CBA Monday Message 18.02.19
Chris Henley QC
I have promised someone close to all of this that I will attempt to deliver a more positive message this week. Shall we call them ‘Q’? I like a challenge, all barristers do, its in our blood, so I accept Q’s challenge.
But before I give it a go, I want to say something about the debate which has been fizzing around the press this week.
The Standard, The Times, The Guardian, The Telegraph, have all run pieces on the challenge it is to forge a career at the criminal Bar for many women. The truth is that it’s a much broader issue than that. There are aspects of the job which impact differently, and seriously adversely so, on women, but social mobility, ethnic diversity, the ability to have a healthy, balanced life whoever we are, has never been harder. We will not develop a profession fit for the future, promoting opportunity for the brightest and best, regardless of social background, gender, or ethnic origin, reflecting the diverse communities that the criminal courts serve unless we address fees and our working conditions.
On 7th November the Lord Chancellor gave a speech which included these words:
‘if I as the Lord Chancellor and a former solicitor myself can play a part in championing diversity in the legal profession then I will do so………….We must all promote diversity throughout the law. I really want to see things change so that it’s the norm to see women at the very top of their professions, rather than a rarity.
’ Very fine words. Action is now required. Too many colleagues are being bludgeoned out of the publicly funded profession, having entered with high levels of commitment, ability and idealism.
Fees at proper levels are fundamental to diversity.
Working conditions are fundamental to diversity.
The working environment is fundamental to diversity.
Diversity is fundamental to Justice.
‘IN YOUR DEFENCE’:
(This is the positive bit). I spent the last ten days in Newcastle. The jury were out for a couple of days so I took the opportunity to read Sarah Langford’s book ‘In Your Defence: Stories of Life and Law’. It is gripping, humane, and powerful. (So gripping I was almost late to the fabulous restaurant, ‘Cook House’ in Ouseburn, owned by Toby Hedworth QC’s brilliant chefista daughter, Anna).
We should be proud, very, of what we do. It is easy to forget the range of immense challenges our work involves, the responsibility we bear in every case, and the commitment we always show. We must be patient, flexible, thoughtful, thorough, independent and strong, with astonishing stamina.
The ‘stories’ the author (a CBA member) relates are full of these qualities. The endless calm, thoughtful but tenacious challenge to assumptions, orthodoxies, and authority, the careful reflection and scepticism about surface appearances, and the awe inspiring enquiry and instinct for what motivates and accounts for flawed human behaviour lies at the heart of each of them.
When we are at our best this is what we do. Few jobs combine such skills and require such judgment. Reading this book and recognising that this is what we are part of, and sincerely wish to remain part of, should make us all feel very special.
So to continue to surf this wave of positivity I will send a copy of ‘In Your Defence’ (fortunately the paperback edition was published in January) to the first ten members under 3 years call who e-mail Aaron, to inspire them/you to keep going.
Overwhelmingly the Judiciary share our despair at the state of things, and appreciate how difficult things have become for us. Most do what they can to help. Their working conditions are often as unsatisfactory as ours; the extra burdens they are having to cope with should not be underestimated.
The squeeze on court capacity, the endless tinkering with sentencing provisions, problems with delivering prisoners, the absence of court clerks, and the general degradation of the system means that we are all facing the same stresses albeit from different perspectives. On occasion, perhaps, we need to be a little kinder to each other, to walk in each other’s wigs.
We have all endured sitting ‘creep’. It is now the usual practice that trials will start at 10.00am. This is often a false economy but Judges are put under enormous pressure to come through the door to start or continue the trial at 10. Rare it is for the prosecution or defence to be attended these days, as fees have plummeted so has the support we receive, and yet more and more is expected to have been done by the time the court day starts. The smoothest trials are usually those which allow sufficient time to counsel to be properly ready for the day: conferences in the cells, witnesses lined up and spoken to, outstanding disclosure, and other unexpected issues taken care of. It is amazing what a difference 10.15 or even the occasional 10.30 can make.
A huge amount will have already happened. Recent personal experience has reinforced how much better things work with a bit of latitude. If we ask for a slightly later start, we will be doing so for good reason.
But at the same time courtrooms need to be kept open for our system not to fall further into disrepute. The aggressive squeeze on capacity continues, impacting horribly on witnesses, defendants, the police and counsel. Today at Snaresbrook 8 courtrooms are closed, yet four fixtures (at least one with an intermediary) were listed as floaters and all have been stood out, because of course no court/Judge was available. (The expression ‘Go figure’ springs to mind).
Think of the hours of police time, witnesses’ time, inconvenience to solicitors and of course the cost to counsel who will have spent many hours preparing these cases, including large chunks of the weekend. It is an appalling way to treat people.
SENIOR TREASURY COUNSEL:
We have been asked to publicise the current competition for this position. We are very happy to do so.
The Bar has consistently produced counsel, developed through the supportive, collegiate chambers structure, of outstanding ability to fulfil these important roles. This is another example of how vital it is to protect the ecology of the profession.
ELECTION FOR CBA ASSISTANT SECRETARY:
The inspiration, conscience and organisational genius that is Emma Fenn ends her term as CBA Secretary in early March when David Wood steps up from the assistant post. So there is an election underway for a new assistant secretary.
Three outstanding candidates have been nominated. This a key position.View more news