Tag Archives: Chris Grayling

Towering Inferno

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

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

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

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

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

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

Proud to Be

Dear Chris,

you probably do not recall meeting me. I am just one of a number of angry lawyers that you have met with over the last year or so. When we met in the Town Hall in Altrincham, I was very angry and you were very wrong. Not much has changed.

At that time you were still peddling PCT and restrictions on client choice. You were pressing ahead with swingeing cuts to advocacy fees. You were proud of your residency test. So I suppose one or two things have changed. You have been comprehensively and repeatedly proved wrong. You have abandoned or delayed some of your more disastrous proposals. The courts have given you a bloody nose on others.

Have you changed? Not one bit.

At that meeting you innocently told the room of criminal barristers and solicitors, “I have been accused of saying that barristers are fat cats, I have never said barristers are fat cats.” And yet your department still trotted out dodgy statistics designed to steer other people to call us fat cats.

More recently you introduced the second reading of the lamentable ‘SARAH’ Bill which you said would tackle “a culture of ambulance-chasing that all too often is about generating opportunities to earn fees, rather than doing the right thing”. Now I am not exactly sure what SARAH is trying to achieve but you cannot help yourself by introducing it with a pop at lawyers.

So Chris, why is it that you hate lawyers so much? Why is it that you are more than happy for all sorts to earn vast amounts out of the justice system, as long as it is not the lawyers? Capita? G4S? Serco? They can have millions and millions of pounds of public money. Lawyers? They deserve crushing.

If any judge, academic, lawyer or lawyers’ representative joins you in the celebrations of the Magna Carta then the rest of the legal community should turn their back on them. No representative of the Bar Council should join you in what is no more than a culture of oligarch chasing that all too often is about generating fees.

The Magna Carta itself may not be all that it is cracked up to be. However it has come to represent all that we should be proud of in our legal system. The nebulous rule of law. The right of the individual and the state to be equal in the eyes of the law. The right to fairness and proper processes. The sort of things that lawyers help preserve every single day.

I am neither fat cat or ambulance chasing dog. I am a lawyer who is proud of what I do. A job that involves helping society to do the right thing.

Despite your best efforts, that will not change.

Regards,

JH

Position Vacant – No Experience Required

I will declare this personal interest – many moons ago, when we were both undergraduates, I was kind of friends with Robert Buckland MP. I believe him to be an able and decent man. He is also an all round nice fellow. Nice enough that, when I contacted him through the mist of years to discuss Legal Aid, he was prepared to listen and engage.

This is not just a bit of lame name dropping by me, it is so you know that background when I excuse him from the criticism that I level here. He has been appointed Solicitor-General and I do not see anything wrong with that appointment. He is an able deputy to the Attorney-General, being called in 1991, practising until 2010 and being appointed a Recorder in 2009. What is remarkable is that he is the deputy to Jeremy Wright. The new Attorney-General was called in 1996 and was elected to parliament in 2005. From that point on his entries in the members’ register of interests reveals he has not practised. So the deputy has nearly twenty years post-qualification experience, the head guy has no more than eight.

The criticism of this appointment is clearly voiced in Matthew Scott’s blog and I invite you to read his piece where he describes Jeremy Wright as “the least distinguished Attorney-General in two hundred years”. I am not going to repeat all the points that Matthew eloquently makes.

What I would observe is that this is not a position forced upon the Prime Minister. It is not due to a lack of adequate candidates that we now have a non-lawyer as Lord Chancellor and a non-silk, 8-year-PQE-lawyer as Attorney-General. One could point out, for example, that the Solicitor-General is more qualified for the job than the Attorney-General. It is also not a constitutional requirement that these offices should be filled by MPs. They are principally legal appointments which are now being filled by politicians. The PM had the choice of a field of able and experienced lawyers that could be appointed to the job. He could have limited himself to ones that share his political views and still had dozens and dozens of Silks who could undertake this job. Instead we have a politician in the most senior non-judicial law job in the land.

What does that matter? Everything. It sets the tone. He is notionally the Leader of the Bar (and the Bar Council should act immediately to end that tradition after this appointment). He advises the Government on the law (would they usually go to someone with 8 years experience to advise on whether we go to war?). He appoints the head of the Crown Prosecution Service (a job that an 8 year post call advocate would not even get an interview, if he applied). All of this is now being dealt with by an appointee who is first and foremost a politician.

I venture to suggest no Prime Minister has ever lost a General Election because of his choice of Lord Chancellor and Attorney-General. The Prime Minister could have appointed able, talented, experienced lawyers to these posts. But that would not be politically expedient. This part of the Cabinet deck of cards riffle shuffle makes it more likely that the Government can act in a way which they hope will win them votes but will mean that this nation will lose the Rule of Law. And that leaves me terrified.

A Brave New World

A Crown Court somewhere in England and Wales in the days after the Lord Chancellor has banned paper. The courts have gone digital. The case of Regina v Sinclair is called on. Her Honour Judge Anna Logg QC presides.

HHJ: Who prosecutes this case?

Counsel rises to his feet

Pros: I do, Your Honour.

HHJ: Why have you not signed in on Xhibit, Mr Sugar?

Pros: The computer was down in the robing room, Your Honour…..again. I should say that m’learned friend Mr Babbage defends.

HHJ: Very well. Mr Babbage, I understand that this is your pre-trial application to exclude evidence?

Def: Correct. I assume Your Honour received my skeleton argument?

HHJ: No, Mr Babbage, I have not received a skeleton.

Def: I emailed it to the Crown Court Office over a week ago, Your Honour.

HHJ: That will explain it. The Crown Court Office is the Bermuda Triangle of correspondence.

Pros: I emailed mine directly to Your Honour, I hope you received it.

HHJ: Yes I did, Mr Sugar, thank you…..

Mr Sugar swells with pride and nods a little condescendingly at Mr Babbage

HHJ: ….but I could not open the attachment. Apparently it was not a compatible format with the old Judicial laptop. So, Mr Babbage, perhaps you would like to direct me to the evidence objected to.

Def: Your Honour it is the evidence of the witness Alan Turing, served by NAE last month.

HHJ: Do you have a page number?

Def: Yes, Your Honour, it is page 73 of the deps.

HHJ: My papers only run to 69. Mr Sugar, can you supply me with a paper copy of the statement?

Pros: No.

HHJ: That is not very helpful Mr Sugar….

Pros: I don’t mean to be unhelpful, it’s just that there isn’t a paper copy. This file is entirely digital. So I don’t have one to just hand to you.

HHJ: (sounding exasperated) So how am I able to view this statement?

Pros: I can email it to Your Honour (counsel blushes) and this time it will be a PDF so there should be no comparability issues.

HHJ: Very well, Mr Sugar.

Counsel sits and begins to type at his laptop. Silence fills the courtroom. Time seems to stop.

HHJ: I thought email was meant to be a rapid form of communication, Mr Sugar…..

Pros: It is, it’s just that I can’t get on to the court wifi. Seems Your Honour’s courtroom is a blackspot…..

Babbage takes delight at being able to intervene

Def: My iPad is picking up the wifi from the coffee shop over the street so I have been able to email it to Your Honour.

Pros: (leaping to his feet and speaking urgently) STOP!

HHJ: (testily) Mr Sugar!! There is no problem with Mr Babbage assisting the court in this way…..

Pros: Its not that, Your Honour. The lights have gone out.

HHJ: Well Mr Sugar, I have had heard it suggested that the lights are on but no one’s at home but have never been accused of my lights having gone out.

Pros: Not Your Honour’s lights….the clock. The red clock at the front of court. If it goes off we are not being recorded.

The clerk stands and whispers to the Judge. The clerk then disappears under the desk and the sound of plugs being unplugged and reinserted are heard. The clock flickers back on

HHJ: At least nothing of any note has been missed in all that. And now I do have the statement, so thank you Mr Babbage and the wifi facility offered by “Bump and Grind” coffee shop. Now, what is your objection to the statement.

Def: The first ground is the late service of the statement. Your Honour will see that the statement is dated three months ago but was only served last month.

The Judge raises her hand

HHJ: That should be easy enough, I am sure there is a relatively straightforward explanation for the delay. Mr Sugar?

Pros: I am instructed the delay was caused by the statement being twiffed to the CPS by the officer……

HHJ: Twiffed?

Pros: Yes, twiffed. That is when the officer places a document in the case on the case tree…..

HHJ: Case tree?

Pros: Yes, when a document is electronically transferred from the police to the CPS it appears on the “case tree”. The case tree is where the documents are kept, electronically. Now the problem is that when the officer “twiffs” the document on to the tree the file name that the officer has given the document disappears. It gets relabelled “Document 1”. It being the first document twiffed on that occasion. So if documents are twiffed on more than one occasion EVERY document is called “Document 1” so the caseworker has no idea that a new document has arrived. It is a case of not being able to see the would-be statement for the electronic trees.

HHJ: I am sure that makes sense to somebody somewhere. Is the long and the short of it that the police system and the CPS system do not talk the same language?

Pros: That fairly sums it up, if I may say so.

HHJ: Remarkable.

The Judge pauses and seems to sniff

HHJ: Can I smell burning?

Pros: (looks down) Errrr yes, Your Honour. It would appear that my CPS-issue laptop has spontaneously combusted…..

HHJ: Gentleman I am going to rise until such time as the technology allows us to make progress with this case. May I suggest that a Mr Caxton invented something that seemed to fit the technological demands of the courtroom?

Another Step

Time for a little reaction to the VHCC deal. This time it is a little less violent than my reaction to the original “deal”.

It is clear that the Bar had to reach some form of agreement when it comes to VHCCs to limit or halt the expansion of the PDS. If Op Cotton and other cases remained without advocates the Government would have been forced to employ advocates to do them. Those involved are therefore to be congratulated for having reached an accord.

Whether or not it is a “good” deal is more difficult to judge. We have no figures to judge it by. We have the MoJ proclaiming it is within the budget of the 30% cuts. Therefore I am certain it is not. That would not really be much of a negotiation, would it? If one side came out with exactly what they went in with. Also I doubt very much that counsel would now be prepared to do the cases if the reality is that they are being done at the reduced rates. I am also pretty certain that the figures would not be “secret” unless they were greater than the proposed reduced fees. My guess is it will be somewhere in between the old rates and the new rates. Counsel have the advantage of not having to wade through bureaucracy to read a page of evidence and the Government get consequential administrative savings (the sort of thing the Bar have been urging on the MoJ for ages.)

It also allays some of my fears about the return of the AGFS cuts that have been sent to the “long grass”. I am now more confident that they nestle in the nettles beyond the long grass. It is clear that the collective action taken by the Bar has caused serious concern at the MoJ. We were told that the MoJ would not budge on VHCCs. Well they have budged. We had a little luck along the way with the brief stay in Op Cotton but they have now had to come up with this deal.

Another positive is that it is a deal which completes the circle by including the “41” potentially left behind by the original deal. The Circuit Leaders, the Bar Council and the CBA should be congratulated for what they have achieved up to this point.

However, now is not a time to rest on our laurels. With our own fee position secured for the moment we need to turn our attention to the other matters of importance. Now we have secured our “bottom line” it is vital we return to matters of wider concern, matters of conscience, matters of principle.

We need to, urgently and with urgency, come to the aid of the solicitors. I have said before and I say again – we cannot fight for them as effectively as we fought for ourselves unless they unite. However the problems faced by the majority of solicitors are problems that threaten our continued existence. We have to use our current influence to get those solicitor “activists” such as Nicola Hill and Bill Waddington into the the room with the MoJ.

We also have to turn our thoughts, arguments and actions to repairing the Criminal Justice System. Not initiatives designed to tinker with it. We need to get the MoJ to see that the basic functions of the CJS are unravelling on a daily basis. The CJS does not need root and branch reform. At the moment it just needs intensive watering to make sure it does not shrivel and die.

Looking to the future let us not lose sight of the fact that we are working at rates which have been slashed from rates that were set many years ago. On Thursday thousands of public sector workers strike over the fact that the are not getting a “real term” pay rise. At the moment we are celebrating the fact that we have managed to preserve our nearly decade old pay real pay cut. For the criminal Bar to survive and flourish we need to fight for proper remuneration.

So, having achieved much, I say “let’s go back and achieve more.” How about starting with the cracked trial fee for either way offences in the Crown Court when the defendant has elected? This is something the MoJ recognised as unjust in the consultation process. This is something which is so palpably wrong. This is something that has a disproportionate impact on the most junior of juniors.

This is not a time for cigars and back patting. Now the real work begins.

The Book of Moron

This weekend I watched a little bit of Sport Relief. Davina McCall was visiting a quarry where young children worked. She returned with one of the children to her corrugated tin home. The child produced from a bag her most treasured possessions – two tattered school books without covers that had been given to her by a friend. In these books she carefully copied any word vaguely medical as she wanted to be a doctor. In the midst of all that poverty, deprivation and struggle books were a true symbol of hope.

Thankfully we do not have children working in quarries. We do have people in custodial institutions. The vast majority of them are richly deserving of punishment. We have to hope that most of them are capable of redemption. Many of them will be poorly educated. Thanks to the Lord Chancellor all of them will now struggle to have books sent into them from their family of friends.

We know that the Lord Chancellor is not a man to let a sensible policy get in the way of a headline. We know he likes that photograph of him, arms folded, locked prison gate in the background, looking all tough. But books? Really?

I have delivered many a lame mitigation in my time but I have never ever uttered the phrase “what started out as a few social stanzas with friends soon grew to an out of control spiral of book abuse and so began my client’s descent into criminality”. Not once.

What ill is the book ban hoping to stamp out? Is Grayling worried that prisoners may be given ideas from “Escape from Colditz”? Has there been an outbreak of prisoners getting over the wall by climbing a tottering pile of Enid Blyton? Has tobacco and cannabis been replaced by “Pickwick Papers” as the currency of the landings? Has the front page of the Daily Mail been filled with stories of how prisons are becoming more like holiday camps because of the endless supply of autobiographies?

The answer it seems is that they want to encourage prisoners to earn money to buy books. Having looked at the prison incentive scheme it strikes me that it is probably easier for a prisoner to have a TV in his cell and a Playstation than it is for his family to send him a copy of “To Kill a Mockingbird”.

I appreciate that the system of reward and privilege is an essential part of prison discipline. It would be more reassuring if the Lord Chancellor would expend more energy explaining that to the public than he does on endless tinkering. However books are such a powerful, positive influence on people that their widespread availability is something to be cherished and promoted.

Rights and privileges are a hallmark of a decent society. Whilst I pause to observe that there is an irony in a Minister of Justice who wishes to lessen the rights of prisoners whilst making privileges out of rights I will say that the access to education through literature is to be cherished as a right, not dangled as a reward. I do not for one moment kid myself that every violent thug is going to have his life transformed by reading Proust but surely we have to see that if a starving child in Africa can be touched by the power of the written word then there is a man in Strangeways who may find a inspiration in life through reading.

I am tempted to send Mr Grayling one or two books. “The Rule of Law” and “The Morality of Law” might be good places to start. Or maybe just “Nutshell’s Guide to Being Lord Chancellor”. You see I believe even our errant Minister of Justice can find redemption in the written word. That is testament to how powerful it can be.

Play the Ball

The position of Lord Chancellor is unique amongst members of the Cabinet. The Prime Minister wants to appoint someone as Chancellor of the Exchequer? Appoint someone from your old dining club at University. However when it comes to the Lord Chancellor it is not that straightforward. The appointment is governed by section 2 of the Constitutional Reform Act 2005. And that statute lists the qualifications required.

So before we all get a bit gung-ho in decrying the current incumbent’s lack of qualification for the job we should examine his credentials. Section 2 of the Act states that the Lord Chancellor is to be qualified by experience and that “a person may not be recommended for appointment as Lord Chancellor unless he appears to the Prime Minister to be qualified by experience.” Now all of you can just stop right now with your “he isn’t a lawyer, he isn’t qualified at all” catcalls. It does not have to be legal qualifications.

Section 2 (2) tells us the Prime Minister may take into account any of a number different types of experience. Experience as a Minister of the Crown, experience as a member of either House of Parliament, experience as a qualifying practitioner, experience as a teacher of law in a university or other experience that the Prime Minister considers relevant. A cursory glance at our Lord Chancellor’s CV demonstrates he is more than suitably qualified. So you can all stop being mean.

Don’t believe me? Well let’s look at his qualification in each area.

Experience as a Minister of the Crown

He has been a Minister of the Crown before as Minister for Employment. In his time there he had the terrible misfortune that random statisticians released statistics from his Department that were, in turn, misrepresented by sections of the media in a way which supported the direction of his policy. As you can see from this letter he did his very best to avoid such terrible misuse of official data. Valuable experience that he has been able to bring to his current role to make sure the public know the true meaning of any figures that just happen to crop up at vital times.

Experience as a member of either House of Parliament

In recent years the expenses of members of both Houses of Parliament came under scrutiny. The current Lord Chancellor was not alone in facing the scandal that scrutiny of his expenses claims brought. What better experience could there be for a man who ultimately excluded from Legal Aid those who had a household disposable income of £37,000 to face unfounded allegations of wrongdoing? He knows from experience that misunderstandings such as his builder submitting his invoices a year apart due to ill health can be resolved without recourse to expensive lawyers. If such allegations are made and they make it to court then clearly you have brought it on yourself.

Experience as a qualifying practitioner or as a teacher of law in a university

I have lumped these two together as being that humdrum and conventional view of the Lord Chancellor being some sort of “lawyer”. As if that is a good thing. But our Lord Chancellor does know a thing or two about the law. As an MP he has voted for one or two laws. Like the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007, which he voted in favour of. And demonstrated his full understanding of its implications when he observed B&B owners should have the right to turn away homosexual couples. Or at least he did once the implications for him may have led to him being sacked.

Other experience that the Prime Minister considers relevant

This is difficult to know exactly what was in Dave’s mind. Perhaps he had run out of members of the Bullingdon Club? Who knows? Or perhaps he had been impressed by the former Shadow Home Secretary’s use of stats which was so imaginative in getting his point across. I mean it’s not as if the Chairman of the UK Statistics Authority knows how to use these figures . The Lord Chancellor needs to be so much more creative than this. And don’t forget his experience of working in TV. There is no problem that cannot be solved by comparing it to a TV show. The man who thinks Manchester is just like The Wire? Hell yes put him in charge of the judiciary. We need more go-getters like Judge John Deed. And his experience in business, particularly his knowledge of the benefits of freelancers, is exactly what we need for the person in charge of the PDS.

So as we can see we need to stop playing the man and start playing the ball. This is a fair fight after all. If we had been smeared and the position regarding Legal Aid had been monstrously misrepresented we would have had grounds to grumble. If the MoJ had shown itself unwilling to listen to our concerns then, and only then, would we have any justification for taking drastic action. If the whole justice system had been placed in mortal danger by someone ideologically opposed to scrutiny in the courts then lawyers all over the land would have the duty to shout a protest from the rooftops. Thank Goodness we do not live in such a world.

Anyway, enough of this, I am off to read some Enid Blyton.

A Cunning Plan

An old, surprisingly wise, friend of mine has written this in response to the Government’s Plan B. For those unfamiliar with the Plan B it is that they will get round the problems and embarrassment of nobody working at the new VHCC rates by pretending those type of cases do not exist. You couldn’t make it up…..

Dear Mr Grayling,

As you know, I have recently returned my instructions in a hugely complex bank fraud, because after I contracted to prepare over 100,000 pages of evidence for a three month trial, and started to do so, you decided you would unilaterally change our contract and pay me 30% less. I realise you thought this was A Very Good Idea, until I returned the brief, and you discovered that not a single barrister in the land would agree to work for your proposed new rates.

Imagine my delight when I heard that today, in breach of the Legal Aid Regulations, and probably unlawfully (don’t worry, some kind and much cleverer barrister than I will look into that and let you know if you need another quick retrospective change in the law), you had Another Good Idea, and decided that if you re-classified the case so that it is not paid as a very complex and voluminous case, but in a different way, which will in all probability pay me LESS than the fee I have already selfishly rejected, I may be persuaded to change my mind!

I am so sorry that I must, with the greatest of regret, turn down your kind offer. However, I am very excitedly anticipating your next Very Good Idea, in order that my former client, who faces trial on very serious charges of fraud, and prosecution by a top silk and junior, does not have to represent himself at trial.

Have a lovely Christmas and a Very Happy New Year.

(do keep taking those Meds)

Yours

Rebecca Herbert.

Delays, Fees and Redtape.

As part of his public pronouncements concerning his reforms of Legal Aid our Lord Chancellor has spoken of how he is acutely aware of the problems surrounding cash flow for lawyers. He is going to do something about it for us.

Now I have been at the Bar for twenty years. I have seen many changes in fees. I recall that when the Graduated Fee Scheme was first introduced it was acknowledged to be a system of “swings and roundabouts”. There were some things that were improvements, there were some things that were diminished. One of the antidotes to reduced fees was the fact that a simple system predicated on certain known factors meant speed of payment. Ten days was the target.

Fees were processed locally at the court centre where the case had been heard. If there was a problem with a bill then one of the court staff could speak to your clerk. If you had a query you could easily discover the person with responsibility for processing the payment. And do you know what? It worked. The vast majority of payments came through quickly and accurately. The old saying goes “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, unless you are the Ministry of Justice.

So in February 2011 the Legal Services Commission took over the processing of graduated fee applications. Overnight the payment regime went from payment within days to payments within months. That left a hole in many barristers’ cash flow from which they never properly recovered. I know of one junior member of the Bar who had saved their deposit for a house. The money stopped coming in. They had to live off those savings to fill the gap. I know that they now have a debt owed to them which corresponds to their savings. But no house.

So we had to get used to this new and improved system. Things did get a tad better. Not by much. The obvious thing to do was to scrap the LSC and replace it with the Legal Aid Agency in April 2013. For no discernible reason millions, yes that is right, millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money was spent on this change.

So how is the system presided over by The Lord Chancellor operating now? Well let me illustrate it to you with my recent experience. I was instructed in a case in April 2012. It was a multi-million pound drug importation. I represented the principal defendant as the leading Junior, he being the only defendant to require two counsel. My client was returned to this country pursuant to a European Arrest Warrant. He was therefore joined to the proceedings after the bulk of the defendants had appeared for Plea and Case Management. At that hearing a trial date had been set which envisaged my client being tried at the same time. I subsequently appeared for PCMH and we strived to be ready in time for that trial. That proved impossible as the defence did not have time to consider all the evidence by the trial date. Upon my application the trial was put back. In January 2013, in the months leading to the new trial date, the defendant entered acceptable guilty pleas. In due course his fellow defendants followed suit. The case concluded in July 2013.

I set out the chronology in some detail because it is important. There were seventeen court hearings. I had twenty-six conferences with the client. However this is not a moan about the paucity of the fee. It is the process of payment that I am concerned with here (the level of remuneration is a whole different blog).

My bill went off to the LAA. They have notified me of my payment within (just about) their target timescale. I could complain about the fact I have waited nearly two months for my money. After all the Government promote the Prompt Payment Code to ensure small businesses are paid quickly and properly. This implements the EU Directive which states the Government should pay its debts within 30 days (I wish) and that appropriate interest should be paid by the Government thereafter. Let us leave aside the fact that no interest is paid on counsel’s fees.

But the story about this fee concerns the fact that I put in my bill as a “cracked trial”. This is the fee for a case which pleads close to the trial date. The LAA are paying me a guilty plea fee. That is about half of the fee which is undeniably due. The reason why? The LAA could find no record of the trial date being fixed at my PCMH. Well they would not. Because it wasn’t. It was fixed before my client was in this country. And then refixed at a different hearing. In fact my case had been mentioned before the PCMH and everyone knew that it was intended to join our case to the trial date already fixed. So at my PCMH no mention was made of the trial.

Did the LAA look at any other hearing other than my PCMH to work out what happened? Remarkably I am told they cannot. Did they ring my ckerks and say “Look, we know he was instructed for over a year, and had twenty-six cons so it looks like he might have been preparing for trial but we just can’t work out when it was fixed. Can you let us know?” Did they do that? No. What they do is they pay me the least they can and tell me to appeal.

So the appeal will take a couple of months. I am virtually guaranteed to succeed. All I have to do is explain the position. I am so confident because I already know that my solicitor has been paid as a cracked trial. My clerks have already been told that it will be paid. Again I wait for money which is obviously owed to me. Without interest. A situation which could have been resolved by a phonecall.

The Lord Chancellor promises to improve cash flow. It does not take new schemes to do so. It does not take some scheme of interim payment. What he should do is recognise that the changes, the expensive changes, that have already happened have made the situation worse. What he should recognise is that we should and could be paid promptly. He should already preside over a system that works. He should ensure we are paid interest on every penny not paid expeditiously. So forgive me if I find his promises hollow.

Before there are sweeping changes to Legal Aid or Probation or Prisons the MoJ should try very very hard to get the basics right. Time and time again they fail. There used to be a question in interviews for Recorder in days gone by where the applicant was asked if they knew of anything that may embarrass The Lord Chancellor. Well in modern times we can be confident that he does not embarrass very easily.

The problems with the LAA are endemic. My example is just one of countless such issues. We are paid late. We are paid incorrectly. The LAA do not communicate. They seem not to care. Imagine if doctors went unpaid and, lets say, one in every two pay cheques were wrong. There would be calls for the Health Secretary to resign.

It should not be for the Secretary of State for Justice to suddenly look in to the question of cash flow. The problem is one of his Ministry’s making. There should be sweeping, fundamental changes. The payment system is not fit for purpose. It is shambolic and disgraceful. He should resign. He will not.

Uncle Ken’s Motor

The hero of our story, Chris, was surprised and delighted when he inherited a lovely old Rolls Royce from his jovial Uncle Ken. Not as surprised as other members of the family who felt that Chris was entirely unsuitable to be trusted with such a treasured heirloom but Chris rose above their sniping. So what if he could not drive a car? He could still enjoy it.

In his younger days Ken had been more of a Jag man. But in his dotage he had acquired the Roller and became accustomed to its beauty. The Rolls Royce was truly a one off. Hand crafted by artists with years of experience underlying their skill, this was an automobile that was not only the envy of the street but the whole town. Uncle Ken’s Roller was a byword for quality. On the prow of the bonnet the traditional, elegant silver lady struck her familiar pose with the addition of a set of scales in one hand and a sword in the other. Debate seemed to rage over whether she was blindfolded or not.

So Chris proudly polished his new treasure. But one thing was immediately apparent. It was a costly thing to run. The one condition of the bequest of the car to Chris was that he had to fight tooth and nail to ensure that there were adequate resources available for the car to continue gliding along. Frankly if he could not find the means to maintain the old lady he was to stand aside and allow someone else to take up the challenge.

Chris had a friend called Tom. Chris and Tom got their heads together to discuss how to continue to afford to run this magnificent car. Tom was thinking aloud when he said, “travelling as the crow flies is always a much shorter distance from point A to point B so it would be cheaper if we could always go in a straight line.”

“That’s brilliant,” said Chris, “if I remove the steering wheel then the Roller can only go in a straight line. It will save me a fortune. I’ll call it Prohibited Cornering Technology. It will reform automotive engineering”

So Tom and Chris took the car to a whole bunch of mechanics and told them his idea. Everyone of them instantly told him it was ridiculous. One even pointed out that someone else had previously come up with a similar idea but they had thought about it for about three seconds and had given up.

Tom and Chris were not to be deterred. Finally they found a backstreet garage called Civil Servicing. This was a bunch of really good mechanics. Their’s was not to reason why. Their’s was to do the customer’s bidding. So Chris drove the Rolls in and declared “Pimp my ride!”

A few days later Chris returned to the garage. There sat his Rolls Royce with the steering wheel and column removed. He thanked the mechanics for their hard work. He started the car and looked to his left where the roller shutters to the workshop stood open.

“How do I get my car out?” Chris asked.

Everyone shook their heads. It was impossible, he was told. For the car to do everything it was meant to the driver had to have some means of choosing and changing direction. Prohibited Cornering Technology was as much of a failure as everyone else had warned. Chris rather sheepishly had to tell the Civil Servicing people to put everything back just the way it was. He cursed his luck, it had cost him a small fortune to try it out. All he was trying to do was save money.

Meanwhile some of the bigger petrol stations got together. They had heard of Chris’s plight. They offered to help him find a way of saving money. Chris was very excited about this. He liked it when people offered to do what he wanted. Other members of his family offered to help out. They offered ways that they could help to make the car affordable for them all to run but this was not the sort of help he wanted. Did people not listen? He wanted help to make the Rolls different.

Chris had a another friend called Dominic. One day Dominic and Chris were chatting about the car. It certainly used more petrol the more people it had onboard. The heavier the load, the greater the fuel consumption. This was a problem that needed fixing. Dominic had a brainwave. If the car had less seats it could take less people. Therefore a car with less seats was always going to be cheaper.

The problem came when they tried to take the rear seats out. You see the wonderfully comfortable and safe rear seats were well made and firmly attached to the chassis. Dominic had another brainwave. If they damaged the seats beyond repair then nobody would want to sit on them and they would always have less passengers. So out came the knife. After a thousand cuts the beautiful, vintage, quality upholstery was no more.

Admittedly the car was no cheaper to run on a daily basis. It still had all its other ancillary costs. But it’s capacity to cater for all circumstances had been reduced. And that had to be a good thing? Right? The comfort and splendour of the car was certainly diminished but at least we had got rid of some of those passengers. The only problem came when Chris really needed to give more than one person a lift. It would have been quite handy if he at least had extra seats available. Once or twice Chris even had to fork out extra for a taxi when he had no other choice. At least that was money that came from the taxi budget. And everyone knows Chris had spent a fortune on such expenses in the past.

A few repairs were needed to the engine. Chris had to take the car to a local garage. The people at Civil Servicing told him that this was a specialist repair. He had to take it to a place down the Silk Road called Vehicles, Headgaskets, Clutches and Carburettors. VHCC told him it was not going to be an easy fix. They agreed with him their hours in advance and did so at a very reasonable rate. When the job was done Chris turned up and paid them 30% less.

It has to be said the lads in the garage were less than impressed by this. Chris was a little upset at their reaction. It could be said he was disappointed. And pledged to make sure that he did something about it as he was chased down the road by mechanics wielding huge wrenches.

His revenge was to immediately head off to the local press. And so the next week the Ewell Argus ran a story about the extortionate costs of that repair. Admittedly the costs that he told them about equated to the costs of twenty such repairs. But never should the truth get in the way of a good PR swipe. The letter pointing out the inaccuracies was subsequently printed on page 38.

The little advantage obtained by skimming some money from the VHCC bill really made little difference. Fortunately for him the Big Petrol Station Group had come up with a plan. Instead of putting petrol in the car, he could run it on chip fat. By sheer coincidence the Big Petrol Station Group had just started to be exclusive suppliers of chip fat. And they could do it more cheaply than anyone else sold petrol.

Chris gleefully filled up with chip fat. Gallons of the stuff glugged in to the tank. Oh the glorious savings that he made. Sadly the Rolls Royce never started again. So this great, majestic old lady sat dormant on Chris’s drive. The steering was butchered, her engine was drowned in low grade fuel and the interior was left in tatters.

Still, Chris was now the very proud owner of the poshest chicken coop in town.

You can see when new posts are available if you follow me on Twitter at @jaimerh354