After 52 days the CLSA and LCCSA have suspended the action being taken by solicitors who hoped to defeat the most recent cut to Legal Aid fees. Whether this is action suspended or action terminated remains to be seen. The proof of that particular pudding comes when the seat at the table earned by the CLSA and LCCSA either produces results or does not. Direct action which has been suspended would swing back into life. Let us hope we do not have to find out.
Does this represent failure? From a personal point of view, yes it does. In a very specific way I had hoped that concerted effort by Solicitors and the Bar, taken across the board in the CJS could have led to real results. And with a result on the cuts I hoped that we would find a way to defeat Dual Contracts.
Was it inevitable that it would fail? No. Taking action of this nature requires impact and sustainability. It is a delicate balancing exercise between bringing the system to its knees and allowing people to participate for a reasonable length of time. Had the solicitors hit the CJS harder, refusing duty work etc, then the action may have proved successful in a shorter space of time, however firms would have hit financial problems more quickly.
I would have preferred a quicker, more direct approach. Take the momentum produced by the early shows of militancy and step up the pace. Not as sustainable but would have brought the system crashing.
Oh the benefit of hindsight.
That is not to say that everything is a negative. The two representative bodies have now got a seat at the table. Remember when Grayling would not even meet Michael Turner QC? Well the Criminal Bar are now much better served by having the attention of the MoJ. It is much better to have a representative body like the CBA at the table than the monolithic Bar Council. And now the CLSA and LCCSA are in the room and fighting. That is a positive.
One of the reasons they are in the room is because Jon Black, Bill Waddington, Robin Murray and Zoe Gascoyne managed to produce a predicted Impossibility – solicitors taking action. They said it could not be done. They said it would fall apart as soon as it began. Yet these four, and many other committed committee colleagues, welded together competing elements and produced a plan. A plan that produced action and action that they kept going for an admirably long time. Sadly, not long enough.
The CLSA and LCCSA managed so much by managing the consultation with their members so well. They tried to keep everyone informed (it was not perfect, but it was a fine effort), they consulted their membership by surveys (not votes, apparently lawyers don’t do votes) and local meetings. Lessons of openness that many could learn from.
The action also, hopefully, heralds an era of better cooperation between the CBA and the other organisations (am getting tired of strings of capital letters every other sentence). The cries of treachery that followed “the deal” were overreactions of epic proportions. Whilst there were good, logical arguments against “the deal”, the white heat of anger that followed it did not help one bit. The support given by the Bar to this action should put paid to any solicitor ever referring to “the deal” in a disparaging way. Those that did in the past were wrong to do so then, they have no excuse now.
It is certain that the CBA have to take onboard the concerns expressed by so many of their members about these cuts to fees and the danger of Dual Contracts. The question that lies ahead for Mark Fenhalls QC and Francis Fitzgibbon QC is how to best shape the way forward to address these concerns (a bit of a clue for them, it ain’t all about referral fees, or even a little bit about referral fees).
So, whilst my hopes have been dashed and I fear for the future of my professions and for the Criminal Justice System, it is not time for despair. It is time to think again and to come again. Not a backwards step, just not the stride forward we had hoped for.