Tag Archives: Cuts

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice

Her mother bent forward and placed a kiss on Hood’s cheek.

“You are grown up now, Hood. Time to make your way in the world. And we are so lucky that the Great Wizard, Lord Chan-see-Lore has agreed to take you as his apprentice” her mother said as she straightened up and wiped a solitary tear from her face.

Hood didn’t feel lucky. And at 12, didn’t feel particularly grown up.

“Now, Hood, be brave,” her mother said and steered her towards the heavy wooden door.

If she didn’t feel lucky, or grown up, she definitely did not feel brave. Every child in Gallia Pusillium was scared of Lord Chan-see-Lore. Every child had been frightened into good behaviour by the mere mention of his name. Every child knew the stories of his terrifying magical powers. And how he would use them if he found himself displeased with you. You were lucky if he turned you into a frog. There were rumours, dark rumours, that he had a spell which would instantly transport the target to the untamed badlands. And no one wanted to find themselves in the untamed territory known only as Defra.

As Hood tremulously approached the door it wheezed open as if pushed by an unseen hand. The young girl slowed in her pace and looked back at her mother who bore an unconvincing smile.

“I will see you tonight Hood, good luck and try, please try, not to make him angry….”

This last warning caused Hood to stop. She should turn back. She always made grown ups angry. She couldn’t help but make grown ups angry.

And then her feet were moving. Not by her bidding. Her mind was screaming at her feet to stop. Yet, as surely as if someone held her ankles and yanked each foot forward, she began to move towards the door, her feet slowly rising and falling like an astronaut walking across a moon of treacle.

Now she was across the threshold and the wooden door whooshed shut behind her. The air was still. The only sound was her heartbeat which reverberated around the stone walls of the short corridor which lay ahead of her.

A voice boomed from nowhere. The sound filling every bone in Hood’s quivering body.

“Ah, my new apprentice,” the voice deeply announced, “it is so good to have you here. Such a shame the previous one lasted such a short time. Such a pity he had to go. In a flash.

The last words echoed, bouncing off the walls and repeating just that phrase. “In a flash“. Like a spell. A violent spell.

“Come, come. No need to tarry. We have much to do. Come, come. Pedestrianarius compellebulum

It didn’t matter whether Hood wanted to do as instructed. Her feet responded to the incantation, moving of their own accord, propelling her to the end of the corridor. As she reached an oak and iron door it vanished into thin air and then reappeared behind her as her feet took two enchanted steps forward.

From the narrow confines of the passageway Hood suddenly found herself on a wide ledge in a vast chamber which spiralled above her head and out of sight, and plunged beneath her feet to dark dank depths. The ledge on which she stood was, in fact, a wide step in a staircase which climbed up the wall to her right and descended to her left. As she took in more of her surroundings she could see that the staircase led to the occasional square platform which jutted out from the wall.

Now, moving her own feet, she edged closer to the lip of her stair and surveyed the square platforms as they fanned out below her. On the one nearest to her she could see that it was set up like a sitting room, with a sofa, a chair, a coffee table and a rather chintzy rug. On another were all the accoutrements of a laboratory, tall flasks of bubbling liquid being heated by a dancing flame. On a third platform were a vast array of plants, being fed by a complex watering system and each bathed in light from an invisible source.

And on each Hood could see an intense cacophony of movement. Little figures darting this way and that. Here one turned down the flame as a flask was about to boil over, there one turned off the water as a plant pot filled to the brim.

Hood shook her head. These little figures were not human. Nor animal. They were no creature she had ever seen before. Their bodies were thin and gnarled. Their arms were twig like. They propelled themselves on what looked like grass skirted legs. If she was not very much mistaken, each figure was a walking, working little broom.

“Welcome to my little abode.”

Hood’s attention was dragged back to immediately in front of her as the Wizard appeared, as if by magic (and let’s face it, he was a Wizard, so it was going to be by magic). But it wasn’t just the appearance which was magic. He was suspended in mid air, floating, bobbing like a buoy at sea.

“I am the Great Wizard, Lord Chan-see-Lore,” the floating figure introduced himself, in a manner which was not in the least bit friendly. Not that an introduction was necessary. Every child knew the stories. And every child knew that the Great Wizard also possessed a great jaw line. Like a cliff face over a beach.

“I am Hood, Sir” she managed to say, whilst also bowing.

“Always refer to me as My Lord or Your Great Wizardness,” the floating Wizard commanded, “as you are my servant and I am your master. And I always demand a civil servant. As for you, you are my apprentice, my pupil. So I will call you Acolyte Hood.”

“Yes, Great Wizard,” Acolyte Hood bowed once again.

“And now, follow me,” commanded the Lord Chan-see-Lore as he floated upwards and out of sight.

Hood looked into the void. She wasn’t sure she wanted to follow. She wasn’t sure she wanted to be here, but she certainly did not feel like she wanted to step off the edge of her ledge and plummet below.

The Great Wizard reappeared.

“And, of course, I suggest you take the stairs,” the sorcerer added, before floating aloft again.

Hood took the staircase upwards. One flight. Two flights. Three flights. And on the fourth flight she found herself on one of the square rooms without walls like she had seen earlier. This time it was all bookcases and a desk. With the little broom like creatures dashing hither and thither, dusting books, putting books back on the shelf, getting books from a shelf.

Her new boss was standing behind the desk. Hood double checked. His feet were on the ground this time. His jaw was still jutting.

“Over time, Acolyte Hood, I will teach you magic. You are not here to do the menial tasks, that is why we have the enchanted brooms. They are here to do the fetching and carrying,” as he was saying this, three brooms scuttled towards him, carrying an ornate cloak.

The Wizard took the cloak from the three animated brushes, who instantly became stiff and lifeless, falling to the floor with the percussive sound of wood hitting stone.

Lord Chan-see-Lore swirled the cloak above his head and let it settle around his shoulders.

“Now this morning I have to go out and be out all day. So you have one job to do, Acolyte Hood. One job and one job alone. You see, my little enchanted broomsticks keep everything running smoothly. But the enchantment which turns wood to willing servant is time limited. So they need an occasional reboot.”

With that the Wizard produced a wand from inside the cloak and circled it above his head.

Revival totalis”

All three brooms once more sprouted arms and their bristles parted down the middle to form legs. They immediately went about their previous task cleaning and sorting the library.

“Now, Acolyte Hood, the magic involved in the vivification of my little workers is amongst some of the most complicated magic imaginable, it is magic that you were learn over many years. But today you have to be in charge of making sure that my little helpers keep going….so….”

And with this the Great Wizard moved the wand in a tight figure of eight before his eyes and said the words “automatis enchanter”. The tip of the wand began to emit a low glow.

“What you must do, whilst I am gone is patrol each of my rooms and look for sleeping brooms. When you see one, touch the glowing tip of this wand on any part of them and it will revive the spell.”

Hood began to reach out her hand to take hold of the glowing wand.

“Not so fast,” said the Wizard as he drew the wand back towards himself, “for I have more to tell you. It is vitally important that you carry out this task solemnly. The brooms perform many tasks that not only keep this place working, but keeps it safe. You have to keep them working. But the magic in that wand is so powerful that you must treat it with great care. Touch only the brooms. Do not wave it around. Do you understand?”

Hood nodded.

The Wizard let go of the wand and it floated through the air until it hovered just in front of Hood.

“Take it,” instructed the Wizard.

Hood reached out with her left hand towards the glowing tip.

“NO CHILD!” boomed Lord Chan-see-Lore, “you must hold the other end, do not touch the active end.”

She switched hands and her fingers wrapped around the thin, magical reed. As soon as she touched it she could feel a slight warmth and a barely perceptible tremor passing through the wand.

“Do your task and do it conscientiously. The last apprentice was not conscientious,” as the Wizard was speaking he placed his hand inside his cloak and arced it above his head, sprinkling himself in some glittering dust, “and he turned into a….”

Before the last word was formed the Wizard vanished leaving a wide eyed Hood holding the wand like it was an unexploded bomb.

Suddenly the air crackled and the face of the Wizard appeared inside a spinning orb.

“….great disappointment. And I forgot to say. There are 131 rooms and 393 staircases. Get to work.”

The spinning orb began to fade, the features of the Wizard disappearing. Then it flickered once more into sharp focus.

“One final, final thing. Hold on tight.”

Hood instinctively gripped the wand hard as the orb vanished. And it was a good job she did as her arm was almost yanked clean off when she felt the Wand suddenly pull her to the edge of the room. Her feet scraped along the stone floor, trying to stop her progress to what seemed to be an inevitable death if she were to go over the edge. Just at the moment she was going to let go the shining tip of the wand pointed upwards and it were as if she was being raised by an invisible crane. Her feet left the floor and she soared upwards and out into the middle of the building with no floor or roof in sight.

The wand pulled her upwards and upwards, the air rushing past her face until whatever magical wings the wand had been given pulled her to the right and deposited her on the floor of the uppermost platform.

Hood sank to her knees, the terrifying ride over, the wand still rigidly clutched in her hand. She breathed deeply. Gasping for air. Slowly her heart returned to a mere thunderous beat.

When then prospect of death had rescinded to a recent and terrifying memory, Hood took a look at where she was. It appeared to be a bedroom with an unmade bed, complete with Harry Potter duvet set.

Next to her, on the floor, was a smallish broom. Remembering her task she touched the glowing end of the wand on the broom handle. It would be marvellous if a broom that came alive and lifted itself from a stone floor would then dust itself down. But it doesn’t. It just gets on with its work of making a bed.

Hood found two more inanimate brooms and set them on their way to tidying and cleaning. She then descended three sets of stairs, taking her three quarters of the way around the outer wall of the tall chamber when she came across another platform with a bathroom.

She spent a little time finding four brooms which went to work running the bath and cleaning the shower. She spent a bit more time trying to get a toothbrush and a toilet brush to grow arms before she realised that the wand spell only worked on those brushes that were already enchanted.

And so she went on. And on. Staircase after staircase. Room after room. Broom after broom. A room that housed owls and bats in cages. A room that was lined with scrolls and locked boxes. A room that was almost exactly like her mum’s kitchen.

She spent over an hour and, despite it being an hour of stairs, rooms and brooms, she realised she had only checked twelve rooms. She wasn’t very good at maths. But she was very much behind her target of 131 rooms.

Then she came across a room which had only a tall desk and matching stool. No brooms. No other furniture.

She had been working for over an hour. She probably deserved a little sit down. So she pulled herself up on to the seat of tall stool and found a thin book on the desk. It had a dark brown leather cover with golden letters across the front. The gold was so iridescent, it seemed to glow. In fact, as she looked more closely, it did glow. Five capital letters. “HMCTS“.

The glowing letters were so inviting. They called to her curiosity. She placed the wand on to the table and opened the cover.

Inside, handwritten in ornate writing was the expanded title

Hexes, Magic, Charms, Teleports and Spells”

and the author “Gauke Chan-see-Lore G.W.”

She turned the page. And then the next. Each one contained the title of a spell, a description of what it achieved, an instruction as to how the wand should be waved and the words to be uttered. Spells to make chairs walk, clocks talk. Spells to turn people into frogs and frogs into flowers. Spells to freeze the air and spells to make the rain fall.

One caught her eye. And her imagination. It was called “One Conversation”. And it was a spell to amalgamate things into one. So if you wanted a giant bee, you could cast the spell on the beehive and you would have a thousand bees transformed into one. If you wanted the tallest set of ladders, you just needed some smaller ladders.

This was good. The movement of the wand was described simply as a flick of the wrist. The instruction was to imagine, as you flicked the wand in the direction of the desired object, a bigger version of the object. And then the nearby objects would join together to form a bigger version. Perfect.

Why waste your time with four or five brooms in a room? Having to touch each one. When one big broom only needs one touch. And would be much easier to find. Surely one large broom per room could do the work of more, smaller brooms more efficiently? It would be able to reach further with longer arms. It would not have to do all that running around.

Repeating the words of the incantation, Hood closed the book and grabbed the wand. The Great Wizard would be pleased at this increased efficiency, Hood thought to herself as she made for the staircase.

The next room below was one of the rooms which were covered with shelves and trestle tables with weird and wonderful plants on it. She noticed that some of the plants were bathed in light from some unseen source. Others were being fed water through tubes and pipes that ran here and there.

This room had a lot of brooms. She could see four or five working, with one or two prone where they had fallen.

Hood picked up one of the inanimate brooms and put it on the table before her. She closed her eyes. She imagined the broom, but much bigger. She flicked her wrist and opened her eyes.

Nothing.

The incantation. She had forgotten to say the incantation.

She closed her eyes again. She pictured a single, big broom. She flicked her wrist. And as she did the words “digitalis reformum” left her mouth.

She opened her eyes. Still nothing. She sighed. It hadn’t worked. A good idea. But she wasn’t a magician, just the apprentice.

Remembering her task, she touched the tip of the wand to the broom which returned to the little worker like the others. It stood up on the table.

Before it could move though, one of the working brooms stopped tending to an exotically coloured cactus and ran across the same table and launched itself towards the recently revived broom. It was almost as if it was going to jump into its twig arms. But it didn’t. As they came into contact with each other, each seemed to absorb in the other and there was one broom in their place, twice the size of the original.

The next broom rushed on its brushes and suddenly it was three times the size. Then the next. And the next. The broom was now taller than Hood. It began to work. It barely had to take a step to move between tasks.

Oh, how Hood glowed with pride. On her first day, her first day, she had done magic. Which she had taught herself. She was no disappointment.

She moved towards the staircase, ready to move and improve the next room. This chamber would be a hub of continuous improvement. As her foot hovered on the top step one of the little brooms came running up the stairs, passed her and threw itself at its larger colleague.

Hood shrugged. What was that sound? That scrabbling, scratching sound. The sound that her mother’s handbrush made when she scrubbed the doorstep.

Another broom appeared coming up the stairs. Then another. And another. And then the staircase was alive with little brooms, all running as fast those bristled legs would carry them.

Hood turned back to the single broom. It was growing and growing. It was now too big for the gap between the tables. A whole trestle table was upturned. Pots smashed on the floor. Soil went everywhere. The tubes and the pipes split, water turning the soil to mud.

Hood flicked the wand. “Enough,” she said. “ENOUGH!” she repeated. “ENOUGH!!” she shouted. Nothing happened.

The broom must have been a hundred times the size now. She needed the book of spells. That must have the answer.

She moved to go back up the staircase, only to find that it was a sea of scurrying brooms. She turned back to the room to see that it was a total mess. Everything was destroyed. And the broom was so massive that it was having to stretch its legs across the span of the chamber to find somewhere to stand. And still brooms came to add to its size.

Hood looked over the edge. She could see other platforms. Other of the square rooms which moments earlier had been tended to by a squad of dedicated brooms. She could see one of the laboratory style rooms. Where there had previously been simmering liquids there now appeared to be miniature fireworks going off. And not such miniature fires breaking out.

She could see a bathroom. The brooms must have abandoned their work when midst bath cleaning. Now the water they had been running from the tap had already overflown from the bath and was cascading from the edge of the platform like a waterfall.

The worker broom now filled the void at the heart of the chamber. Hood could no longer see its arms or its brush. Just a section of what would have been the handle, thicker than any tree trunk which had grown naturally.

At least the staircase was now empty and Hood could return to the spell book. She took the steps two or three at a time to find that the desk and stool had been overturned in the commotion. The desk top resting over the edge of the precipice. And the spell book gone.

Tears started to come.

“What have I don? What have I done?” wailed the distraught apprentice.

Hood could hear little explosions reverberating around chamber. Flashes of curious light lit the gloom. There were noises, smells and colours that spoke of chaos.

“What is going on?” boomed a recently familiar voice.

Without warning the Wizard was with her. Not floating. Not a face in a spinning orb. The Wizard, in front of her.

“I…I….,” stammered Hood.

The Wizard seized the wand. He waved it in a complicated pattern whilst hopping on one leg. Words tumbled from is mouth. Incantations too fast for Hood to follow. Sparks flew from the tip of the wand and then tumbled throughout the chamber.

The noises stopped. The light returned to a constant. There was still a mixture of smells. But they no longer told of chaos.

And no massive broom any more. Just the right number of brooms, in the right number of roles.

Hood cowered. She waited to hear a crack of thunder that would take her to Defra.

But nothing. Nothing happened.

The Wizard helped her to her feet.

“You are here to learn. And there was your first lesson. Never meddle in something that you don’t understand. Never will you achieve efficiency by mistaking ease or speed for efficiency. This system has taken years for me to develop. It improves itself, but not by such blunt instruments. It is for you to learn and to work better with what we have, not destroy what we have to make it better.”

The Wizard sort of smiled.

“Now, go home. Come back tomorrow. If you think today was difficult, tomorrow we will embark upon your training in the most difficult of tasks. The spells of security. It is all about tasting hot potions and the search for the three sacred objects – umbrellas, phone chargers and paper clips. These three things are known as the Holy Grayling. And the tricky thing is the three items may be entirely different tomorrow…..”

THE END

With apologies to Goethe, Walt Disney and a little bit to JK Rowling

We Are Right

Here we are again. No new work being undertaken. The prospect of days of action. No returns to return. Headlines and news stories. Unity and strength. Division and failure.

I support the action proposed by the CBA. I support it to the hilt. I have now been at the Bar for 25 years. Not once in that time has a single fee for work done ever been increased due to inflation. We have had different ways of being paid, different versions of different ways of being paid and then brutal cuts to fees that the Government had previously decided were appropriate remuneration.

That is 25 years of being undervalued and being treated with contempt.

Enough.

The action should not be about maintaining the status quo. We should not be wedded to being paid per page. It is becoming increasingly difficult to assess how many pages some forms of digital evidence represent. It is taking up a disproportionate amount of time to argue over page counts. As smartphones become ubiquitous and a domestic iron seems to have the processing speed of Mr Babbage, the way evidence is gathered has outstripped the notion of payment per page of paper.

Part of not maintaining the status quo is recognising that fees which have not been increased for inflation and have been subject to cuts so that they are now worth 40% less (in real terms) than when they were first deemed to be appropriate remuneration are not the basis for the figures to go into the boxes of any newly designed scheme.

The MoJ have said it themselves. They described the current AGFS as archaic as they rushed to paint the Bar as being protectionist purveyors of self-interest. I, for once, wholeheartedly agree. The scheme is very old. The level of remuneration we receive for a case is massively out of date. It is not kept up with inflation. And did I mention it has been cut?

So it is the right time to design a new scheme, with new architecture. If we tear down a building to build something modern which is fit for purpose in a low carbon, high tech digital age we do not use the same bricks, the same floor boards, the same single glazed window units and asbestos tiles. And so it is with the scheme which came into force on 1st April. The Bar did their bit by trying to design something modern, the MoJ have built something belonging in the last century.

This is why we are right to take this action and the government response that we helped design this scheme is not a reason why we cannot reject it.

I entirely understand that the Judiciary have to maintain an independence from the actions of the Executive. I also hope that the Judiciary realise that we do a heck of a lot more for a heck of a lot less money than would have been the case when many of them were in our shoes. As I said, I have been doing this job 25 years. When I was trained, when many of the senior Judiciary would have been junior barristers, I had to be concerned about learning how to draft advices on evidence and appeal. And that was about it for written work.

During this week, as well as doing a trial, I have drafted two skeleton arguments, one basis of plea, an adverse verdict report, a bad character response and edited an ABE interview. None of that was work the Bar did twenty years ago. Certainly not with the frequency we now endure. Each year that passes, each year that diminishes our fees by dint of inflation, sees an increase in the workload required by statute, practice direction and order of the Court.

All of that in a working week which follows a period when I have spent two Saturdays in the last eight weeks attending training courses designed to improve our system in relation to sex cases and vulnerable witnesses. I am not seeking to invoke sympathy. I do a worthwhile job and accept that I have to do it properly. But those who think they know what we do, how we do it and what we get paid for it may be thinking of a life at the Bar which is long gone.

Even if a Judge was appointed last year they should remember the steady creep of increased workloads matched by the steady reduction in fees. And I am not going to begin to add in some of the working conditions we face. As Judges they have to maintain their independence. As women and men who are assisted by capable advocates producing skeleton arguments and agreed facts, their hearts and minds should be with us. Their independence does not mean that they should not be able to see through the MoJ spin.

Any Judge who wants to understand more about our position need only ask. I, and many others, would only be too glad to tell them the unvarnished reality. The same offer can be extended to any politician. Or Tax Barrister.

We do not take this action lightly. There will be members of the Bar who are immediately put in financial peril by taking this action. Clients are being disadvantaged. Solicitors are having to deal with fall out of the action, continuing to do their best for clients in incredibly difficult circumstances. But we must take this action. And it has to succeed. If we fail, we do not fail ourselves, but we fail the future. We fail the future of a diverse judiciary. We fail future victims who will be cross-examined by a lower quality advocate. We fail future defendants who will be represented by de-motivated advocates who are the face of an under-valued and under-funded system.

A Perfect Day

Make us both a cup of tea and let me tell you about my day….

So off I went to court today ready to prosecute three bail applications, prosecute two sentences and defend in a PCMH. A busy day, much to do.

First stop was Court 10 for my bail applications. Three sets of papers clasped in my hands. Over 150 pages of information read and prepared the night before.

As had another barrister from another set of chambers in Manchester. He had the same three sets of papers. He had prepared the same three bail applications. We both had a “No, no, after you Claude” moment. Ultimately we could not both do them. I lost out in a legal game of paper, rock, scissors. Half my work, gone in the blink of an eye.

I will fast forward a little bit here. I told my clerk of the double booking. He made some enquiries. My colleague and I had been booked for the same bail applications in telephone calls made an hour apart on Friday.

So, back to my day at court. One defendant decided he did not want to run the risk of Christmas inside. So case adjourned, bench warrant issued and no prospect of putting the bill in this side of Christmas.

My other prosecution sentence proceeded smoothly. Which was more than can be said for the case up to that stage. The defendants had pleaded guilty on the day of trial. That is the sort of thing that the powers that be really do not like. Unfortunately this was a case that cracked by both the prosecution and defence carefully analysing CCTV of events surrounding the assault. CCTV footage that took the defence several months and two (unpaid) court hearings to get hold of.

My PCMH was adjourned too. No arraignment. The defendant is offering a plea, so hopefully it will resolve next time. But it was pretty difficult to have a PCMH today. The Prosecution had served their case late. Well, I say served their case. They had sent through two handwritten statements from civilians and one statement from the five officers involved in the case. They sent the exhibits in two halves. The first batch of exhibits stopped half way through an exhibit. Oh, and did not included the defendant’s interview. And none of the served exhibits had any statements producing them.

At least my day took a turn for the better as I picked up a breach of curfew brief at court. Woo, and indeed, hoo. Interestingly the defendant had originally been sentenced to a six month curfew in June. The curfew was to be electronically monitored. So in June the defendant went home and waited for the private contractor to visit his home and install the equipment.

And wait he did. For six weeks. In fact, by the time the company called in order to install the equipment he had got sick of waiting for them and was not at home. Unfortunately for him this was during his curfew hours so he was breached.

When the Judge heard of the circumstance at the breach proceedings in August he felt that there was blame on both sides. He split the difference and added a one month extension to the curfew. He also expressed the view that the private contractor really should install the equipment ASAP.

So home went the defendant. He waited patiently this time. He stuck to his curfew. So that meant he was at home when the company turned up to install the equipment. In NOVEMBER. Five months after the curfew was imposed. Three months after the Judge had said they needed to pull their finger out.

So by this time the defendant had had enough. He told them where to go. And got breached again. This time the Judge just cancelled the curfew. What was the point? It was an electronically monitored curfew. The public pay for the curfew to be monitored. And it simply was not being monitored.

So there we have my day at court. As I waited for my cases to get on or get adjourned virtually every case I witnessed got adjourned too. No CCTV served in one case, no interpreter booked in another case, no defendants produced from custody in another case and countless cases not ready because of late service.

All of this was being played out against a background of the court computer system, Xhibit, being down for the entire day.

All the cuts have led to this. All the cuts mean nothing is getting done. Staff are so over stretched they make basic mistakes like briefing two counsel for the same hearings. Nobody is dealing with the basics of disclosure. Paperwork is being thrown through the photocopier in an effort to at least serve something. Private contractors are being paid scandalous amounts for a scandalous service. Adjourned hearings lead to delay and additional cost.

Well at least I have tomorrow to look forward to. I have a trial listed tomorrow. Oh no, hang on. That should read I had a trial listed tomorrow. At the last moment it has been pulled from the list. Lack of court time. Again. So tomorrow is a mention and fix. So I can fix my trial for some time during the summer.

Bloody marvellous innit?

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.

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.