CBA Monday Message 01.04.19
Chris Henley QC
‘Faces Places’ and Different Spaces.
We all need to stop. Regularly. Refresh. Recharge. Live a life away from work. (Maybe see an Agnès Varda film). Create different, separate spaces. Then come back. You will be better. It doesn’t have to be a trek around or up Mont Blanc, though it might be. An aimless wander along the canal or a cup of tea in the Crypt Cafe at Christ Church, Spitalfields will do just as well. Perhaps read The Sun Rising, by John Donne. Read as much as you can, of anything, it will make you a more lucid and persuasive advocate. The more words your shelf has on it the better, and the more human peepholes we have looked through the better we will intuit human frailty and motivation. This requires proper downtime.
It is hard to stop in this job, to carve out different moments. But it is essential both for our wellbeing and our effectiveness. Those close to us also need us to ‘be present’, not permanently distracted by the stresses of life at the criminal bar. I have more and more conversations with CBA members about how hard they are finding professional life, not just financially but also the impact on their personal life outside work; it is increasingly difficult to escape from the escalating unpaid demands now routinely expected of us, seven days a week. An ever increasing burden is falling on us, and the judiciary too, to work frantically outside reasonable working hours, to ensure that courts never have to break step, as more is crammed into less. If we were remunerated properly that would be one thing, but to be forced to work on unpaid tasks late into the night and through weekends is unsustainable and seriously damaging to our well-being, and mental health. No other professionals have seen their pay and working conditions deteriorate so significantly as have publicly funded criminal lawyers, both for the prosecution and defence, solicitors and the bar.
Email and remote digital working is convenient, means we don’t have to lug large volumes of papers around, saves time, allows immediate communication and immediate responses. However, it can also be a tyranny and a curse. It means we may never feel able to switch off. The behaviours around email can often morph into almost replicating a face to face conversation, but impatiently one way; ‘well I sent it twenty minutes ago but I still haven’t received an answer, I’d better send a follow up’. We urgently need a reset. The higher up the seniority chain one goes the less these unspoken rules apply. Those much lower down need proper protection. A simple framework setting reasonable boundaries, such as any e-mail sent after 6.00pm or even 7.00pm (though I strongly favour the former) is deemed as having been sent the following morning at 9.00am, and from Friday at 6.00pm until Monday at 9.00am the same applies, would transform our lives. Of course we will often be working long after 6.00pm or 7.00pm, when young children, and not so young, have been enjoyed (?), fed and are finally settled, but between these hours and at weekends it must be on our terms. There might be very occasional exceptions to this, but exceptions should be for truly exceptional reasons.
The Attorney-General attended the Bar Council meeting on Saturday. He was generous with his time. This was fortunate because there were so many hands up to convey to him the miserable state of remuneration and working conditions at the publicly funded Bar, the haemorrhaging of female talent, and the damage being done to our international reputation as a result. Francis Fitzgibbon, a past Chair of the CBA spoke eloquently of our commitment to serving the public, which lies at the heart of all that we do, but is being severely undermined by the degradation of our system in all respects.
The Attorney listened to a barrage of contributions about the collapse of fees across the piece and the despair for the future so many are feeling. There were gasps from the floor when private civil, chancery and commercial practitioners listened to examples of fees for big cases in publicly funded defence and prosecution work. We will report to you imminently the DPP’s response to our reasonable requests to make the CPS guidance more financially moral. You will be surveyed very soon.
The 39 (+ 112) Steps
Too many Court buildings are in a shocking state. Last year I was at Blackfriars and the male toilets in the witnesses and counsel corridor were permanently flooded. I am currently at the Central Criminal Court where none of the six lifts have been working for weeks. There may be a perfectly reasonable explanation for the sudden identification of the fault that caused their shutdown, but surely not for the time it is now taking to get them working again. Each day I pass jurors struggling up the 151 steps to the 5thfloor where the jury area is located. Some exchange sympathetic smiles to each other but what must they be thinking? Judy Khan QC bounds up the stairs two at a time but not everyone can do this. It means many won’t venture out of the building at lunchtime to avoid having to do the climb again on their return. Its pretty shameful. And the bank of urinals and sinks in the first section of the male robing room have been taped off for many weeks. A notice which appropriately has now fallen off the wall claims ‘Maintenance in Progress’ but unless it’s a legacy contract from Chris Grayling’s time, outsourced to invisible snails with no previous experience or any tools (actually that probably is what’s happened) there’s no obvious maintenance taking place and certainly no progress.
There are shining exceptions. I’ve recently spent time in Liverpool and Newcastle Crown Courts. Both are in great and happy shape. Both have excellent canteens, friendly and efficient security staff, who have no interest in tampons, and working lifts. So it can be done.
Transform Justice’s latest blog is well worth a read. It is characteristically excellent in its analysis of the Chief Inspector of Probation’s Annual Report published last week. It is a searing indictment of the damage that has been done to the Probation Service. The Report includes these words: ‘The government’s 2013 Transforming Rehabilitation programme split the service at local level, with the bulk of probation work contracted out to the private sector. It has been a turbulent time. To implement government policy, capable probation leaders were required to deliver change they did not believe in, against the very ethos of the profession. On inspection, we now find probation supervision provided under contract to be sub-standard, and much of it demonstrably poor. Judicial confidence in community sentencing is now at serious risk’. Dame Glenys Thornton concludes that ‘the Transforming Rehabilitation model is irredeemably flawed’. As the TJ blog explains much of the ‘supervision’ is now tick box, carried out with no face to face contact. It’s a very expensive, damaging mess. . And the link to
Gillian Higgins a CBA member is about to publish a book on Mindfulness, with many examples of the benefits taken from her own practice. I for one will be buying a copy – I want to ‘sleep better, feel calmer, be less stressed’ – and a few copies will be given away to lucky members when it is published. . A free Mindfulness for Lawyers is being held at the Law Society tomorrow.View more news