Tag Archives: Lord McNally

The Weakest Link

A dark TV studio. Contestants stand behind oval shaped podia, each of them fanned out at an equal distance from each other, the line of them curved around a central figure. A female dressed all in black. A smart trouser suit with a three quarter length jacket. A look of disdain on an unsmiling face.

The camera focuses on each contestant in turn. The man behind the first mini lectern smiles weakly for the camera, the make-up girl has not managed to entirely stop the studio light reflecting off his bald head. He speaks, “Hi Maura, my names Chris and I am the first non-lawyer to be Lord Chancellor.”

The camera immediately swoops to the next face. Another male. Older this time. More hair but not by much and silvery white. “I’m Tom. I am in the Lords and work in Justice. I have been at the heart of Government pretty much forever.”

The first female contestant is introduced. Smartly turned out in a business suit and a smile that says she is to be taken seriously. She looks directly in to the lens of the camera and says “My name is Helen, I used to be a Legal Aid solicitor but don’t let that put you off me.” The audience, quiet until now, titters at this little quip.

Fourth in the male dominated quintet introduces himself, “My name is Damian. I live in Ashford. I am married to a barrister but don’t let that put you off me.” The smile on his lips remains fixed as his joke passes in stony silence. The camera lingers for a moment, just long enough to make his discomfort palpable before focussing on the final contestant.

“My name is Harry, journalist, author and, before you go mentioning it Maura, member of the Bullingdon Club and distant relo to the PM himself.” Harry allows himself a smile, content that he has already taken the sting out the quizmaster’s infamous barbs.

The camera fixes on the host. “So, the contestants for the Weakest Link MoJ special are here. Who will last less time than Applied Language Solutions? Who has less brain cells than second homes? Who will tip the balance for the scales of justice? Lets see as we play……The Weakest Link.”

The studio lights dim further as Maura turns to face the contestants, dramatic music heightening the tension. The questions begin.

“Chris, who failed to deliver on the terms of their £284 million contract to provide security to the London Olympics?”

“Errr…. The army??” replies Chris.

“No, G4S. Tom, who lost the contract to run Wolds prison in the same year that an inspectorate report found ‘concerns about a number of issues, including the availability of drugs, a lack of staff confidence in confronting poor behaviour, weaknesses in the promotion of diversity and limited work and training provision’?”

Tom thinks for a moment. “The Prison Service.”

“No, G4S. Helen, who had to drop out of the contract process for tagging offenders when it was revealed they had been massively over-charging the public for services that had not been provided?”

“The answer must be the Prison Service.”

“Wrong. It’s G4S. Damian, which company is still being paid £1.2 billion to run HMP Altcourse, £1.5 billion to run HMP Parc and also pockets £175 million to provide facility services to the Court Service amongst many such contracts?”

A pained expression crosses Damian’s face, he shakes his head, “Sorry Maura. The answer is there but my minds gone blank.” He looks down at his little desk before him and sighs. “Pass.”

“Not surprisingly, G4S is the answer. Harry…..” Before the question can be started Harry enthusiastically shouts “Bank”. You can almost hear a weary tone in Maura’s voice as she continues, “Harry, which operatic vocal quartet came to prominence on the X-Factor?”

Quick as a flash Harry answers “G4S”. Just as he does the dramatic music returns to signal the end of the round. Maura tilts her head to one side, “Close Harry,” she says, “very close. The correct answer was G4.” She pivots once again to take in all five contestants. “Well team, that wasn’t very impressive. Not a single correct answer and, unlike G4S, not a single pound banked. So, who is more Judge Judy than Baroness Hale? Who is more Marshmallow than Marshall-Hall? It is time to find out as you vote off…..The Weakest Link.”

As the contestants begin to scribble with a plastic stylus on a screen a voice-over, with a hint of ashtray about the voice, chimes in, “Statistically in that round Harry was the weakest link as he tried to bank when there was no money. And as no one else got a single question right the others all tied as the strongest link in that round.”

“Right, time to reveal who you think is the weakest link” Maura tells them with that clipped manner of the school teacher.

In the next 30 seconds each of the first four contestant press a button to reveal a single name written as by a child on an Etch-a-Sketch. Simultaneously each of them declare “Harry”. At the end of the crescent a somewhat forlorn looking Harry reveals Helen as his weakest link.

Maura addresses Damian, “So Damian, clearly nobody leaked the questions to you did they?” Again Damian looks uncomfortable, “No Maura.”

“It can’t have been the pressure of TV, what with you having been a journalist before entering politics, so what made your brain freeze?”

“Well, you see, there are just so many big corporations these days running different aspects of the criminal justice system sometimes it is a bit difficult to keep up with who is doing what,” Damian splutters.

“I see. Not difficult to see how they get away with ripping the public off then is it?”. Not one of the contestants will meet Maura’s eye as she speaks.

“Harry….”

Harry clears his throat, “Yes, Maura.”

“Why did you vote for Helen?”

“Well, Maura, she gave an obvious wrong answer. Anyone in the know would realise we don’t sell…..errr….outsource the running of the prisons to the prison service because that would be insourcing and no one as ever heard of that so…she….was clearly a weak…..I mean….the weakest link.”

“I know Harry, but you got your question wrong as well as shouting ‘bank’ when there was nothing to bank…..” Maura says with a touch of something bordering pity in her voice.

“That was force of habit. The boys in the Bullingdon are forever playing bank when there’s no money to be had so it just popped out,” laments Harry.

“Harry, you are the weakest link…..goodbye“. And with that icy send off, Harry departs the scene, head bowed. Maura turns to the remaining four, “you survive. Well let’s see who is about to be moved to Fisheries? Let us learn who is destined for higher office and who is packing their bags for Northern Ireland as we play……The Weakest Link!”

“As none of you managed a single correct answer in the last round we will start with Chris again…..Chris if the Ministry want a Legal Aid budget of less than £1billion by 2014 how much does it have to save from Criminal Legal Aid?”

A look of confidence flashes across Chris’s face, “20%” he declares in what he believes is an authoritative way.

“Wrong,” replies the host, “the correct answer is ‘not one penny’. Tom, beginning with ‘U’ what describes a proposal that removes the rights of prisoners to bring actions against the State, bars people from receiving funding because of where they were born and simultaneously makes the whole process of Judicial Review harder and more expensive?”

“Hang on a minute, it wasn’t me that this began with,” Tom complains, “it was all Chris’s idea. He was the one….” Maura inerrupts, “Steady on Tom, I didn’t say ‘you’, I said ‘U’…..as in the letter, which word beginning with the letter ‘U’ describes the proposal to limit the individual’s ability to challenge the Government?”

“Oh I see, gotcha, right…Which word…” Tom mumbles to himself, “beginning with ‘U’…..stops Judicial Review….. Got it Maura,” Tom beams as he speaks clearly now, “Useful. Such a proposal is ‘useful’!”

“The answer I was looking for was ‘unconstitutional’.” Maura turns to Helen, “Helen, which South London firm of solicitors was paid £200,000 in Legal Aid after your appointment to the Ministry?”

“Mine!” Helen immediately answers. “Or rather my husband’s….”

“It’s not the answer we have here, that says Grants Solicitors…..but I am being told in my ear we can accept that. Damian, your question, who decides whether the Prosecution should appeal a sentence as unduly lenient?”

“The P-prrrime-Minister,” stammers Damian, “no, wait, the press….nope, hang on….both.”

“Wrong. Again. It’s the Attorney-General,” Maura is interrupted by the dramatic music, “and that’s your lot for this round. So who is the Cambodian defendant with a Mandarin interpreter? Who is a level 1 advocate “acting up” in a level 3 trial of issue? Who is more My Lacklustre than My Learned Friend?”

As the competitors turn their attentions to scribbling their betrayals the voiceover reminds us that Helen, being the only person to answer a question correctly all evening is the strongest link, whilst the three men are equally weak as each other.

Maura looks at the players with increasing disdain, “Who is going getting the go direct to jail card? Who is having their licence revoked? Lets reveal, the Weakest Link.”

Moments later the three male contestants are stood behind their electronic scrawl nominating Helen whilst Helen herself glowers behind her vote for Damian.

“Chris, you haven’t answered a single question correctly all night. It’s almost as if you would be better avoiding the questions if you have no answers. Why Helen?” asks Maura.

“If you have a team of people working at the same level sometimes you just have to say ‘Sorry Guys, this has been a difficult conversation but we are all in it together, it’s just that one of you guys has now gotta be on the outside in the cold, in it with us, in here.’ And that person has to be Helen. Which I am sure she understands.”

The look on Maura’s face tells us she barely understands a word and Helen certainly seems scarcely comforted as she departs the studio floor.

“And then there were three. Is it three wise men or three men in a boat without a paddle and without a clue? Does MoJ stand for Ministry of Justice or Ministry of Jokers? Starting with you Chris…. which member of the cabinet takes an oath to ‘respect the rule of law, defend the independence of the judiciary and discharge my duty to ensure the provision of resources for the efficient and effective support of the courts for which I am responsible.’?”

For a moment Chris looks stunned, “Me. That’s me!”

CORRECT. Now Tom, which politician, who has not succeeded in an election since 1979, is doing everything he can to make sure the Lord Chancellor does not fulfil his oath?”

“That’ll be me,” cries Tom.

“A miracle. Yes, that’s correct. Now Damian, which is more expensive, the Crown Court or the magistrates?”

“Easy,” claims Damian, “the Crown Court.”

“Right again. Lets keep moving. Chris, statistically which type of sentence is more likely to cut re-offending? A short custodial sentence or supervision by the Probation Service?

“Don’t tell anyone but its Probation,” Chris says, wistfully.

“Wonders never cease, that’s correct. Tom, how often do magistrates commit cases to the Crown Court where the Judge then imposes a sentence less than the maximum available in the Mags?”

“40% of the time,” answers a now cocky Tom.

“What a run. Correct. Now Damian, where should the more complex and serious criminal cases be heard?”

“Too easy, the Mags,” crows Damian.

The dramatic music cues the end of the round. Maura looks visibly drained as she tells Damian, “With that wrong answer you ended the round with no money banked. So which of you is destined for the woolsack and which of you is getting the sack?” And now Maura pauses and looks at her cue cards of acerbic wit. She looks back at the three most senior people in the Ministry. “You know, none of you are the weakest link. Because you are all a shower of shite,” she begins to remove her earpiece and turns to walk away. She glances back at the stunned contestants and continues, “Not one of you has a clue what you are talking about. Not a clue.” As she walks off stage she can be heard saying “Get my agent on the phone. Hook me up with Ant and Dec. If these three are in charge I am beginning to think I am ready for I’m A Barrister, Get Me Out Of Here. Eating a kangaroo testicle has to be better than this…..”

A Fourth Letter to Lord McNally

My Dearest Tommy,

May I first apologise for the frequency of my correspondence? I know now that it was how often that I felt moved to write to Richard Madeley that led to the injunction. I do appreciate how a mountain of correspondence can become tiresome in itself. I hope that the photos of me enjoying the sunshine whilst shopping in Tescos that I sent you on Snapchat have added some moments of levity to your day in these times of austerity.

However I could not let recent events pass without comment. You will, of course, recall what you said last week about litigants in person,

“There have always been a significant number of people representing themselves in court – they did in around half of all child custody cases last year – and we provide information and guidance to help them. Evidence shows that cases where people represent themselves are normally completed quicker.”

This was in response to the report from The Judicial Working Group on Litigants in Person (report here). They had raised spurious concerns about litigants in person occupying judicial time out of court because they contacted the court about all sorts of irrelevant matters, that they made unwarranted applications, lodged unmeritorious appeals, could not understand the difference between a sense of grievance and a cause of action and that the presentation of the cases could be chaotic. They concluded,

“All of these issues have the potential to slow down, and to drive up the cost of, proceedings; and to take up judges’ time.”

Yet where is their evidence of that? I mean it is all well and good Mr Justice Hickinbottom, District Judge Ayers, His Honour Judge Bailey, Professor Dame Hazel Genn, District Judge Lethem, His Honour Judge Martin, Mrs Justice Parker, Alison Russell QC, Regional Employment Judge Carol Taylor and Penny Williams JP DL giving some anecdotal accounts of their collective experience but what do they know? The statistics show that not having a lawyer makes the cases conclude quicker. And that has to be good, right? Justice delayed is justice denied. It isn’t about the Judge coming to the right decision but a quick one. Lawyers just get in the way with their evidence, their law and their persuading the Judge that their first view may be wrong. You don’t get that with litigants in person.

In the debate on 11th July in the House of Lords lots of your noble friends, many of them speaking out of knowledge, sorry, self-interest as former m’learned friends, raised various concerns about the proposed reforms to Legal Aid. I was impressed at your cunning avoidance of answering any of the points they raised. This has caused you somewhat of a pickle in the past when you answered the point about choice, only for everyone else to agree with them. So it was probably for the best that you stuck to a party line (unfortunate phrase for you I know, can lead to confusion as to which party it is this week) in a prepared statement and then going “no comment” to the rest of it. Your opening line that “it was important that I put on record the Government’s point of view” was a wonderful device of political speaking. Making sure your personal ideological view is not confused with Government policy.

You then went on to quote extensively from Lord Carter and his review where he said,

“A healthy legal services market should be driven by best value competition based on quality, capacity and price. All three of these factors should lead to the restructuring of the supply market…..The emphasis of the proposals has been upon providing incentives for firms to structure their businesses in such a way that legal aid services can be procured more effectively, and that the service is delivered more efficiently”.

An admirable source of support for this Government’s proposals for reform. It is to be hoped that everyone ignores his other thoughts when he also recommended,

“The Legal Services Commission should begin from July 2006 a national roll-out of peer review assessment for all firms seeking a place in the new market so that the introduction of best value tendering can take place from April 2009 onwards. The Legal Services Commission should adopt four criteria to plan the roll-out of peer review:

• greatest quality impact for clients;

• greatest opportunity to restructure the local market;

• ensure a level playing field for all firms until best value tendering takes place;

and

assess the impact on the justice system.”

So Lord Carter proposed just short of three years of work that included peer review of all firms seeking to bid for the new contracts. Handy indeed to avoid mention of this given that before the Justice Select Committee the Lord Chancellor was able to tell them that only 10% of firms are currently peer reviewed and he wants these contracts underway by Spring 2014 (well the Lord Chancellor couldn’t, he had to get his colleague to, the Lord Chancellor should not get his hands dirty with peer review when there are cuts to be made). One of the safeguards envisaged by Lord Carter was that all the firms bidding should have been subject to peer review before they were allowed a contract. Surely it is just as safe to do it after the contracts have all been granted? Never mind the quality, feel the consolidation of the market.

As lawyers continue to bleat on about their fees being cut you observed in the debate that “some lower earners may see a small increase in their fee income”. A brilliant political promise. If one year from now you can point to one advocate who has had their income rise by one pound you will be proved correct. And even if you cannot, you would still be right. God, you’re good.

You quite rightly chastised the legal profession for confusing the public. In seeking to reduce the number of contracts to 400 you are not seeking to reduce the number of firms to 400. Loads of the other firms will continue doing all the private paying clients. Who will get a Rolls Royce service. Which is good. Look how many Rolls Royce garages there are on every High Street….oh hang on, that doesn’t work so well. Anyway, lots of firms will contract out services such as attendance at the police station to firms that will then exist on these crumbs from the table. It is wholly disingenuous for the legal profession to suggest that if you remove the ability to undertake publicly funded work from two thirds of firms providing criminal advice and representation that they will cease to exist.

Lord Carlile of Berriew, a member of your own party (for the avoidance of doubt, and as an aide memoire to yourself, that’s the LibDems) then had the temerity to interrupt you and said “Will the noble Lord answer the debate?” to which you pithily answered “I am answering the debate.” If one was a pedant one may point out that you had moments earlier said “I will not be able to follow the usual courtesy of a detailed response to the many individual points and questions raised…..and I will see whether I can cover some of the specific points raised in an omnibus letter that we will circulate to noble Lords.” So everyone can see you were both answering the debate and not responding to the points raised at the same time.

It is quite clear that your answer to the debate is to reiterate what the Government’s position has always been (except on client choice, where they were wrong, but only out of a desire to do the legal profession a favour). If the Lords cannot understand this then that is their fault. I thought Baroness Deech was a bit cutting at the end when she thanked you for “listening”. Made it sound like all your talking had not contributed to the debate.

But you had made one very valuable contribution. In my recent correspondence I had commented upon the fact that I awaited your motion of no confidence in the Lord Chancellor. I was beginning to feel a little disappointed in you. I apologise. I should never have doubted you. You are simply biding your time. Towards the end of the debate you said this,

“However, when the cuts have been made we will still be left with one of the most generous legal aid schemes in the world. I would make the point that although I have never compared it with continental legal aid schemes, I have compared it with common law legal aid schemes in Australia, Canada, New Zealand and elsewhere—and noble Lords will find that it is one of the most generous in the world. I am proud of that fact. I want us to have a generous legal aid scheme. Access to justice is important. I want us to work on ways and ideas, some of which have been thrown up by the consultation, which will give long-term sustainability to legal aid.”

Again the pedantic amongst us could point out that when you describe it as “one of the most generous legal aid schemes in the world” you are comparing it to the continental schemes, what with them being part of the world and all that (unless this is heralding your move to UKIP and we can ignore Europe as part of the global community). But the pedant would miss the true message here. Although you have not compared it to Europe we all know someone who did. George Osborne. In his speech on the spending review he said “the cost of legal aid per head is double the European average.” And now the true believer can see where you are going. Get rid of Grayling. He may be able to survive tagging and interpreter scandals but not an operator like you. Once you have offed Grayling time to point out that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has got his comparisons wrong, point out how pear shaped the Legal Aid system is going in Australia where you have murders unprosecuted through lack of representation and you can save the Legal Aid budget from the cuts! It is Machiavellian brilliance. You win the day and everyone is home in time for tea and cake.

Before now I had been blinded. As I write this letter the scales have fallen from my eyes. I had believed criminals should not be allowed choice. I believed prisoners should not have the protection of the courts. I believed lawyers were overpaid. But now I review your closing words in the House of Lords debate,

“Our legal system, our respect for the rule of law and the eminence and integrity of our judiciary are precious gifts passed down from one generation to another. We all have a duty to protect what is best while managing the change that is inevitable. That is the task before us now, and I again call on all those who care about the system of justice to join us in that task.”

I can see that all along you have been working on the inside to #saveukjustice and I am with you Brother. Every step of the way. If I am wrong about this then I am still with you every step of the way. You just need to let me know where we are going.

Yours in supplicant devotion,

The Gardener

PS I understand the CBA have elected a new boy. Word on the street says he goes by the nickname Red Cross. It must mean he is versed in First Aid. I am sure it is nothing to do with battling for the rights of those he represents……

PPS In your continued rise to power we need some well placed PR. I suggest a few personal interview pieces in the Spectator. We can get that chap Mount to write them. They can be called “When Harry Met McNally”. The whole world will want whatever you are having.

Iolanthe Part 3

The last in an occasional series where I meet the Lord Chancellor…..

Now people, don’t be lazy. Please read Iolanthe Part 1 and Iolanthe Part 2 before reading on in order to get the full context.

A recap. In Part 1 I reported how the Lord Chancellor was asked if he could give an early reassurance on client choice and his response was to say he was listening but could do no more at the moment because he was in the midst of a consultation that he had to let run its course…..three days before he was widely reported in the press giving an early reassurance on client choice. In Part 2 I told you how the Lord Chancellor revealed he had been talking to people who thought they could provide a service within his “financial envelope” of savage cuts……which turned out to be the Law Society.

In Part 3 you will hear some of the Minister’s views on lawyers, fat cats and Michael Turner. And when you hear how some of those views are expressed you may also find out what his opinions really are!

So the next topic covered was the eligibility criteria for criminal legal aid and the £37,500 income threshold. In what you may view as a socially awkward moment the Minister asked the questioner if he understood the income threshold. He then went on to explain, speaking very slowly so we could keep up, that it was disposable income that was the determining factor and not income. He then went on to explain what disposable income was. We were all managing to keep up. He then went on to explain that it basically meant that someone had to be earning a six figure salary before they would be caught by the income threshold.

[I am just going to interrupt at this point. He had been doing a good job up to now of telling us what we already knew. But his protestation that it basically only captured those on a £100K salary did, perhaps, reveal something he did not know. It is household disposable income. So two headteachers, married to each other and their work, would in many instances have a joint income in excess of six figures. If it was the case that one of them was the subject of a malicious allegation by a disgruntled or emotionally vulnerable pupil then they may well not get legal aid to assist them through one of the darkest hours of their life. This income threshold does not just capture the wealthy. It captures many a hardworking household.]

However the Lord Chancellor then went on to reveal the things he really did not know. He was asked how many cases that were granted Legal Aid last year would now be excluded by this threshold? He did not know. He was asked how many households fell in to a bracket that would be excluded by this threshold? He did not know. He did qualify the restriction by saying that there would be a discretion to allow Legal Aid in certain cases.

[I presume by this he was not simply referring to cases where the public would quite like the defendant to have Legal Aid but was a reference to financial hardship etc. Let us for a moment just imagine that the Lord Chancellor was right and this provision only captures those in the very highest bracket of earnings. In these circumstances I would imagine a high proportion of people falling in to that category are prosecuted for fraud or commercially related offences. Those are often the more complex prosecutions. Not made complex by the lawyers but by their very nature. Hence they are often quite costly. So costly that most people’s disposable income would be dwarfed by the cost of the case. So they would be exempted and receive Legal Aid under a hardship test. So all we have achieved is the added cost of the whole process of eventually granting them Legal Aid with all the administrative cost and delay that will entail. Brilliant.]

The most junior practitioner in the room, a barrister conducting publicly funded family work, then addressed the Minister. He described the increasing reluctance for practitioners to undertake publicly funded work. He described his own regret at having followed this path already. He eloquently told the Minister, “the Bar is not making up the fact it is under threat – it IS under threat”. The young barrister then deplored the fact that the consultation introduction drew unfair comparisons with the salaries of public servants and the press statements relating to the income of the Prime Minister.

[Hold on to your hats….] The Lord Chancellor responded, “If somebody is deriving their income from Legal Aid work, in my view, rightly or wrongly, then I struggle to see why, taking in to account chambers fees, VAT, pension contributions, why someone’s actual personal income from criminal Legal Aid should be more than the Prime Minister earns and the truth is at the top end of the scale we have people earning considerably more than that.”

[I am making no comment. The fallacy of this argument has been dealt with elsewhere in an excellent piece by Matthew Scott.]

He continued, “I have been accused of saying that barristers are fat cats, I have never said barristers are fat cats.”

[You may never have used those words. It is just an unfortunate coincidence that those words appear in newspaper stories that report your view that barristers should not earn more than the PM whilst we are treated to another photograph of you, arms folded, looking tough in a prison. I await your complaint to the PCC.]

And then, “Look, financially and logically we should just go for one case one fee. It is obvious. It makes perfect sense. Its easier to operate. It creates a streamlined system but I don’t do it because I didn’t want to destroy the Bar. I have had colleagues say I should do it but I didn’t want to because I want to preserve the Bar.”

[And in that moment we have both reassurance and a threat. I feel cared for like an orphan being called “my dear” by Fagin.]

Yet the words of support kept on coming, “I don’t think the Bar is in trouble per se. I think the Bar has a big challenge because of the number of people in it and the number of people trying to come in to it. I recognise coming in to the publicly funded Bar is much less financially attractive than coming in to the commercially funded area of the Bar but that’s the decisions we take. That’s why I became a member of Parliament instead of carrying on with a job where I earned £60,000 per year more than when I became an M.P. You do it because you want to do it.”

[Now reader, wipe away that tear. Stop the gratitude swelling your heart for the selfless sacrifice to public office made by Chris. When he became an M.P. he had the prospect that the more successful he became his income would increase in proportion to the responsibility of his role. He also had the safety net of the potential for a pay rise. I have no such comfort. He was able to emply his wife on a salary of £37,500 per year, paid for by the state. I am sure if I could employ a member of my family as my clerk and have the State pay for it, I would find my income would go that little bit further. He has the State contribute towards his living expense for a second home, despite his proximity to London. When I go to Bristol next month to do a trial, I will pay for my hotel out of my fee. If he is voted out of office at the next election he continues to receive an income from the State as he continues to receive his salary. If all my solicitors go out of business in the autumn I receive an income from the State. But it is means tested and called Job Seekers Allowance. So Lord Chancellor, although I began in Part 1 saying I was impressed by you, this is the point when you started to lose the room completely. This was the moment when we were treated to the duplicity that lies behind the cuts.]

But he did go on to reassure us that he “knew junior publicly funded barristers are not earning a massive amount of money and are not fat cats. I have never suggested they were [my dear]

It was probably for the best that the discussion turned at that point to the unintended costs of litigants in person becoming more prevalent. The Minister was adamant there was no evidence of that. [By that he meant statistical evidence, we can ignore the experience of the Judiciary.] He also stated that he was not worried about not being able to find suitable experts as “we still pay experts £70, £80 or £90 per hour so they are not going to be impoverished as a result of it.” [ Can I be paid £70 per hour? Can I be paid for my preparation and my attendance at court? Please Lord Chancellor, can I?]

As the allotted time neared it’s conclusion we were told, ” We are going to take decisions as sensitively and as thoughtfully as we can. Every decision we’ve taken has been taken for a reason. We may have got some of those reasons wrong but that is why we do a consultation and looking at what people have said and being smart enough to spot when someone says you haven’t got that right and work on it through the summer.” [Except when it comes to client choice, which he will decide upon immediately before appearing in front of the Select Committee because that could have just been embarrassing.]

And then came this gift, “I promise you I do listen and try to talk to people. It is said Chris Grayling never talks to lawyers. That is simply not true.” Which allowed Paul Becker to immediately pounce with, “Well why haven’t you met with Michael Turner?”

Answer……”Michael Turner had a meeting last week with my colleague Lord McNally. There are a lot of people to meet, we are not each meeting with everyone. I have met with the Bar Council, the Law Society, Circuit Leaders, Law Society regional committees and about seven meetings like this with lawyers. Lord McNally saw Mike Turner a couple of weeks ago. Maybe three weeks ago, so we are not ignoring anyone.”

[I probably need make no comment. And yet I cannot resist a little word or two. The list of people the Lord Chancellor had met was impressive. The name Mike Turner is a glaring admission. When dealing with a consultation that includes swingeing cuts to the fees paid to members of the Criminal Bar who would you have at the head of the list that the Lord Chancellor should spend his Friday evening talking to? Me, a criminal hack, or Mike Turner, the voice of the Criminal Bar Association? The idea that this is as a result of Mike Turner having been met by Lord McNally instead of the Lord Chancellor was just too delicious for me, as anyone who has read The Wizard of Epsom will understand.]

And with that, following a photo opportunity which was, for reasons I will not trouble you with, personally hilarious, the Minister was gone.

So what did I get from the meeting? It made it clear to me what we face. As has been demonstrated in the last 48 hours there will be changes and modifications along the way. However I am convinced that he still considers it necessary to introduce catastrophic changes to the system. Yes he will ameliorate the proposals by altering client choice. Everything else is still in the mix. I cannot help but think reducing access to justice is as troubling as ignoring justice. I cannot help but think headline grabbing capital is being made out of things like a residence test for eligiblity. I make no bones about the fact that the perceived need to reduce fees is dangerous, unfair, unthinking and just wrong. I will not apologise for feeling that the work I do requires adequate remuneration. I do not think it is self interest in wanting skilled, not just competent, advocates and lawyers to be present to play their part in the prosecution of the culpable and the protection of the innocent.

Those who oppose these changes oppose almost every aspect of them. The brutal truth is that the Lord Chancellor sees himself as a reformer. Transforming Legal Aid is his crusade. A petition alone is not going to defeat him. Articulate argument is not going to defeat him. Demonstrations with lawyers carrying the coffin of legal aid are not going to defeat him. Strongly worded letters to the Times will not defeat him. Vaguely amusing blogs will not defeat him. But defeat him we must. He has to be forced to see that cuts are unsustainable. He has to be forced to see that the concept of justice is not about unit price, or mere competence, or commerce but is about excellence. I cannot think of anything that underpins our nation in terms of its spirit, rather than just a flag, more eloquently than a sense of right and justice.

Everything that has gone before in terms of opposition has to be redoubled. The petition needs another 100,000 signatures. We all need to keep sharing our thoughts and information. We need to keep the clarity and force of our arguments in the public conscience. In a coalition of thought as disparate as those who oppose these plans there will be difference of opinions but we need as much unity as we can muster in line with our individual beliefs. We need to be prepared for the fact that, in due course, the Government will introduce a series of changes which are unacceptable. And then we must prepare for action. Direct action. And in that we must be bold, unswerving and skilfully led. I know my enemy. I do not underestimate my enemy. I know we can win.

PS it really bugged me throughout the meeting who the Lord Chancellor reminded me of. Then it struck me. His incessant use of “Guys” was reminiscent of Cliff Richard in Summer Holiday…..

Thank you for reading. If you have not done so already, please see what else was said in Iolanthe Part 1 and Iolanthe Part 2.

The Lord’s Finger

The famed Boardroom. In the middle sits Lord Sugar. To his right is Alan Beith and to his left Maura McGowan QC. The door opens and in walk the three contestants who have been brought back in to the Boardroom following this week’s task “Transforming Legal Aid”.

Lord Sugar Right you three sit down. This is the second task in a row that Team MoJ have failed and I am sick of the bloody sight of you lot. So come on then Chris, you were project manager, why wasn’t this all your fault?

Chris Grayling Well Lord Sugar, as project manager the most important role is to delegate responsibility and you’ll notice that a lot of the actual presentation was done by McNally because he said he had the skills to bring this home and I trusted him.

Lord McNally Hid behind me more like.

Lord Sugar But you did do all the talking didn’t you McNally?

LM That’s Lord McNally actually.

LS There is only room for one bleedin’ Lord around here and that’s me. At least Chris has learnt to ignore the whole Lord Chancellor thing. So, McNally, you did most of the talking so why shouldn’t you get fired?

LM That was only presentational stuff. The ideas were all from Chris and they were pretty poor. Despite my best efforts and skills I couldn’t really defend them once people thought about them.

LS Yes but you are an awkward character McNally. I am sorry to say that but you are. It seems you can’t help yourself, you need confrontation. And that worries me, that worries me a lot. You picked a right old fight with the judiciary and the lawyers.

LM Once they had seen the proposals and found them out, we had to go on the attack. They were crap ideas and they knew it. Our only hope was to persuade everyone that it was their response which was wrong.

Chris Grayling I didn’t tell you to call them hysterical….

LM No, but you were the one who said the public were too thick to pick…

CG I said they weren’t connoisseurs. You were the one who described the lawyers at working at the lower end of the profession…

LM And, so, well, you were the one…

Lord Sugar Shut up. Both of you. You two know more bullshit that an ad agency could ever learn. Now Helen, you are sitting there all quiet at the moment.

Helen Grant Yes Lord Sugar.

LS Sat there nodding along as these two blame each other, if you nod any more I’m going to put you in the back of my bloody car.

HG Sorry Lord Sugar.

LS Don’t be sorry. I want you to improve, not just say you’re sorry all the time. And last week’s task “Contracting the Terps” was not your finest hour.

HG It wasn’t that bad.

LS Not that bad?!? It was a bloody disaster. You had Chinese interpreters turning up for Vietnamese speakers, Latvian terps giving bloody legal advice and trials going wrong left right and centre often because you could not even get someone there. If that wasn’t bad you probably think the Wall Street Crash was just a blip.

HG In the first and second quarters of 2012 there were only problems in 0.4% of cases in the magistrates….

LS Can I just stop you there? Alan, what were the overall figures?

Alan Beith Well the contract required a 98% fulfilment rate and the actual success rate hovered at 90% or less.

Helen Grant But we saved £15 million…

AB Without taking in to account the cost by delays, the cost to the administration of having to fill the gaps where no or inadequate translation services were provided and the cost of bolstering the provision of services in the future it is impossible to say that there has been any real savings.

HG We built in to the project the fact that the provider would have to make up in terms of finance for their deficiencies.

Lord Sugar Is that right Alan?

AB The latest figures show that the provider has paid £1,100 in penalty clauses.

LS On a contract worth?

AB £90 million.

LS So what we ended up with was paying a bit less to a third party who would then go on to make payments to the people who were already providing us with their services.

HG Not exactly Lord Sugar.

LS Why not?

HG Well, now we pay less overall and we have a middleman taking a cut, the amount that the people actually providing the skills get paid had to take a huge reduction. So most of the translators who were doing this type of work stopped.

LS So your idea of success is paying less for a contract that often did not do the basic requirement of getting interpreters there and stopped a high proportion of the skilled people in the sector providing their skills any more?

HG I think, Lord Sugar, you need to look at the whole process and see what we set out to achieve and how we went about it before saying whether it was a success or not.

LS Alan, you had the best view of all this. What did you think?

Alan Beith Well it might almost have been constructed as a cautionary tale of what a team should avoid in undertaking a procurement process and contract management process. And this is a team that wants to undertake several such tasks, some of them much larger even than this one, so some lessons have got be learnt pretty quickly.

LS I don’t know why you two are sat there smirking like a couple of errant schoolboys. Did you learn those lessons?

Lord McNally We used different implementation teams and strategies so the cross harmonisation and pollination of thematic principles between the two tasks was not a direct linear progression of received learning and shared experience from one to the other.

LS Stripping away all the BS that’s a “no” then. You just went and made the same mistakes again.

Chris Grayling I always say if you are going to be a bear, be a grizzly. And I am King Grizzle.

LS You’re talking Chris. I can hear the words. But you are not making any sense.

CG What I am saying is that I am a reformer. And reformers need to get on and reform and not worry about history.

LS In America, everybody thinks they’re an entrepreneur. That’s the problem, it’s not a title anyone should call themself. You say you are a reformer, what are you trying to reform?

CG The Legal Aid industry.

LS You keep saying this but what does it mean? Are you trying to reform the criminal justice system?

CG Yes. As in the criminal justice system industry.

LS And what do you know about the “criminal justice system industry”? I mean I didn’t leap out of bed one day and suddenly decide “right I am going to start my business”, I worked for several years first and gained experience in a trade.

CG And so have I. In television.

LS How could you possibly have hoped to have got this right then?

CG I have two ears and a mouth and I use them in that ratio.

LS Look that crap may have made sense in the world of television executives but it doesn’t cut it in here.

CG I may not be a lawyer but I organised a consultation so I could listen to what they said and then repeat that I wanted to save money and did what a load of non-lawyers told me I had to do.

LS So you ignored the experts.

CG I listened to people who told me there was a credibility issue with Legal Aid and went about reforming that in the task. Legal Aid was out of control. I had to stop it spiralling. It was the most expensive system in the universe. A handful of cases were taking up the lion share of the budget. Criminals were getting criminal Legal Aid destined for innocent people. I understood enough of that to use all my skills to embark upon Transforming Legal Aid.

LS You may be good with words and spin and know the right thing to say at the right time but I know all the words to Candle in the Wind. It don’t make me Elton John.

CG But at £2 billion I had to take the system apart to make savings.

LS Well let’s see about that. Maura, what were the figures?

Maura McGowan Team MOJ stated they wanted to save £220 million from a spend of £1.2 billion….

CG And who wouldn’t want to, thank you Maura for your support.

LS Shut up Chris. Use your ears. Go on Maura, what else can you tell us?

MM The actual Legal Aid spend was down 11.3% to £975 million in crime last year.

CG I wanted even more success than that! We needed to crackdown on those really big cases that feed the really fat cat lawyers.

MM The spend on the very high cost cases fell 26% by £68 million in that time.

CG In that market place we need restructuring. The market needed to become leaner.

MM There as a 12% fall in the number of providers of criminal representation.

Lord McNally Can I just interrupt here? We did manage to scrap the Legal Services Commission and make it in to the Legal Aid Agency. Real success. I like to think that was down to my championing of LASPO and had little to do with Grayling here.

CG Judas!

Lord Sugar Is that right Maura?

MM It is right that it was closed down. Unfortunately it was closed down in the year it had finally got round to improving the speed of payments and when it was able to produce its first accurate accounts for five years. And the cost of closing down something which was beginning to work? £28 million.

LS So Chris, in the chase to make all these savings that you were already pocketing what else did you achieve? It’s not all about money. How about quality? How about service?

Chris Grayling There were big transformations in service and quality. Huge alterations. Massive shifts from where we were before. Isn’t that right McNally?

Lord McNally Absolutely. Quality was off the graph. A seismic change in the legal landscape. Barely recognisable from how it was before.

LS How did you set about improving quality?

LM We didn’t.

CG It went down.

LM Which thanks to our strategic planning, we always knew it would. Something we were rightly proud of before became almost perfectly acceptable. Men and women like us, Lord Sugar, are putting the adequate back in Great Britain.

Lord Sugar You remind me of the final scene in the Wizard of Oz. You look very impressive, but in my opinion, behind the curtains there’s nothing there.

LM Thank you Lord Sugar.

LS It wasn’t a bleeding compliment! If I have got this right you took apart an entire system to produce savings that it looked like you were already achieving and all the time knowing that you were putting the quality at the heart of the enterprise at real risk, having learnt nothing from your last cock-up. Have you heard the expression “don’t throw the baby out with the bath water”?

Helen Grant That’s exactly what I tried to warn them about Lord Sugar.

LS When? I didn’t hear it.

HG I said it very quietly to myself, when the cameras weren’t there.

LS Helen, you didn’t warn them. I tell you who did. Other members of team MoJ. Dominic told them. He warned them it was a mistake. Tony, Tony Hooper, he warned them they were destroying years of quality representation. That Neuberger chap told them it was a road to disaster. But what should he know? But these two, these two knew best and Helen, you just sat there still trying to pretend you hadn’t contributed to the fiasco. This isn’t just throwing the baby out with the bath water. This is throwing the bath out, the toilet and the rest of the plumbing leaving us only a bucket to pee in….

Chris Grayling Lord Sugar, can I just say….

Lord Sugar No you bloody can’t. Time for you to listen. Helen, you came up with a daft scheme that went wrong from the start. Would you listen? No. McNally you wanted the glory but as soon as the going got tough your idea of a negotiation was to call everyone names. Chris, you were responsible for both these schemes, neither of them better than harebrained and both doomed to fail. Chris if I have listened to anything you have said it is about changing things. Now the three of you don’t know much about loyalty. Helen, you joined the Labour Party and became a Conservative. Chris, you were a Social Democrat at university who became a Tory. And when it comes to you McNally, you’ve flipped around so much that I bet if you drove though Wales you’d join Plaid Cymru. So let me teach you a bit about sticking together…McNally…Helen…Chris…(points finger)…you are ALL fired.

Despite there being a debate in Parliament today, Grayling ducked it again. Don’t let it continue. Force him in to the House to debate this issue by signing here

A Second Letter to Lord McNally

Dear Tom,

I hope that I can call you Tom at this stage in our correspondence. Albeit I am still awaiting a response to my friend request on Facebook, I am sure this speaks more of how busy you are at the moment rather than existing as any commentary on the depth of our bond.

And busy you have been. The Lord Chancellor and you have developed a cunning strategy. He is an elected representative. He cannot continue his zealotry of Legal Aid reform unless he is in power. You are a life peer. You do not rely upon a mandate from the people to change society. If you are left to do front of house then, in the unlikely event this all goes wrong, Chris reduces his risk of losing his seat in the House because his name is indelibly linked to a failed policy as you are the public face for this reform. And it is no risk for you as you do not have to rely upon the mendacity of the electorate. Genius.

So when this has to be discussed in public you are the perfect man for the job. You are Chris Grayling’s bullet proof vest. Ready to take one for the team. You are the Kevin Costner to his Whitney Houston (without the romantic interest).

So let us talk about your week. The Bar Council invited someone from the Ministry to Legal Aid Question Time. It made perfect sense for you to go rather than Chris expose himself again. It was right that you should make it clear that you did not regret the hysterical comment. I mean the legal profession keep referring to the Magna Carta. The Magna-freaking-Carta. It’s not like that is even a real law. When King John signed the Magna Carta declaring “To no one will we sell, to no one will we refuse or delay, right or justice” you, as a similarly unelected embodiment of the state, are free to ignore that. The legal profession and the judiciary referring to the Magna Carta is properly to be dismissed as histrionics. That is so different from Legal Aid. Did King John establish Legal Aid? No! So those pesky Judges should just let it lie.

If King John was around I’m sure he would have something to say about that cad Grieve. Something like “off with his head!”. He was being a very clever lawyer with the way he worded his letter to Treachery Counsel. He doesn’t “own” the policy on Legal Aid, the Lord Chancellor does. He may not own the policy but it was pretty clear to me that he was disowning it. What does he know? A fine example of what happens when you let lawyers meddle in areas like justice. Time to have a non-lawyer as Attorney-General. Can I suggest Eddie?

Now I know that when you were elected Leader of the LibDems in the Lords you said you wanted to be “the voice of conscience and reform on issues such as civil liberties, human rights, changes in the legal system and access to justice” but you should have told Nick Clegg you didn’t bloody mean it. What’s all this about it being perverse to not allow defendants to choose their own solicitor? Has nobody told Clegg about 20 year career criminals? It sounds like Clegg thinks they may, on occasion, be innocent. Time for a word with the Deputy Prime Minister. Remind him you did for Kennedy. That’ll keep him in line.

You need to make the likes of Grieve and Clegg realise where you are going with all of this. I recall you saying of Abu Qatada “The fact is, in my mind, if the Human Rights Act occasionally comes in favour of somebody who is not very likeable in terms of what they have done or who they are… that to me is a reassurance, that if even he is given the protection of our law and Human Rights Act then all the more the rest of us are going to be protected by it as well…..The law is there to protect us all and sometimes it protects those least worthy of its protection, but the fact its protection is there is part of what makes us a civilised society.” That demonstrates that you do indeed have a conscience. And you are right when you say that protecting those who we may dislike is the hallmark of a civilised society. And this is where your policy is so clever. We can have all the safeguards that show us to be a civilised society but then make sure no one can afford access to the courts so the Government are inconvenienced by hysterical lawyers. Foreigner we want to deport? Fails the residency test. Prisoner wants to review penal policy? Denied Legal Aid. Career burglar? Provided with lawyers no better than adequate and get them to plead without the rigmarole of a trial. Saving face whilst saving money. This policy is just brilliant. I can see you now at the party conference “Strong on Justice, tough on the causes of Justice.”

They should give you a Knighthood….

Yours admiringly,

The Gardener.

Read the first letter to my mate Tom here.

The Wizard of Epsom

Finally the Lord Chancellor has agreed to meet with the chairman of the CBA…..

MTQC …enters room… Thank you for finally meeting me Lord Chancellor…err Lord Chancellor?!? …MTQC goes back door to the door… Felicity, it is Felicity isn’t it?

Felicity Yes, Mr Turner …Felicity enters room and then stops abruptly… Oh!

MTQC I thought the Lord Chancellor was waiting in here for me.

F So did I! …Felicity walks around the desk and looks quizzically at the empty chair behind the desk… He was just here, I came in and told him you were here and he muttered something about “and she now makes it 10,001” before telling me to bring you in….

Lord McNallysuddenly enters room, looking a little flustered… Michael, Michael great to see you. How can I help?

MTQC Lord McNally, I am sorry, I thought I was seeing the Lord Chancellor.

LM …looks around the room as he walks to the desk… Nope, nope, always me, never ducked a debate before and not starting now.

MTQC I appreciate that but this IS the Lord Chancellor’s office?

LM Yes it is. …sits down at the desk…

MTQC And Felicity is the Lord Chancellor’s secretary?

LM Errr…yes…non-executive secretary. …glances beneath desk… But your meeting is with me….err…decorating my office at the moment…so he and I are kind of hot desking …looks over shoulder… and my secretary is on holiday so Felicity is doing a bit for me. So let’s get down to brass tacks. No need to pussyfoot around when dealing with a wage negotiation.

MTQC But we don’t view this as a wage negotiation. We view this as a fight to save justice.

LM There you go, getting all hysterical. Why don’t you just admit that it is fat cat lawyer self interest and we can have a sensible negotiation over your fees.

MTQC This is not just about fees. This is dismantling the system and moving us rapidly to a public defender system. A system that will just increase costs throughout the system over time.

LM Well I am sure that during the consultation the Ministry will consider such matters …Lord McNally’s phone pings and he glances at a text… although the Lord Chancellor would no doubt want me to tell you that he is not going to buckle.

MTQC The system you are proposing will limit entry to the profession, limiting it to only the independently wealthy. Diversity will take a huge step backwards.

LM Well that is a legitimate concern …Lord McNally’s phone pings again, he reads the text… although the Lord Chancellor would, if he was here, remind you that it is not his problem how you structure your profession.

MTQC It will be everyone’s concern when we don’t have diverse judiciary in the future.

LM The focus must be by the profession to guarantee diversity. Our only concern has to be cost. It’s not as if the Lord Chancellor has any duty to protect the system or to guard against adverse impact to certain sectors of society.

MTQC I am afraid that is exactly what will lead to Judicial Review of these proposals.

…a disembodied voice… Bollocks.

…Lord McNally and MTQC look at each other for a moment…

LM That will be Felicity. Always gets a bit agricultural in her language when the typing goes wrong.

MTQC Sounded like a man’s voice….

LM Definitely Felicity. A martyr to hay fever. Always makes her sound a bit more…masculine.

MTQC There are also questions about the impact on quality. One of your officials at the consultation roadshow said “if quality falls, so be it”.

…a disembodied voice… Bastard.

LM Felicity. Man trouble.

MTQC It sounded like it came from behind you.

LM Nonsense. Who would be behind me? The point you have made about quality and choice is a valid one….

…a disembodied voice… Shut up man!

MTQC Is there someone in the cupboard?

LM Of course not. …Lord McNally gets up and walks towards the stationary cupboard…

MTQC The Lord Chancellor isn’t hiding from me in the cupboard is he?

LM Don’t be silly Lord McNally turns the small key in the cupboard door… No, if the Lord Chancellor was here speaks very loudly and taps door with his foot HE WOULD SIT VERY QUIETLY AND LISTEN TO WHAT YOU HAVE TO SAY.

MTQC The problem is whether he really is listening.

LM I can assure you looks for a moment at the cupboard door that he is listening to every word you say…..

Force the Lord Chancellor out in to the open to debate the issues. Sign the e-petition.