CBA Monday Message 29.05.18

Chair’s Update:
Angela Rafferty QC

We are convening a Heads of Chambers meeting for Thursday 31st May to discuss the offer the government has made to the Criminal Bar. No returns are suspended until the 12th June so time is of the essence.  This is a message designed to give you the facts.  The Ministry of Justice knows that without the membership’s approval the offer will be rejected. We intend to ballot you all following the Heads of Chambers meeting.

We would like to make it clear to you that this offer is the culmination of a significant amount of work that took place over some time. It is right you should know that the initial, unsurprising and uncompromising position of the government was that no new money would be made available. This was maintained for many weeks.  This offer is not the ‘first’ on either side. We have presented you with the government’s bottom line.

We got to this position using data and arguments over a series of meetings and discussions. We attended a meeting at Westminster with the Lord Chancellor, the legal aid minister and officials on Wednesday night (23rd May). We should all be under no illusion about either the difficulty or significance of securing any concession for extra investment.

The details of the offer are;

  • £15 million investment. The money will not come from other parts of the Justice budget. It will be new investment from the Treasury into the scheme.  The money will not be reallocated from any other funding and no other agency will lose by our ‘gain’.  It will be structured as follows;
  • The first £8 million will be targeted towards the categories of case that lose heavily under the abolition of PPE (fraud, drug and high page sex cases).  Significant analysis has taken place of these categories. The scheme is law despite the EDM. Therefore a structural augmentation will be necessary to benefit those who have lost.
  • £4.5 million will be targeted towards junior fees (not Silk). It is envisaged that these funds would be utilized in a negotiated way to reflect career progression and sustainability for juniors.
  • There will be a 1 per cent increase in April 2019 across all fees.
  • The planned review of the scheme will then take place within 18 months.

The financial offer represents around 5.5% of the overall AGFS budget, plus an extra 1% in April 2019. It has been pointed out to us that this has been difficult to achieve at a time when an austerity budget is still actively pursued, and there is still a public sector pay cap (with very rare exceptions) of 1%. You will no doubt take note of this.

Other wider considerations we have asked for is the cancellation/long term postponement of the planned FOH programme in crime and consultation before any split shift system is tried again. The MoJ is considering the next steps for that project and is gathering more evidence on the effects of wider changes in the system. We have made it very clear what our views are. There is a commitment to work with us in relation to recruitment retention and diversity, which is of such importance to the future of our profession. Soon there will be pilots to enable barristers to gain easier access to some court buildings by the use of agreed forms of identification. We have raised and continue to raise constantly the terrible state of the courts estate.

Finally a campaign to improve the position for prosecutors is long overdue. This has not formed any part of these negotiations but this is an issue that matters to many, many members. Fees for prosecuting work are long overdue investment and rehaul. The disclosure position is also dire. Once the reports of the attorney general and Justice select committee are in, reform is essential.

Therefore we are at a critical moment.

Could we have rational, restrained and informed debate? We have all acted with conviction and absolute clarity of purpose and we have achieved an unprecedented commitment to further investment. There are real signs that the importance the Criminal Justice system in our society is being recognised. Before you accept or reject the offer it is important to consider  it carefully and to weigh up any consequences acceptance or rejection may have.

Any of you who want to can contact us at any time on the AGFS email.

Some of the messages we have received this week have involved personal criticism. This process can surely be negotiated without that. We are all in this together. We have worked so hard on your behalf to bring something to you. We must all take responsibility for the future as all have skin in this fight.

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