Tag Archives: Cuts

Bigmouth Strikes Again

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Act of Madness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Christmas Carol – Stave Four

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

A Christmas Carol

Stave Four – The Final Spirit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No response. Just pointing.

Grayling finally looked at the inscription.

HERE LIES THE REMAINS OF

CRIMINAL ADVOCACY

DIED 1st NOVEMBER 2013

and also

THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM

WHICH PASSED SHORTLY AFTER

Dearly missed by all who valued them

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

A Christmas Carol – Stave Three

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

A Christmas Carol

Stave Three – The Second Spirit

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

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

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

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

Grayling walked hesitatingly in to his kitchen.

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

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

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

“And who are you?” Grayling enquired.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Humbug,” said the Spirit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“11%”

“How much has my firm had to cut?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TO BE CONTINUED

The Robing Room Table

The Robing Room Table has been here for nigh on twenty years. Prior to its life as the Robing Room Table it had been the Bar Mess Table where every lunchtime the Barristers would eat together. In fairness people still ate at the Robing Room Table but these days it was all Pret sandwiches rather than fish and chips on a Friday served by a lady who had been here longer than the Robing Room Table but, sadly, was no more.

Nonetheless, in both its lives, the Robing Room Table had borne witness to countless war stories. Tales of great successes in court, of magnificent failure and of great hilarity. Judges had been praised, condemned and impersonated by the occupants of the chairs around the Robing Room Table. It had provided a surface to work upon to countless Silks, High Court Judges of the future and criminal hacks. Across its now heavily scarred table top had been discussed the latest developments in the law, the local lawyers’ gossip and a myriad of other topics. Marriages had been sealed after eyes had met for the first time over its dark wooden surface. It had been present for arguments, both personal and professional, and even one fight. The legs of many an advocate, some now long dead, had nestled beneath the Robing Room Table.

So the Robing Room Table was well placed to know that everything was changing. What had begun with murmurings of discontent now weighed heavy in the heart of each of its users. This very morning the Robing Room Table had taken stock of its occupants and the tally was amongst the saddest the Robing Room Table had ever encountered.

That survey had found one of the Robing Room Table’s ever presents, Mr Senior-Junior, sitting in a chair at its head. Mr Senior-Junior had been Mr Nervous-Pupil in the Robing Room Table’s previous life, taking his place amongst the chatting advocates each lunchtime. That seemed a lifetime ago. How things had changed. Mr Senior-Junior had his laptop open on the Robing Room Table. A laptop! But that was not the change that saddened the heart. It was what Mr Senior-Junior was doing on his laptop that caused such sadness. He was dealing with emails (such things being unheard of when Mr Senior-Junior was Mr Nervous-Pupil and the home computer was still the stuff of Sinclair Spectrums). Again the fact that Mr Senior-Junior had been eventually dragged by his clerk into the technological age was not a cause for lament.

The emails related to the sale of his house. A family home which had seen three children grow and leave for their own lives. But now there was no opportunity for Mr and Mrs Senior-Junior to enjoy the home that held so many memories and to relax in the garden worked upon every weekend and summer evening. This was not downsizing due to the house being too big. Mr Senior-Junior was having to realise his assets. And the house was his most significant asset. Finances had been getting tighter and tighter as the children went through university and now his income had dipped below a level which allowed him to keep their home. They were moving somewhere smaller and cheaper. As he dealt with an email Mr Senior-Junior sighed. Here he was engaged in some of the most serious cases year on year, cases that relied upon his vast experience, cases that kept him awake each night and yet his income dwindled every year. And the Robing Room Table sighed with him.

To the left of Mr Senior-Junior was Mr Well-Liked-Junior. Former pupil alongside his former pupil master. Six years ago Mr Well-Liked-Junior had spent twelve months completing his formal training with Mr Senior-Junior. The two men, different generations of barristers, had always got along very well. Today they were in close proximity but silent. Mr Well-Liked-Junior was lost in his own thoughts. This would be one of the last times he would sit alongside Mr Senior-Junior. No more would the Robing Room Table hear Mr Well-Liked-Junior ask his pupil master for advice about the case he had that day. Mr Well-Liked-Junior had, in the months before, decided that he was giving up criminal work. His chambers also handled a good deal of civil work. Assessing his future and the need to provide a regular income Mr Well-Liked-Junior had told his clerk he wanted to move from crime to do civil. He had been on courses. He had shadowed other members of chambers. With a heavy heart he saw no future in crime but no fulfilment in civil. However, rent needed to be paid. Boyhood dreams took a backseat to reality. The Robing Room Table would miss his affable, good humoured enthusiasm.

Opposite Mr Well-Liked-Junior was Miss Up-and-Coming. Ten years in to being a barrister and always in demand. The Robing Room Table knew from the conversations of her opponents and peers that Miss Up-and-Coming was one of its regulars who would go on to sit at much grander tables. Usually so assured, Miss Up-and-Coming was in a state of internal turmoil today. Listed at court was a mention in a case in which she was the Junior for the main defendant. A large fraud case, many defendants. Her instruction in that case marked yet another milestone in her steady march towards brilliance. Yet it now caused Miss Up-and-Coming consternation. The heavy workload involved in such cases had an inevitable impact on her personal life. And now she was faced with deep cuts to the fees in a case she had accepted over a year ago.

Miss Up-and-Coming imagined what would happen if she went home this afternoon and told the builder working on the extension to her house that she had decided all his work from this point on would be paid at 30% less than the previously expected fee. Miss Up-and-Coming knew exactly what he would do – walk off site. Exactly that choice faced her now. Her consternation came from the struggle between her desire to do “good” work and the compensation that she received for devoting her life to her career. It came from the struggle of her professional duty towards her client and the stark reality that she could not continue to devote the time necessary to such a case under the new, spartan rates. Should she, could she, simply treat the contract for the case as a commercial agreement and walk away? She knew what she had to do. She knew what her bank manager would have her do. It weighed heavy on her conscience but there came a time when Miss Up-and-Coming had to say “no more”.

At the corner of the Robing Room Table Mr Experienced-HCA was reading the newspaper. At least he was looking at the newspaper. The words were not being processed by his brain. His mind was filled with the office meeting last night. The meeting at which the senior managing partner had told them that the entire staff faced the threat of redundancy in order to make the firm more efficient. Mr Experienced-HCA was at the very sharp end of the firm’s business and he knew full well they were already operating at the bare minimum of staff and resources. Furthermore the advocates had all been spoken to separately to be told that one of them would definitely be going unless they all accepted a pay cut of a third. A third?!?

So as the Robing Room Table held his paper for him he contemplated what his future would hold. The increasing demands on his time. The constant workload of case after case. Mr Experienced-HCA felt that this was a breaking point. But what would break? Him? His firm? The whole system? The words of the newspaper swam before his eyes.

The final figure readying herself for court was Miss Respected-Prosecutor. Known for her attention to detail allied with great intelligence and judgment Miss Respected-Prosecutor had been quickly earmarked by the CPS as one of their counsel of choice. Soon her defence instructions diminished as she was instructed in big drug conspiracy after big conspiracy by the Crown. Miss Respected-Prosecutor had always appreciated that the defence would often be paid a better rate than her. It was obvious to the Robing Room Table where her talents lay, talents for which the whole of society owed a cheer. Despite her talent, despite the clamour for her services, cut after cut had impacted hard upon Miss Respected-Prosecutor. Following a delay in payment, a constant wrangle over a fee for a substantial case, her bank account contained not a penny. She had nothing left in her overdraft limit. The only way Miss Respected-Prosecutor had been able to come to court this morning was by walking round to her father’s house and borrowing the money for the petrol and parking. What of tomorrow? And the day after?

Miss Respected-Prosecutor had to stand and hurry to the toilets. She could not let the Robing Room Table see her cry.

As the day wore on the occupants of the chairs around the Robing Room Table came and went. In the evening, after the cleaners had finished their work, the Robing Room Table was left empty and in darkness. The characters and talented professionals that had been the constant companion of the Robing Room Table for all those years were gone. How many of them will return?