Tag Archives: general election

My Vote

The Constituency where I live is a pretty close contest between the LibDems and the Conservatives. It is so close that David Cameron wrote to me to let me know it was one of only 23 seats the Tories had to win in order to form a majority Government (quite why someone with this loose application of maths should be trusted with the economy is another story). It is so close that the LibDems tell me on a daily basis not to vote for anyone but them to stop the Conservatives winning (which I listened to last time, voted LibDem and got a Tory Government AND Lord McNally plus Simon Hughes in the MoJ. Once bitten etc).

Last night the LibDem candidate and last MP for the area did a question and answer thing on Facebook. The Conservative candidate was invited but did not participate (albeit the whole thing was very last minute). Other candidates, including the Labour candidate and one local independent also took part. 

Somewhat predictably I typed in my question about Legal Aid cuts and restrcitions on access to justice. I reminded the candidate that this was something we had corresponded about before. I chose not to remind him that I had warned him PCT would be a disaster – and had been proved right. I did not say “I told you so” over the cuts to Grad Fee and VHCC rates. I just popped up and asked my question. 

Equally predictably this was a question he did not answer. In fairness this was not the only question he did not answer. He answered questions about the NHS, the bedroom tax, a local mosque and taxation. It would seem that access to justice remained low on his political radar. As a consequence he has disappeared off mine. (It would seem that today is a day for parenthesis so here are some more – I must confess that he was beginning to get on my wick anyway with his promotional campaign, as you may have noticed in my previous blog). 

As a footnote I should add the Labour candidate did answer a similar question. He gave a well briefed and cautiously positive response. (More brackets {fancy ones this time too} .He wasn’t the only one to answer, the independent chap did too).

This morning I cast my vote. I do not mind telling you I voted Labour. He is not going to win in my constituency but I cannot bring myself to vote for either LibDem nor Conservative. And this is the thing – I do not understand how any lawyer can. Grayling, backed time and time again by McNally and Hughes, is riding a coach and horses through fundamental rights. I don’t care what political hue you are, if you are a lawyer you must see the damage that is being done to justice, and therefore society, by the coalition. I mean, even Vincent Cable has woken up to the damage that the increase in Employment Tribuanl Fees has done and he is in the Cabinet! 

If you are a lawyer undertaking publicly funded work you cannot possibly cast one vote for either coalition party. And not just because your Bank Manager tells you that you cannot. But because you will see the way in which Conservative and LibDem policies have targeted the most vulnerable. Austerity is a heavy burden to cast on the poor and the desparate. Power is a mighty weapon when wielded in way to denude the citizen of redress through the courts. 

And if you are a criminal lawyer you would need your head feelin’ if you voted for either of these two parties at this election. The Legal Aid system teeters at the brink of disaster. Unsustainable cuts hang over the profession. The legal landscape is about to be irrevocably changed by a Government and bureaucrats chasing a pound of flesh we just do not have. And the CJS? The Conservatives and the LibDems have already brought the CJS to its knees. This has been an assault that has seen both greater harm and high culpability. Another five years of this would be a shod foot to the head of the already unconcious, defenceless CJS.  

So, you lawyers out there, still to vote – how could you make any decision that votes for either of these parties? No matter what the tactical situation in your constituency, this is a vote that has to be personal and single issue. The law is a calling, a vocation. Be true to what the law is designed to protect. Be true to justice. 

A Letter from…. Heald Green

I am prepared to concede that I am getting increasingly grumpy as I trundle through middle age. My natural facial expression of bulldog chewing a wasp is matched by the inner blackness of my soul. I would happily shout “Bah Humbug” at passing people, should that phrase actually mean anything. 

However the thing that is really getting me ticked off at the moment is politicians. Yes we are all sick of them right  now, what with it being election time. But I have a particular complaint. Two particular complaints, to be more accurate. I am sick of politicians treating the electorate as total mugs, ready to fall for anything. And I am also sick of getting letters from them. David Cameron writes to me almost daily. 

So today I have come home, after a particularly long and frustrating day, to find a letter on my doormat that has combined my two current pet peeves. 

My latest letter comes from a Mrs Halpin. It is addressed to me. It begins

“I am sure you were as shocked as I was to receive the latest copy of the Cheadle Gazette and read about how the Conservative candidate is registered to vote at her family home near Preston.”

As it happens I was not as shocked as Mrs Halpin appears to have been at this discovery. I have read one or thirty of the leaflets posted through my door by the LibDems so I had some inkling that the Conservative candidate was not a local. They may have mentioned it once or twice. Per sentence. 

However Mrs Halpin is keen for me to relive her shock at having first discovered this as she read the Cheadle Gazette. So much so that the letter continues

I enclose a copy of the article in case you have not had the chance to read it.”

And, true to her word, there is a carefully torn out article from the said Cheadle Gazette. Let me share it with you in this photograph as it sits on my kitchen table.  

 

So here we have one concerned local resident, sharing with other residents her shock at having read this article and learned, for the very first time, that the Conservative candidate comes from “41 miles away by car”. Of course the letter goes on to extoll the virtues of the local-living LibDem candidate. 

I am someone who looks at the small print. So I see from the bottom of the letter that this is published and promoted on behalf of the aforesaid LibDem candidate. However that should not diminish the power of the message. The message of Mrs Halpin’s shock at this local news story. 

Perhaps at this stage I should point out that, having lived in the area most of my life, the Cheadle Gazette was not an independent newspaper that I was familiar with. But still, credit where credit is due, this piece of investigative journalism did lead Mrs Halpin to her discovery that she wanted to share with the rest of us. 

One thing though. The Cheadle Gazette. You see when I turned over the torn out article at the top of the page on the reverse it said that the Cheadle Gazette was published and promoted on behalf of that same local-living LibDem candidate. Here is another picture for you. That’s what the small print of the top of the reverse of the page says. 

 

So the LidDems were sending one piece of promotional literature with another piece of promotional literature. But don’t let that detract from the underlying message. Mrs Halpin’s shock at her discovery, as she read this piece of negative campaigning, that she then wanted to share with the rest of us. None of that undermines the power of the message. 

Take a close look at the photograph above though. “Look at what local people are saying….” and one of those local people having their say is none other than concerned local resident…. Mrs Halpin. 

So what? I hear you cry! Nothing wrong with that. Mrs Halpin probably had her photo taken and the quote recorded and was told it was going to be in the next edition of the Gazette. And it was as she looked through the Gazette that she discovered, much to her shock, that the Tory lives in Preston. 

Thankfully news from the local area comes not only in the form of the Gazette. The internet is full of interesting stuff. Like the local-living LibDem candidate’s internet pages. Like this page that describes a busy weekend for Mr Hunter back in 2011 when he went to the Heald Green festival. And if you look closely he was pictured with a beaming “Ted and Rhona Halpin”. Who are wearing exactly the same clothes that they are wearing in the Gazette in the photograph above. What a coincidence? Mrs Halpin, who is so concerned at her shock discovery that she writes to the local residents, is the same person who was giving a quote to the Gazette about the election in 2015 which is accompanied with a photograph from 2011. 

So, given all that, do you really think that Mrs Halpin was “shocked” by the story she read in the Gazette?

In fact I would venture to suggest that this would hardly come as a shock to her at all, given the fact that the proposer for one of the LibDem aspirant councillors in the May 2015 election is one Edwin V Halpin. Perhaps better known to the festival goers of Heald Green as Ted? Is there any prospect that the first time Mrs Halpin became aware of the out of town credentials of the Conservative Party candidate was when she read the Gazette?

It will not have been. I have known for months and I have not been pictured with the LibDem candidate at any time from 2011 to now, have never been quoted in the Gazette and am not living in the same household as someone sufficiently involved with the local party that they nominate candidates for the Council. 

Now I am not suggesting anyone has broken any election rules, or laws. I stress that the letter and the article from the Gazette are properly marked as political promotional material. I do not doubt Mrs Halpin’s genuine belief in the candidate she supports and do not challenge her right to champion him. I am not suggesting that the candidate she champions does not have many fine qualities. 

But it is what the letter purports to say “here I am, local resident writing to local resident about what I have just discovered and sharing it with you to spread my shock at finding this out” that I object to. And it is what it says about the modern politicians’ attitude towards their electorate that really angers me. It is the idea that we will not scratch beneath the veneer one little bit. That we will be entirely taken in by the dressing up of a bit of negative campaigning as genuine concern. That we are such mug punters that their promotional material requires so little thought or substance. That such poorly stage managed letters from activists are going to win them votes. 

Is it any wonder there is no trust in politicians? 

I am angry because I would like communications from my politicians about what they believe in. What they plan to do. I want them to have vision and integrity. I want to hear them debate with substance. I want to be persuaded to vote for them. Not to be dissuaded from voting for the other guy or girl. Not to be scared into choosing them. 

And not to be the recipient of “clever” letters that have my supposed stupidity at the centre of their design. 

Promises, Promises. 

A Prime Minister, facing re-election, sits in a room with a phalanx of advisors. Let’s call him “Dave” for the purposes of this story. The phalanx of advisors are of uniform appearance. The men all have slick hair that towers above their foreheads like cliffs rising from the sea. The women all have fringes that hover in the general vicinity of their eyebrows. Dark, heavy, thick rimmed glasses adorn every face. Were they not in the presence of the Prime Minister one would imagine it was a convention of presenters of TV shows about the restoration of old buildings or about ordinary people getting together to sing a choral piece or two. 

The scene speaks of serious business. You can tell that because “Dave” has his jacket off, his shirt open at the neck and his sleeves rolled up. 

“Right team,” the Prime Ministers addresses the thronged mass of spectacles, “I am serious and genuine when I say we need a plan, a tough plan, a plan that works. This nation needs a plan that gets us back on our feet. And by “us”, I mean me. And by “back on our feet” I mean my feet back under the table at Number 10. Whatever it takes. Get me ahead in the polls and another five years for me to carry out my vision of me having another five years and then retiring.”

One of the strategists adjusts his glasses and clears his throat. He glances at his colleagues and takes the plunge. 

“The issue is one of credibility. Of a public perception of a man prepared to do anything in order to find himself Prime Minister. A man willing to make any promise to buy a vote and then prepared to ditch that promise to cut a deal that gets him the top job….” the strategist is stopped mid-sentence as the PM raises his hand. 

“Don’t think I am not with you on this, that we are not both on the same page, because we are. I agree with you. The Leader of the Opposition spills out promises like Russell Brand tosses out big words. They are there for effect, not for value. But we’ve done this. And it’s not working. We need to attack in some other way. And not just by hoping the English are still scared of the Scots,” the Prime Minister takes in the whole room as he speaks. Business. He means business. You can tell by the fact he has his serious face on. Lips tight, slightly down turned and sad, puppy eyes. 

The strategist clears his throat again.

“Not the opposition, Prime Minister. It’s you. The public don’t believe your promises. They think you’ll promise anything now and renege on it later.”

“Why would they think that?” asks a slightly wounded Dave. 

“Because it’s what you did last time,” a severe fringed female from the end of the table answers, her eyes shielded by frames the Safestyle man would be proud of knocking over whilst repeating “I say, you buy one, you get one free….”

“Well what we have here is a problem and problems require solutions. We need some blue sky thinking. Putting clear water between me and the others. But not too much distance because I want their supporters to like me as much as them. And for the same reasons as them. And not too blue. Purple may work better at this election,” the Prime Minister glances at his discarded tie as he speaks, regretting the decision to wear a red, yellow, purple and green striped one. How could that appeal to anyone?

The Prime Minster produces a pen and jots the words “broken promises” on a notepad before him. 

He holds it up and shows the room. 

“So there we have the problem, and what do we do when we have a problem?” he asks the young and the bespectacled around the table. 

“Have a judge led inquiry?” says one. 

“Promise a judge led inquiry then kick it into the long grass?” suggests another. 

“No, too much danger of me having to answer difficult questions. We only have judge led inquiries into things other people have done. So I can apologise on behalf of them and appear all statesmanlike, whilst making it clear it was someone else’s fault and the previous administration had the chance to blame someone else too, but didn’t. No, this is not a time for a judge led inquiry,” the PM doing  his best football-coach-encouraging-the-kids face whilst urging the room, “so come on, what else do we do when faced with a problem like me?”

“Pass a law about it?” suggests a pair of glasses and some hair wax.

“Brilliant. Loving it. We’ll pass a law,” Dave exclaims as he writes the word “LEGISLATE” on his pad. Underlining it twice and adding an exclamation mark with smiley face at the end of it. 

“What’s the law?” asks one, all white teeth and varifocals. 

“I will promise a law that I will break the law, that I have promised, if I break any of the promises that I make about things like tax,” Dave beams as he speaks. Obviously very pleased with himself, which is an expression that comes naturally to him. 

“I’m no lawyer…..” begins one of the hair and glass combinations.

“Great, I may be in the market for a new Lord Chancellor,” interrupts Dave. 

“No, no, Prime Minister. That wasn’t a job application. I was going to say ‘I’m no lawyer, but…’ And the but is…. Isn’t it wrong to pass a law that makes things unlawful retrospectively? So you can’t pass a law to make things illegal that you are doing now? And we can’t pass the law now because Parliament isn’t sitting.”

“Already ahead of you there,” Dave answers, clearly now in a “Zone”. Not “the Zone”. But definitely a zone. 

“We don’t pass a law that makes breaking the promise unlawful,” the PM explains, “we put the promise, the promise not to raise tax, into law.”

“Why don’t you just keep the promise?” asked the newest advisor in the room. 

Eyes smile from behind the glazing in the less naive amongst the strategists. 

“Because I can’t trust myself to keep the promise,” the Prime Minister answers, “the public know that, so I have to legislate against it. To protect the public from the high likelihood that otherwise I would break the promise. It is a trust issue. And here I am, speaking to my people and resoundingly telling them ‘You are not right to trust me and that’s why you should elect me, so I can legislate to bring an end to my fickle ways’. Its logic is utterly unanswerable.”

“Shall we get some people to draft the law?” asks a lady whose fringe and glasses seem in some way conjoined. 

“Certainly not,” responds Dave. “We aren’t going to be needing that.”

“But you just promised to introduce it!” the lady cannot help but exclaim as her eyebrows rise in incredulity, but not that anyone notices. They are well disguised by her hairline, glasses rim combination. 

“No, I am promising a law. A promise that is necessary because I cannot be trusted not to break the promises I make now. But breaking the promise about the law, that’s not going to be unlawful. There is no law about that. So, once I have my slippers under the bed at Number 10, I just break the promise I made about the law preventing me from breaking promises. And do you know what the good thing is?”

A room of blank expressions and empty eyes look back at the PM.

“The public will feel good about themselves because they will have been dead right. You can’t trust me. Now I am glad we have that sorted. West Ham are playing Villa and I am praying for a draw. I call it ‘Total Coalition Football’…..”

Be There Now

It is Monday afternoon. By now the week for many a criminal barrister will be crystallising. There will be some of you for whom this week promised fixtures, floaters and warned list cases that have already been shunted off into the ether, to come back at some time you cannot do and your week already yawns wide open, like Nigel Farage laughing at one of his own jokes in the Clubhouse. 

For others of you, this morning or this afternoon will have seen your trials adjourn because of the lack of defendant/witness/disclosure/Judge/jury (delete as appropriate) and you will wander back to chambers to stand by the desk of your clerk, bowl in hand to see what gruel there is left in the stockpot of chambers. 

Most Mondays that end up like this are the cause for gloom and despondency. These are the terrible £46.50/£100/£nil days that make us all rotund felines. But not this Monday. This Monday the listing officer is your friend, not your diary devastating foe. Because the gap that has opened up in your diary for Thursday has a ready made “must do” to plug the void. Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you The Vote for Justice Rally – organised by the CLSA and the LCCSA at Central Hall in London.

This is the moment to do something. This is no longer the time for you to leave it to others. This is the time to book the advance train ticket or bring out the Oyster Card and give a few hours of your time to show the next Government, whatever their composition, that the Bar stand with their colleagues in the other branch of the profession. This does not involve you having to give endlessly of your time. This involves every single one of you who is going to be out of court on Thursday, and there will be hundreds of unemployed barristers that day, booking a ticket to the Rally and getting yourself to London. There can be no excuses. 

Just a few reminders of why we need to make a stand. The cuts to Grad Fee still hang over the head of every advocate. Every day you will see the impact of lacking of funding to the CJS. Poor advocacy standards, poor case preparation, injustice, incompetence. These are the everyday hallmarks of our justice system. It is your duty to stand against further degeneration. Your source of work, your loyal solicitors, may find themselves consolidated out of existence within 12 months. 

Will attending the Rally stop the rot? I can’t promise that. But it stands a greater chance than not doing anything. 

Now, you solicitors out there. Don’t think this message is just for Mr Under-Employed of counsel. There are something in the region of 1,800 providers of criminal defence services out there. If each entity sent just ONE representative on Thursday, there should be barely standing room for the out of court, self-employed advocate. 

The Government is about to run a lottery, the prize of which is barely worth winning and the entry fee may cost your very livelihoods. Today is the day to make sure you are represented at the Rally. 

This is a policy, the Dual Contract decimation of our justice system, that has to be stopped. We have to make this an election issue and a news story. We have to make this our business. 

Unity is not about agreeing over everything. Unity is not about sharing exactly the same vision for the future of your business with people who may be your competitor. Unity is not about being happy about what has happened in the past. But unity is about coming together to defeat something you will all agree is wrong. And unity starts with a room full of people on Thursday. A stand out, sell out demonstration. 

Get it booked. Now. 

The share this with your friends, with your enemies and with strangers in the street. Fill the hall. 

A Letter from Dave (and Alan) about Ed (and Alex)

I got a letter from the Prime Minister yesterday. This is not an everyday event in the Hamilton household. This caused a stir of excitement. The Prime Minister! Writing to me!! Whatever could he want? He is a very important man, and here he was, taking the time to write to little me. 

When I say take the time to write, the letter was in fact typed. This was no personal “black spider” correspondence type scenario. But it was signed. The personal touch there. Well, I say signed, closer inspection revealed that the signature was what some term a “facsimile” and other people call a “fake”. 

Nonetheless the Prime Minister was writing to me, Jaime Hamilton. Which was how the letter started. “Dear Jaime Hamilton.” Using both my names. Not the cosiness of just “Dear Jaime” nor the more formal “Dear Mr Hamilton”. Even the man I spoke to the other week about cancelling my Sky gave me the choice. As I have never met the Prime Minister I guess this was a hard decision for him to make. I mean Jaime is a funny first name. He may not even know whether I am male or female. Tough call for the man. Not that Prime Ministers should be beyond tough calls. The funny thing is most correspondence I receive addressed “Dear Jaime Hamilton” are usually emails informing me of the fact that the sender has £17 million he has to move out of his country and, should I care to let it rest in my bank account for a few hours, I could keep the odd million or so. All I need to do is give them every detail of my bank account. 

I was sure this letter was not going to be so full of empty promises and fanciful financial shenanigans. 

So the letter began, in bold type no less, “The Conservatives’ number one priority in government has been to get Britain’s economy back on its feet.” This made me burst into a spontaneous round of applause. Not because of the sentiment expressed, but because of the impeccable use (and non-use) of apostrophes. Bravo PM. 

I actually did not agree with the sentiment. I kind of think that the government’s number one priority should have been to keep me and my loved ones safe in a well organised, free democratic society. But my new penpal and I were not going to fall out about that. 

Our Glorious Leader went on “We’ve come a long way since 2010. And now, thanks to the hard work and determination of the British people, we are making our way back:” I was beginning to get confused. We had come a long way and now we were turning round and heading back again? Was this a day trip to Whitby on a wet Thursday? 

He wrote some more about the deficit, taxes and jobs. They were down, they were up, and when they were up they were up and when they were down they were down and if Miliband had his way they would be neither up nor down. Or something like that. And then “And the choice you face now is whether we stick to a plan that is working, or turn back”. Oh come on, Grand Old Duke of Chipping Comfort, you told me three sentences ago we are now making our way back having come a long way and now we have to decide whether to go back again? Make your mind up. One of your predecessors was famous for not turning. You, however, are making me dizzy. Are we going to Whitby or not?

The Prime Minister needed to move the correspondence forward. We needed to re-centre on our relationship. Concentrate on why it was that the PM had singled me out for this letter that also came with the personalised reference number CHEA6600024298. And was promoted by someone called Alan Mabbutt. I am not sure who Alan Mabbutt is or why he was promoting this billet-doux. 

Now for the “ask not what can your country can do for you but ask what you can do to give me Chequers” moment. 

Apparently, the Prime Minister told me, my constituency was one of just 23 the Conservatives need to win to keep Ed Milliband out of Downing Street. This confused me. I thought he needed 326 seats to get his majority. Turns out he only needs 23. Whatever the maths, this was his point “So today I am writing,” he wrote, as you may have guessed from the fact it is a letter and he used the words ‘I am writing’, but I digress, “to ask for your support to finish the job we have started.”

He promised me more jobs and better wages. This is where the spell was broken. He did not know me at all. He had no idea I was a criminal lawyer More jobs? Tell that to the hundreds of solicitor firms his Government is about to put out of work. Better wages? Cut after cut has decimated the professions. 

So as he blathered on about Ed Milliband and Alex Salmond I really stopped reading. Because the best our Prime Minister could come up with to persuade me to vote for a candidate he did not even give a namecheck to, was the prospect of a Scottish bogeyman giving us Sassenachs another Bannockburn. I want vision. I want a fair society and a democracy that shines out to the world. I want better than “Our country simply can’t afford the chaos of a Miliband-led government with Alex Salmond pulling the strings for the next five years. The only way to stop that happening is to vote Conservative.” 

Of course this is not the only way. The other way is to make sure everyone votes for someone other than a Conservative. If you want to know a bit more about that kind of thinking, sign up up with the Vote4Justice mailing list by clicking here. And consider how your vote impacts not just on big business, not just on the bottom line. But on society. 

The letter that began “Dear Jaime Hamilton” was just another piece of correspondence that promised me untold riches if only I would help the author out with a spot of local difficulty. 

My response “Dear Dave, Jog On.”

 

A Paying Customer

A letter written sometime in the nearish future.

Dear Lord Chancerlor,

recently I did a bad thing and had to go to court to tell the jury why I was not guilty. Sadly they did not believe a word of what I said and now I am doing 18 months (out in 9). That wasn’t all. At the end of the case the Judge said I had to pay a criminal court charge. 1,200 quid!

So, anyways, now I am thinking I am not just the defendant, not now I am paying to be the defendant. Now I reckon I am a “stakeholder”.  My probation officer explained to me about being a “stakeholder”. And I reckons that as a “stakeholder” I have some rights and stuff. The big right is I get to complain, so guess what this is? Yep, this is a complaint. 

First up is this. When the train is delayed you get a refund on your ticket. When your flight for a week in Ibiza is delayed you get some vouchers for a meal and a beer at the airport. Even on Ryan-whatsit. Well I was on bail for months before my case even got charged. And then I had to waits awhile for my first trial date. It was, like, an age. And don’t go thinking a voucher for a free meal from the court caff is what I am afters. For a start there isn’t even a court caff. 1,200 quid and I got a vending machine. 

No, you sees my trial was listed as a floater. I sat at court all day. For what? Nothin. We sank. We had to come back three months later. To float again. This time we did get on, but only when we got shoved off to another court building. Parking ain’t cheap you knows. I had paid to park all day and then had to go 17 miles down the road to get my trial. 

So, first up, I have included in this letter my car park ticket. Reckons you can knock that off my bill.

Before you goes thinking that’s it, just a car parking ticket, it ain’t. Yeah we got a courtroom when we moved buildings but we had to wait until the next day for enough jurors! Nearly wet myself when me brief told me that one. 1,200 quid for a trial by jury and you didn’t even have some jurors. 

Oh, and by the way, this second court didn’t have a caff neither. 

So I hopes you are going to compensate me for the delay. You know the Benefits people compensate you when they get it wrong. Now I am a paying customer it is time for you to put your hand in your pocket, you don’t seem to mind putting your hand in my pocket.  

However It wasn’t just the jurors. We had another delay because the CPS ran out of paper. No kiddin. The Judge had a proper fit. We had to wait until the next day for the jury to get copies of the interviews. The lawyers and the Judge kept talking about paperless courts. Didn’t seem to be such a good idea. 

So I reckons, when you work out my bill, you gotta come up with something for all the hassle I had. If I pay all that coin for something, you want it to work well. Oh and don’t think you can go sitting on my appeal neither. What’s the point of hearing bout my appeal against sentence half way through? And then chargin me for the privilege. Oh no. You want me to pay, you get me a quick decision. 

So you work out how much my bill is. I need to know so our kid can go out grafting to get the dosh together. 

And my padmate, Tariq, wanted to give you a message. He has paid his court charge. But now he’s got his POCA. And he says that the POCA guy goes that the money he gave you for his court charge is a tainted gift. So he wants it back. Well, they wants it back. 

Laters,

Johnny

The Trial Tax

Parliament has dissolved and most lawyers are grateful to see the back of this administration. We all live in fear of what faces us come 8th May. But even to the last moment this Government produced a kick in the Crown Jewels of the Criminal Justice System. 

You can be forgiven if the Criminal Court Charge snuck up on you. The Lord Chancellor just squeezed it out in the dying days of this session of Parliament. For the legal geeks amongst you (collective noun is a “langhorn of lawyers”) the Criminal Court Charge was created by Section 54 of the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015 which was commenced by statutory instrument No 778 that was laid on 19th March and brings the section into force as of 13th April 2015. 

Hot on its heels came SI No. 796 which gave us the full, terrible detail of the Charge itself. Likewise that was laid on 19th March. And the upshot of that is the figures being charged are not the subject of debate before the House. 

It would be difficult to pick the lowest moment of this Lord Chancellor’s dreadful reign. This is a serious contender. Let us make no bones about this – the Charges that he has elected to introduce amount to a tax on the right to trial. Where Thatcher had the poll tax, Cameron and Grayling have the Trial Tax. 

This piece of political, and I have searched long and hard for the right words for this but can do no better than, this piece of political bollocks (sorry Mum) is anti-democratic, discriminatory, unfair and utter….err….bollocks. 

Why anti-democratic? Well it is patently designed to force people to plead guilty based upon their ability to pay. A guilty plea in the mags will set you back £150 or £180. A trial will set you back £520 or £1,000, if you lose. So the advice given will deal with sentence, prospects of success and then the price comparison. “But I haven’t got a grand,” the client might say, “so I can’t risk it, I’m innocent but I just can’t afford it if I lose. I am going to have to plead.” Your good character is priceless, but unless you have MasterCard, the price of defending it is prohibitively expensive. 

Is this just scaremongering by me, a bleeding heart lawyer bathed in self-interest? No. This is the view of Richard Monkhouse, Chair of the Magistrates’ Association. That is the Magistrates’ Association. MAGISTRATES. Not exactly a well known hot bed of bleeding heart liberals. 

So that is the State, imposing a financial burden that may cause innocent people to plead guilty based upon their wealth. Terrifying. 

How on earth can I suggest that it is discriminatory? Well this is going to hit hard working people who want to get on a damn site more than the old lag who knows all the court staff by first name. Most recidivist offenders do not think through the consequences, most are not put off offending by the prospect of going to prison and most will not pay a penny of their Criminal Court Charges that will mount and mount. That’s why the Government estimate that by 2020 there will be one billion pounds of unpaid charges. 

So who will pay it? It will be paid by hard working people who want to get on. Are you a plumber caught speeding? Going too fast for a fixed penalty? That will be £150 on top of your fine, your points and the Prosecution costs. Are you a fifty five year old accountant involved in a dispute with your neighbour where tempers get frayed and you find yourself charged with using threatening or abusive words? Fight a trial to clear your name and lose? That’ll be £520. On top of your legal fees, because there is no way this Government will provide you with legal aid. And because these people are otherwise hard working, decent people, they will obey the order of the court and pay the price. So it is a Trial Tax that will fall heaviest on previously well behaved members of society. 

Unfair, you hear me cry. What’s it got to do with fairness? Everything. Absolutely everything. The justice system has to represent the best that society can be in terms of representing fairness. It has to represent better values than the values of those it often seeks to punish. And automatic, mandatory impositions of financial burdens without any consideration of ability to pay just offends against fairness. 

But it is not just that. It is so arbitrary. It is so wrong that the same has to be imposed, no matter what the circumstances. So old lady who reverses her car and injures a cyclist gets prosecuted for due care. Her trial takes 45 minutes. She loses. £520. So old lag is drunk and disorderly, struggles with the police officers on arrest and then damages the cell he is put in. His trial runs into a second day. He loses. £520. 

And it goes on. ABH trial in the magistrates that last two hours? £1,000. Murder trial in the Crown Court that lasts two MONTHS….. £1,200. That is 39 and 1/2 days extra court days for the bargain price of £200. And the murderer is likely to qualify for the provisions that allow the charge to be remitted after two years because (1) his earning capacity is somewhat reduced and (2) he may not pick up any further convictions whilst in prison. 

How about the unfairness to the man who, after trial by jury, is acquitted of the indictable only offence and only convicted of the either way alternative? An alternative he may well have been prepared to plead to in the Magistates. Any discretion there? No. None. He pays £1,200 for the privilege of being largely vindicated. 

And what of the false accuser? Should they not pay for their use of the court system upon acquittal? Or even just the witness that does not turn up so the case gets dropped. The witness that calls the police out, gives a statement and then just can’t be bothered. Why on earth should they not pay?

If all of the above does not satisfy you that it is utter bollocks then also consider this. The court charge will be creating potentially preferential debts that will impact upon confiscation proceedings. There is no provision for how the hearings to determine whether to remit the charge will work. Who is going to pay for that? How much is it going to cost to record, monitor and pursue the charges that have been imposed?  What is the Lord Chancellor even trying to achieve?

That last bit is easy. Just before the election he is trying to look tough. He is trying to say “look at me, making criminals pay.” It is utter political bollocks. His own department states that by 2020 it could raise £135 million annually but they will be owed £1 billion by that time. Even he does not believe the first bit. If he did, he would not have to cut legal aid further would he?

This is an ambitious politician using the justice system as his political plaything. Lots has been made of having a non-lawyer as Lord Chancellor. Lots is made as to whether Labour or Conservatives are to blame for that. But this is what you get when you allow politicians to play with basic concepts of justice. This is the result of this abhorrent Lord Chancellor caring not one jot for the precious system he swore to protect. 

I don’t know how any lawyer, of any discipline, of any political persuasion, could step inside a polling booth and put an X against any politician who does not decry this false Lord Chancellor. I do not know how any lawyer could vote for someone from the same political stable as the nakedly ambitious and wickedly reckless political animal that is Chris Grayling. 

I do not care who you eventually vote for. Just make sure it is a vote that consigns this Government to Opposition and then do everything you can to lobby the new administration to undo the damage done by this spiteful regime. Starting with the Trial Tax.