Tag Archives: law

This is My Decision

So the CBA have announced their ballot. If you are eligible to vote I urge you to do so as soon as possible. The vote is available here. It is absolutely vital that you vote and have your say, either way. 

There has been some consternation about the fact that the ballot has a closing date two weeks away. I can understand some frustration with this. Of course if lots and lots of people vote very quickly the period may be foreshortened. 

I pause for a moment to observe you should be careful what you wish for. Many of us wanted a ballot. We have got a ballot. Impatience expressed with intemperance may not be the best way to persuade. Herding cats is a difficult task to manage. The CLSA  and the LCCSA know that only too well. They have been corralling felines for months and months. I know that time is of the essence, however sometimes patience is rewarded. 

The question in the ballot does start off with one tiny mistake. The opening line is “solicitors face an 8.75% cut to litigators fees.” The mistake is not in the missing apostrophe or an extra “s”. Only an arse would point that out. Actually it is two mistakes. The first is that the cut is not only in respect of litigator fees. Or litigator’s fees. It is in respect of lots of fees. Like the ridiculously low fee for police station visits. The second error is that it is an additional 8.75% on top of the cut already suffered. And is in advance of a further cut due in January. Oh and is also being introduced before the consolidation has taken place that the Government recognises has to take place to avoid total market failure. 

But the important thing is the vote is asking you to support the action taken by solicitors up and down the country as of today. The same battle we fought recently. 

For many days now I have been giving the whole thing lots and lots of thought. Contrary to public opinion, I do think about these sort of things. And I am increasingly coming round to the view that I truly have an individual decision to make. The decision I make right now is irrespective of the view taken by my chambers, my Circuit or the CBA. It is not a protest.

When I did not attend court on the days of action I was not reported to the BSB by my instructing solicitor. When I participated in no returns, my instructing solicitors understood and were supportive. Furthermore I was really, really, really, REALLY (I think I may have enough emphasis now to get across the fact that I mean this) but I was REALLY pissed off when I thought that action was being undermined by people who took returns. 

And if I took a case that had a Representation Order after 1st July I would be exactly the person that I felt let me down so badly last time round. And, in all conscience, I cannot do that. 

So from now until the result of the CBA ballot is known, I am not available for new defence work with a Representation Order dated 1st July onwards. Until such time as we join with the protest I will not undermine the protest of my friends, colleagues and allies. If I miss out on a fortnight of new briefs, so be it. If others profit from my stance so be it. 

Once I started to think about it, the answer was obvious. I wonder how many agree with me? Perhaps you could comment below if you do. It’s not a ballot. More of an informal survey. But a survey that may reassure those who today took the first step in standing together in the same way the Bar did. 

Good luck. 

How Much!?!?

The Daily Mail online is outraged at the £350,000 in legal aid given to Mick and Mairead Philpott. Of course, this is not entirely correct. The Philpotts were not “given” £350,000 like some sort of lottery win. What they were given was a fair trial. What we, the public, got for that expense were safe convictions. Their victims, their children, got justice. 

The outrage is sparked by the heinous nature of their crime. They were responsible for killing six children, their own children. Their notoriety was heightened by their lifestyle which was somewhat unconvential. And involved extensive reliance on benefits. 

Imagine for a moment that they were innocent. That they had not committed this terrible crime. That they were innocent parents wrongly accused of murdering their own children. As they were at the outset of the trial. It was a trial process that determined they were responsible and needed to be severely punished. And before society reached the stage of punishing them they had to have a trial in which they were properly represented. So that, if they were innocent they would not be wrongly convicted. Money well spent. 

Some of the outrage centres on the fact that fatcat lawyers got some of this money. What an incredible surprise that this story appears at a time when the Government want to cut lawyers’ fees even further. 

For the nine week trial leading counsel were paid in the region of £57,000 each and junior counsel £26,000. Outrageous. The sort of sums the average hard working taxpayer dreams of taking home in a year, let alone trousering for just nine weeks work. 

The first thing that the article does not point out is that the fees are fixed. It is not what the lawyers have concocted as a bill. It is what the Government has set as a fixed payment. It also does not point out that the reason why two counsel represented each defendant was not decided by the lawyers or by the clients. The Philpotts did not demand a QC and a Junior. A Judge decided the case required this level of representation.

So let’s have a look at those fees. I suspect that the fees quoted include VAT, as they usually do when quoted in such stories. For the Junior this would mean the fee was in fact £21,600. But let’s work on the basis that £26,000 is right. The trial lasted for nine weeks. That is 45 days. That is £580 per day. 

£580 per day is a lot of money. However I imagine most members of the public would expect barristers to cost more than £580 per day. So let’s break that down a bit more. A working day can reasonably be expected to contain seven hours. In fact many at the Bar realise that a trial of this nature will invlove longer days than this. But let’s stick at seven hours a day. So that £580 per day equates to about £83 per hour. In London the miminum living wage is £9.15 per hour. So those barristers are coining it in. Not quite the £200 per hour Lord Faulks thinks they get paid but they are still squealing all the way to the publicly funded bank with their £83 per hour. 

Except that they are not. The £83 per hour is not a wage. It is not personal income. It is a payment to a business. A business with overheads and staff. So that hourly rate is far more like the charge out rates for other professions. So how does the £83 compare?

A quick stroll around the Internet provides some interesting comparisons. In 2002, the Health and Safety executive commissioned a report about the charge out rates of their various professionals in performing their duties. Not a single hourly rate dipped below £100. 

In 2010 the average hourly charge out rates for PR executives ranged from £185 for the partner to £98 for an account manager to £65 for the trainee. That’s £65 for a trainee. So the barrister representing someone on a murder charge is on an hourly charge out rate closer to that of the trainee PR employee. 

But let us look at a true comparable. In 2011 the average charge out rate for a solicitor in private practice of more than eight years experience was £217. The trainee in the solicitors’ office was charged out at £118. So the barrister on public funds is being paid less than the going rate. The taxpayer is getting a discount. 

And what of the QC? We can see the Silk was on a little over double that of the Junior. Based on the calculation above the Silks’ charge out rate is £180 per hour. So that compares with the £217 quoted for the more senior solicitor. However Silks are the best of the best. The top of the profession. Men and women with years of experience, combined with immeasurable talent. The sort of lawyers that would be the partners in the best law firms in the land had they chosen a different career path. The sort of lawyers who have an average charge out rate of £725 per hour. 

All of this is very interesting but I am spouting complete nonsense. All of my sums are based on the fee being paid just for the hours taken by the time the trial ran. It takes no account of other court appearances. No account of meeting with the client to discuss the case. No account of the hours and hours of out of court preparation. The real hourly rate for the Junior? Probably half of the £83. £41.50! (Which if the fees quoted do include VAT, is actually £34.50).

The average income, the actual wage, of an airline pilot is £44 per hour. 

So what is the junior barrister doing for this money? Playing their part in defending the innocent and convicting the guilty. Doing something which few have the necessary  blend of abilities to achieve. Putting in hours and hours of painstaking work. 

And just think what sort of things they have to bear witness to. The preparation of this case would not just have involved complex detail. It would not have involved just complicated expert evidence. It would have involved the sort of material most people will go through life without ever having to see. Dealing with a case involving the death of six children is hugely emotionally upsetting. If the reader of this is a non-lawyer I hope you never have to read a post-mortem report. Or see the photographs of the crime scene. The material that the defence lawyer will be exposed to in a case like this is the stuff of nightmares. No hourly rate compensates for that. 

And yet we do it. We do it as a necessary part of a fair society. We do it at an incredibly low cost to the Government. This is the scandal. This is the true story of Legal Aid. The story that the Daily Mail would never write. The story that means Gove’s announcement of the implementation of further cuts to even the £140 to spend all night at a police station is the real scandal. 

The journalist that wrote this piece and the Lord Chancellor who acts in futherance of such nonsense should hang their heads in shame. I hold my head high. 

Cradle to Grave

A few years ago the CPS advertised for lawyers who would see the case from “cradle to grave”. The advertisement showed a lawyer one step behind the police as they burst in through the door of the suspect’s house and then showed the same lawyer representing the Crown before the Crown Court Judge. The sort of lawyer that Emma Thompson would play in a film. 

The idea of case ownership is laudable. That a lawyer should have overall control of the case from start to finish has obvious benefits. Decisions are made early, issues are refined and the trial process is more efficient. It is true for both sides, prosecution and defence. 

It is such an important aspect of the Criminal Justice System that it is catered for in the Criminal Procedure Rules. Rule 3.19 of the CrPR requires the defence to notify the court of the identity of the trial advocate no later than the  day of the PCMH and no later than five days after any change. The system of payment of defence fees is specifically designed to ensure that the same advocate attends the PCMH and the trial. Somewhere it is said that the judiciary should make sure listing practices are adopted that makes this possible. 

Does it happen? Does it buffalo! (that was an autocorrect suggestion, but I thought “buffalo” said what needed to be said). 

So let me tell you a story. As ever it is a case that I have conducted recently. The truth is, for the advocate, that there is nothing better than the simple return the night before. You can breeze in, disagree with what has happened before, criticise everyone else and you cannot get the blame for anything. Its great. You’ve had no responsibility for editing, drafting and babysitting. Perfect. 

So that is what I found myself with recently. Someone else’s defence return for trial. Now I had cause to look at the PCMH form. In the box where the the names of the trial advocate and PCMH advocate had to be filled in there were the names of two different in-house advocates from my instructing solicitor and an in-house advocate from the CPS. 

This is not a complaint about in-house advocates. Employed advocates are an economic reality. In-house advocacy is not incompetent advocacy. 

However everyone familiar with the PCMH form will know that the identity of the defence trial advocate is required but the identity of the prosecution trial advocate is not. Look again at Rule 3.19, it focuses on the defence advocate only. You can justify it all you want, but the truth is that identifying an advocate responsible for the case is equally, if not more, essential when it comes to the prosecution. 

The original PCMH forms required the identity of the trial advocate. The CPS managed to persuade those that design the form to remove this requirement. The reason? Simple. The CPS want to keep hold of the case until they know whether it is going to plead or not. It makes their in-house advocates more economical if they go to court with a pile of PCMHs. The ideal of cradle to crave prosecuting was just the thing of an advert. Efficient and effective case management sacrificed for cost. 

Who was it that allowed this? The form, the CrPR and the PCMH itself are the provenance of the judiciary. The judiciary have allowed the financial requirements of the CPS to dictate what happens in the judicial process. Anyone for a bit of judicial independence?

That is just a general moan. As I say, the form named the trial advocate as someone from my instructing solicitor. However my return came from one of my colleagues. How come? Well at the PCMH the Judge refused to fix the case for when the identified advocate could do the case. So my colleague was briefed. As it happens the CPS also briefed the case out. My colleague even had a conference, in preparation for the trial. And then the trial date that had been fixed at the PCMH, at the insistence of the Judge and regardless of the original advocate’s availability, was pulled from the list the night before. 

Now here we have the problem with lists. Frankly courts do not have the resources to deal with the caseload that they face. The courts are not allowed to fill each courtroom with a case because they are not allowed to employ a Judge in each of the courtrooms that exist. So cases are listed with barely a chance of being heard. And get pulled the night before.

So my colleague had to take the chance that the trial would be refixed when he could do it. And, despite the fact that he had met the defendant in conference, the trial was fixed when he could not do it. So it was returned to someone who could do the new trial date. In the meantime the prosecution advocate found himself in the same position, so that brief went to someone else. 

I was not the person that the case had been returned to. That was another of my colleagues. But when it came to the night before the new trial date, listing did not have any judges. So pushed it back a day. Rendering the second substitute advocate unable to do it. So in I breezed. And everyone involved in the case between PCMH and my eventual trial date will get paid not a single penny. 

There is no prospect of continuity of advocate from start to finish. If it happens, it is more by luck than design. The CPS will, with the connivance of the judiciary, instruct on the basis of keeping the money in-house rather than on the basis of cradle to grave prosecuting. And then the trial will be fixed according to some arbitrary date that represents no more than a vain aspiration of when the case will be heard due to a lack of resources. And then everything will change again and the case gets thrown back on to the merry-go-round of listing and it is just a question of luck as to who ends up doing it. 

Oh, and by the way, the case was a sex case. The sort of case that gets some degree of priority. Allegedly. The sort of case with a vulnerable witness, a witness who suffers from the delays caused by lack of resources, who suffers because the case is not dealt with efficiently due to a plethora of ever-changing advocates on both sides. 

It became painfully obvious during the last election that this is not an issue that the politicians and the electorate are concerned about, despite some admirable efforts to make it an issue. What is needed is a true, headline-grabbing crisis to bring the general, day-to-day crisis to the attention of those that could do something about it but choose not to. Surely the time has come for those who work within the system, the system that fails on a daily basis, to create the sort of crisis and chaos that will make them listen. 

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. 

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. 

You’ve Been Shamed

From time to time I have shared with you the minor disasters and irritations of my professional life. This has been cheaper than therapy. Probably not as effective, but cheaper. And I hope that my moans and gripes have illustrated to the uninitiated that the Criminal Justice System operates about as effectively as Natalie Bennet when she is full of a cold. 

The daily occurrences of incompetence, ineptitude and inadequacy are such features of, well, daily life that I am now letting them pass by without comment. So I have neglected to tell you about the Prison Officer who appeared over the videolink and candidly announced “We will probably run late with the links today, we are short of staff. Don’t blame me, blame the Government.”  Which was fair enough. 

On the subject of videolinks, I was remiss in not telling you of the videolink which commenced with the clerk asking for the defendant to be brought into the booth. So we awaited his arrival. And waited. And waited. A good ten minutes. Counsel, court staff and Judge, looking at a TV screen showing a chair in front of a curtain. Eventually an officer re-entered the booth. 

“There is a delay,” she announced. Which came as no shock to those of us who had been sitting there for the aforementioned ten minutes. 

“We can’t find him.” Which did come as a surprise to everyone as he was in prison, and as a particular surprise to defence counsel who had spoken to him moments earlier in the conference booth. 

Nor did I tell you about the case that was listed for videolink where the prison mistakenly put the defendant on the van instead. And the cells sent him back to prison because his PCMH was listed by videolink. Which he did not get back to the prison in time for.  On the bright side, at least they knew where he was. Most of the time. 

I shouldn’t just pick on custody cases and videolinks. There was the interpreter who had to be prompted to interpret. Every time. Or the interpreter that refused to assist in communicating with the defendant outside of court. Even when invited to by the Judge. 

But I haven’t mentioned any of these because they have become such the norm of life in the courts that they barely register. All of the instances mentioned above have happened in the last two weeks. Including two Bank Holidays. And a day out of court. So that was seven days worth of cock-ups at court. I should mention that I have only picked the best ones. 

One case has been such a catalogue of errors that I would not know where to even begin. That is a whole blog on its own. If I can ever bring myself to tell you about it. 

I have been moved to put pen to paper once more…..or fingers to iPad….no, that sounds wrong. I have been moved to write (that’s better) about these cock-ups again because my two week trial, that was listed for Monday 13th April in August of last year has been pulled from the list on the Friday before. Despite the fact that I know another trial, listed for at least a week and due to start on Monday as well, was resolved this week. So that’s two trials they could not accommodate. Actually make that four trials as I know of two others that have been pulled. Whilst three courtrooms sit empty in the building. 

It’s alright though. The offences only date back to 2009. It is only the second trial date. There are only six complainants waiting for their cases to be tried. (I am leaving to one side the dirty great big hole in my diary, although if any of you solicitors out there have any easy, private payers just knocking around over the next fortnight, you know where to find me….)

So the cock-ups are funny. Funny in a “if you didn’t laugh, you’d cry” kind of way. But they are symptomatic of a system that is just not working. It isn’t at breaking point. It’s broken. 

There has been lots of talk in the last couple of years of excellence versus competence. Of quality versus efficiency. Right now, I’d settle for “barely functioning”. It would represent a step forward.