Tag Archives: legal aid cuts

Paddington Bear and His No Returns Dilemma 

Yesterday I Tweeted about the fact that I was a 44 year old barrister watching Paddington Bear on my iPad whilst on the train. This provoked nearly 60 responses on Twitter. Far more than any uttering I may have made about Legal Aid and the CBA ballot (ok this may be a lie, but it helps me make the point and gives me a cracking title so cut me a bit of slack).  

The last two weeks have seen urgent and urging missives flying hither and thither about the decision that faced the criminal bar. Ultimately 45% of CBA members voted in the ballot. A pretty decent turnout for a general election but a surprisingly low number for the effort put in by some on both sides of the divide. I don’t ascribe to the “you can’t just snipe from the sidelines, stand for office” line (which comes as no surprise, as I am someone who sits on the sidelines like the worst kind of father of a seven year old footballer), however clicking a link and filling in a form was not the most arduous of commitments for the CBA membership. 

I suppose it may not represent lethargy and apathy. People may have been turned off by this endless, bitter battle against cuts in recent years. People may have abstained, finding neither the wording of the question nor taking no action as representative of their own view. That is not to criticise the question. It is just a realistic analysis of what some may have thought. 

However, the CBA is a representative body and they asked their membership how they wanted that representation to be performed. There was a democratic vote and the decision was in favour of direct action. To their massive credit the CBA Exec have acted upon this and produced a protocol. Furthermore, and I cannot emphasise how grateful the “yes” campaigners should be for this, they have indicated that they will individually observe the protocol. I commend them for the dignity of that response and for the leadership it shows.

We cannot ignore the fact that some voted yes, some voted no and some did not vote. So what are individuals to do? The CBA represent their membership, they do not govern them. 

I suppose there are four options. 

  1. Work as normal. 
  2. Observe the protocol in its entirety.
  3. Only adopt a policy of “no returns”. 
  4. Only adopt a policy of no new work post 01/07. 

If you have read any of my non-animated-bear related posts you will not be surprised that I urge everyone, including the “no” voters and the abstainers to adopt the protocol in its entirety. I have seen little by way of people saying that the recent cut is a positive thing. So the aim of the action will be laudable, to one extent or another, in the eyes of most. This is the approach the CBA membership have chosen, the choice being made in the most appropriate fashion. 

I was vehemently opposed to the deal. However, once the membership had been balloted, I did not agitate for further, continued action. It would seem the view from the North is often, collectively, a militant one. Not for one moment did anyone try to derail the deal by carrying on action post the ballot on the deal. By the same measure that bound us to that, perhaps the doubters will engage with the current action. 

As far as those that do not want to adopt the protocol, and I urge you to think very carefully about that, then perhaps it will be important for you to consider whether you are would be prepared to take a case which you know is available because other people are observing the protocol. What would you do, you may ask yourself, if offered a return in Manchester? These are matters for individuals to decide. The only thing I ask is for you to think about it. 

A profession committed to “no returns” is capable of speeding this matter to a conclusion. I welcome the announcement by the BFG, the CLSA, the LCCSA, the HRBL and the CBA of a joint approach on this issue. Long overdue and entirely the right way forward. (In case you are wondering, the HRBL is the Home for Retired Bears in Lima. Aunt Lucy is with us, all the way).

Perhaps the threat and reality of “no returns” adds a little of Paddington’s hard stare to the negotiators’ armoury?

One Direction

Nick Lavender QC and Nigel Lithman QC are two men who really do not need my support. I am going to give it them anyway. Cometh the hour, cometh the men with the initials NL. And so it is that the leadership of the Bar at this present moment in time rests in the hands of these two men. They need to know that they have the support of every member of the Bar. If they have the courage to lead, we will have the courage to follow.

So firstly Nick Lavender QC. He has recognised that the struggle of the Criminal Bar is not an isolated struggle. It involves every barrister in England and Wales. It involves very many of the non-criminal practitioners because the Legal Aid cuts make the business model of a mixed set of chambers impossible to maintain. I have always been amazed by the fact that the MoJ recognised in the first consultation that the cuts over the years had rendered the “market” fragile in terms of solicitors but did not recognise the same applied to the Bar and to chambers. I rejoice in the fact that I am in a mixed set. I cannot expect my non-criminal colleagues to carry a Legal Aid practitioner.

However it involves every barrister – employed, sole practitioner, Admiralty Silk or former barrister turned Judge because the Legal Aid cuts impact upon the rule of law. Do not take my word for that. Listen to Lord Pannick QC. Now that Pannick fellow knows a thing or two about the law. So when he says the restrictions on Legal Aid for prisoners “will do enormous damage to the rule of law in prisons and there is no justification for them” I would tend to think he has it right. Indeed the Lord Chancellor himself says these reforms are ideological. He does not believe that prisoners should have Legal Aid to challenge which prison they are sent to. What he is actually saying is that he does not believe poor prisoners should be able to challenge which prison they are sent to. A rich banker with family money to burn can have access to the courts, a heroin addict from a council estate cannot. That is but one example of how these cuts are targeted to restrict access to justice for all but the rich.

That is why the event taking place on 8th February 2014 One Bar One Voice should already be a sell out. It is asking you to give a morning of your time to preserve a lifetime of liberty. I know it is short notice. I know it is a weekend. I know it is in London (albeit quite a large number of barristers do tend to live quite close to London). I also know it is vitally important that the Government realise Nick Lavender does not speak with a lone voice, that Lord Pannick does not speak with a lone voice, that the Criminal Bar does not speak with a lone voice. One Bar. One Voice.

Of course there are those already chomping at the bit to fight. Those that constantly want to know “what’s next?” following on from 6th January. And that is where Nigel Lithman QC deserves your support. Firstly because he has earned it. Nobody has ever led us in to direct action before. Ever. He did. This NL keeps you informed, as others have done before, in the Monday Message. Today’s message indicated when we would know the next step. It is only when we know the next step can we judge whether 6th January gave the leadership a nosebleed or a taste for blood. I have every confidence that the CBA has the stomach for the fight.

Not only has Nigel Lithman earned your support but the one crumb of comfort that the Government could have at this time is the sense that support is waning. Our unwavering support for a whole package of actions directed against the cuts is the very lifeblood of the fight. The VHCC debacle is edging the MoJ ever closer to the precipice. Their only hope now is that the Bar will crack. Your support for the two NLs says one thing “we are not for turning.” I think that is language this Lord Chancellor will understand.