CBA Monday Message 08.10.18

Chair’s Update:
Chris Henley QC

‘The UK government has recently felt the need to dismantle much of our precious system of legal aid…….even where it is required to continue to provide free legal aid, for example to defendants to criminal charges, the UK is dismantling it indirectly by setting rates of remuneration for the lawyers so uncommercial that, reluctantly, most of them feel unable to do that work’ Lord Wilson, UK Supreme Court Judge, 25.09.18.

‘There is compelling evidence of the fragility of the Criminal Bar and criminal defence solicitors’ firms. The Government cannot kick these problems down the road any longer…..Under-funding of the criminal justice system in England and Wales threatens its effectiveness, tarnishing the reputation of our justice system as a whole, and undermining the rule of law.  Bob Neill MP, Chair of the Justice Select Committee.

  • The AGFS Consultation closes on Friday.
  • £15m is no more than a sticking plaster.
  • The action was suspended in June, not ended.
  • We were promised that the new rates would be implemented in October.
  • The profession is angry that delays mean that the new rates will not be in place at least until December.
  • When the Government responds, there must be financial compensation for the delay.
  • And the enhancements in rates must deliver the full £15m we were promised.
  • Flat brief fees do not remunerate evidence heavy cases adequately. The Government must commit to a solution for these cases, which will require significant new investment.
  • We are consulting Heads of Chambers so that we are ready if the promises made to us in May are not honoured in full.

I was forwarded a letter this week written by a talented and successful senior junior. It is a letter to her colleagues in chambers, explaining why she has with a heavy heart, reluctantly decided to pursue a career away from the Bar. She speaks for many of us:

‘I am afraid it has been a large part down to my frustration with the work conditions at the criminal bar generally – and not only the constant slashing of fees and downturn in income. It is the stuff we have to do for free and for no thanks, the bureaucracy we have to put up with, and a largely unsympathetic judiciary, some of whom think it is good sport to bully and belittle us, that has eventually taken its toll. That, and the fact we have a government who does not value our services either side of the fence and does not give a shi* about our work/life balance or the fact that hardly anyone coming through the ranks are joining the criminal bar. I suspect that many of us that are left are disillusioned, stressed, and worried about our future. It is all the more frustrating to me because it was, and still could be, a very fulfilling and enjoyable place to be. I really hope for the sake of those remaining that things do get better and that us barristers continue to show just how able and professional the Bar is notwithstanding the hurdles we (and our hardworking staff) have to overcome on a daily basis’.

I am determined that there will be a brighter future ahead, that the current challenges will not prove terminal. If the government will not act, then we will.

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