Tag Archives: VHCC

Friends Again

With the announcement over VHCCs it would seem that the Bar and the MoJ are friends again. I am not sure that the same can be said for the solicitors’ profession and the MoJ. The Law Society have always seemed on friendlier terms but there seems little genuine affection. And when it comes to the Bar and the solicitors, well, that is a topic far too controversial for little old me.

So now the Bar are friends again with the MoJ it is time for the Bar to tell the MoJ some of the things that only friends can really say to each other. You know the sort of thing – “you have halitosis” or “you get a bit whiffy towards the end of a warm day”.

So here goes – all this stuff about fees has been fiddling whilst Rome burns. The CJS, your CJS, no, our CJS stinks. It absolutely reeks of failure.

We have the judiciary warning us about the lack of resources in the system. We have the prisons inspector warning about prison overcrowding.

And I warn you now that there are daily examples of delay and disaster like this. As I have banged on about in past blogs, nothing is working correctly. I have appeared in seven cases on the trot where the papers have been served late or not at all, where the indictment has been wrong or where there has been further delay. It is not that I am unlucky. Paul Tubb wrote an open letter to the Minister detailing his experience of the farce we now call the CJS.

If I worked in the NHS or the Passport Office I would be called a “whistleblower”. As it is, I am just a friend telling a friend where they are going wrong. Be a pal and listen.

No more targets. No more pilot schemes. No more wifi. No more tinkering. No more restructures. Just invest a bit of time and a bit of money getting the basics right.

Queensbury Rules

I was sent this document by a Junior on my Circuit. As the CBA offered the cloak of anonymity to anyone who wished to have their say I saw no reason not to either! Here are their views.

I’ve asked that my name is not attached to this because in many ways it doesn’t really matter who is saying it. The only significance to it is that it is might be of assistance to those who are presently undecided on which way to vote. If it helps, I’m a junior who does do VHCC cases.

Importantly, I echo all that has been said about the work done by the CBA and all those who have generously given their time and effort to fight for our cause. There is no criticism of their efforts, implied or otherwise, in what follows.

However, I do believe that it is a mistake to accept this ‘deal’ from the MoJ.

The deal – in its simple terms – is a deferment of the cuts in the AGFS in return for the end of any action, the end of the ‘No Returns’ policy and an end to the objection to VHCCs. That is it. In short, we’ll defer the cuts – you keep the system afloat again.

In relation to AGFS this amounts to a stay of execution only. We wait a year and then we get kicked in the proverbials anyway. The budget has not changed and the cuts will come. If, following the next election, the Government is Blue of hue then the cuts will certainly come. If the Government is Red then that won’t guarantee the cuts won’t come but the present incumbents won’t care what happens anyway as they will have left the Reds to sort it out.

I’ve read somewhere the argument that we have demonstrated that we can stand up to the MoJ and so we can do so again in 2015. I’m afraid to my mind that is shockingly naïve. This is a fight for our survival so let us embrace that analogy. We should not allow our opponent out of the corner when we are pressing home our advantage. Our tactics have been effective. Our opponent is injured, is suffering, and is looking for a way out. We should not surrender our momentum and position of strength and allow our opponent to go away for a year, working on his weaknesses in order to strengthen himself and meanwhile weakening us, before then allowing him to start the fight again from his improved position.

Whatever people’s views are about the solicitors being able to fight their own corner and allowing them to do so, we must not lose sight of the fact that we are stronger and we have more power when we join forces. One of the tactics the MoJ has employed repeatedly is to try and divide the unity they see between the professions. They appreciate that we are stronger together and there has been an almost unprecedented degree of unity which we should maintain and use to the advantage of both professions.

We should be using that unity and pressing home our advantage until the opponent concedes. Either that or we ensure he does not want to, or is not able to, fight with us again. Too many times in the past we have observed the Marquis of Queensbury rules and dropped our guard at the point where the fight looks like coming to an end. Yet if we drop our guard in good faith here (which is what I believe we’re doing in accepting this deal) I believe we will find ourselves stabbed between the ribs by an opponent who has no intention of adhering to those rules. Our opponent is a streetfighter, not a pugilist. We are mismatched in weight, in muscle and power, in resources, and we need to be efficient and tactically astute and I believe we have been up until last week. One of the essential elements of our tactical approach must be that when we gain the upper hand we do not relinquish it. This is a fight for our survival not a challenge to our honour. We are not fighting to regain some credibility, we are fighting to survive.

This is the announcement from the Government

Update – 27 March 2014

Transforming Legal Aid

Following discussions with the leaders of the Bar and the Law Society, the Government has agreed a number of measures to help criminal legal aid lawyers as they prepare for the necessary legal aid savings and market restructuring.

I do not read that as deferring these cuts to such a position that they will not occur. I read that as ‘These cuts are coming whether you like it or not and the current model and practices which you have will not survive them’. Get on with ‘market restructuring’.

Furthermore, as we have repeatedly demonstrated to them and they have repeatedly ignored, these cuts are NOT ‘necessary’. They are ill thought out, counter-productive and will result in a second rate, two tier legal system.

Given that there are many who take the view that these cuts are ideological at heart, I pause there to observe that the ‘market’ (which is said by the Government to be the great panacea) is not trusted to determine who gets work in the brave new world proposed for the CJS. The small firms who presently survive by their reputation and hard work will go to the wall and the consequences for the Bar are self evident. Who amongst us believes that Serco or G4S Legal Services Ltd will have the slightest interest in our abilities or years of experience? They have one objective and one alone. Profit.

There is a YouTube clip of the late Tony Benn speaking in the House of Commons at the end of Mrs Thatcher’s time as Prime Minister in which he refers to her Government as ‘measuring the price of everything and the value of nothing’. That is the very approach that we are facing. We have repeatedly demonstrated that these cuts are not about money but we have been resolutely ignored. We have been contemptuously ignored while the Public Defender Service advertisements are shoved in our faces which offer rates of pay which are multiples of what the average legal aid barrister earns before we enter into discussions about pensions, sick pay or holidays.

As a consequence, the leadership of the Bar will call off their ‘No Returns’ Policy and there will be no further days of action. The Bar Council and the CBA will also make clear that there is no in principle objection to working on VHCC cases at the new rates.

I would argue this is clearly intended to be read as ‘everybody back to work as before’. No more ‘No Returns’, no more ‘Days of Action’, no more disruptions and no objection to people undertaking VHCCs. In other words – ‘start doing VHCCs again’.

Why would the CBA need to make clear that there was no objection in principle to working on VHCCs at the new rates? It has been said all along that this was a matter for individual choice and that is still the case – so nothing has changed, right?

Wrong. We all know what this implies. We all know that once there is no unanimity then there will be those who take these cases. We all know that many people have refused or returned them because they have felt secure in the knowledge that none of their colleagues will betray them and take the cases anyway. We cannot allow that to happen and in truth it simply shouldn’t. Any suggestion they’re reconsidering VHCCs and creating ‘AGFS plus’ while they’re still managing those cases with the exact same budget is a marketing exercise akin to Alan Partridge’s PA, Lynn, (very hard-working but she’s got a moustache) trying to tell him that the new ‘Rover Metro’ was not the same as a Mini-Metro. Alan didn’t fall for it and neither should we. ‘They’ve re-badged it you fool’. We should be as determined to stick by our principles as he was : ‘I’m not driving a mini-metro, I’m not driving a mini-metro, I’m not driving a mini-metro !’

We have spent months telling the Government that such cases simply cannot be done properly for those rates. Nobody of sufficient experience or ability could afford to conduct such cases on such derisory rates. That such rates will lead to injustice, will lead to errors, will lead to appeals, will lead greater costs as a result. That paying proper rates ensures that the experienced, the able, those whose knowledge and experience will save time and money is the only way to conduct those cases. What of all of that? Has all that been changed ? Has all of that been resolved ?

Of course it hasn’t. It is as true now as it was then. But we have been able to maintain a unanimous opposition to the new rates because we have stood as one. We simply cannot afford for that resolve to be in any way diluted. We have all been able to stand firm because we knew that we were all in the same position and that nobody would accept these cases at these rates. Nobody would do the work that you were refusing to do as a matter of principle. Our principles cannot, and should not, change because the cuts in AGFS have been deferred. We voted on it. People gave up years of work on the strength of that resolve. I do not believe that we can, in good conscience, resile from that. Apart from the betrayal of those who returned these cases, what credibility would the lengthy and detailed arguments about the injustices that would occur have if we now start accepting that VHCCs can in fact be done on those rates? What credibility would any of our arguments have in the future? None.

Oh, and does anybody think that the other arm of the Government a few blocks away won’t think to themselves : ‘Hmm. So the defence representatives CAN do VHCCs at those rates after all. Well, the same must be true of prosecution counsel as well’. It is inevitable that the CPS would look to implement the same rates once it has been established that these cases are being done again.
We have to show the Government that we stand strong on VHCCs and this deal undermines that position. It may be said that nothing has changed it is a matter for individuals as it was then but we all know it has changed, otherwise why even mention it.

My view is that the fight should be carried on both fronts. There is strength in the unified position. The VHCC boycott should continue in conjunction with the ‘No Returns’ policy because their combined effect is so much greater. We must not let the MoJ divide these issues into smaller more manageable chunks. To return to the fight analogy, why should we only hit them with one hand when we can finish this fighter far more quickly and effectively punching with both.

The Government will defer changes to the Advocates Graduated Fee Scheme until Summer 2015, to align with the second fee reduction for litigators. This will allow us to take into account the outcomes of the reviews by Sir Bill Jeffrey and Sir Brian Leveson, as well as any impact on legal aid spend from falling crime rates, and earlier remuneration changes. In the same way, we will consider any impact from the above factors before introducing the second fee reduction for litigators.

All very interesting but they’ve already told us in paragraph 1 that the cuts are coming. We’re surrendering a position of real unity with the solicitors, we’re surrendering the combined effect of No Returns and No VHCC’s, and we’re doing that so that they can consider the reviews which will take place and then implement the cuts anyway when we’re in a far weaker position to do anything about it.

There were thousands of articulate, well argued replies to the consultation papers which were insultingly ignored. The inspiringly impressive response from Treasury Counsel was criminally ignored. The MoJ will not listen to anything that doesn’t suit their agenda. We have surely learnt that by now!! Does anybody genuinely believe that deferring this argument for a year or 18 months strengthens our position ?

Let’s not back off now. Let’s tighten our grip, increase the pressure and let’s achieve what we set out to achieve in the first place. ‘Not a penny more’ was the mantra we got behind. It was not ‘Not a penny more until 2015 when we’re all doomed anyway !’.

An Open Letter

This is the email that I have sent this afternoon to the leadership of the CBA. I have not done so lightly. If you agree with me then please comment on this blog or, even better, send your email thoughts to the CBA. Both Nigel Lithman and Tony Cross have their email addresses on the contacts page on the CBA website. I am afraid it is not enough to moan on Twitter or in the robing room. I may be a lone voice of dissent but if I am not then it is important to say so now and to say it to those who can do something.

Before I simply reproduce my email can I say I started this blog because of the whole Save UK Justice thing. I have enjoyed writing it tremendously and have appreciated all your kind words. I have no idea whether I will have any need or desire to return to this blog in the future. Time will tell. However I can say, and this is no exaggeration, this is my saddest day at the Bar.

Good luck to you all.

Dear Nigel and Tony,

I write this open letter to you because what I have to say is important. I will publish this eleswhere because debate has never been more important than it is right now.

Nigel – you do not know me but Tony does. I hope that Tony would vouch for the fact that I have always been very much a team player. I have been incredibly grateful for the leadership you have shown in the fight so far. It is against that background that I feel tremendous sadness in saying that the CBA have got this as wrong as they could have. However it is not too late.

Can I remind you of the palpable anger at the Law Society having been praised by The Lord Chancellor for the way they “engaged” in the discussions about PCT? How the Bar felt that we had been blindsided by their engagement? I probably do not need to remind you Nigel as you had this to say in your Monday Message on 23rd September

“I understood that the agreement was No to PCT, No to QASA and No to Cuts. I am sure solicitors having achieved the first will now demand that the Law Society take steps to deliver the latter two. Nothing less is honourable.”

A gentle reminder to the solicitors to keep in step with us. That their fight and our fight was a fight for justice. That alliance lies shattered this afternoon. Our support for the solicitors means nothing at all unless we are prepared to back that by action.

And now we have seemingly surrendered the taking of that action. And received what in return? A stay in respect of part of the cuts. Is that a victory? No.

Nigel you have rallied us constantly and consistently under the banner “not a penny more”. The message was clear. No more cuts to barristers’ fees on your watch. Today the damaging cuts to VHCCs remain. It is unforgivable that we have all encouraged a small number of practitioners to rescind ongoing contracts and hand back their VHCC cases, in some instances virtually decimating their diaries, to now abandon them. That should not happen. Not on your watch.

At the CBA delegates rally you compared yourself to Joan of Arc and instead of hearing the voices of the saints you heard the voice of the minister saying to you “I will cut the rates in this order. First I will cut VHCC’s by 30 %”.

Your response was “Then that is what we will oppose first with all our determination and there is no reason why we would not defeat these cuts.”

The only reason why we have not defeated those cuts is because we have compromised too early and too much. There can be no mistake other than your promise of “not a penny more” was to include those VHCC cuts. I hold you to that promise. Not because I handed back a VHCC or turned one down because I did not. It is because, like the American Marine Corps, we should never leave a man (or woman) behind.

And that is what we have done. We have left behind the solicitors, we have left behind those that do VHCCs and we have left behind justice itself. I did not walkout mid trial, exposing myself to wasted costs, disciplinary action, censure by the CPS and all it entailed so we could get a stay of execution until such time as the Government come again and we are in a weaker position. I have not refused returns so a deal could be hammered out and then agreed to in a (proverbial) smoke filled room.

When there was some ongoing discussion about the no returns policy the whole CBA position on that was the meetings of Heads of Chambers was not the way things were done in the democratic CBA. I have been constantly trumpeting the mandate you have and the processes that you go through to represent and not just dictate. We have all just completed a consultation that concludes tomorrow about the way forward. Was that just tokenism?

Today the Criminal Bar has not won a victory. What we have demonstrated is what we might achieve through unity and action. What we have shown is the Ministry of Justice are feeling the impact of what we were doing. Sadly we have been the ones to blink first.

I could be a lone voice of dissent. There is only one way to find out. I hold you both to your promises and the ideals I thought you held dear. Tell the MoJ this deal is not done. Consult with the rank and file. Not Heads of Chambers. The juniors. The ones who have been let down time and time again. Let us have a process by which we can decide whether to accept or reject it. If we accept it you have my apologies. If we reject it then we have a chance to put this right.

We all appreciate the effort you have put in. We all realise you have been faced with difficult decisions. The white hot glare of a struggle like this can cause good men and women to make mistakes. This decision, this ultimate decision was not yours to make. It was not for the Silks to make, the Circuit Leaders to make or my Head of Chambers to make. It is a decision for all of us to make.

Give us back our voice. Give us back our choice. It is our future.

Yours in sadness,

Jaime Hamilton

Here is the News

I bring you news of Denmark. Okay, not Denmark but I am not Shakespeare so this news comes from Nottingham. I am reliably informed that there is a two handed VHCC listed there in April. This is not the news. I am also reliably informed that both Silks and the junior for one defendant have returned the brief once the fees were unilaterally altered by the Government. Again, probably not news.

What is news is that the case has been recently listed to update the court as to representation. The court were told that, in the 72 hours preceding the mention, the LAA had been frequently contacting the solicitors to offer the services of the latest QC recruits to the PDS. One of the Silks being offered does not start his employment until February. The trial date has been vacated and refixed for September as everyone accepted that new counsel would not be ready in time. It would appear that there is the potential for real conflict in this case (I rely upon others for this information) which could cause difficulties in relation to Part 7 of the PDS Code of Conduct (which can be found here).

So what does this mean? As I have said elsewhere the PDS is being artificially bolstered as a sticking plaster for the ills of the new fee regime. It also amply demonstrates it is no sort of fix. The Bar should not throw their hands up in despair and say it has all been for nothing. This is a desperate last gasp attempt to avoid the flood. But it is only a Dutch finger in a very leaky dam.

Another lesson for the Bar to learn is that the fight has to continue on all fronts. Simply relying upon a refusal to work at VHCC rates is not enough on its own. There will be every tactic used to get the CJS to limp on. Reclassifying VHCCs as grad fee cases. Reclassifying Silks at Public Defenders. Reclassifying lies as truth. All of it will be used to allow the farce to go on.

So in order to save the independent Bar, preserve quality representation of individuals, to rescue the Criminal Justice System from the quagmire in to which it has been sinking for years and to do what we all know is right we have to take all forms of action open to us. It is a fight for all of us, by all of us.

It was always going to be this way. Always going to be a twisting road. If we travel it together we stand a much better chance of getting where we want to be.

A Cunning Plan

An old, surprisingly wise, friend of mine has written this in response to the Government’s Plan B. For those unfamiliar with the Plan B it is that they will get round the problems and embarrassment of nobody working at the new VHCC rates by pretending those type of cases do not exist. You couldn’t make it up…..

Dear Mr Grayling,

As you know, I have recently returned my instructions in a hugely complex bank fraud, because after I contracted to prepare over 100,000 pages of evidence for a three month trial, and started to do so, you decided you would unilaterally change our contract and pay me 30% less. I realise you thought this was A Very Good Idea, until I returned the brief, and you discovered that not a single barrister in the land would agree to work for your proposed new rates.

Imagine my delight when I heard that today, in breach of the Legal Aid Regulations, and probably unlawfully (don’t worry, some kind and much cleverer barrister than I will look into that and let you know if you need another quick retrospective change in the law), you had Another Good Idea, and decided that if you re-classified the case so that it is not paid as a very complex and voluminous case, but in a different way, which will in all probability pay me LESS than the fee I have already selfishly rejected, I may be persuaded to change my mind!

I am so sorry that I must, with the greatest of regret, turn down your kind offer. However, I am very excitedly anticipating your next Very Good Idea, in order that my former client, who faces trial on very serious charges of fraud, and prosecution by a top silk and junior, does not have to represent himself at trial.

Have a lovely Christmas and a Very Happy New Year.

(do keep taking those Meds)

Yours

Rebecca Herbert.

Uncle Ken’s Motor

The hero of our story, Chris, was surprised and delighted when he inherited a lovely old Rolls Royce from his jovial Uncle Ken. Not as surprised as other members of the family who felt that Chris was entirely unsuitable to be trusted with such a treasured heirloom but Chris rose above their sniping. So what if he could not drive a car? He could still enjoy it.

In his younger days Ken had been more of a Jag man. But in his dotage he had acquired the Roller and became accustomed to its beauty. The Rolls Royce was truly a one off. Hand crafted by artists with years of experience underlying their skill, this was an automobile that was not only the envy of the street but the whole town. Uncle Ken’s Roller was a byword for quality. On the prow of the bonnet the traditional, elegant silver lady struck her familiar pose with the addition of a set of scales in one hand and a sword in the other. Debate seemed to rage over whether she was blindfolded or not.

So Chris proudly polished his new treasure. But one thing was immediately apparent. It was a costly thing to run. The one condition of the bequest of the car to Chris was that he had to fight tooth and nail to ensure that there were adequate resources available for the car to continue gliding along. Frankly if he could not find the means to maintain the old lady he was to stand aside and allow someone else to take up the challenge.

Chris had a friend called Tom. Chris and Tom got their heads together to discuss how to continue to afford to run this magnificent car. Tom was thinking aloud when he said, “travelling as the crow flies is always a much shorter distance from point A to point B so it would be cheaper if we could always go in a straight line.”

“That’s brilliant,” said Chris, “if I remove the steering wheel then the Roller can only go in a straight line. It will save me a fortune. I’ll call it Prohibited Cornering Technology. It will reform automotive engineering”

So Tom and Chris took the car to a whole bunch of mechanics and told them his idea. Everyone of them instantly told him it was ridiculous. One even pointed out that someone else had previously come up with a similar idea but they had thought about it for about three seconds and had given up.

Tom and Chris were not to be deterred. Finally they found a backstreet garage called Civil Servicing. This was a bunch of really good mechanics. Their’s was not to reason why. Their’s was to do the customer’s bidding. So Chris drove the Rolls in and declared “Pimp my ride!”

A few days later Chris returned to the garage. There sat his Rolls Royce with the steering wheel and column removed. He thanked the mechanics for their hard work. He started the car and looked to his left where the roller shutters to the workshop stood open.

“How do I get my car out?” Chris asked.

Everyone shook their heads. It was impossible, he was told. For the car to do everything it was meant to the driver had to have some means of choosing and changing direction. Prohibited Cornering Technology was as much of a failure as everyone else had warned. Chris rather sheepishly had to tell the Civil Servicing people to put everything back just the way it was. He cursed his luck, it had cost him a small fortune to try it out. All he was trying to do was save money.

Meanwhile some of the bigger petrol stations got together. They had heard of Chris’s plight. They offered to help him find a way of saving money. Chris was very excited about this. He liked it when people offered to do what he wanted. Other members of his family offered to help out. They offered ways that they could help to make the car affordable for them all to run but this was not the sort of help he wanted. Did people not listen? He wanted help to make the Rolls different.

Chris had a another friend called Dominic. One day Dominic and Chris were chatting about the car. It certainly used more petrol the more people it had onboard. The heavier the load, the greater the fuel consumption. This was a problem that needed fixing. Dominic had a brainwave. If the car had less seats it could take less people. Therefore a car with less seats was always going to be cheaper.

The problem came when they tried to take the rear seats out. You see the wonderfully comfortable and safe rear seats were well made and firmly attached to the chassis. Dominic had another brainwave. If they damaged the seats beyond repair then nobody would want to sit on them and they would always have less passengers. So out came the knife. After a thousand cuts the beautiful, vintage, quality upholstery was no more.

Admittedly the car was no cheaper to run on a daily basis. It still had all its other ancillary costs. But it’s capacity to cater for all circumstances had been reduced. And that had to be a good thing? Right? The comfort and splendour of the car was certainly diminished but at least we had got rid of some of those passengers. The only problem came when Chris really needed to give more than one person a lift. It would have been quite handy if he at least had extra seats available. Once or twice Chris even had to fork out extra for a taxi when he had no other choice. At least that was money that came from the taxi budget. And everyone knows Chris had spent a fortune on such expenses in the past.

A few repairs were needed to the engine. Chris had to take the car to a local garage. The people at Civil Servicing told him that this was a specialist repair. He had to take it to a place down the Silk Road called Vehicles, Headgaskets, Clutches and Carburettors. VHCC told him it was not going to be an easy fix. They agreed with him their hours in advance and did so at a very reasonable rate. When the job was done Chris turned up and paid them 30% less.

It has to be said the lads in the garage were less than impressed by this. Chris was a little upset at their reaction. It could be said he was disappointed. And pledged to make sure that he did something about it as he was chased down the road by mechanics wielding huge wrenches.

His revenge was to immediately head off to the local press. And so the next week the Ewell Argus ran a story about the extortionate costs of that repair. Admittedly the costs that he told them about equated to the costs of twenty such repairs. But never should the truth get in the way of a good PR swipe. The letter pointing out the inaccuracies was subsequently printed on page 38.

The little advantage obtained by skimming some money from the VHCC bill really made little difference. Fortunately for him the Big Petrol Station Group had come up with a plan. Instead of putting petrol in the car, he could run it on chip fat. By sheer coincidence the Big Petrol Station Group had just started to be exclusive suppliers of chip fat. And they could do it more cheaply than anyone else sold petrol.

Chris gleefully filled up with chip fat. Gallons of the stuff glugged in to the tank. Oh the glorious savings that he made. Sadly the Rolls Royce never started again. So this great, majestic old lady sat dormant on Chris’s drive. The steering was butchered, her engine was drowned in low grade fuel and the interior was left in tatters.

Still, Chris was now the very proud owner of the poshest chicken coop in town.

You can see when new posts are available if you follow me on Twitter at @jaimerh354

The Robing Room Table

The Robing Room Table has been here for nigh on twenty years. Prior to its life as the Robing Room Table it had been the Bar Mess Table where every lunchtime the Barristers would eat together. In fairness people still ate at the Robing Room Table but these days it was all Pret sandwiches rather than fish and chips on a Friday served by a lady who had been here longer than the Robing Room Table but, sadly, was no more.

Nonetheless, in both its lives, the Robing Room Table had borne witness to countless war stories. Tales of great successes in court, of magnificent failure and of great hilarity. Judges had been praised, condemned and impersonated by the occupants of the chairs around the Robing Room Table. It had provided a surface to work upon to countless Silks, High Court Judges of the future and criminal hacks. Across its now heavily scarred table top had been discussed the latest developments in the law, the local lawyers’ gossip and a myriad of other topics. Marriages had been sealed after eyes had met for the first time over its dark wooden surface. It had been present for arguments, both personal and professional, and even one fight. The legs of many an advocate, some now long dead, had nestled beneath the Robing Room Table.

So the Robing Room Table was well placed to know that everything was changing. What had begun with murmurings of discontent now weighed heavy in the heart of each of its users. This very morning the Robing Room Table had taken stock of its occupants and the tally was amongst the saddest the Robing Room Table had ever encountered.

That survey had found one of the Robing Room Table’s ever presents, Mr Senior-Junior, sitting in a chair at its head. Mr Senior-Junior had been Mr Nervous-Pupil in the Robing Room Table’s previous life, taking his place amongst the chatting advocates each lunchtime. That seemed a lifetime ago. How things had changed. Mr Senior-Junior had his laptop open on the Robing Room Table. A laptop! But that was not the change that saddened the heart. It was what Mr Senior-Junior was doing on his laptop that caused such sadness. He was dealing with emails (such things being unheard of when Mr Senior-Junior was Mr Nervous-Pupil and the home computer was still the stuff of Sinclair Spectrums). Again the fact that Mr Senior-Junior had been eventually dragged by his clerk into the technological age was not a cause for lament.

The emails related to the sale of his house. A family home which had seen three children grow and leave for their own lives. But now there was no opportunity for Mr and Mrs Senior-Junior to enjoy the home that held so many memories and to relax in the garden worked upon every weekend and summer evening. This was not downsizing due to the house being too big. Mr Senior-Junior was having to realise his assets. And the house was his most significant asset. Finances had been getting tighter and tighter as the children went through university and now his income had dipped below a level which allowed him to keep their home. They were moving somewhere smaller and cheaper. As he dealt with an email Mr Senior-Junior sighed. Here he was engaged in some of the most serious cases year on year, cases that relied upon his vast experience, cases that kept him awake each night and yet his income dwindled every year. And the Robing Room Table sighed with him.

To the left of Mr Senior-Junior was Mr Well-Liked-Junior. Former pupil alongside his former pupil master. Six years ago Mr Well-Liked-Junior had spent twelve months completing his formal training with Mr Senior-Junior. The two men, different generations of barristers, had always got along very well. Today they were in close proximity but silent. Mr Well-Liked-Junior was lost in his own thoughts. This would be one of the last times he would sit alongside Mr Senior-Junior. No more would the Robing Room Table hear Mr Well-Liked-Junior ask his pupil master for advice about the case he had that day. Mr Well-Liked-Junior had, in the months before, decided that he was giving up criminal work. His chambers also handled a good deal of civil work. Assessing his future and the need to provide a regular income Mr Well-Liked-Junior had told his clerk he wanted to move from crime to do civil. He had been on courses. He had shadowed other members of chambers. With a heavy heart he saw no future in crime but no fulfilment in civil. However, rent needed to be paid. Boyhood dreams took a backseat to reality. The Robing Room Table would miss his affable, good humoured enthusiasm.

Opposite Mr Well-Liked-Junior was Miss Up-and-Coming. Ten years in to being a barrister and always in demand. The Robing Room Table knew from the conversations of her opponents and peers that Miss Up-and-Coming was one of its regulars who would go on to sit at much grander tables. Usually so assured, Miss Up-and-Coming was in a state of internal turmoil today. Listed at court was a mention in a case in which she was the Junior for the main defendant. A large fraud case, many defendants. Her instruction in that case marked yet another milestone in her steady march towards brilliance. Yet it now caused Miss Up-and-Coming consternation. The heavy workload involved in such cases had an inevitable impact on her personal life. And now she was faced with deep cuts to the fees in a case she had accepted over a year ago.

Miss Up-and-Coming imagined what would happen if she went home this afternoon and told the builder working on the extension to her house that she had decided all his work from this point on would be paid at 30% less than the previously expected fee. Miss Up-and-Coming knew exactly what he would do – walk off site. Exactly that choice faced her now. Her consternation came from the struggle between her desire to do “good” work and the compensation that she received for devoting her life to her career. It came from the struggle of her professional duty towards her client and the stark reality that she could not continue to devote the time necessary to such a case under the new, spartan rates. Should she, could she, simply treat the contract for the case as a commercial agreement and walk away? She knew what she had to do. She knew what her bank manager would have her do. It weighed heavy on her conscience but there came a time when Miss Up-and-Coming had to say “no more”.

At the corner of the Robing Room Table Mr Experienced-HCA was reading the newspaper. At least he was looking at the newspaper. The words were not being processed by his brain. His mind was filled with the office meeting last night. The meeting at which the senior managing partner had told them that the entire staff faced the threat of redundancy in order to make the firm more efficient. Mr Experienced-HCA was at the very sharp end of the firm’s business and he knew full well they were already operating at the bare minimum of staff and resources. Furthermore the advocates had all been spoken to separately to be told that one of them would definitely be going unless they all accepted a pay cut of a third. A third?!?

So as the Robing Room Table held his paper for him he contemplated what his future would hold. The increasing demands on his time. The constant workload of case after case. Mr Experienced-HCA felt that this was a breaking point. But what would break? Him? His firm? The whole system? The words of the newspaper swam before his eyes.

The final figure readying herself for court was Miss Respected-Prosecutor. Known for her attention to detail allied with great intelligence and judgment Miss Respected-Prosecutor had been quickly earmarked by the CPS as one of their counsel of choice. Soon her defence instructions diminished as she was instructed in big drug conspiracy after big conspiracy by the Crown. Miss Respected-Prosecutor had always appreciated that the defence would often be paid a better rate than her. It was obvious to the Robing Room Table where her talents lay, talents for which the whole of society owed a cheer. Despite her talent, despite the clamour for her services, cut after cut had impacted hard upon Miss Respected-Prosecutor. Following a delay in payment, a constant wrangle over a fee for a substantial case, her bank account contained not a penny. She had nothing left in her overdraft limit. The only way Miss Respected-Prosecutor had been able to come to court this morning was by walking round to her father’s house and borrowing the money for the petrol and parking. What of tomorrow? And the day after?

Miss Respected-Prosecutor had to stand and hurry to the toilets. She could not let the Robing Room Table see her cry.

As the day wore on the occupants of the chairs around the Robing Room Table came and went. In the evening, after the cleaners had finished their work, the Robing Room Table was left empty and in darkness. The characters and talented professionals that had been the constant companion of the Robing Room Table for all those years were gone. How many of them will return?