CBA Monday Message 20.11.17
As the guest writer for this week’s Monday message representing the Junior Bar, I thought I’d start with inspiration from the magazines of my youth; the What’s Hot and What’s Not columns. Virtually all of these issues have affected junior and senior barristers alike for decades.
There are highs and lows in any job. I am confident this job brings more unusual highs and lows than most. Like the day when you represent a defendant charged with possession of an imitation firearm – the crime: dressing as a cowboy and carrying an Early Learning Centre toy gun or the day when your shoe gets caught in your gown and you fall flat on your face Batman-esque in the middle of the (thankfully judgeless) courtroom.
When you ask members of the junior criminal Bar, whatever their background, gender or age: “Do you think you’ll be doing this in 20-30 years?” It is rare to find anyone who will confidently say yes. Why is that?
The energy the job takes, the financial uncertainty and burden of self-employment – the months where you can’t pay your rent – home and chambers. We have no parental leave pay, no automatic pension pot and our fees are low. The work is difficult and complex.
Most importantly of all successive governments have held us in low regard and cut our fees more than any other profession, ever. Continual cuts mean Magistrates’ Court fees for junior barristers are today the same as they were in 1990 – yet £50 in 1990 represents £123 in today’s money – representing a cut of almost 60%. There is also the problem of ever getting paid for this work. We are still waiting to hear from many of the Heads of Chambers our Chair has written to – before deciding on the CBA’s next steps on this issue.
We have joined this profession despite everyone telling us that we’d be mad to do so. The perception of the criminal Bar as high risk is taking its toll. I’m worried our able graduates have started to listen. Criminal pupillage numbers have gone through the floor. It is getting harder to find third six pupils.
The highs are very high. Innocent defendants acquitted, prosecuting fairly, changing lives for the better (sometimes) and ensuring the rule of law is maintained and the public interest served. We want to remain a substantial national asset and an independent, honourable profession.
We want to be reading Monday messages in 20-30 years’ time and we want to be flourishing physically, mentally and financially in our great profession. Wellbeing affects us all whether a junior of one year’s call or a silk at the height of their career.
Let’s not make diversity a distant dream. Let’s find a way of getting rid of the “what’s not” column. Let’s show our able graduates that we mean it – that people like me, who had never met a barrister, had no one in the family to ask about university life never mind law – can dare to try and become one.
I attended the LCCSA’s AGM and dinner on Monday on behalf of the CBA. It was a great event. Congratulations are also due to Bill Waddington, elected again as president of the CLSA. Our solicitor colleagues are equally passionate about and vital to preserving the future of the Criminal Justice System.
I will also be representing the CBA and speaking at this week’s Youth Justice Convention, being held in Leicester. This issue is high on our agenda this year.
Angela spoke at the Urban Lawyers careers conference on Saturday 18th as part of a panel about “Breaking Barriers”. On 16th we held a mock trial in conjunction with Urban Lawyers at the Old Bailey. Both of these events were highly successful and we intend to continue with this important work.
Chris Henley and Executive Committee member Abigail Bright were guest speakers at a Howard League for Penal Reform event at LSE last Tuesday. The topic was ‘Should the dock be abolished from the criminal courtroom‘. Secure docks have been installed most courtrooms without debate or scrutiny of their impact on trials. Abigail and Chris will be contributing to a paper on the issue, of which more in a future message.
We all want the issue of how we treat each other on a personal level at court – court staff, advocates and the judiciary alike – to move into the “What’s Hot” column. This article from our executive committee member Paramjit Ahluwalia provides a great starting point.
Can I finally make a plea for junior members to get involved and ensure our voices are heard. It might positively surprise you and it’s the only way to ensure the future of this important association and our profession. A half day training event is scheduled for the Junior Bar on 9th December, tickets are £20 each and include a networking event from 13.00. The programme is available here. Book your ticket here.