CBA Monday Message 26.03.18
We are a vocational profession. The last thing we want to do is not to work or to take action. We feel strong commitment to the rule of law and our place in it. However everything is at breaking point at once, including us.
We as an Association have a responsibility to our members on a national platform and we must listen. Our principal responsibility is to ensure our profession survives and thrives. The threats to the Criminal Justice System are common knowledge and cannot continue.
You will receive a message from us on Thursday this week. It will report the results of the survey that closes tomorrow. Please ensure your Chambers has responded. The signs are that there will be overwhelming support for unified action. We expect the membership to reject the levels of funding offered in the new scheme. We will on Thursday set out for you our considered position on the type of action required. It is a matter for each individual barrister to decide what to do. We ask for unity and purpose at this time whatever you decide to do.
We know that some sets in London have indicated they will take action immediately. We completely understand that.
Why we can’t wait
The new scheme has unintended consequences. The iniquities it removes should never have been imposed on us in the first place. The principle of investment set out by the Bar as stage 2 seems to have been abandoned. The structure may be rational but the levels of remuneration are unacceptable for many kinds of complex, important cases. There is no payment at all for disclosure or the vast quantities of evidence likely to be served on us in cases going forward. It has been made clear by recent fiascos that disclosure issues require a principled “resource and training” approach. One consequence of this scheme may be to require the defence in all cases to become gatekeepers for disclosure. This is untenable, and, ultimately, if the law is not applied correctly, illegal.
Our urgent concerns are the effects the scheme will have on diversity, career progression and retention of talented barristers with caring responsibilities. We also see that those with vast experience who do difficult and paper heavy cases requiring large amounts of work are cut and cut hard. We are concerned for Chambers’ margins and the consequential effect on recruitment to the profession. Reduced margins will shrink the funding available for pupillages and professional training.
The AGFS reform Statutory Instrument is implemented on 1st April. We are told that there is no practical way to stop this and that it will be in force on that date, despite our representations to the Ministry of Justice. However a motion has been tabled and it is essential you lobby your MP. We will be launching a CrowdJustice campaign at 8am tomorrow to provide every sitting MP with a copy of the book, Stories of the Law and How it’s Broken by the Secret Barrister, along with a copy of the Young Legal Aid Lawyers report on Social Mobilityin an effort to shine a light on the crisis in the criminal justice system. Please pledge and publicise far and wide.
We are much stronger together. We must unite with solicitors who face cuts and a judicial review in the summer. We must unite with those who work in courts, prison staff, police officers, prosecutors, probation officers and those who work for the rights of defendants, witnesses and victims. The judiciary also deals on a daily basis with the consequences of wholesale degradation of a once proud system. Principled parliamentarians are our allies. We must put aside our adversarial natures and work together.
To start the process the Charter for Justice is held tonight at the Law Society where we unite with our Solicitor colleagues and those across the Justice system.
We make a final plea to the Ministry of Justice. It is not too late to find more funding for Criminal Justice. It is not too late to halt and review what is, after all, supposed to be a ‘cost neutral’ scheme so that concerns that have been universally voiced can be considered and action averted. It isn’t too late to try to improve AGFS with proper levels of funding. It isn’t too late to fix this.
Behind the Gown Launch
Please see this important article in Counsel magazine. The CBA invites all members to attend the launch of Behind The Gown on 23rd May 2018, 6.30pm at Bridewell Hall, 14 Bride Lane, EC4Y 8EQ. Jess Phillips MP and your Chair will be speaking at the event, which will include a panel discussion and a drinks reception.
The BSB is seeking an examiner for criminal litigation and evidence. The role is an interesting and remunerated way to contribute to maintaining standards and may be of most interest to someone who mixes practice with training and assessment – or who wants to learn more about the latter. Please see the linked advertisement.