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CBA Monday Message – 05.06.17

Chair’s Update: 
Francis FitzGibbon QC

Sitting Hours Protocol
I am delighted to announce the launch of the Sitting Hours Protocol by the Bar Council, which is the fruit of initiatives by the CBA, the Circuits, and the Bar Council’s Equality & Diversity Committee. It is hoped that all Courts will adopt it, not just Criminal Courts, to discourage and eliminate unreasonably long Court hours, with a template of 10.00 to 4.30 for sitting hours save in exceptional circumstances.

All those working in the criminal courts – Judges, advocates and staff – should welcome a move to stabilise the hours we are expected to work. Anyone with a passing acquaintance of the Bar knows that we are not inflexible – we always want to make things work and we freely give far more time than we are paid for. Sitting hours are not the same as working hours – as professionals, we work until the job is done, and we willingly accept the sacrifice of our own private time. That spirit will continue, but current trends in listing have sapped morale. We feel put-upon, taken for granted. Reasonable and stable limits to the start and finish of the Court day will improve morale and motivation, and therefore should improve performance and efficiency. They should also make life more bearable for those with caring responsibilities, who are being driven out of the profession to its detriment and to the detriment of the public we serve. This is not about feather-bedding – the aims are to improve the service we give and to maintain a diverse and open profession.

The Protocol is limited to sitting hours. Warned lists and other administrative practices have a similar detrimental effect on the service that we can give.  The Protocol is not the end of the story, but the beginning

Even a ten o’clock start can cause real difficulties in criminal work, but may be less acute in other areas. Prosecutors have to talk to witnesses; they frequently lack a CPS representative; there is much to do before the Court sits. Defenders likewise must see clients (who may arrive or be brought to Court late) and liaise with their opponent. Some ex-advocates on the Bench seem rapidly to forget the pressures of our work. How irritating is it to waste ten minutes arguing for another 15 with the client? Most remember, and are willing to be flexible – to use the term of the moment. We need to embed the best practices – hence the protocol.

Maybe there are sensible ways to get more use out of court buildings, but the greatest asset of the justice system is the people who work in it and make it work. Working longer doesn’t mean working better. Those in charge need to understand that the imposition of so-called ‘flexible operating hours’, as presently envisaged, will do far more harm than good, now and in the future. Top-down changes, with inadequate consultation, unclear aims and foggy evaluation criteria, won’t stick.
Joined-up Thinking
A wheelchair-bound defendant in a 4-handed murder case had been on remand for over a year at a prison with the necessary facilities. In the middle of his trial, in the middle of his cross-examination, the Prison Service decided to move him – without giving notice to anyone – during the Bank Holiday weekend. The prison that took him was not expecting him. He spent his first night there in a holding cell, in his wheelchair, without his medication or any of his possessions – not even a clean shirt. He was not given a meal. It was only after the Judge intervened that arrangements were made for him to receive his medication and his property, but after a second night when the defendant had had no sleep, the trial had to be adjourned for the day.
Readers will recognise this sorry state of affairs as typifying the failure by the different branches of the criminal justice system to work in harmony. The man’s first prison had been re-designated a training prison only – but no one thought to inform him or his lawyers or the Court. The pieces are moved around the chessboard with little thought of the human consequences, or the costs in money and time.
New Sentencing Guidelines
In force from 1st June: definitive guidelines for sentencing guilty pleas and children and young persons.
CBA Vice-Chair
Nominations for candidates for the election of the vice-Chair open at 5pm today, and close on 16th June. The next two years will be critical for the future of the criminal bar. Please step up.
Treasury Counsel Monitoring
Treasury Counsel and the London Chief Crown Prosecutors are holding an open evening on 28th June at the Old Bailey for prospective Treasury Counsel Monitorees and those interested in applying to become Senior Treasury Counsel.  Copies of invitations are linked.

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