Tag Archives: strike

Difficult Days

There’s many a slip twixt cup and lip, so the old saying goes. Is this just a drop in the saucer or are we sitting here with hot, scalding tea in our lap?

There are some things that have not changed. Have not changed one iota. As I see it dual contracts are still a poor outcome for the Bar. The second cut, imposed on 1st July, is still a bad outcome for the Bar (and solicitors). The fight against the second cut is strategically an important step in bringing dual contracts to an end before they begin. These two judgements remain unaltered. 

It also remains the case that I believe the alternative proposed by those against the taking of direct action at this time, and in this cause, is insufficient, of itself, to ensure the future of the Bar. I see no argument yet made that persuades me regulation about referral fees will be enough to secure our future. We have seen it before with Carter – the greatest threat to our source of work is inadequate remuneration to those that provide us with work. Thereafter our remuneration for that work is of paramount importance. Securing appropriate remuneration is therefore key to our survival. It is also vital to the provision of proper and skilled representation in the police stations, in the lower courts and in the most serious of cases. 

None of that has changed. 

It is folly, however, to pretend that the issuing of the second protocol is not a significant event. If any proponent of action tries to brush it off as anything other they are plainly, palpably wrong. 

It was obvious, and I apologise if this needed pointing out in advance, that the possibility existed for a change in tactics by those corralling the solicitor profession. Did I expect this change at this time? No. 

Am I disappointed by this change? The honest answer is yes. I accept and acknowledge that I am something of an extremist in this regard. I believe that we should all, barrister and solicitor alike, walk out of court until such time as Legal Aid is put on a sustainable footing. I believe Sir Anthony Hooper and I have in common the belief that the Government will only listen when we withdraw our labour. And nothing amounts to a greater withdrawal than courtrooms sitting largely vacant. 

So I am disappointed. Recently I addressed solicitors in Manchester and urged them to stay out of the police stations and out of the courtrooms. Maximum disruption provided the maximum opportunity for success. 

Direct action can and does work. We saw that, to our benefit, with the previous policy of no returns and we saw the first sign of that with yesterday’s meeting. 

(As an aside, the furore over who was there and who was invited was a storm in the said teacup. All it served to highlight was a need for communication between the “leaders” with each other and between the associations and their members.)

So my next question is whether the change to the second protocol diminishes the prospect of success? There are two ways to look at this. The first is to say maximum disruption equals maximum prospect of success and therefore the answer would have to be “yes, it diminishes the chances”. On the other hand if maximum disruption is unsustainable then sustainable and significant  disruption becomes the next best scenario.

Again I make it clear, I believe the step change has come too soon. The timing is poor, for reasons I will develop in a moment. I am confident that the leadership of the CLSA and LCCSA have taken this step in the best interests of what they hope to achieve and as a result of developing circumstances. My sense of disappointment and dismay is not the same as a sense of betrayal. 

Is the second protocol capable of success? The answer is yes, if it is widely adopted. And there is a prospect that this will be more widely adopted than the first action. I would suggest it would be folly for any solicitor committed to the first protocol to reject this one out of hand. It may encourage some of the doubters to come on board. We will see.

Now for the big question. Should the Bar sustain a commitment to support this action? Nobody is going to fall off their chair when I answer “yes”. I go back to my aims as stated at the outset. I look at what I can do and not at circumstances that are beyond my control. Does the Bar adopting no returns and refusing new work strengthen the effect of direct action? Overwhelmingly, yes it does. 

I return now to the question of timing. It is a crying shame that the first protocol was not persisted with to overlap with the introduction of no returns. Now that would have been almost the perfect storm for the MoJ to weather. My sense of regret in that regard is deep. 

The more important question of timing is one of perception. The perception created is that the Bar is now being expected to shoulder the greatest burden. We, generally speaking, earn the lion’s share of our income in the Crown Court. That work is created by new work and returned work. The current direct action turns off both taps. If solicitors feel the economic pain of bills to pay and staff to face we have mortgages and families. 

Perception does create a skewed picture in this regard. Not undertaking new work in the Crown Court still will have a significant financial impact on solicitors. Their HCAs will be underused. Their clients will still be being turned away. Poaching will still be a risk. The system is such now that the Crown Court workload subsidises less profitable police station and Magistrates’ work. So the second protocol is not all jam for the solicitors. Far from it.

The perception is still very important. We may all be lawyers but we are also, mainly, humans too. Cold, hard logic is not always where decisions are made. Anyone dismissing this perception as nonsense does the owner of the perception a grave injustice. 

That being said, the implementation of the second protocol does shift the comparative burden. I am afraid the suggestion that those following the protocol should brief out Magistrates’ trials to the junior Bar does not ease the burden signicantly. It is a well meant gesture. Gestures do not pay the rent. 

So it is both the reality of a shifted burden and a perception of hardship falling only one way. 

So, what am I saying? I do not ignore the fact that the second protocol changes the situation. It is a development which could cause people to change their mind. No doubt in the coming days there will be meetings of solicitors that will allow them to reflect and make decisions. The Bar should do the same. 

And I’m afraid that means another ballot……please do not throw things. It is the only sensible way forward. People should not claim to speak for others, everyone should be allowed to speak for themselves. And that requires a ballot. 

The ballot should be organised quickly and should conclude in a short space of time. In the meantime I would still invite my colleagues to respect the decision made recently. That is why I will still not accept new work and will not accept a returned brief. 

If a new ballot is organised then I would respectfully suggest the Bar should ease the burden on itself. I would suggest a new protocol that the returns policy only applies to trials. That, in some way, reflects the shift made by the solicitors. 

I have no doubt that some will say I do not have all the answers. You would be wary of me if I claimed I did. These are not easy times. We are all trying to find solutions. Time once more for the Bar to consider and to speak. 

Paddington Bear and His No Returns Dilemma 

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

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

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

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

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

I suppose there are four options. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ban the Bung

I have lamented elsewhere the fact that we are voting in the CBA Ballot when we have little idea what the CBA plan includes. The most detail that we have been given is in Richard Bentwood’s contribution to the CBA blog Voting No and the Uneven Playing Field. It would appear that alterations to the AGFS and a ban on referral fees is the aim of current engagement with the MoJ. 

Let’s just imagine that the result of the Ballot is a “no” vote and all our eggs are in this particular basket. Let us fast forward 18 months. The Lord Chancellor has passed into legislation a ban on the payment of a referral fee connected with the provision of advocacy service. Now what I am about to imagine is not a prophecy. I don’t know this is going to happen. I would say it is a realistic fear. That is not to partake in scaremongering. Yet those considering voting “no” need to consider the potential consequences and the prospects of the current proposal succeeding. As do the “yes” voters. 

Firm A have lots of Crown Court advocacy. They also have an office. Advocate B used to be in chambers, she used to do a lot of Firm A’s work. Firm A offer the provision of office space and diary management to Advocate B. They charge her 15% of all her income. She is still free to work for whoever she wants. As it happens she is now very busy doing most of Firm A’s work. It is really easy for Firm A as they don’t even have the cost of doing a brief, they just walk over to the corner of the office and hand her the file. No referral fee paid. 

Firm C have a duty contract. The beauty of this is that lots of their Crown Court work ends up listed on the same day. One of their solicitors has higher rights. He can do a long list of pleas. The firm rightly earn the money form all those that plead guilty early. Those that get listed for trial can be sent out to a freelance advocate (whether they be solicitor or counsel). With the brief is sent out an invoice for the work already done by the solicitor advocate. This is greater than the Bar’s guidance on what a PCMH should cost, but it is only a protocol. The parties are entitled to enter into whatever contractual arrangement they like. In exactly the same way as counsel share fees when a case unexpectedly cracks on a mention. The advocates who are offered the case are informed up front of the intended fee for the first hearing. It is up to them whether they accept it or not. 

These are two ways which, in a moment’s thought, someone with a look at how to create the greatest profit may get round rules against referral fees. The commercial mind is alive with such things. It will always find a way. And remember, increased volumes under Two Tier will mean increased potential for revenue from advocacy fee by volume too. Making the employment of an in house advocate a more attractive proposition once again.

Yet it is also suggested that in house advocacy has proved to be too expensive. And let’s say that the referral ban has been successful in closing all potential loopholes. Let’s say that the AGFS modifications have improved payment rates. So 18 months from now you have a reduced number of suppliers with certain volumes of work provided to them under the Duty Provider Contract. These are businesses in need of profit. As some predict, the revenues from these contracts have not been sufficient to cushion the blow of successive cuts.

So where do these businesses have to go now? In house advocacy doesn’t bring the profit. Any income from fee sharing, referral fees or admin charges have been ruled unlawful. There is a new Lord Chancellor in place (a natural consequence of this office becoming political rather than legal). So these businesses, who have some quite powerful collective bargaining muscle now areas have limited duty providers, need to find a way of increasing their share of the overall pie. They go so see a new Lord Chancellor with a budget to protect. The topic of the conversation? One Case One Fee. 

Tackling referral fees levels the playing field in about three square metres, somewhere in the vicinity of the corner flag. This does not save the Bar. This is not the boy with his finger in the dam. This is King Canute, trying to turn back the tide whilst, unbeknownst to him, a tsunami brews under the seas. 

Again, I repeat, I don’t know what is going to happen. And I am not trying to scare you. Whatever happens, there has to be more than just a ban on referral fees. And it would have to happen soon. We have to hope the Lord Chancellor really does love us. And loves us a LOT. 

In reality the best way to ensure the future of the Bar is to make sure the litigator and the advocate are both properly remunerated. Then I will take my chances that my ability will get me enough work. Now that is as level as I need the playing field to be. 

Yes or No

I invited anyone who wished to contribute to the debate to email their blog to me and I would be happy to host. Kent solicitor Oliver Kirk has done just that. Here is his contribution. 

A response to Mr Myerson QCs response to Mr Csoka QC

I am writing this brief response, I hope to clear up what some see as ambiguities or inconsistencies in the position of solicitors, and to help those who may still be undecided in their decision on the current ballot.

In case it is not abundantly clear- many solicitors firms are currently in a precarious state: their futures uncertain awaiting the outcome not only of the current action- but also of their LAA bids- or indeed for the fall-out from their failure to bid. All are united in their uncertainty as to whether the new, significantly lower rates can possibly be financially viable. (My own view is that they are not.)

Why don’t solicitors withdraw their bids?

The LAA is the principal provider of work. The only show in town. So, if a firm either fails to bid- or withdraws a bid, then it is then condemned to rely only on private and own client work. In the case of most firms large enough to bid, those two sources of work are simply not a viable option.

Own client contracts are, by their very nature wasting assets- criminal clients often find themselves in custody for lengthy periods have difficult personal circumstances, which result in tragically early deaths, and of course some reform or were never guilty in the first place- all of which mean that repeat business cannot be relied upon. Furthermore, clients, as well as being fiercely loyal, can also be a perfidious bunch, meaning that it is never really possible to count upon return business. An own client contract alone may only provide an unstable and unpredictable revenue stream over any significant period of time. Unsurprisingly, most firms need the new blood of duty cases to refresh their client base.

Why not withdraw a bid to do economically unviable work? Once your bid is withdrawn- that is “Game Over”; if some form of improved deal is put on the table in due course- you won’t be part of it. If some firms withdraw their bids, and others do not, those who have withdrawn make their own situations worse, not better. Think of it in these terms as well: most owners of firms will have made significant personal investments in their businesses. The buck also stops with them if the business fails- their homes, and any other assets are quite likely to be tied up by way of personal guarantees to banks. It would therefore be personally and professionally reckless in the extreme to withdraw a bid in the hope that a better deal might emerge that the firm could be part of.

Bidding and getting a contract therefore becomes the only possible way of surviving- in a sort of “gruel tomorrow” pact that allows a firm so stumble on in the hope of staving off insolvency for a little longer. The alternative of withdrawing a bid would, for many firms mean the prospect of having to make significant redundancies at time when it is unlikely that the funds are available to pay even those.

Please consider also that many of the bidders may be consortia of smaller firms and sole practitioners, who have already invested many, many hours putting a bid together. To withdraw such a bid now after making such investments of time when to do so might be curtains for the firms involved is a gamble too far . This is especially so, when you consider how effective the current action appears to be in its early days in getting the MOJ to think again.

No-one should be under any illusions- the current rates of pay do not incentivise work. They do not encourage a “no stone unturned” approach to a clients’ case. They encourage the opposite. Equally, the current rates of pay are such that solicitors have been forced out of the lower courts into the Crown Court as a means of remaining in business.

If reduced rates and DC come in, various things will almost certainly happen:

1) A significant number of small “High Street” firms will pull out of Criminal Legal Aid altogether whether as a commercial decision or because they do not get a contract. Many such firms or departments are operating on such tight margins that the July cuts followed by the January 2016 cuts will finish them off before the MOJ even start their “2016 Review of legal aid rates”.

2) Other (probably smaller) firms who do not get duty contracts will soldier on with own client contracts- but with diminishing volumes and cuts to remuneration, will probably go under. I pause to ask myself whether it is these same firms who currently instruct the Bar?

Of course they are! These are the firms who instruct the junior Bar on a daily basis, whether to do their Magistrates Court trials or their Crown Court cases; the same firms who once discovered and instructed those who now lead the Bar. Those firms will wither and die.

3) Those larger firms who do get contracts undoubtedly keep as much advocacy in-house as possible. They will recruit from the ranks of an underemployed Bar who will be wondering where their instructions have gone….

So- when asking yourself Mr Myerson’s questions and deciding how to vote, please remember that if you are currently briefed by a solicitor- that firm may not be around for long to brief you if it has not applied for or does not get “awarded” a contract. As for those who apply for and get a contract the margins will be such that they will have to try to keep all their work in-house.

This is the Bars decision.

This is the Bars vote.

Make no mistake, this is for Our future.

 

 

 

 

The Cost to Justice

Darin Millar, senior partner at Bolton firm CMA, penned a blog recently called “What Price Justice?” I invite you to head over there now to read it. It is vital you do. It contains an interesting perspective. This blog is written in response to Darin’s blog so you really have to read his first. So toddle along now and don’t come back until you have read his blog. 

In case you are being lazy, here is another link to his piece. Seriously, go and read it now……you have? Good. I can begin….

Now Darin and I have a number of things in common. We are both criminal lawyers with over twenty years experience. We both write blogs. We both ply our trade in the Northwest. We both have first names that are more often spelt incorrectly than correctly (I am guessing at the last bit).
We part company when it comes to opposing the cuts to legal aid. This does not make either of us a bad person. 

However I would take issue with some of the points that Darin seeks to make in his blog. He makes the point that the hourly rate of a fee earner averages out at £100 per hour. It is important to point out to the casual observer that this is not the income of the fee earner. This is what they bring into the firm. As Darin rightly points out this is half what private clients pay. So as things stand at the moment the taxpayer is getting a whopping discount from the going market rate. That is a hell of a good deal. The £100 is already based on efficient working practices and a substantial case load. 

Yet the Government wants more. It wants to cut more. So the current £100 per hour is going to have been cut further by February 2016. In order to maintain the £100 per hour firms are going to have to do more cases with increasing “efficiencies”. Many firms are as efficient as they can be. Efficiencies are a small step away from corner cutting. 

The figures that Darin quotes are difficult to analyse without further information. I would hazard a guess that not all cases in the Police Station or the Magistrates run so easily. Or so conveniently to time that the maths seem so healthy. So the example he gives only needs another 45 minutes at the police station and another hour at court for the hourly rate to plummet. And then there will be occasions when many more hours are involved. For the same fixed fee. (I will add that the example only deals with Darin’s time engaged at the police station and the court. I don’t know, but I would imagine that there is other work undertaken on the case in the form of client care and billing. In addition there may be disbursements from the fees quoted. So the headline hourly rates may be a little misleading, with the greatest of respect. this is why the true hourly rate is more like the £100 he quoted across the full range of cases).

Now let’s take the £82,000 for the fraud case. Yes this is a lot of money. Darin works it out to be £250 per hour. That works out to 328 hours. Now what is not said is whether this figure includes any disbursements such as travel. But let’s take it as representing 328 hours work. Now if the solicitor or a representative of the solicitors attended every day of a trial, 328 hours would be exhausted in about 9 weeks. So this is is one of the “efficiencies” that firms make. Counsel are unattended. I accept that counsel can be at court on their own. Some of the time. Experience shows that we are at court on our own most of the time. And this can and does lead to delays at court and inefficiencies creeping into the system at point B due to an efficiency at point A.

(Caveat time, I am not suggesting this trial was 9 weeks, or that Darin did not attend every day, I simply do not know. The point I am making is that certain steps are regularly taken to make the money go further, and that large amounts of money can be paid in Legal Aid cases, but they are labour intensive). 

And then there are shifts made in the division of labour that has a knock on effect. Some solicitors will shift the burden of paperwork on to counsel wherever they can. So defence case statements, bad character notices, hearsay notices and the like are routinely drafted by counsel. That was the sort of work that used to be done by the litigator, not the advocate. And counsel are operating on a fee scheme that was designed when such a workload was less common. So some firms can only make the fees pay by shifting some of the work that the litigator’s fee is designed to cover on to others. This starts to seem like a very slippery slope. 

The fact of the matter is that Darin is clearly an able and committed criminal defence solicitor. He is not alone. There are many such dedicated professionals. The complaints that Darin makes about the shortfalls in the system, the difficulties we are all aware of, are only compensated for by the talent and dedication of men and women such as Darin. Professionals that go above and beyond on a daily basis to paper over the gaping cracks. 

Are such individuals going to come through in the future? Some will. There are people born with the desire to help. People who enter all sorts of walks of life because of their calling. There are a number of us who were attracted to a career in criminal law because of the opportunity for advocacy and have subsequently realised the importance of the work we do. Our eye is caught by the attractive look of life in a criminal courtroom, only later do we fall in love with the importance of what takes place there. Will the opportunities still exist for these lawyers? Will the lure of other areas of law become too great? Are we only going to be left with those coming out of university with a calling to criminal defence work?

People who have such a calling often work in the charity sector. Theirs is a calling to help others, regardless of monetary reward. This is noble and vital. But this should not be the way of ensuring the proper governance of a nation and the nurturing of democracy. We do not rely upon the good people of the St John’s Ambulance to provide trauma care in the local A and E. The Government should not be planning the health and the future of the criminal justice system on the willingness of people like Darin to strive and adapt no matter what remuneration they receive and no matter how else the system crumbles. 

Of course anyone is perfectly entitled to come to a decision about actions they take to protest about changes made to their professions or the nature of their remuneration. People are entitled to say, as Darin does, that they can make the new system work for themselves and that others should be able to do the same. I would, however, ask those people to think not only of their economic resilience or of their determination to continue to provide quality representation but to look at the risk that such Government policy creates.
And the risk is obvious. If there exist people that are less dedicated than Darin, that are prepared to put profit before quality, a system of poor remuneration actively encourages such an approach. 

Whereas Darin attends the police station, thus providing the client with the benefit of 20 years of his experience, another firm may take the option of sending the cheapest representative with the barest competencies required to maximise the profit. Another firm may fall into the temptation of advising the fraud client who should be pleading to have a trial, just to secure the £82,000 litigator’s fee just to survive that month. These are all risks that a smaller pool of suppliers and a diminishing rate of remuneration create. 

In an ideal world, we would all be Darins. But we are not. And in those circumstances perhaps Darin, whilst not joining us, understands why we see the falling remuneration as something that is not just about lining our pockets. It is about the future of the profession and the future of the system.  

Keep Off the Grass

In the robing room at Bolton Crown Court there is a sign that announces the prohibition of smoking. Transgressors will be reported to the “senior judiciary”, or so it tells us. Some wag has added “what? The Supreme Court??” Although when I say “some wag” I, of course, mean prescient sage. 

Today the Northern Circuit has been issued with an edict from the Presiding Judges. It has come to their attention that meetings have been held in the robing rooms of Liverpool and Manchester to debate the future of the professions. Apparently “no further meetings are to be held or arranged in court buildings.” By order of Her Majesty’s Judiciary. 

On a plus point, at least the dire future of the professionals that appear before them has come to the attention of the senior judiciary. Their conduct otherwise could leave you wondering. But now we know they have it at the forefront of their mind. Not access to justice but access to the robing room. 

From today onwards each practitioner is on a DAPO, a Direct Action Prevention Order. The terms of the Order are that no relevant person (for the purposes of the Order relevant person is anyone paid from the Legal Aid Fund) may gather together in groups of three or more within the curtilage of the Court Building save for in circumstances unavoidable in every day life and the conduct of multi-handed cases. Furthermore, relevant persons are expressly prohibited from discussing, chatting or whining about the level of remuneration. Participation in a ballot and/or survey whilst within the boundaries of the provided map is also strictly forbidden. 

This prohibition is not “taking sides” or an effort to stifle debate. We are reminded that “robing rooms are provided to facilitate the day to day business of advocates in the court building. They are not made available for any other purposes including meetings – regardless of the perceived merits or demerits of the proposals being debated.”

Plain and simple. Court buildings are reserved for court business and court business only. Rules are rules after all. 

Which is a shame, because the concourse at Crown Square is regularly used to host a Macmillan Coffee Morning to raise money for the cancer charity during normal opening hours. This does nothing for the day to day business of the staff and users in the building. So it can no longer happen, regardless of the perceived merits or demerits of charity. 

And then there are the countless retirement parties of the Judiciary that have been hosted in the Court Buildings of Manchester and Liverpool. A table set out with wine and nibbles as the Judiciary chat about their pensions (conversations which I presume are now verboten in the Judical dining room). All banned. 

Of course these other things are not banned. Just the hard pressed criminal practitioner grabbing a few moments before the court day to discuss their future and the health of the CJS. That is banned. 

What a terrible message that sends. 

I am reminded of the park-keeper from days gone by who would chase off the girls and boys whose only crime was to use the public facilities. Who would imagine that one of the core competencies for senior judicial office was policing what counsel did in the robing room?

I am currently on holiday. Next week, when I am back, I suspect I may want to catch up with my colleagues to find out what has been going on. I will now arrange that in a nearby coffee shop. And then we can all turn up to get through security at 10.15. That’ll make the day run smoothly. Particularly if lots of you join me. 

I really despair that the Judiciary have done this. It serves no purpose, other than to leave a bewildered profession wondering how the Judicary can have their priorities so wrong. 

Call the Lawyer

Lawyers and midwives make unusual bedfellows. Midwives conjure up images of fresh faced, kind and brave young women on bicycles bringing new life and hope to the East End of London. Lawyers conjure up images of snakes, fatcats, rats and lizards.

For the first time in their 133 year history, the Royal College of Midwives have voted overwhelming to go on strike. This is in response to the Government’s refusal to implement an independent pay review’s recommended 1% pay increase.

That is a remarkable achievement by this Government. There is now an unlikely link between the bringers of babies and the bringers of burglars. They have managed to provoke midwives to go on strike. They also managed to provoke the lawyers to take direct action.

Whatever your view of barristers, they are, by and large, a conservative (with a deliberately small “c”) bunch. It might be said that they are as unlikely to strike as a midwife. Until now.

I would a hazard guess that the midwives will garner more sympathy than the lawyers. That is despite the fact that the midwives are complaining about a pay freeze rather than repeated pay cuts.

The only reason why the public would be so uneven in their sympathy for the cause is because of the stereotypes in the opening paragraph of this blog. Midwives are nice, lawyers are not. Medics are selfless, briefs are selfish. Nurses do good deeds, solicitors protect wrongdoers.

In a recent Twitter discussion it was suggested to me that the majority of the public would wish to see lawyers torn apart by tigers. I responded by asking why the public would want tigers attacking those who prosecute paedophiles? I was accused of responding with my normal nonsense. I rather thought I was responding with the truth.

This is the challenge that the legal profession have to grapple with immediately. Our value has to be known and recognised. We are not bystanders in the trial process. We define it. So a good advocate makes the process better for all involved.

There are many ways in which I wish we lived in a world without lawyers. If humans had no frailties we would not need lawyers. If humans did not have emotions we would not need lawyers. To (mis)quote Dr Who “good men don’t need rules, that’s why I have so many”. Society needs rules because we cannot be trusted not to transgress them. Society only needs doctors because there is disease, ill health and old age.

Whilst we still need lawyers, does it not make sense that the public have access to very good lawyers? If I need the services of a midwife I want the dedicated, brilliant, go-the-extra-mile, cycling variety. I do not want a vaguely competent, unmotivated, underpaid, forced-into-industrial-action type.

I have no idea how the 11% pay rise politicians think this is the good way to run a nation.