CBA Monday Message 12.03.18
This week we held a well attended meeting with about 60 Heads of Chambers and their representatives about the AGFS reform proposals. It was recognized that those who have worked to try to devise a fairer scheme structure did so against a backdrop of stringent financial considerations and 40 per cent cuts. It is not their fault that there is no investment, or that ‘cost neutrality’ was insisted on. Therefore we go forward as a profession together.
We are receiving information about the likely effects of reform from you. It is our view that the mood of the profession is darkening. Many at the meeting told us that the scheme would have a catastrophic effect on Chamber’s budgets and on some barrister’s careers. These messages are deeply concerning; they are constantly expressed, with many from cautious and circumspect barristers who do not voice such opinions lightly. It is vital that you look at the new scheme, as it will affect you. This is your future. We will be discussing with the Executive committee this week how to survey the membership. One option we will decide on is whether to ballot through Chambers.
All present at this meeting agreed that the system is on its knees. The levels of disappointment and worry are extremely high and were articulated forcefully by all the Heads of Chambers. It was notable how high the levels of concern were for the junior bar and its survival.
Our members have been telling us constantly that the Criminal Justice system is reaching a point of no return. Those who work across the system are reaching the end of their tethers. What is to be done?
What is to be done?
The MOJ has been informed that there are serious concerns about the figures in the Impact Assessment. Due to the sterling efforts of individual members and the officers we prepared with some urgency a submission for the House of Lords Scrutiny of Secondary Legislation Committee which met on Tuesday 6th. The Bar Council also made representations. The Regulations have been drawn to the special attention of the House on the ground they give rise to issues of public policy likely to be of interest to the House. Please see the report here. The discussion is likely to take place in parliament on Tuesday 13th.
We also intend to take the evidence you have provided to us with us to the government. We consider there are grounds for the MOJ to think again about this scheme and we will make that case. At the Executive Committee meeting on 13th March we will decide the way forward. The consideration of these problems will require effort, courage, purpose and direction. Most of all it will require unity. It may be that the Criminal Bar will decide that enough is enough.
Looking after ourselves
When times are hard it is most important that we do not crumble ourselves. The burden of working so many hours for little or no pay and credit is capable of causing immense stress. Last week we reported a straw poll that reflected how often we do not even get time for a lunch break. This week we would like to elevate this to a proper survey. Here it is. We will report the findings within the month. Depending on the results of this we will speak to the judiciary and launch an official ‘take a lunch break’ campaign. This is the first step towards measures we can take ourselves which will improve or preserve as much of our wellbeing as possible in the very difficult circumstances we are in.
Women in Law
This week saw International Woman’s Day and numerous events were held to celebrate. In Manchester the Women in Law Annual dinner was a brilliant success. Baroness Hale (motto; “Women are equal to anything”) gave an inspiring address about the long road to female legal emancipation and the hurdles still to overcome. There was even a raffle in which your Chair won a prize. I am assured it was not a fix.
Campaign for Justice
We are taking part in an event at the Law Society on 26th March. This is an important event involving the LCSA, CLSA, prison reform groups and other CJS ‘stakeholders’. A Charter for Justice will be unveiled. At this critical time for the system unity is essential. You can read about the event and book a place here.
On 22nd March 2018 a book will be published by The Secret Barrister – whom those of you on twitter will prize for the sanity and lucidity of the views expressed. Famed also for a recent and very amusing analysis of a popular 80s song with a legal theme. The book is called “The Secret Barrister: Stories of the Law and How It’s Broken” and may well become essential reading for those in, and outside, the law.