Skip to main content

CBA Monday Message 16.07.18

Guest Edition: Criminal Law Solicitors Association
Vice Chair: Daniel Bonich

First, can I express my thanks to Angela Rafferty, QC and the CBA for ceding this week’s Monday Message to me as Vice Chair of the Criminal Law Solicitors Association.

In her maiden speech to Parliament, the late Jo Cox’s said ‘we are far more united andhave far more in common with each other than things that divide us.’  That applies to our two sides of the profession and we must accept that historically we have not done a great job of working together to improve our own situations. Those who wished to exploit division have done so to massive effect: we have seen our criminal justice system fall into serious decline: working conditions are poor, remuneration is poor, work life balance is poor, and the sense of justice is a faint memory.

It all sounds so depressing, but in a very short frame of time much has changed. In November of last year the CLSA held our annual Conference and the theme was disclosure. Who could’ve known what happened next. A huge thank you is owed to the Secret Barrister for the now infamous book. Nothing in that book surprised any of us. What did surprise many is the reaction beyond our little professional bubble. The volatile mix of those revelations taken together with story after story of disclosure failures like Liam Allen’s case and collapsed trials have caught the attention of the media, and the public. The politicians are starting to sense the change in the wind direction.

The Bar have had success in recent weeks with the AGFS and I congratulate the CBA and its leaders for a job well done. That was the start and not the end of the fight. For the first time, there is a sense that the battle for hearts and minds is being won. Solicitors supported that action and many put themselves in the firing line: many have lost clients, some have had truly horrendous press reporting and unmitigated damage to their reputations. But we showed that when it counts, solicitors and barristers can work together.

Now we must work together to address the HMCTS modernisation programme using the panacea of technology. Lessons have not been learnt by HMCTS. Hot on the heels of millions of pounds worth of ‘ClickShare’ equipment gathering dust in courtrooms across the land, the latest Deus ex machina: digitisation and virtual justice.  Technology can help, but it is not the silver bullet it is proclaimed to be. Reports in pilot areas for Virtual Courts show an increase in remands, custodial sentences and average sentence lengths. HMCTS recently boasted about how the Single Justice Procedure allowed cases to be processed in under a minute; Gone in Sixty Seconds is not just a Hollywood Blockbuster but a fact of legal life.

Modernisation is overdue: we continue to work in conditions which would not look out of place in Dickensian London. Dare to ask for disclosure of material Parliament intends you to have, or some time to look at those 20,000 pages served that day, “Please Sir, I want some more” will often draw the same response as that which poor Oliver Twist received. The all-nighter to knock up that quick schedule or read those 20,000 pages. Lunch, what is that? Read 1000s of pages of Unused for free? Of course. And then there’s listing practices…When I can order something online and it arrives within 2 hours, why can’t we do better than Warned Lists and Floating Trials.

The CLSA supports the CBA campaign on working conditions. 3am police station call-outs or all night reading a last minute NFE for a trial, the outcome is the same: we are damaging our health, our relationships and our work:life balance in a desperate attempt to keep the wheels spinning. But this is 2018 and that cannot and should not be a model for a successful modern justice system. Modernisation of the Justice System means doing away with these Victorian work practices. We may have been the grease that keeps the engine running, but this engine burns oil rather than fuel. Rather than much needed investment, the system is running on the sacrifice of our health and wellbeing whilst fees continue to fall in real terms as they have for decades. Is it any wonder why there is a recruitment and retention crisis for both sides of the profession ?

So ‘we are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us.’ We have seen with the recent AGFS battle that when we are working together, we can achieve what many thought was impossible. The true adversary; public, political and professional apathy is on the run. And that is reason to be hopeful.

View more news