Tag Archives: Conservative Party Conference

He Knows What You’re Thinking….

Vladimir Putin delivers a speech in which he declares that he intends to take action, outside of the normal parameters of the law, to suppress the expression of certain views. Meanwhile China declares a raft of measures to prevent opponents gathering in public. In North Korea steps are announced to boost organisations that are compatible with the values held dear by Kim Jong Un.

Democratic nations across the world erupt in condemnation. Britain, with all its sense of decency and fair play, is strong in its criticism of these assaults on the sort of freedoms, let’s call them rights, which we hold dear.

Now read the speeches given today by Chris Grayling and Theresa May. The Lord Chancellor declared he knows how the British people really feel about human rights. And he will, sometime soon, share that with us.

The Home Secretary speaks of new measures that will be targeted at people and groups who “stay just within the law but spread poisonous hatred.”

Read that again. May is looking to criminalise behaviour that is not currently criminal for a certain sector of society. The powers will include banning taking part in public protests, from being present at all in certain public locations, from associating with named people, from using of conventional broadcast media and will grant a power to vet the content of posts on social media. Social media like this blog.

These proposals come not from a dictator or totalitarian regime. They just sound like they do.

These powers will be available to use against “those who challenge democracy” or those who pose a risk of the commission of the very lowest of Public Order Act offences. Now that would include someone who held anarchist or communist views. Or someone who was at risk of swearing at a policeman…..

If the rights and freedoms of the individual are worth going to war for, they are worth protecting in law. It is no coincidence that the Lord Chancellor, a politician who has already eroded the rights of the citizen to challenge the state in judicial review proceedings, has declared war on human rights on the same day that the Home Secretary proposes a curtailment of those very rights.

Actually that gives me a thought. The attack by the Lord Chancellor on access to justice and judicial review could be seen as a real threat to democracy. Perhaps we could use the Home Secretary’s new powers to ban them associating with each other and to starve them of the oxygen of publicity.

Now that is a suppression of free speech I could go for.

Call the Lawyer

Lawyers and midwives make unusual bedfellows. Midwives conjure up images of fresh faced, kind and brave young women on bicycles bringing new life and hope to the East End of London. Lawyers conjure up images of snakes, fatcats, rats and lizards.

For the first time in their 133 year history, the Royal College of Midwives have voted overwhelming to go on strike. This is in response to the Government’s refusal to implement an independent pay review’s recommended 1% pay increase.

That is a remarkable achievement by this Government. There is now an unlikely link between the bringers of babies and the bringers of burglars. They have managed to provoke midwives to go on strike. They also managed to provoke the lawyers to take direct action.

Whatever your view of barristers, they are, by and large, a conservative (with a deliberately small “c”) bunch. It might be said that they are as unlikely to strike as a midwife. Until now.

I would a hazard guess that the midwives will garner more sympathy than the lawyers. That is despite the fact that the midwives are complaining about a pay freeze rather than repeated pay cuts.

The only reason why the public would be so uneven in their sympathy for the cause is because of the stereotypes in the opening paragraph of this blog. Midwives are nice, lawyers are not. Medics are selfless, briefs are selfish. Nurses do good deeds, solicitors protect wrongdoers.

In a recent Twitter discussion it was suggested to me that the majority of the public would wish to see lawyers torn apart by tigers. I responded by asking why the public would want tigers attacking those who prosecute paedophiles? I was accused of responding with my normal nonsense. I rather thought I was responding with the truth.

This is the challenge that the legal profession have to grapple with immediately. Our value has to be known and recognised. We are not bystanders in the trial process. We define it. So a good advocate makes the process better for all involved.

There are many ways in which I wish we lived in a world without lawyers. If humans had no frailties we would not need lawyers. If humans did not have emotions we would not need lawyers. To (mis)quote Dr Who “good men don’t need rules, that’s why I have so many”. Society needs rules because we cannot be trusted not to transgress them. Society only needs doctors because there is disease, ill health and old age.

Whilst we still need lawyers, does it not make sense that the public have access to very good lawyers? If I need the services of a midwife I want the dedicated, brilliant, go-the-extra-mile, cycling variety. I do not want a vaguely competent, unmotivated, underpaid, forced-into-industrial-action type.

I have no idea how the 11% pay rise politicians think this is the good way to run a nation.

My Learned Dodo

When I came to the Bar I hoped for a glittering career. I have always been suspicious of any barrister who does not begin their career with a hope of obtaining Silk. It takes such a tremendous quantity of confidence and self-belief to take to your feet for the first time it can only be a life which those who believe that they can be the very best would embark upon.

The extent to which my aspirations have been held back consequent upon my ability is not for discussion here and at least some of my confidence can remain intact, even if it is misleadingly so. However the time has come now, 20 years in, whereby my fears are not where my career will go but when it will end.

In recent times both The Lord Chancellor and the The Attorney-General have expressed the view that there are too many barristers. It would seem to be the case that they are linking this to a reduction in the level of fees paid in each individual case. My contention is that the number of barristers is not a matter for Government, and my instinct would be that it is certainly not a matter for a Conservative Government. Surely a Tory administration would welcome open competition between individuals who are engaged according to their ability?

Leaving political persuasion to one side, I find it remarkable that the level of fees is being used as a tool by the administration to thin out the number of barristers. At the outset of the PCT consultation the Badger cull was metaphorically referred to. This is now a more direct comparison. The Bar are being culled. Remuneration is the lethal device of choice.

The reasons why this is wrong are palpable. Not one word of either of the consultations refer to fee cuts being wielded as the executioner wields his axe when it comes to the Bar. The case for cuts is made out on the basis of economic need. The longer this goes on, the more I am convinced that the cuts are motivated by ideology. Economic difficulties have given the Government the opportunity to pare down the numbers of pesky lawyers.

Why is it any business of the Government how many barristers there are? When we are not working we cost the taxpayer precisely nothing. When a criminal lawyer is required barristers are available to advise and represent. We are an army of specialists and locums available without being on the payroll or representing a pension burden.

To prove the point I will rely upon this quote “if I were running a business and I had the choice between a group of people on my payroll, National Insurance, pension contribution, who I had to pay come rain or shine, who I had to pay whilst on holiday and all the rest…. Or I could use a team of experienced freelancers I’d go for the experienced freelancer every time”. Not my words but the words of Chris Grayling. So why does he want to reduce the number in the team of the experienced freelancers?

Fees for cases should be set at a rate which represents fair remuneration for the work undertaken. It seems that implicit in the uttering of Grayling and Grieve that they acknowledge the rates will be fixed at a level that only members of the Bar with extensive diaries can survive. Which is great news for anyone hoping to divide their time between their family and their career. And gives little hope to those yet to carve out their own practice. This is not a series of cuts aimed at fat cats. This is a cull which will come for the scrawny cats first. Oh, and by the way, I can only really do one trial at a time. So I would like to be paid appropriately for the work which it involves.

Let there be no mistake. Not only are the Bar right to fear we cannot survive further cuts to our remuneration but we should now fear that is the intended consequence of the proposed cuts. A fan of conspiracies may view this as sinister in the context of a Government that seems intent on reducing or removing the ability of the citizen to challenge the State. I do not know about that. But I do know one thing – the Bar and the opportunity for people of ability to become part of the Bar are things worth fighting for.

We should not sit back and simply accept cuts. This is about each of us fighting to preserve our existence. In War of the Worlds, HG Wells described man’s initial failure to react to the Martian invasion in these terms “So some respectable dodo […] might have lorded it in his nest, and discussed the arrival of that shipful of pitiless sailors in want of animal food. ‘We will peck them to death tomorrow, my dear’.”

Fighting the cuts is not to oppose austerity. The Bar are not the latest public servants to experience cuts. We were at the vanguard of the cuts. Now it is about each individual taking responsibility for taking action against the proposals. The stated intention of the Government is to put you out of business. Do not be a dodo. Start pecking back. NOW.