Tag Archives: Monday message

The Message for Every Day

This week I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to contribute to the CBA’s Monday Message. Those of you who have read that or are familiar with my recent blogs will appreciate that I believe the Criminal Justice System in this country is currently under such strain that it has collapsed in on itself.

The casual observer will still think that the system is purring along nicely. They will see that courts still sit with bewigged and/or enrobed ladies and gentleman dotted around. They will read about a celebrity being convicted of the odd offence in 19. They will hear The Lord Chancellor pontificating about how to make the system better with a new fangled tweak here or a pointless pilot there.

What they do not see is the truth. They do not see the wasted hearings because the papers have not been served. They do not see the trials taken out because the court cannot cope. They do not see the defendants who are released because diligence has not been applied to their cases. I refuse to believe that there is a single, informed participant in the CJS who believes the system is performing in a way other than woefully.

It is our duty, the duty of the police, the duty of the CPS, the duty of the judiciary to stop the erosion of the CJS. If the NHS is responsible for the health of the nation, the CJS is responsible for the health of society.

Now is the time that the lawyers have to form an effective coalition to fight on behalf of the CJS. That fight is for the victims of crime, the wrongly accused, the vulnerable (whether they be witness, accuser or accused) and the guilty.

The first step in that has to be to put the past behind us. I was a vocal opponent of “the deal”. I am not going to allow the fact that many of my colleagues voted in favour of the deal to stop me trying to improve the system and the lot of those of us who work within it.

So many times I read comments about the betrayal of the solicitors by the Bar. Or the betrayal of some of the Bar by the leadership. Or the betrayal of just about everyone by the Law Society. I hear of talk of secret agendas and double crossing. The truth of that is not what concerns me here. True or not, we have to get over it. It is the past. That debate is closed.

The first step towards working in a way that is effective is to forgive and forget. And I am afraid it is as simple as that.

The Big Cheeses have to forgive and forget. There can be no more “I am waiting for the call” – make the call yourself. There can be no more “you failed to effectively organise” – the time is now to help organise.

The rank and file have to forgive and forget as well. This crisis within our CJS is bigger than all of us and our egos put together. It involves the financial future of us all and the future shape of our society. I no longer care what happened in March and April of this year. Time to focus on what is going to happen in March and April of next year and the year after that.

The Monday Message – Better Together

This is the piece I wrote for CBA’s Monday Message

When Tony Cross asked me to contribute to the Monday Message he suggested “nothing too controversial.” For those of you, like me, who have spent twenty years sitting in Circuit meetings with Tony will appreciate that this is a little like having the Big Bad Wolf suggest you give vegetarianism a go.

So what can I, a middle of the road, middle aged criminal hack, write for inclusion in the MM? It is not for me to issue the parish notices. It is not for me to state the official CBA policy. So I have settled on this – what I would like to see the CBA doing in the next twelve months.

And it is this: Continue being controversial.

The last eighteen months have seen the CBA tackle the issues facing the Bar with dynamism, gusto and tactics previously unheard of. It has moved itself from minor irritant to major representative body. Now is not the time to look back but to look forward.

At the forefront of all that the CBA do must be the preservation and improvement of the Criminal Justice System. Quality should be placed at the very core of everything the CJS seeks to do. Yes efficiency is important. Yes cost is a factor. But the CBA must drive the system out of failure, beyond competence and to a landscape where quality is the overriding feature.

To that end I want to wake up every morning with Tony Cross QC. And no, my head has not been turned by that sleek head of hair. I mean that I want to hear Tony on the Radio, read his words in the national press and see him in the Sky News studio. I want him getting the message out there, to the public, that the CJS is currently in disarray. It is a national scandal.

I dread being a victim of crime. Not because I fear for the lack of a “voice” or because I need a victim’s law but because I know that the prospect of a successful prosecution is hindered by cost cutting. I know that the progress of the case through the courts is getting slower every week. Not because lawyers ask for adjournments. Not because defendants drag the case out. But because a lack of funding means the courts lose hundreds of sitting days a year and the waiting times get longer and longer.

And I am afraid to say that remuneration for the lawyers is still a part of this. Solicitors are still facing cuts in their fees that will damage the availability of quality representation. There exist inadequacies and iniquities in every facet of the graduated fee scheme. And I still have not had an increase for inflation since Carter. The CBA have to negotiate, argue, advocate and then fight to improve the situation of all practitioners within the CJS.

Of course everyone with the desire of seeing the CJS prosper and succeed has that unity of purpose. We must preserve that unity. However unity does not always equal unanimity. It also does not mean that friends need always be on exactly the same page. The Criminal Bar Association has a very important word in the middle there. BAR. And naturally there are times when the CBA must advance the cause of its members. That may sometimes conflict with other protagonists within the CJS. That difference should be recognised and not misconstrued as antagonism.

Some of you reading this will know that I was vehemently opposed to the “deal”. Notwithstanding that, TC still asked me to write this today. Friends and allies can disagree, can tell each other difficult truths, can have differing views of the way forward. Sometimes they can even have competing interests. Overcoming these differences is unity, not pretending they do not exist.

This is where the message and the language can sometimes be so important. So extolling the virtues of the junior Bar is very different from attacking solicitor advocates. Preserving and improving the future for the Bar can still provide strong and vital support for the cause of criminal solicitors. So the Bar can still stand up for itself whilst also standing strong with our colleagues, our friends, amongst the the other side of the legal profession.

To that end, and you must forgive me one parish notice here, we must have all cheered to the rafters when news of the judicial review judgment filtered out. A hearty congratulations to the CLSA, the LCCSA and their officers for fighting the fight on this front. Now let us join together once more in an effective coalition. Not the coalition of convenience like the Government, where the will and wishes of each member of the coalition is subverted, but a powerful coalition where we have right on our side and an understanding of our differences.

To tap into the zeitgeist one might say we are “Better Together”.

One Direction

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

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

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

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

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

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