Tag Archives: magna carta

Pass the Placard

I am currently on a train on the way to London. Today I am joining a demo in the Old Palace Yard Westminster. I imagine that many people who will be there have not been on a demo since their student days. I cannot even claim that. Poll tax, apartheid, student loans – all were demonstrated against but the student VFTN did not go along and wave a placard. Today I am going to.

So what has motivated my middle aged bones to rattle off to London and spend too much time stood in the cold than is good for a man of my age? Well, something that is older than me. Something that turns 800 this year – the Magna Carta.

In fact it is not the Magna Carta itself that is causing me to join the massed throngs. If it was the Magna Carta itself then it would be a bit of a sham as the anniversary is not until June (which at least might stand a chance of being a little warmer). It is because this Government has the gall to use the ideals promoted by the Magna Carta to drum up business from abroad and cloak it all in a celebration of the venerable document.

For those who deal with football analogies, this is a bit like a Manchester United fan singing “You’ll Never Walk Alone” in an effort to impress someone they fancy. It is just wrong. It cheapens everyone.

This is rank hypocrisy from the Government. They are promoting a justice system by values and achievements that they are set to destroy. Do not take my word for it when I suggest this. Read these words:

“In short, we see the Government’s proposals for competitive tendering for services or a 17.5% reduction as likely to result in (a) a marked deterioration in the provision of services in criminal cases leading inevitably to injustice in a significant number of cases, and as a result (b) harm to the reputation of this country’s justice system, which is likely to do consequential harm to other areas in which legal services are supplied, to the benefit of lawyers in this country and the Treasury.”

That comes from the Chancery Barr Association’s response to the Legal Aid consultation. The 17.5% cuts are still there. The damage is obvious to all those who can see. It is not Justice that is blind, but the Ministry of Justice.

And that was not a one off statement by the ChBA. Tim Fancourt QC addressed the One Bar, One Voice event in these terms:

“The legal services industry makes a huge contribution to the Exchequer. When it comes to invisible exports to international consumers, the Government is very approving: I quote:

“We recognise the importance of the UK’s legal services sector and the excellent reputation its legal services providers have at home and abroad. The sector contributed £20.9 bn to the UK economy in 2011, £4 bn of this derived from exports. It is important that we consolidate the UK’s international standing in what is becoming an increasingly competitive international field” (Chris Grayling, in a foreword to a MoJ /UKTI paper on UK Legal Services on the International Stage.)

And of course the Lord Chancellor is about to trumpet all these virtues to the visiting world at the Global Law Summit in 2015.

But is the Government not missing something here?

Surely it must recognise that it is taking an unacceptable risk with the reputation of the system in which it finds such virtue?”

So there we have the lawyers who benefit from the reputation for justice carved out from the Magna Carta onwards warning the Lord Chancellor of the damage he is doing. A sector that contributes £20.9 bn to the UK economy on the back of a reputation forged on the back of the work of Legal Aid lawyers at a cost of £2 bn per year. As the Americans would say – you do the maths.

Tim Fancourt QC addresses a plenary session at the Global Law Summit this afternoon, let’s hope he takes the opportunity to remind the Lord Chancellor of the views expressed above. In fact it is neither a hope nor an opportunity. It is an expectation and a duty.

An expectation and a duty that has been missed by some already. The Lord Chief Justice opened the Summit in the morning session. He addressed the assembled lawyers, politicians and business people thus:

“Access to justice

We are also all familiar now with the second principle ‐ that all should have fair and effective access to justice. That was not always the case. In parts of the world it is still not the case. And in other parts of the world it remains an aspiration that many are working to realise. One thing that I am sure we can all take from Magna Carta is that our commitment to this ideal is something, that no matter how familiar we are with it, is one that we must constantly reassert, just as Magna Carta was reissued and its demands for access to justice were reasserted over the centuries.

We will therefore examine how access to justice is best achieved – the way government can best provide for a court system that is open, transparent and effective in vindicating and, as importantly, enforcing rights and responsibilities, how a state guarantees a judiciary that will act independently of governmental or commercial pressure, how citizens can be provided with better access to courts through the proper use of modern technology, and the way in which a vibrant, diverse and independent legal profession can best make a cost effective contribution to the delivery of justice.”

Now I ask you this – how can anyone deal with this area, with “access to justice”, and not mention Legal Aid? That is not apolitical. It is appalling. If the judiciary are to remain away from politics, why address a nakedly political event? If the Lord Chief Justice will not challenge the restrictions to justice brought about by this Lord Chancellor what are the rest of us to do?

The answer is – haul ourselves down to London and protest. Now can someone hand me a placard please?

Easy Read Guide to Being Lord Chancellor

This is an easy read guide for those who do not know very much about the law and how the law works. Such people are some times called “Graylings”.

What is the High Court?

The High Court is somewhere a bunch of people who no one voted for make decisions based on what Foreigners (or Europeans) think is best.

Someone who is accused of making a bad decision and goes to court is often called a Lord Chancellor.

An example of a bad decision is when the Lord Chancellor hides a load of info that he uses to make his bad decision.

This process is sometimes called Judicial Review but people in power often call it a right pain in the arse.

Before you go to court.

Make sure you spend a lot of time getting on the telly or the radio to tell everyone it is not your fault.

It is a very good idea to blame Foreigners.

If you cannot blame Foreigners, blame Immigrants.

Immigrants are also Foreigners but people are more scared of Immigrants and are more likely to vote UKIP unless you blame them for everything.

If it is really hard to blame Foreigners or Immigrants you can try to blame Left Wing Liberals.

At the same time as blaming someone else, make sure a friend from your College at Oxbridge writes something about a prisoner getting Legal Aid because his mattress is too hard.

Don’t worry if that’s not true.

When you get to the court

Make sure you pay lawyers a lot of money to do exactly what you say.

Pay them a lot of money to make sure you get a really good lawyer. Pay them a lot more than you pay Legal Aid lawyers.

At the same time make sure the other side cannot pay a lawyer at all.

This is called equality of arms.

You have two arms. They are allowed two arms.

Just make sure you have more lawyers.

Sometimes they will have lawyers who are doing the case pro bono. Pro bono means they are doing it for free.

If a lawyer does a case pro bono make sure someone who works for you sends your friend from Oxbridge the amount the lawyer received from Legal Aid last year.

Make sure this number is big by adding in the VAT.

If there is a hearing, who is who?

The person sitting at the front facing you is the Judge.

If the Judge finds you made a bad decision he is out of touch.

If the Judge finds you did not make a bad decision then give them the next Judge led inquiry.

The person who says you made a bad decision is a pressure group. Their lawyer is called a fat cat.

What happens at the hearing?

Keep repeating that the decision you made is policy and it is all about politics. Judges are allergic to politics.

Get some civil servants to give some made up facts and numbers. Call this evidence.

When the other side say what is really happening because of your decision, call this anecdotal.

If anecdotal does not work, also say the words self serving.

What happens if you lose?

A Judge may think what you did was as unreasonable as a small town just outside of Birmingham.

If you hear the word “Wednesbury” make sure it was someone else’s decision.

Then deny that the decision had ever been made.

Then make some minor changes.

Do what you always planned to do in any event.

What happens if you keep losing?

Complain about it a lot.

Change the rules to make it much more difficult for people to complain about your decisions.

Keep on repeating how what you are doing makes the rule of law stronger.

Ignore all the lawyers who say that stopping the weak complaining about the powerful is wrong.

Use the words fat cat, liberals and self interest again. And again.

Then throw a big expensive party, or Global Law Summit, to celebrate how strong you have made the rule of law.

Then laugh all they way on to the Board of various global businesses.

Speak Up, Speak Out

The other day I blogged about the fact that I viewed it as the duty of a lawyer to use the invitation to speak at the Global Law Summit as an opportunity to berate the Government. Here is what I would say if given the opportunity….

“When I received my invitation to this event the first thought that crossed my mind was ‘I had no idea there was another barrister called Jaime Hamilton, I wonder how I can get this misdirected invitation to the person they really intended to invite?’

My second thought was ‘they can forget it if they think I am adding my limited credibility to their junket by taking part….’ There were a few other words in there beginning with “F” but you get the general idea.

However then I thought to myself that the Magna Carta and everything it represents was worth celebrating and defending. So here I am to tell you the path ahead leads us two ways. One way means this is little more than a wake after this Government has buried the rule of law and dances on its grave. The other way means that we can still save the ideals of liberty and equality that have been built over centuries.

The purpose of this Summit is to sell the idea of quintessential British justice to the rest of the world. That is what draws the oligarchs of this world to our courts to settle their disputes. That reputation has been hard earned. Now this Government is going to toss it away so cheaply.

Pointing to the litigation in the mercantile court as being indicative of our legal system is a little like pointing to the track at Silverstone as being indicative of the state of our roads. As miscarriage of justice follows miscarriage of justice, as newspaper report of injustice to the individual follows newspaper report, as the fabric of our court buildings decay and as solicitors are driven out of business the reputation that this nation has for justice will go the way of its reputation for shipbuilding, a lost industry.

However the thing that sickens me is that this is not an industry. As you sit here with your £1,500 per head tickets you are feeding off a reputation built by publicly funded lawyers who earn that amount per month. You are doing it off the reputation built by charities prepared to do pro bono work in our communities. You are doing it off the reputation built because we used to have a justice system that was open to all, not just commerce, not just the rich.

The perception of the Magna Carta is almost more important than the words it contained. And the perception is that it created a truly universal and incorruptible justice system. Where the law recognised the rights of the pauper with equal measure as the nobleman. Where the individual is protected against the excesses of the State.

And now this Government restricts access to judicial review. It cuts the availability of legal aid with no assessment of its impact. It slashes fees with no thoughts about the consequences. Do not sit here and celebrate. Sit here and grieve.

It is not too late but it will be soon. The Magna Carta was born from rebellious stirrings against King John. The Lord Chancellor needs to learn from that lesson of history. Make him hear the disquiet. Make him hear the malcontent.

Turn this event into a celebration and a defence. Speak up and speak out. And then hopefully we will have something worth celebrating in another 100 years.”

So it is undoubtedly better that I am not invited. However you are all invited to the Justice Alliance event on 23rd February that you can find here. It is not £1,500 per head, will be a lot more fun and will be the place where those really interested in justice can be seen.

Speak Truth to Power

In February the nation is set to celebrate the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta. Well when I say the nation is set to celebrate I am not suggesting there are going to be street parties, an extra Bank holiday and fireworks over the Thames. In fact the nation is set to celebrate by the holding of the Global Legal Summit in London.

Now the organisers describe the GLS thus; “the Global Law Summit is being held in February 2015 to mark 800 years since the sealing of Magna Carta. It is a unique opportunity to commemorate, celebrate and embrace 800 years of legal history which have inspired lawyers and non-lawyers alike for generations.” Laudable and inspiring indeed. The event sounds like it will be a paean to liberty and the protections that define….., well…. define Britishness in the same way that cricket, strawberries and cream and a cup of tea do.

Except that it is not. The organisers also had this to say about it “the Global Law Summit, launched by Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor, the Rt. Hon. Chris Grayling MP, is a unique one-off high level business forum supported by the legal profession, business and government. Unlike other legal conferences, the Global Law Summit will bring together a mix of practitioners, business leaders, public sector decision makers and government officials from around the world to discuss, debate, and develop relationships across markets and jurisdictions.” A one-off high level business forum. Notice the way “markets” comes before “jurisdictions”?

So we are left in no doubt whatsoever the Prime Minister describes it as an event “to mark 800 years since Magna Carta, I am pleased that London will welcome global leaders in both business and the law to discuss the issues that are shaping the agenda legally, commercially and socially over the next generation. I am delighted to support the Global Law Summit – it is yet more evidence that Britain continues to lead the way in promoting free enterprise, economic growth, and the rule of law around the world.” Again, note that the rule of law comes after free enterprise and economic growth.

I do not pretend to speak on behalf of the original contributors to the Magna Carta. It may well have been that they had the libel actions of oligarchs firmly in their minds when drafting the words “We will sell to no man, we will not deny or defer to any man either Justice or Right”. However the Global Law Summit has little to do with what most lawyers and citizens would understand the Magna Carta to represent.

I would not attend the event and I would suggest that no lawyer with a concern about the Government’s attitude to the rights of the individual and the availability of legal aid should attend. On the day of the event the professions should walk out of every court in the land and mass outside the conference hall to protest against the restrictions on judicial review, the unavailability of legal aid for children or victims of domestic abuse and to protest against the parlous state of our criminal justice system. That is what should be happening.

But it is not. Instead the event is being held with the blessing and support of the Bar Council and the Law Society. I kind of get the fact that both those bodies represent those for whom international litigation is their business. And business trumps conscience for many. No representative body, big or small, has called for, let alone organised, a boycott and demonstration. The event is happening and it is happening with the lawyers involved.

So what of those who will speak at the event? Is there any point in turning down an invitation? What would I do if I was invited to speak? (Please do not all laugh at once at the thought of me being invited). Well, in the absence of a mass boycott, I would attend and address the summit. And embarrass the hell out of the organisers and the Government. I would view it as an opportunity to highlight the damage being caused to hundreds of years of the rule of law.

Actually forget that. It is not an opportunity to do that, it would be my responsibility to do that. It would be an obligation as a lawyer who sees the damage that is being done on a daily basis. To attend and not lament the recent damage to the rule of law would be rank hypocrisy. And I leave rank hypocrisy to the politicians.

It would not matter that it would be “off message”. It would not matter if it was rude to my hosts. It would not matter if it upset some very powerful people. As an advocate I would relish the chance to make every politician, every civil servant and, although I regret it that I have to say this, every “on message” lawyer in the place squirm in their seat.

The publicity that would be gathered by the Bar Council and the Law Society turning their back in the event has been lost to us. So any lawyer with the chance to speak can only use it to one end. To protest. To protest with power, with dignity and with their conscience clear that they did the right thing.

This is not a time for diplomacy. This is not an opportunity for building bridges. This is a moment for impact and for the power of the truth.

I have not been invited to speak. Those who view their role as protectors of the rule of law, and by that I mean the judiciary, should not feign fear at being political, they should make the politicians fear their stern rebuke. Those who speak on my behalf, those who come from a body representing me, should choose their words carefully. Not so that they mince their words, but so that no word falls from their lips that could give this administration a single crumb of comfort. From the senior Judges there to the Chairman of the Bar Council to the President of the Law Society and beyond, Grayling should be told again and again “you may be a friend to business and commerce, but you are no ally to justice”.

Principle before profit. This is not the time to advance a business case or self interest. This is the time to stand up and say “no”.

Proud to Be

Dear Chris,

you probably do not recall meeting me. I am just one of a number of angry lawyers that you have met with over the last year or so. When we met in the Town Hall in Altrincham, I was very angry and you were very wrong. Not much has changed.

At that time you were still peddling PCT and restrictions on client choice. You were pressing ahead with swingeing cuts to advocacy fees. You were proud of your residency test. So I suppose one or two things have changed. You have been comprehensively and repeatedly proved wrong. You have abandoned or delayed some of your more disastrous proposals. The courts have given you a bloody nose on others.

Have you changed? Not one bit.

At that meeting you innocently told the room of criminal barristers and solicitors, “I have been accused of saying that barristers are fat cats, I have never said barristers are fat cats.” And yet your department still trotted out dodgy statistics designed to steer other people to call us fat cats.

More recently you introduced the second reading of the lamentable ‘SARAH’ Bill which you said would tackle “a culture of ambulance-chasing that all too often is about generating opportunities to earn fees, rather than doing the right thing”. Now I am not exactly sure what SARAH is trying to achieve but you cannot help yourself by introducing it with a pop at lawyers.

So Chris, why is it that you hate lawyers so much? Why is it that you are more than happy for all sorts to earn vast amounts out of the justice system, as long as it is not the lawyers? Capita? G4S? Serco? They can have millions and millions of pounds of public money. Lawyers? They deserve crushing.

If any judge, academic, lawyer or lawyers’ representative joins you in the celebrations of the Magna Carta then the rest of the legal community should turn their back on them. No representative of the Bar Council should join you in what is no more than a culture of oligarch chasing that all too often is about generating fees.

The Magna Carta itself may not be all that it is cracked up to be. However it has come to represent all that we should be proud of in our legal system. The nebulous rule of law. The right of the individual and the state to be equal in the eyes of the law. The right to fairness and proper processes. The sort of things that lawyers help preserve every single day.

I am neither fat cat or ambulance chasing dog. I am a lawyer who is proud of what I do. A job that involves helping society to do the right thing.

Despite your best efforts, that will not change.

Regards,

JH