CBA Monday Message 04.03.19

Chair’s Update:
Chris Henley QC

 

 

CONGRATULATIONS AND THANK YOU:

Congratulations and a very warm welcome to Gerwyn Wise, of 187 Fleet Street, who has been elected as our new Assistant Secretary. I would also like to thank Jo Morris of Charter Chambers, and Richard Gibbs of No. 5 Chambers, for standing as candidates.

An effective CBA needs as many of you as possible to volunteer and get involved. We are delighted for Gerwyn, but all three candidates published impressive manifestos, and the high quality of them all was reflected in a very close result.

The election marked the end of Emma Fenn’s term as CBA Secretary. Emma has been brilliant in so many different ways. She deserves a very big ‘thank you’ from all of us. It is an extremely demanding role, requiring amazing reserves of energy, enthusiasm, organisational skill, humour and patience. Emma has it all.

If the CBA is achieving anything this year, it is in very large part down to Emma. She insisted that juniors, particularly those at the beginning of their careers, should be fully involved, with at least an equal voice, in the meetings we have been holding around the country to discuss the crisis in our fees and working conditions. If you are under 10 years call, this is about your future. She has somehow managed to maintain a very successful practice, whilst making a massive contribution to the profession, and perhaps most usefully has introduced our WhatsApp group to lots of new emojis ().

Emma is calm, clever, principled and great company. Emma, we’ll miss you.

David Wood of 25 Bedford Row steps up from the assistant position to CBA Secretary.

FEES (DON’T FORGET THE MEETING AT THE OLD BAILEY BAR MESS ON TUESDAY 5TH MARCH @ 17.30):

Whenever I have an opportunity to discuss current fee levels for prosecution and defence work with lawyers who practice in areas other than crime, they are genuinely shocked at how badly so much of our work is paid. I give them scenarios and ask them what they think the fee might be. In one conversation this week a commercial silk overestimated what the fee was by 15,000%, another commercial lawyer, this time a partner in a city firm, was much closer, he overestimated the fee by only 1500%.

This might be hard for some to believe but I am not exaggerating (my maths genius daughter has checked and confirmed my calculations). When I explained to the partner in the City firm that some Crown court prosecution briefs pay only £480 for the first two days and all preparation, he replied that leading city firms ‘often charge out 3-4 years pqe associate solicitors at hourly rates north of £450′.

The publicly funded side of the legal profession, both solicitors and the Bar, have been completely financially decoupled from the rest of it over the last 20 years.

It has been suggested to me, by someone at a senior level within the CPS, that payment for Day 2 of trial for prosecution advocates is unrealistic, and that anyway payment for Day 2 is well understood to be ‘rolled up’ in the brief fee. Effectively, I was being told that conceding the CBA’s demand that there should be a refresher payable for Day 2 would be remunerating Day 2 twice over. Really? It is hard to see how there is any scope for a Day 2 payment to be rolled up in a brief fee of £480, or the next tier which is £520, or the next one (£570) or the one after that (£670) and so on (all gross figures before 30% comes off for overheads).

The maths simply don’t allow for there to be any meaningful payment for Day 2 at the current rates. What is the rolled up Day 2 fee? If it’s in there somewhere, hiding rather cunningly, what is the amount then allowed for the hours of prep for the trial and written work, which is a growing burden? There’s precious little spare for that. In reality the unpaid Day 2 is a cash gift prosecution advocates are forced into making to the CPS. No CPS employee is required to regularly work for free on a Tuesday, and neither should you.

The lowest fee payable to defence advocates for a two day trial is more than twice the lowest three levels of fees payable to prosecution advocates in those trials. Paying Day 2 would start to put this right.

Oh and just for good measure a ‘system upgrade’ means that the CPS will be making no fee payments between 18th March and 1st April; just imagine you’re stuck in a Groundhog Day 2 universe for those two weeks.

LEEDS MEETING TONIGHT:

Our final circuit meeting takes place tonight, with the Leeds Bar, at 18.00 at Park Square. We will then consult you on proposals in the next fortnight or so. We can’t go on like this.

JAW DROPPING:

When you think that you’ve heard it all something comes along to make your jaw drop even faster and hit the floor even harder than ever. Each year Recorders and Judges come together for an annual training day. This is an incredibly valuable experience for Recorders who benefit enormously from undertaking the mock exercises in small groups with experienced Judges, and formally and informally learning from the years of experience the full-time judiciary has built up in abundance. But no more. The modest amount of money required to hold this event has been cut, so this Saturday’s gathering was the last one. Must everything in our CJS be smashed to bits.

Amidst the NSPCC report published last week ‘Falling Short?’ relating the experience and treatment of young witnesses at court – Lord Thomas laments in the foreword to the report ‘Each part of the criminal justice system has been seriously affected by the severe and unjustifiable cuts imposed by the Government since 2010’ – on hearing the announcement to Recorders on Saturday by a very senior Judge that there would be a further reduction in sitting days for Recorders in the Crown Courts due to Government imposed budget reductions it is difficult not to be angry. Delays to the trials of cases involving young witnesses are identified as a critical issue in the NSPCC report. It causes very serious stress, blighting young lives in very predictable ways.

It also inevitably reduces the quality of their evidence as memories fade, as the NSPCC research confirms. The psychological impact on these witnesses from the delays is impossible to know fully. But it is crystal clear that the Government simply does not care. It will, by its actions, disregard this report: it will not provide the funds to retain necessary court capacity, it will not remunerate the lawyers sufficiently to safeguard excellence on both sides of the courtroom, and the resources the police, CPS, and the witness service so desperately need will continue to be denied them.

Ever helpful, I do have a practical suggestion to raise money for some of this – don’t put Chris Grayling in charge of something.

BSB VACANCIES:

The BSB is currently seeking up to two new barrister board members. The positions are remunerated (even Day 2), and this work is interesting and important. The closing date is Monday 25th March. You can access the application pack here.

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