” to convince the masses in the style of religious leaders of yore. Where there is detailed concern, we need them to respond, to help us understand. I see that someone tweeted me last night with the figures that a Silk may now receive £37K for a 3 week murder where previously they received £17K. If that is right, I would like to know the thinking behind it. What the leadership must not do is retreat to the secret volcano bunker and adopt a siege mentality. If the rank and file are concerned it is no surprise. Allay their fears, do not dismiss them. 

I can see flaws in the scheme, as I perceive them. I will take time to think them through. For example I can see a problem with the definition of a cracked trial being reliant on the defence CoR. I anticipate that I will blog further on the detail (not that I suggest anyone should care, it just helps me stay sane). 

In looking at the detail though I will do so with one thought in my mind. There is no new money. My ire is not going to be directed at those who are trying to make this pot more equitably divided, even if I believe they have failed in that task. My ire will always be directed at those who choose to underfund the system. 


To the Manor Born

I have not written this blog. This comes from Ian West from the frozen North. I have known Ian for many years due to our shared “interest” in remuneration issues. He has always been committed to achieving fair and appropriate remuneration. 

The views expressed in this piece are Ian’s views. His Twitter name is at the end of this blog so feel free to direct any comments his way! As they are not my views I should point out that I do not share the same view as Ian over some of the issues he raises. He has, however, asked me to host this blog and I am only too happy to do so. Remuneration and the mechanisms of remuneration are important issues. As ever there is a need for wide debate. 


The new Advocates’ Graduated Fee Scheme: To the Manor Born?
This week, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) published its consultation paper ‘Reforming the Advocates Graduated Fee Scheme’. The scheme has been being worked on by representatives of the Bar Council, the CBA, and (until they walked out in protest) the Law Society with officials from the MoJ for many months. Here is the link to the consultation paper: https://consult.justice.gov.uk/digital-communications/reforming-the-advocates-graduated-fee-scheme/ If you are a criminal barrister or solicitor advocate you need to read it and respond. What follows are my personal, and, of necessity, preliminary views.

The structure of the scheme, in summary, is to largely do away with the proxies of pages of prosecution evidence (PPE) and prosecution witnesses (PW) as components of the graduated fee, and instead to attempt to reflect the work needed to be done on a case by replacing the current 11 offence codes, A – K, with 16 new categories, 1 (homicide) to 15 (regulatory offences) plus a ‘residual’ category 16 (‘standard cases’). Categories 1 – 15 would have within them, sub-categories to reflect different levels of complexity/seriousness within the offence type. Thus, there would be 42 separate levels of ‘basic fee’. In addition, there would be separate fees for up to six ancilliary hearings – PTPH, sentence, etc – and the second day of trial would be paid, unlike at present. So far so good. The architecture will, I am sure, get high marks from all advocates. The scheme is said to be ‘cost neutral’ from a baseline of 2014-15 spend, so the objective is said to be to make advocates’ pay ‘fairer’. There is no mechanism for review and upgrading of fees, but that flaw is not the main object of this piece.
The devil is in the detail – the ‘numbers in the boxes’. Here, I regret to say, the scheme fails the vast majority of criminal advocates – in fact, all but that 10% of them who are QCs. The silks will get a pay rise – a substantial one – whilst juniors at all levels will struggle to maintain parity, and most will suffer (yet another) pay cut. The MoJ has done some worked examples in Annex 3 which show this, but you will probably have done some from your own practice. Two questions, therefore. How, and Why?
The ‘How’ is simple – see the ‘indicative fee table’ in Annex 2. Every fee for a QC – basic and refresher – is twice that of a junior doing the same case, whether that junior is doing the case him or herself, or is being led by the QC – so a 100% ‘silk uplift’. This is, for QCs, a marked improvement on the tables in the current AGFS, where the silk uplift is either 75% or 80%, depending on the disposal – trial/plea/crack. And, of course, the higher basic and refresher fees are paid in the ‘top’ categories, such as 1 (homicide) and 2 (terrorism) i.e. the cases that QCs generally do. So, for silks, ‘double-bubble’!
Why? Juniors may well ask. The cynical ones, including the 90% of juniors who will never be QCs, may answer: because the scheme was, by and large, negotiated on behalf of the bar by… wait for it, QCs. So what have the bar’s leaders said about the scheme? Andrew Langdon, Bar Chair (and criminal silk) said: “These proposals… go a considerable way towards restoring career progression…” The Circuit Leaders, and former leaders, issued a statement saying that the scheme “..promotes quality in advocacy and encourages talented young people to practice in criminal law.” 
This sounds to some juniors (and the Law Society, which has attacked the proposals) like special pleading – “We QCs need to be paid more, and you less, in order to encourage you to become QCs yourselves.” But are young barristers going to be attracted into criminal work which for most will be a diet of ‘standard cases’ by the prospect of ‘jam tomorrow’ – the chance that they might one day reach the Elysian fields of silk? One suspects not. So is it all bad news for juniors? No, some cases will pay better, and the separate fee for the second day of trials, and ancillary hearings is a welcome step. 
But the question remains why should the scheme, which presents the opportunity to redistribute the legal aid ‘pot’ fairly to all criminal advocates, be skewed towards silks? Simple economics would say that it does not. Is there a shortage of silks? No – the relative scarcity of silk certificates means that there are more silks than there is work for some of them. Is there a shortage of applicants for silk? No – the competition is fierce. The fact is, that on a supply and demand analysis – which a conservative government might find compelling – there is absolutely no justification for a silk uplift of anywhere near the 100% proposed. If it were reduced to 25%, or even nil, and the higher pay would simply attach to the seriousness of the case, and not the category of advocate, there would still be more criminal silks than we need, and good and busy juniors would still apply for silk to do the better work, and for the lifestyle change. And, of course, it would allow the money to be spread more equitably for everyone.
So my verdict on the scheme is that the scheme is, like the curate’s egg, good in parts. But it is, as the fees tables presently stand, seriously unfair to juniors, i.e. the vast majority of the bar, and unduly, and unnecessarily, favourable to QCs. I have no doubt that my views, thus expressed, will attract the accusation that I am being divisive. But who is doing the division – the ones who designed the scheme and feathered their own nests, or the ones who complain about it? 
Ian West, Fountain Chambers, Middlesbrough.

Follow me on Twitter: @ianswest.

Everybody’s Talkin’

It would seem there is a lot of talking going on. We hear today that the “Bar” are in advanced talks with the MoJ over changes to Legal Aid regulations. This in the week where the CBA and the CLSA et al had talks about talks where some of the things that were talked about were misunderstood. The Lord Chancellor had “productive” talks with most of the people present at the earlier talk about talks. All this after we had learnt that the CBA were engaged in talks about the future of the Bar with a Lord Chancellor who engaged in a lot of sweet talk about the Bar to anyone who would listen. 

A lot of talk but a complete dearth of communication. 

This is the real problem which bedevils the legal profession. As you can imagine I like to think I follow things pretty closely. I read the Monday Message and the Tuesday Truth. If there was a Wednesday Waffle I would read that too. Yet I am regularly taken by surprise by things that are being talked about in my name. I wish those who represent me would embrace communication and learn the importance of information. 

There was one vital part of that last paragraph. “Those who represent me.” The Bar Council and the CBA do not govern me. They act as my representatives. It is (obviously) unwieldy for the Lord Chancellor to speak to each of us. When the CBA and the Bar Council are in the room they are there as my proxy. And that means I am entitled to know what goes on. 

So often we are told that meetings are subject to Chatham House Rules and therefore we cannot be told what happened. Firstly this is not what Chatham House Rules are about. CHR is a mechanism by which the identity of a contributor is not to be disclosed to allow those present to freely discuss issues without fear of their employment or role being undermined. It is not a promise of confidentiality or a short hand for the Officical Secrets Act. So, as an aside, if you want to keep secrets, do not hide behind Chatham House Rules or fall for it when the Minister says, conspiratorially, “of course, Chatham House Rules applies.”

Secondly these meetings should be conducted with the presumption that their contents will be widely disseminated. The provision of information would do much to quell some of the wild speculation that fills the void created by the absence of information. It would also do much to assist in the reality of expectations. 

Let me give you a recent example. When the CBA commissioned the slightly infamous survey they were involved in a strategy that included engagement with the MoJ over things such as referral fees and modifications to the AGFS. If the membership had known this then much of the furore over the survey could have been avoided. The problem was that the strategy adopted conflicted with the survey, something we only discovered in the aftermath. Anger abounded. It was all so avoidable. 

Another problem that is created is that the wider Bar learn about things after it is too late to influence the shape of things. We end up with the only influence the ordinary member can have is to enter into conflict with the representative body in order to overturn things which are set in stone. We end up fighting rather than discussing. 

There are times when certain matters are too sensitive for wider dissemination. I stress that such situations would be very limited. That is not to say that we should be told nothing. The presumption should be that we know much of what is happening rather than nothing at all. 

The various representative bodies should do much better at owning the information. Starting from a basis of wide dissemination of what is happening the bodies should not be constantly reacting, often belatedly, to a firestorm of speculation when, for example, Jack of Kent or Crimeline let us know things we should know already. When such situations do arise the bodies should react more quickly and with accurate information. “No comment” is for suspects and football managers. Not for representative bodies to their membership. 

Social media is a valuable tool in this area. So often it is treated like some unexploded bomb of deliberate animosity. It is not. Remember how insulting it was when opposition to QASA was described as a “noisy minority”? Well such dismissive and condescending nonsense should not be peddled by a body about those it represents. Yet still it happens. 

Social media is a wonderful tool to aid the provision of information. It is not to be feared.

At the outset of Transforming Legal Aid I would oft repeat the slogan “Information is Unity. Unity is strength. Strength is victory.” Nothing has happened in the last two years to make me believe anything different. Sadly much of what has happened has been the demonstration that the lack of information leads to disunity. We can do better. We have to do better. 

Difficult Days

There’s many a slip twixt cup and lip, so the old saying goes. Is this just a drop in the saucer or are we sitting here with hot, scalding tea in our lap?

There are some things that have not changed. Have not changed one iota. As I see it dual contracts are still a poor outcome for the Bar. The second cut, imposed on 1st July, is still a bad outcome for the Bar (and solicitors). The fight against the second cut is strategically an important step in bringing dual contracts to an end before they begin. These two judgements remain unaltered. 

It also remains the case that I believe the alternative proposed by those against the taking of direct action at this time, and in this cause, is insufficient, of itself, to ensure the future of the Bar. I see no argument yet made that persuades me regulation about referral fees will be enough to secure our future. We have seen it before with Carter – the greatest threat to our source of work is inadequate remuneration to those that provide us with work. Thereafter our remuneration for that work is of paramount importance. Securing appropriate remuneration is therefore key to our survival. It is also vital to the provision of proper and skilled representation in the police stations, in the lower courts and in the most serious of cases. 

None of that has changed. 

It is folly, however, to pretend that the issuing of the second protocol is not a significant event. If any proponent of action tries to brush it off as anything other they are plainly, palpably wrong. 

It was obvious, and I apologise if this needed pointing out in advance, that the possibility existed for a change in tactics by those corralling the solicitor profession. Did I expect this change at this time? No. 

Am I disappointed by this change? The honest answer is yes. I accept and acknowledge that I am something of an extremist in this regard. I believe that we should all, barrister and solicitor alike, walk out of court until such time as Legal Aid is put on a sustainable footing. I believe Sir Anthony Hooper and I have in common the belief that the Government will only listen when we withdraw our labour. And nothing amounts to a greater withdrawal than courtrooms sitting largely vacant. 

So I am disappointed. Recently I addressed solicitors in Manchester and urged them to stay out of the police stations and out of the courtrooms. Maximum disruption provided the maximum opportunity for success. 

Direct action can and does work. We saw that, to our benefit, with the previous policy of no returns and we saw the first sign of that with yesterday’s meeting. 

(As an aside, the furore over who was there and who was invited was a storm in the said teacup. All it served to highlight was a need for communication between the “leaders” with each other and between the associations and their members.)

So my next question is whether the change to the second protocol diminishes the prospect of success? There are two ways to look at this. The first is to say maximum disruption equals maximum prospect of success and therefore the answer would have to be “yes, it diminishes the chances”. On the other hand if maximum disruption is unsustainable then sustainable and significant  disruption becomes the next best scenario.

Again I make it clear, I believe the step change has come too soon. The timing is poor, for reasons I will develop in a moment. I am confident that the leadership of the CLSA and LCCSA have taken this step in the best interests of what they hope to achieve and as a result of developing circumstances. My sense of disappointment and dismay is not the same as a sense of betrayal. 

Is the second protocol capable of success? The answer is yes, if it is widely adopted. And there is a prospect that this will be more widely adopted than the first action. I would suggest it would be folly for any solicitor committed to the first protocol to reject this one out of hand. It may encourage some of the doubters to come on board. We will see.

Now for the big question. Should the Bar sustain a commitment to support this action? Nobody is going to fall off their chair when I answer “yes”. I go back to my aims as stated at the outset. I look at what I can do and not at circumstances that are beyond my control. Does the Bar adopting no returns and refusing new work strengthen the effect of direct action? Overwhelmingly, yes it does. 

I return now to the question of timing. It is a crying shame that the first protocol was not persisted with to overlap with the introduction of no returns. Now that would have been almost the perfect storm for the MoJ to weather. My sense of regret in that regard is deep. 

The more important question of timing is one of perception. The perception created is that the Bar is now being expected to shoulder the greatest burden. We, generally speaking, earn the lion’s share of our income in the Crown Court. That work is created by new work and returned work. The current direct action turns off both taps. If solicitors feel the economic pain of bills to pay and staff to face we have mortgages and families. 

Perception does create a skewed picture in this regard. Not undertaking new work in the Crown Court still will have a significant financial impact on solicitors. Their HCAs will be underused. Their clients will still be being turned away. Poaching will still be a risk. The system is such now that the Crown Court workload subsidises less profitable police station and Magistrates’ work. So the second protocol is not all jam for the solicitors. Far from it.

The perception is still very important. We may all be lawyers but we are also, mainly, humans too. Cold, hard logic is not always where decisions are made. Anyone dismissing this perception as nonsense does the owner of the perception a grave injustice. 

That being said, the implementation of the second protocol does shift the comparative burden. I am afraid the suggestion that those following the protocol should brief out Magistrates’ trials to the junior Bar does not ease the burden signicantly. It is a well meant gesture. Gestures do not pay the rent. 

So it is both the reality of a shifted burden and a perception of hardship falling only one way. 

So, what am I saying? I do not ignore the fact that the second protocol changes the situation. It is a development which could cause people to change their mind. No doubt in the coming days there will be meetings of solicitors that will allow them to reflect and make decisions. The Bar should do the same. 

And I’m afraid that means another ballot……please do not throw things. It is the only sensible way forward. People should not claim to speak for others, everyone should be allowed to speak for themselves. And that requires a ballot. 

The ballot should be organised quickly and should conclude in a short space of time. In the meantime I would still invite my colleagues to respect the decision made recently. That is why I will still not accept new work and will not accept a returned brief. 

If a new ballot is organised then I would respectfully suggest the Bar should ease the burden on itself. I would suggest a new protocol that the returns policy only applies to trials. That, in some way, reflects the shift made by the solicitors. 

I have no doubt that some will say I do not have all the answers. You would be wary of me if I claimed I did. These are not easy times. We are all trying to find solutions. Time once more for the Bar to consider and to speak. 

Back to the Future

“There is no profession more noble, no calling more vital, no role more important than being a barrister. Far and away the best part of my job is spending time with barristers – watching and admiring, listening and learning, being uplifted and inspired…… each of these encounters with great advocacy left me feeling more optimistic about the future. I believe we have the best generation of barristers ever in our courts….. “

Fine words from a minister new to their job. Words that show the man in charge at the Ministry has the interests of the people on the front line at the forefront of his mind and at the heart of his policy. Barristers can hear these words and rest assured that this is the dawn of a new era in relations between the Bar and the minister. We can have confidence that our future is safe. 

The only problem being that Mr Gove did not utter these words, well not about barristers anyway. He said them about teachers in the early months of his tenure during a speech he gave at Westminster Academy;

There is no profession more noble, no calling more vital, no role more important than teaching. Far and away the best part of my job is spending time with teachers – watching and admiring, listening and learning, being uplifted and inspired…… each of these encounters with great teaching left me feeling more optimistic about the future. I believe we have the best generation of teachers ever in our schools….. “

We all know how that relationship ended. Mr Gove, a close ally of the Prime Minister, was moved to Chief Whip in July 2014 when his relationship with the teaching profession was described as “toxic“. His reform proposals had left teachers feeling that the man in charge was a man who was not listening to their needs and concerns. The negative nature of this relationship was such that the Prime Minister feared that it would damage his party’s re-election prospects. I bet the teachers did not envisage this when being so warmly described by the brand new minister. 

The equally concerning aspect of the speech to the Academy, and many other speeches from the same period, is the fact that it bears many similarities to the speech delivered in his latest role to the Legatum Institute and the speeches that have followed. Warm words about the actors on the stage followed by concern at the two tier nature of the system. Of how the delivery of a quality service is currently dependent upon the ability to pay. And then solutions to problems by study of what they have done abroad. 

It goes without saying that we have to judge the Lord Chancellor on what he does. The important thing is not to just base that on what he says. Warm words can soon turn to dust.  His meeting with the CBA, CLSA, LCCSA and BFG gives him an early opportunity to match his words with deeds, deeds that benefit all the actors on the stage.