CBA Monday Message 10.09.18

Chair’s Update:
Chris Henley QC

First, can I thank you for the positive feedback for my first message. It is essential that you know what we are doing on your behalf and that you tell us what you need us to do, what our priorities should be.

AGFS CONSULTATION 

A word on the consultation. Some have questioned the need for it: is it simply unnecessary delaying tactics? Consultation on fee changes, even increasing them, requires formal public consultation. That is the statutory requirement. Putting the materials together takes time. The minimum consultation period is four weeks. The CBA and the Bar Council pressed the MoJ to commence the consultation period earlier than has happened. We want the extra investment to be felt in members’ pockets as soon as possible. We have strived, in our discussions with the MoJ, to ensure the extra investment goes in part to those who need it most and in part to mitigate the impact on those worst affected by the abolition of PPE. This took time; longer than we had hoped. We have applied as much pressure as possible, and continue to, to have the enhanced rates implemented on the earliest possible date. In the meantime, the CBA is drafting a response to the consultation, and we encourage all of you to respond.

£15M

The consultation is about the allocation of the proposed £15m. I stress that the extra £15m is not enough investment in the new fee scheme to repair the damage wreaked by years of relentless cuts and that the obvious flaws in the new scheme need to be addressed. The £15m is only a start, or a ‘patch repair’ as Andrew Walker QC, the Bar Chair, has described it. The MoJ is in no doubt about the CBA’s position on this.

MOJ MEETINGS WITH CHAMBERS

At the end of last week we received word that senior civil servants from the MoJ have scheduled meetings with a number of chambers in every circuit over the next two weeks. On contacting the chambers who appeared on the list it appears there are no firm dates for such meetings. The CBA has not facilitated these meetings. We are told by the MoJ that this would be an information gathering and explaining exercise. If the meetings do go ahead they offer an opportunity for practitioners to reinforce our case directly to the MoJ, with real life examples about the collapse of fees for cracks and guilty pleas, and trials in many large volume evidence cases.

The undeniable truth is that in order to fund meaningful improvements for the bottom half of the profession – payments for the second day of all trials, sentence hearings, all mentions, PTPHs, increased stand out fees, enhanced lower level refreshers and increased fees for appeals against conviction – substantial amounts have been taken from elsewhere. This has included the most challenging of trials, guilty pleas and cracked trials. The budget has not been increased pro rata to pay for the improvements. The impact on some of the larger chambers specialising in the work most acutely affected is significant. Their complaints are serious and need to be understood. These chambers, located in different parts of the country, not just London, supply the bulk of pupillages, have the capacity to ensure that all defendants are represented, hearings, wherever they might be, are covered at very short notice, and contribute generously in many other ways, which collectively ensures that the courts function efficiently and standards remain high. If their future viability is threatened, the risk to the ecology of the CJS should not be underestimated.

WELLBEING

Initiatives to promote Wellbeing are increasingly prominent in all organisations, workplaces, and educational institutions. Yesterday it was reported that MPs are to have access to a 24 hour confidential helpline providing counselling and help with their personal problems. Sarah Vine has worked tirelessly on behalf of CBA members as our first Wellbeing officer. A wide range of activities and support, including a helpline, are now available for members negatively impacted by the stresses and uncertainties, often financial, of life at the criminal bar. We will all have experienced moments of despair, almost overwhelmed by the demands placed upon us. Whilst we strive to maintain an ebullient exterior, it can be lonely. Hopefully for most of us these moments are rare. But an unintended consequence of digital working can be that we spend less and less time in chambers, sharing experiences with colleagues, and keeping the vagaries of the job in perspective.

Sarah has been a point of contact for members who are struggling. The CBA is here to provide support and advice. Often members, particularly junior members, don’t know where to turn. This week we have been contacted by Rick Hoyle, the Chair of the Young Bar who has reported that a number of female pupils have reported unpleasant and undermining comments about their clothing during the very warm weather. Critical comments about taking a jacket off whilst working in chambers, or for not wearing heels can really knock confidence. It is sexist and close to bullying. Criminal chambers do not have HR departments, and those affected, concerned about their futures, do not always feel able to complain. It is no answer to say they should be more robust or get a sense of humour. Sexist bullies should not be the ones who curate any part of our professional environment. It is not just formal policies that are needed, but confidence in them and confidence that every chambers will actively promote and protect the wellbeing of every one of its members, pupils and staff. Let’s all take responsibility for this.

Picking up a theme from last week, the Judiciary, particularly individual Judges, expect courtesy and respect from us. And of course they should have it. But this needs to be reciprocated. Most Judges have not forgotten the pressures we are under; after all, most of them once stood where we stand. It is one thing to reject an application in strong even critical terms, or to comprehensively dismantle a submission, but it is quite another to humiliate or berate us personally when we are doing our professional best, or for failings beyond our control. Similarly, unreasonable listings, late or no notice of changes to existing listings, a lack of reasonable flexibility, can impact very negatively on our professional and personal lives. The CBA receives a wide range of reports from the frontline, from the inevitable frustrations which are symptoms of a broken system, to serious complaints which require a more formal response and action. The CBA has raised these latter issues at a very high level. We have been assured that there will be support, understanding and action, if things go very badly wrong. Valerie Charbit’s recent Blog ‘The Bar and the Bench: Supporting One Another’ available on the Wellbeing at the Bar site is worth a read.

You can contact me at [email protected].

Sarah Vine is standing for election to the Bar Council and we encourage you all to support her.

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