Tag Archives: legal aid

Apples and Oranges

And so this evening my eye fell upon a piece in The Spectator Online by Ross Clark, you can read it by clicking on this link. My attention was drawn to the article by the howls of wounded lawyers taking to Twitter to say “pah” or to invite Mr Clark to spend a day with them to see how the legal system really works. So I was forewarned lawyers would come out of the article badly. I had no idea how badly the authors of comment pieces in The Spectator would also fare.

The title is “Why MPs should not stop legal aid reform”. The catalyst for the piece is the recent pronouncement of Nigel Evans MP that legal aid reform had gone too far, something he discovered for himself when accused of a crime. The premise of the piece – well that may take a little more unraveling, but I will give it a go. Mr Clark seems to be suggesting that the law is an industry which is resistant to change and operates as a conspiracy to make it too complicated for the layman to represent themselves. He argues that reform is needed to simplify the law and procedure. So far so good (although the I confess to having a wry smile at the  use of the word “arcane” in a plea for simplification) but I cannot help but feel this is not foreshadowed by the title or by the catalyst in the iniquity of acquitted defendants who do not qualify for legal aid having to fund their defence.

The headline lays down the gauntlet as to why MPs should not stop legal aid reform, regurgitates some figures about the cost of legal aid (and more of that in a moment) and then goes on to propose reform to the legal system. It fails singularly to deal with the issues raised by the case of Nigel Evans. It does not deal with the issue of those denied access to justice whilst the legal system remains as it is but funding is denied to so many. It fails completely to deal with any issue about the provision of legal aid. It is the equivalent of me standing before a jury to do my closing speech and delivering a plea in mitigation.

The complaint is made that complex language and procedures keep the layman bewildered by the legal system and that the answer is reform to make it clearer so that people like Nigel Evans can represent themselves. This argument always ignores the fact that most lawyers bring more to the case than their knowledge of law and procedure. We bring skills in litigation and advocacy that go way beyond what is written in a statute or contained within the law reports. Thinking that if only we make the language less complex and the procedure less procedural we will open up law to non-lawyers equates to making us all pilots if only we stop calling it the altimeter and instead refer to the “how far we are off the ground” dial.

Time and time again both experience and academic study shows that lawyers can save an awful lot of time. One of the main things I do is act as a filter between what the client may think is relevant and what is actually relevant. I spend hour after hour agreeing issues and evidence with my opponent that someone without my experience and detachment would never agree.

That is not the only filter I provide. The law recognises that people charged with the sort of offences of which Nigel Evans was acquitted should NEVER be allowed to cross examine the complainant themselves. This is a law which is good. This is a law which benefits those who are the victims of such offending. It encourages reporting. It facilitates the complainant giving their evidence in the best way possible in the circumstances. So which reform would Mr Clark like to see where someone in Mr Evans’s position would be given the ability to cross examine their accuser? Not all in this position are innocent. You get very unpleasant individuals only too eager to exercise control over their partner through the witness box. I am a filter. I am a safeguard. A safeguard that legal aid reforms has now removed from many a family case. What a triumph.

And now the figures. This is depressingly familiar. Depressingly misleading. Depressingly inaccurate. The piece states

“A Council of Europe Report in 2014 – after the legal aid reforms began to take effect – calculated that UK taxpayers were spending £2 billion a year on legal aid, compared with just £290 million in France and £272 million in Germany.”

Now this is where I would suggest it starts to go badly wrong. The suggestion is that we spend £2 billion a year on legal aid after these reforms and, therefore, more reform (i.e. cuts) are required. In fact the spend on Legal Aid in 12/13 was £2.2 billion; 13/14 £1.9; 14/15 £1.7; 15/16 £1.5; 16/17 £1.6 and 17/18 £1.6. The MOJ budget has suffered the biggest cuts in Whitehall, down from £10.9bn to £6.4bn.

It is wrong and a little bit lazy to quote £2bn without the further context of what the Legal Aid spend is now when considering whether the legal aid system, or indeed the legal system, requires further reform. And yet the really misleading bit is not in the figures. Or the context. It is in the statement that the £2bn came from a report in 2014 after the complained of cuts had already done their work. Just a moment with Google would tell Mr Clark how misleading this is. LASPO gained Royal Assent in May 2012. Many of the changes in Legal Aid were introduced in April 2013. The system whereby acquitted offenders of certain means footed the cost of their defence was not introduced until January 2014. Inevitably the “savings” take a while to show in the figures. In 2014 the cuts had barely had time to have an impact. It took time. Hence the decline we see in the figures I quote above.

You may well think I have been a little unfair on Mr Clark. Google would tell him that LASPO was in force in May 2012 so the report he quotes could reasonably be said to be after the reforms had begun to take effect. Google may not have told him that the changes were staged over a long timetable. But Google would also have given him access to the report. Even five minutes with the report itself would have told him that the figures in the report were from 2012 at the latest. That is before the legal aid reforms were implemented. Looking it up on Google and reading the source material is not Pullitzer Prize winning journalism.

The bizarre thing is that the piece manages to argue against itself, I suspect unwittingly. The comparison is made with the Legal Aid spend in France and Germany. The piece further argues that reform to our legal system, to make us more like Germany and France, would see our legal aid budget further reduce. This tells us that the system may be a driver of cost.

Let us look more at the 2014 report. It tells us of the whole spend of countries on courts, legal aid and the public prosecution system. The figures show that England and Wales spent €5.4 bn (population 56.6 million), Germany €9.1bn (pop 80.5 million) and France €4bn (65.6 million). The costs for the court system excluding legal aid per inhabitant is €103.5 in Germany but only €42.2 per person in England and Wales. If Herr Klark in Das Spectator has used that figure to suggest reform is needed to the German Court system because we spend so much less than them, well they would be comparing Apfel und Orangen.

Time and time again it is pointed out that comparisons of legal aid spend in an adversarial system to the legal aid spend in an inquisitorial system is almost meaningless, and yet, like HG Wells’s Martians, still they come.

The legal profession is less resistant to change than many would believe. What we are resistant to is the poor and misleading use of evidence. We are resistant to misinformation and the misinformed. Mr Clark is more than welcome to advance his views on reform to the legal system but they need to be based in reality. They need to deal with the real injustices happening week in and week out because of the removal of legal aid and suggest something for the here and now. If he sees the long term answer to be a reform of the judicial system that has to be thought out with cost implications, both financial and societal. And whatever he argues for, he needs to rely upon more by the way of research and less by lazy trope.

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Welcome to my little abode.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Great Wizard reappeared.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Revival totalis”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hood nodded.

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

“Take it,” instructed the Wizard.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Inside, handwritten in ornate writing was the expanded title

Hexes, Magic, Charms, Teleports and Spells”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nothing.

The incantation. She had forgotten to say the incantation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tears started to come.

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

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

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

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

“I…I….,” stammered Hood.

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

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

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

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

But nothing. Nothing happened.

The Wizard helped her to her feet.

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

The Wizard sort of smiled.

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

THE END

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

Autumn Days

As the first days of autumn come tumbling down and the optimism of summer is shaded by the gloom of an oncoming winter we are, yet again, responding to another consultation about the graduated fee scheme.

My first reaction was that I had been consulted previously. And my response was a robust, two fingered retort. I was instantly jaded that this process had to be the subject of a further consultation when it seemed to make more sense that we were simply provided with a new scheme, worked out with those that represent us.

At least the consultation process has, belatedly, allowed some further number crunching. And the proposed £15 million injection would actually be a £8 to 9 million injection if last year’s billing data was used. This has caused outrage. This has prompted some to suggest that the Bar have been totally had over.

I have to confess I don’t share that outrage. Not over that. The reality is that the case mix and the pages contained within those cases is only broadly predictable. In a year’s time we may do a retrospective comparison and find that the new money was in fact £17 million. Or £5 million. That is just the nature of the beast.

That is why I had this to say at the time of the last ballot:

“I make it crystal clear that what matters is not the figure of £12 million or 6.6% or 1%. It is what we can see we are getting paid for the case. And whether that is enough we cannot say until we see the new figures in the boxes. And if they are not right, I will be the first to say we reject them.”

So I wanted to see a consultation that showed lots of worked examples. Tables that showed what we got paid under a scheme that included PPE, what we get paid on the current scheme and what we will get paid with new money in the scheme. That is the only way the practitioner with a mortgage to pay, a family to feed and a life to lead can assess this material.

This consultation is not packaged in this way. And that concerns me. How are we to decide about these things in the abstract? It is the figures in the boxes which really matters, what we are going to get paid for the case. Until I am provided with this information then I am not going to respond positively to this consultation.

But this is not the source of outrage. But that is not to say I am not outraged.

When we were presented with this proposal we were told that things had to move quickly. We were told that the current scheme could not be delayed but that part of the reason to take this offer was to enable an October implementation. That was absolutely fundamental. We would take work remunerated inadequately for a short period of time as a gesture of goodwill, goodwill which we believed was being reciprocated. I have no doubt that this is what the Bar Leadership were being told.

And now there is no prospect of that happening. We are told that it is going to be December, at the earliest, before the new money comes into the scheme. My goodwill was a brown leaf dangling from a horse chestnut tree. It is now already compost. This is not acceptable. This delay undermines the whole process.

The message is simple. We start the ball rolling towards a resumption of “no returns”. The MoJ should be told that this is a consequence of yet another broken promise. And that our goodwill is going to have to be bought again. With less online consultations and more money.

We Are Right

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

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

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

Enough.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Unmentionable Fee

In my previous post about the AGFS consultation I promised I had more thoughts to share about it. And whether you want them or not, here are some more of those thoughts….

If you spend any time hanging around robing rooms (and thanks to floating trials and/or it being a cheaper way of keeping warm on a winter’s day I tend to spend a lot of time hanging around in robing rooms) then you will hear some common complaints from criminal practitioners. We complain a lot about not being paid for the second day. We moan about doing mentions for free. We really moan about paying people to do our mentions in other court centres whilst we do the second day of a trial for no additional payment. And never ask counsel how much they are being paid for a sentence hearing. 

I have no doubt that the working group who had input into the draft scheme had these sort of moans very much in mind. And they have tried to rectify them. Again it is important to remember that this is moving money around the pot. So the money for the second day’s refresher sees brief fees reduced. The current brief fee included an amount for the second day and fairly directly the money has now been split into two. Which is morale boosting to know that your second day does actually attract its own reward but is one of the reasons why we now look at the fee for the first day, the brief fee, and say “really?” That has a definite knock on effect when it comes to cracked trial fees but that is a whole separate blog (I bet you can’t wait).

It is proposed to pay for the first six standard hearings in a case under the new scheme. We are told that it is only a very small number of cases that have more ancillary hearings that this. I must confess it is not entirely clear how exactly the seventh mention should be remunerated, save for the fact that it is going to come out of the graduated fee, albeit at no specified rate. 

I would suggest that mentions for the purposes of onward remands which are required by statute should be remunerated as being outside the standard appearance regime (including hearings related to custody time limit applications). 

But at least we are getting paid for those first six standard appearances. That should silence the moaning mention miseries in the robing room. We are going to get £60 a pop. Which is nice. 

It is not, however, as nice as the £100 we got for such hearings in April 2007. Or the £96 we got in April 2010. Or the £91 we got in April 2011. Or the £87 that we have been paid for such hearings since April 2012. I know the pot is staying the same but that kind of feels like a pay cut. In fact it looks like a pay cut. It sounds like a pay cut. And it is a pay cut for the Junior Bar who are not swanning around picking up brief fees left right and centre but will, in the early days, often only do “standard appearances” for days on end. It is a pay cut based upon cut upon cut. 

I know that junior practitioners will do mentions and standard appearances for days on end because that is what I did when I was first on my feet. And I was getting £45 per mention back then so at least £60 is a bit of an improvement. Except it isn’t. Because I did my first £45 mention in 1993. And in today’s money that equates to £64.09. So I am getting paid less for those standard appearances than when I was a pupil. That is time travel that Doc and Marty McFly would be impressed by. 

I am not dependent on standard appearances for my income but for the very most junior it will be an important part of their income. And it is being slashed to the bone here. And serves as a perfect example for the general depletion of fees over the years. 

This is not the fault of those from the Bar Council, the CBA and the Circuits who have tried to come up with a better scheme. This is a result of the fact that those who control the overall level of fees have cut and cut again. This latest redistribution of the pot only serves to highlight that we are trying to stretch a sandwich sized piece of cling film over a football pitch. Every time we try to adequately cover one square inch we expose acres. 

The £60 mention fee, less than we were being paid 24 years ago, simply highlights that they stated intentions of the scheme – to provide payment that matches work and feeds the young barrister – is impossible to achieve if the size of the pot remains the same. 

Once upon a time, Andrew Langdon QC tweeted “And what we need to do is work together in resisting dual contracts and winning a rise in the summer of 2015”. He is now Chairman of the Bar. Dual contracts are in the long grass with most of Grayling’s output. But it is now heading towards the spring of 2017. Our voices of complaint should not be against those who have worked hard to design a modern scheme that reflects how evidence is served. Our voices of complaint should echo what the Chairman had to say in in that Tweet in March 2014. 

If the Government want a sustainable scheme, if they want the cost savings that removing PPE undoubtedly bring, then they should reward our contribution to the design of the scheme with more money. It is plain and simple. We should not work at these rates. 

So answer the consultation. Make your suggestions. But I respectfully suggest that your submissions should make the case for more money. And that you begin to press those in positions of inlfuence, power and organisational control to make the case with you. And to invite such people, those who lead our profession, to be in a position to lead us in a fight to obtain proper remuneration, with everything that entails. 

Pots, Pages and Pay

I have now read the entire consultation on fees. I have cogitated and calculated. I have some views to express (which is a good job or else the starting of a blog would have been a pretty pointless exercise). My thoughts have been concerning the figures in the boxes and the execution of parts of the scheme. In this blog I am going to deal with problem under which those shaping the scheme have had to labour – there is no new money. Fees that were set for cases many moons ago, fees that have been subsequently reduced, are still being paid at the same, reduced rate.  

It is also undoubtedly the case that the current AGFS remunerates some cases in an inadequate manner. There are times when you do a case and then see the bill. You do a double take. Surely there has been some mistake in the calculation of the fee? Surely all that work and worry must be worth more than this? 

There are those at the Bar who are canny and dodge the under-paying cases. There are those of us who think “never again”, right up to the next time you take on a similar case. The long and the short of it is that there are winners and losers when it comes to a fee scheme that pays by the piece rather than by the work put into the piece. 

When it comes to designing a scheme that is based on the same size pot, there are always going to be cases where payment goes down if money is shifted to other parts of the scheme. It is impossible to do it otherwise. 

In my opinion it is the inescapable truth that Silks are not paid enough for murders under the AGFS. I find it impossible to argue otherwise. It is right that these fees should be increased. The increase in these fees should come from extra money being paid into the scheme. The scheme under current consideration requires that the money comes from elsewhere within the scheme. And that means fees for other cases are going to be decreased. 

And here you have the point of tension. No one likes the idea of a pay cut. Those that see themselves as being the losers in this equation are going to cry foul. That is entirely understandable. 

I am not a Silk. I have never applied for Silk. I have no intention to apply for Silk in the next application round. I am a junior that does the occasional drugs conspiracy with a decent page count. I do some fraud type work. So I am going to be in a position where future fees may be reduced. I also do a fair amount of sex cases so I could see some fees increase. And no matter what it means for me, I can see that Silks are not properly remunerated for some murders at the present time. 

The information that accompanies the consultation indicates that the Silks’ slice of the pie is going to increase by 10%. This does not mean every Silk in the land is going to get a 10% pay increase. This does not mean that every Silk’s fee in every case is going to go up. It does not mean that there are no situations where a Silk is going to end up being paid less. It also means that, in some cases, a Silk is going to end up getting paid more than 10% extra on the current fee. But this 10% thing strikes me as a bit of public relations disaster for the new scheme. It makes it very difficult to sell to the rank and file. That 10% is coming from somewhere and it is coming from the fees paid to the junior bar. So I know that a fee increase for Silks is the right thing to happen. It is just that there is not a spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down. 

It may have been easier if just a little bit of the extra money for Silks (produced by a formula explained within the consultation) had just been moderated slightly and the extra money put back into the fees that are being most significantly reduced (paper heavy fraud and drugs). It would have sugared the pill if it was the case that the consultation told us that the formula had worked out that the Silks should have been put up by more but that this figure had been adjusted due to the fact that the fees were being cut elsewhere and that the reduction would therefore be less. 

Of course this is a consultation. I am entitled to make that point. I am not arguing that Silks should not have some of their fees increased. I am arguing that, when the money in the pot is too little to begin with, such adjustments as are necessary should be dealt with not only by way of formula but also by way of sensitivities. 

I am not convinced that one can argue against the removal of page counts per se. It is a clumsy tool by which the seriousness of a case or the work involved is calculated. It worked better when it was first introduced, when it was used to differentiate between cases within a relatively small compass. But as page counts got bigger and the page count payments got extended to thousands rather than hundreds of pages it became less of an accurate measure of a case and more of a lottery in which you hoped for lots of pages on the PPE and a case summary that spoke of only one witness naming your client.

If you are to argue about the numbers in the boxes, it cannot just be by the slogan “save our PPE”. It cannot simply be by the cry that this time round your practice profile is going to mean you are in the column of fees being reduced. If any one wants to make the case why the figures in the boxes are wrong then I am more than happy to host any blogs on the subject. But I also repeat this request – those are argue that the figures in the boxes are right need to release more information to us. The Bar Council, the Circuits and the CBA need to provide us with information. Quickly. 

I will post another blog soon about one or two areas of detail in the proposed scheme. 

Those Pesky Silks

Have you ever been sitting in the robing room and witnessed one of those exchanges between opponents where Prosecution counsel tells Defence counsel something that the police have done and Defence counsel flies off the handle? So you get lots of “outrageous!” exclamations interspersed with “abuse of process” laced with “prosecutorial misconduct” as Prosecution counsel tries to finish her sentence. Off flounces the Defence barrister in high dudgeon. Fast forward four days and you are still in the same chair in the robing room (probably waiting for the same floater to get on) and you realise the trial in which they were involved has reached the stage when the jury went out. Whatever the first, intemperate, reaction there was no foul play; the process cured any prejudice, should there have been any. 

We learn valuable lessons in life. I learn them from exchanges like that. I also learned one from the time of the infamous “Deal”. The lesson I learned there was that the mistake made by the CBA was not in striking the “Deal” but in doing so without a chance for the membership to have their say. Ultimately I was on the wrong side of that argument, but I was allowed my place in the process, albeit belatedly. 

So we now have the proposed consultation on a new payment scheme for advocacy in the Crown Court. And there have been a lot of instant reactions to it. I am yet to get to grips with the detail of the scheme, certainly in terms of the numbers in the boxes. The important thing is that this is a consultation document, not a final scheme. 

When I have mentioned this on Twitter some have responded by saying “History shows us how the MoJ do not listen to consultation responses…” I would respectfully disagree. History shows us that they may well be prepared to listen to responses on the detail of things. Back in the days of the Transforming Legal Aid consultations the “Next Steps” sequel was the consultation in which the proposals had been refined to take into account some of the concerns raised. I appreciate that we were not listened to across the board, but remember this consultation is not about a headline grabbing policy like BVT. This is all about the detail of a scheme. And this is your opportunity to have your say about the detail.

What you say about the detail is entirely a matter for you. I imagine, however, that a response which just says “This is a pay increase for the Silks, arranged by the Silks, at the expense of the Juniors and we are getting sold down the river like we did in the Deal” will not achieve much in the way of change. And it lacks a certain degree of rational thought. 

I was dead against the Deal. But it is history now. Quite ancient history. And has about as much to do with this proposed scheme as…let’s say, the solicitors revised protocols on dealing with new cases at the new Legal Aid rates. 

The reason why I say it lacks a degree of rational thought is because the Working Group that has been (as the name suggests) working on this scheme has not been some Bond like committee of super villains exclusively made up of Silks meeting in the CBA’s secret volcano bunker. It has comprised a cross section of the Bar, including Juniors of a wide range of call and this scheme is, in part, a product of their work. Their honest and freely given endeavour. Please do not fall into the trap of lamenting the avaricious Silks who have the ear of the Government. In doing that you are insulting many a fellow Junior that was worked on this scheme. And you are falling into the very worst of the Daily Mail style traps. 

Disagree about the detail. Do not rely upon a lazy “s’not fair” attack.

And that is very much the point. We all need to not rely upon the fact that the Circuit Leaders back it, that the CBA back it, that the YBC back it or that we take as read the good intentions of the Working Group. We all need to look at the detail. To inform ourselves of what is being proposed with, perhaps, less concern about how it has been proposed. 

So we need information. I note that, once again, Martin Chalkley has been crunching the numbers on behalf of the Bar Council. Such numbers will show why it is that this scheme is cost neutral. I anticipate that it may provide great detail about the impact it will have upon “baskets” of typical grad fees. We need that sort of information and I encourage the Bar Council and the CBA to release such detail as they have and as soon as they can. We cannot have too much information when it comes to our livelihoods and the future of remuneration. 

The detail is required because it takes more that just working out how much one case would pay under the old scheme versus the new scheme. It requires people knowing the impact it will have on them,  not on their best paying case but on every case. 

And the CBA, The Circuit Leaders and the Bar Council cannot rely upon “And so we pronounce it good, therefore it is good” to convince the masses in the style of religious leaders of yore. Where there is detailed concern, we need them to respond, to help us understand. I see that someone tweeted me last night with the figures that a Silk may now receive £37K for a 3 week murder where previously they received £17K. If that is right, I would like to know the thinking behind it. What the leadership must not do is retreat to the secret volcano bunker and adopt a siege mentality. If the rank and file are concerned it is no surprise. Allay their fears, do not dismiss them. 

I can see flaws in the scheme, as I perceive them. I will take time to think them through. For example I can see a problem with the definition of a cracked trial being reliant on the defence CoR. I anticipate that I will blog further on the detail (not that I suggest anyone should care, it just helps me stay sane). 

In looking at the detail though I will do so with one thought in my mind. There is no new money. My ire is not going to be directed at those who are trying to make this pot more equitably divided, even if I believe they have failed in that task. My ire will always be directed at those who choose to underfund the system.