CBA Monday Message 05.11.18

Chair’s Update:
Chris Henley QC

 

 

AGFS, WHAT ELSE?

This is an important week. This is a difficult message to write.

There is a CBA meeting for juniors under 10 years call at Garden Court this evening. And a CBA meeting for Heads of Chambers tomorrow evening. Space at the juniors’ meeting is limited so we can only accommodate one person per chambers. Please e-mail the name of your attendee to the CBA administrator if you haven’t already done so. We are acutely conscious of the impact on more senior juniors but are relying on the HoCs to provide their feedback.

The Lord Chancellor, and the Legal Aid Minister read the Monday Message, as does the Permanent Secretary, and his senior team. We have met with them in the past week or so, as have representatives of the Law Society, and I met the Attorney-General two weeks ago. They all have said they support, enthusiastically, and value, truly, the independent criminal bar. They say they want a vibrant, diverse, high quality profession. This will only happen if remuneration is set at realistic levels, both for those at the start of their careers, but also geared to assist career progression, and to retain ambitious women, in particular, and increasing numbers of men, who may take career breaks or want to configure practice around other caring responsibilities. We are currently losing far too many of them.

I do not want to doubt that any senior politician involved in the Justice portfolio fully understands our value, and centrality to the rule of law, the future quality of the judiciary, the efficiency of the courts, or to maintaining public confidence in the outcome of our criminal trials. Several senior commercial practitioners, both barristers and City solicitors, have offered to write a Monday Message so concerned are they about the damage being done to our international reputation by our broken Criminal Justice System.

This report commissioned by the Bar Council, and published as part of Justice Week, maps in the clearest possible detail what has happened to spending on Justice under various headings over the last 10 years.

Justice Week was a huge success. The event at Temple Church on Wednesday ‘Justice Cuts: The stories behind the numbers’ graphically testified to the profound, life-changing impacts of the cuts in so many areas of peoples lives. An online petition has also been set up to restore legal aid. You can sign it here, please share it widely.

Large areas of the country now have too few criminal solicitors providing publicly funded advice and representation. Their fees been savaged in the Magistrates Court and for attending police stations. Certain consequences are inevitable. Training contracts in criminal firms are so rare they have almost disappeared. The age profile of duty solicitors is rising year on year; the average age is 47 but in many parts of the country it is over 50. Where will we be with this in 10 years time? The BBC is currently analysing in detail the data which tells the story of the wilful neglect of our legal aid system for broadcast soon. We have been discussing this crisis with Solicitor representative groups too.

The politicians have choices to make. In the case of AGFS they will make them very soon. The criminal bar is populated, like solicitors, with very special, talented people, who do what is necessary in every case to ensure it is prosecuted and defended to the highest standard. I write this on a Sunday afternoon knowing that across the country many of you will be working too, putting a strain on relationships, letting friends down and failing to carve out enough time to do the other things that a balanced life requires. We need remuneration that allows us to prepare cases properly and at sensible times, and that allows us to take the breaks we all need. We need a fee system that values the difficult and important work that we all do, and factors in our significant overheads.

Our message, conveyed at the meetings we have been attending, is that the profession’s patience is close to exhausted. Many are angry about what they perceive to be broken promises, many are worried about their personal financial futures, and many are asking why we are not already back to action. The SI has still not been laid.

My message to members is that recent meetings with senior civil servants have been constructive. The CBA has been explaining in detail where extra money is urgently required, and what changes should immediately be made. Much of this is set out in the CBA’s consultation response. Senior juniors in particular are demoralised by the bleak consequences of flat brief fees regardless of the size of the case. In governmental terms, modest amounts would make a real and positive difference, and begin to put right flaws in the new scheme. These discussions must have been authorised from above and can only have been predicated on the basis that the strength of the submissions in our response is recognised. We have been assured they are looking at financial compensation for the delay in bringing the fee increases in, and that the Statutory Instrument will be laid by the end of the month, which means we will have the headline figure and the detail before then.

I am in no doubt about what is required, nor about the strength of feeling. This will certainly be your message to us at the meetings this week.

 

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