CBA Monday Message 22.10.18
Chris Henley QC
Levels of remuneration under the new AGFS scheme are far too low too often. The unreasonable demands placed on us increase every day. A Judge when told last week by a hard working, successful and experienced member of the bar that the latest judicial demand would mean working through lunch once again, responded that counsel are expected to work evenings, weekends and lunches, if required. No we are not. Judges do not work for free, and whilst we will continue to work hard, no longer can we be expected to work without limit, and with no regard for our wellbeing, or to the other demands on our time. Some realistic lines need to be drawn. The fact that this was said to the mother of young children and by a Judge (male) who leads on diversity in that court centre is, shall we say, disappointing. The CBA is working with the Bar Council to draft sensible proposals on what can reasonably be expected. This kind of bullying – that is what it is – has to stop. Training for Judges needs to be improved and appropriate action taken when there is consistent failure. Dinah Rose QC made the case for greater Judicial accountability at the Public Law Project conference last week.
Before I turn to the issue of AGFS I want to say something positive about CBA members. And perhaps it will serve as a timely and useful reminder to others of our professionalism and our values.
So many of you voluntarily contribute to the greater good of the profession, and the CJS generally. You give your precious time, effort, skill and experience in many different ways. Perhaps in your chambers, sitting on committees dealing with a wide range of issues: management, staffing, finance, pupillage, diversity, disciplinary. Or as circuit representatives, or on a bar mess liaising with court administration and the Judiciary, or on the CBA executive, or on a working group, or on the Young Barristers Committee of the Bar Council. Some of you participate in schemes such as speakers for schools, or other projects to encourage bright children from disadvantaged backgrounds to consider a career at the bar, to aim high and believe there may be a place amongst us for them. Many have made informal links to local schools. A massive contribution is made by those of you who volunteer as advocacy trainers; most recently the vulnerable witness training programme has required an enormous amount of your time, and dedication, to make the sessions such a success. There are many, many other examples.
There is little recognition for this work, and of course no pay for what you do. I would like to thank all of you. Our profession could not function without you. The criminal bar should be proud of who we are, and what we stand for. We may not be able to offer fancy pupillage awards, or the prospect of the highest earnings. But what we all do is, I believe, of a much greater value.
It is invidious to single any particular individuals out (which of course means I am about to), but this week I would particularly like to thank Sarah Vine and Prem Ahluwalia. Sarah is stepping down as the CBA’s Wellbeing Officer. Sarah was the first to hold this post, she has been completely fantastic and has embedded wellbeing at the heart of everything the CBA does. Our campaigns on fees and working conditions are wellbeing issues. Members need to know that the CBA will have your backs if problems arise. Prem is one of the quiet heroes of the criminal bar who works tirelessly on various issues to do with criminal justice reform, particularly as it affects women and children. In the last few weeks she has drafted the CBA’s responses to two significant consultations: the Law Commission’s consultation on Search Warrants, and the Joint Committee on Human Rights’ inquiry into the rights of children whose mothers are in prison. Both were significant undertakings.
Valerie Charbit of Red Lion Chambers is the CBA’s new Wellbeing Officer. We are delighted and very fortunate that Val has agreed to take on this important role for us. Val already has a similar role for the South Eastern Circuit. The first CBA Wellbeing event – ‘A View from the Bench and Kindness & Compassion in the Workplace’ – in conjunction with Gray’s Inn and the SEC is on Thursday 15th November at Gray’s Inn at 18.00.
Wellbeing inevitably brings us back to the issue of fees. Meetings continue to take place formally and informally with Ministers (I’m meeting the Attorney-General and Solicitor-General today), backbench MPs (Caroline and I met Bob Neill MP, the influential Chair of the Justice Select Committee last week) and senior civil servants. All have the same objective: pressing our case to be paid properly for the demanding and difficult work we do. Two appalling examples of utterly inadequate remuneration under the new scheme were brought to us this week. One was an allegation of large scale conspiracy to produce and supply fraudulent documents to support bogus visa and passport applications, council tax exemptions etc. The trial estimate is 8 weeks, the indictment contains 27 counts, there are 15 defendants, and the prosecution is represented by a QC and junior. The PPE runs to 4000 pages. Defence counsel’s brief fee is £650, with refreshers of £325. Under the previous scheme the brief fee would have been about £4500. I have sent this example to the MoJ for comment. Experienced counsel who was sent the instruction, understandably, with apologies explained that he was unable to accept the case at these fee levels.
In the second example, again experienced counsel was sent the brief, to defend an allegation of assisting an offender, to be tried alongside defendants charged with murder. The trial will last several weeks and the pages of evidence which need to be read run into the thousands. The brief fee is £550 (including the first day), the refreshers are £300. We can all work out what the hourly rate for preparing such a case at these fees works out at. (If the case pleads the fee will be £275!)
There may be advocates who will take such serious cases at these rates. Some of us will feel professionally obliged to; serious and complicated cases with the prospect of long prison sentences certainly require experienced counsel. The only tenable solution to the current crisis is substantial investment in AGFS, and an overhaul of the fee structure. The clock is ticking……..
A Heads of Chambers meeting will be held on 6th November. Invitations with full details will be sent out by tomorrow. Please provide all feedback on AGFS to your Heads, and what action you would be prepared to take if nothing significant changes by then.
Next week is ‘’ sponsored by the Bar Council, Law Society and CILEX. Caroline Goodwin QC, CBA Vice Chair, will be speaking at ‘Justice cuts: The Stories behind the numbers’ on Wednesday 31st October at Temple Church at 18.15.
Next week’s Monday Message will be written by Alison Saunders CB, the outgoing DPP. We have drafted some questions for Alison to address, if you have questions of your own you would like considered please e-mail them through.
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