CBA Monday Message 01.10.18

Chair’s Update:
Chris Henley QC

AGFS

Last week I met twice with senior MoJ civil servants, once on my own more informally, and once with Andrew Walker QC, Bar Chair, Caroline Goodwin QC, the CBA Vice Chair, Neil Hawes QC of RemCom and Circuit Leaders to continue to press our case that funding promises on AGFS must be kept. Our action was suspended in June on that basis. The message from the Circuits was as clear as from the CBA. We are also consulting Heads of Chambers as to next steps, including a potential resumption of action, should the promises made not be funded in full. Applying the new scheme in its current form to 17/18 figures reveals a cut of more than £4m.  £15 million must mean £15 million.   Every week that passes saves the MoJ money. The 1% scheduled for April must be brought forward to compensate. The delay is causing increasing anger, as are some of the fees now being billed under the new scheme. In a recent example a fee of only £900 was payable for a guilty plea in a multi-handed rape and grooming case with 15,000 pages of evidence. Fees at this level for many, many hours of work, and the heavy professional responsibility, will decimate career progression and threaten the viability of chambers.

Caroline and Andrew Walker QC, with others, will be at a Bar Council reception at the Conservative Party conference tonight. The Lord Chancellor, the Legal Aid Minister, Lucy Frazer, and other influential MPs will be attending. This will provide a further opportunity to speak directly to them. Andrew Walker QC, together with his senior support staff at the Bar Council, has devoted a huge amount of time, and personal effort, supporting us in making our case to government. I would like publicly to thank him, and them.

MEETING WITH THE DPP

Caroline, Andrew Walker QC and I also met the DPP last Thursday. We discussed fee levels for prosecution advocacy, disclosure and digital working. It is clear that the huge cuts to policing budgets severely compromises their ability to discharge their disclosure obligations timeously and has resulted in falling charging decisions, particularly in serious sexual offences. The latest quarterly statistics published last week report that case volumes in the Crown Court have fallen again, by 9% compared with the same period 12 months ago, and by 6% in the Magistrates’ Courts. You can access the full report here

The outgoing DPP has agreed to write a Monday message in a few weeks’ time.

LAA AND FEES

I am taking up some issues of principle relating to non-payment, or incorrect payment of fees by the Legal Aid Agency, with the LAA’s Chief Executive. The failure to pay refreshers for attendance during a trial continues to be an issue. It shouldn’t be necessary but if a short note providing details of what happened is sent with the original fee note it can sometimes avoid future problems. The other piece of practical advice is to make sure that the court log records what happened. Of course this rather assumes that there is a court clerk available to do it…. (you can finish that sentence yourselves). I am particularly keen to hear from chambers’ fees clerks on this. We will need case reference numbers.

I can be contacted on [email protected], and issues relating to AGFS can be reported to [email protected].

LASPO REVIEW AND THE FINANCIAL TIMES

This weekend the Financial Times Magazine published a comprehensive report into the extent and consequences of cuts to legal aid – ‘Justice for all?’. Two experienced journalists have spent several months researching the impact of LASPO (Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012) and the legal aid landscape generally. They have spoken to Judges at all levels, solicitors, barristers (including the CBA’s Danielle Manson who was quoted extensively), academics and charities.

The macro picture is one of 40% cuts, a budget reducing from £10.9bn in 2010/11 to £6.38bn in 2019/20. Whole swathes of social welfare law are now excluded by LASPO from the scope of legal aid, and there have been deep cuts everywhere else, as criminal lawyers know only too well. The micro level stories of the real-life impact on ordinary people of the inability to access advice and representation are harrowing, and life changing. Chris Grayling, Secretary of State at the time, will have known these would be the consequences. The prison population remains very high; average sentences continue to increase. The incarceration of so many is a substantial and immovable cost to the Justice budget, not easily susceptible to cuts, so as the ‘axe fell savagely’ (FT) the brunt has been borne by HMCTS, legal aid and probation. The MoJ itself has seen significant redundancies too. We experience the consequences of our broken system every day.

During the same period our commercial and civil courts are increasingly seen internationally as attractive places to resolve business and private disputes. The UK’s reputation for legal fairness, certainty, the impartiality of the judiciary and the quality of our criminal courts, has attracted many wealthy individuals and businesses to our shores. After UK litigants, the next highest number litigating in the London’s commercial courts in 2017/18 were from Kazakhstan, then Russia and the US.  The Treasury swells its coffers substantially as a direct result. Almost every person reading this ‘message’ plays a vital part in maintaining this invaluable reputation. Many of the people reading this, particularly the solicitors but many barristers too, will have worked for nothing for families and individuals in an effort to make real their legal rights and protections. They do it for nothing because the state has walked away.

There is a continuity and connection between all of us as lawyers, whatever part we play in the legal system, whether grand or modest, privately paid or publicly funded. We believe in the rule of law, in the ancient principles of to no man or woman will we sell or deny justice. The tarnishing or undermining of any part, diminishes the whole. The review of the effects of LASPO will be published in the next few months. We can only hope that current Lord Chancellor shows that he is no Chris Grayling.

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