Tag Archives: tony cross

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”.

A Second Open Letter

Dear Nigel and Tony,

When I wrote my open letter to you I said at the time that if the Bar voted to keep the deal I would give you my apologies. I am anxious to keep my word so here I am apologising. It is only right that I do so publicly.

I do not apologise for having spoken up for what I believe to be right. I continue to believe I am right (I am obviously always right) and think that it was important that the Bar had their say in matters and that the question was debated openly. The CBA are to be applauded for hosting a balanced debate.

I am sorry that you and other officers of the CBA were subjected to any personal abuse. I am not suggesting that anyone is ever immune from criticism but that is very different from abuse. At least now those from outside the Bar can see that the decisions taken have a popular support amongst the rank and file. They should no longer be seen as just “your” decision but a decision taken by appropriate democratic process. I will allow myself this one lament – that the energy expended by so many in debating the issue was matched in equal amount by the apathy of some in not voting.

The vote demonstrates that you had judged the mood of a significant proportion of the criminal bar and my own view was out of step with them. I expect everyone can agree that there are many difficulties that lie ahead. I foresee that we are a long way from securing a future for the Criminal Bar so let us hope that my streak of being wrong continues!

When Tony stepped into the lion’s den and addressed the meeting of the Northern Circuit something that I have long believed was brought into sharper focus. In the future we have to ensure that the people in the room negotiating with the Government are only the people that have been directly elected by the Bar or special interest group. Those elected representatives should only come from a pool of candidates unfettered by artificial rules that limits the pool.

As the elected representatives of the Criminal Bar there can be little doubt about your mandate in respect of the decisions taken. Although not always in agreement with every step taken I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for the work you have done on our behalf.

Yours,

Jaime Hamilton