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Chair’s Final Message 29.08.22

More than two years ago, I put my name forward for election to Vice Chair of this extraordinary Association. Enough of you believed that I was worthy of that opportunity. As the son of a schoolteacher and a nurse, I was driven to find a vocation where public service would both define and measure my value to society. I found that place in the Criminal Bar some 30 years ago. I have never regretted it since. I proudly belong to a family of advocates whose talent, skill, courage and integrity is bound by a shared desire to deliver justice for the public.

It is that collective commitment and dedication that has kept the system from disintegrating over years of cynical neglect by politicians who have taken our labour for granted.

No more.

The calculus has changed because we have changed. As our last reserves of goodwill and patience drained away in the face of Government prevarication, procrastination and an obstinate refusal to honour its own independent report, we have taken this final stand together: in defence of a criminal justice system to which we have given so much, and to protect the future of a profession which deserves the respect and admiration of every citizen of this country.

Through our democratic will and our unfaltering determination, we have crossed the Rubicon. Never again will we allow ourselves to be supplicants to a government that treats us with contempt. We have acted with dignity and a sense of measured responsibility throughout. The public can be in no doubt: it is not we who are holding justice to ransom and playing politics with the lives of victims and defendants.

2022 will be seen as a turning point in our Association’s history. We spoke truth to power while holding up a mirror to ourselves. We rediscovered our worth and our confidence. From the survey in January, the refusal to undertake returns in April, the decision to pursue days and weeks of action in June and, finally, to the unprecedented vote in the latest ballot to refuse to attend court indefinitely for AGFS cases, we have delivered an unequivocal message of unity. On each occasion you responded with an overwhelming vote in favour of action. Government can be in no doubt that the Criminal Bar stands together today like never before.

We have shifted the narrative in our relationship with the public and re-directed the focus to where it belongs: the unrelenting exploitation of our junior criminal barristers whose voices had gone unheard for too long. It has been their fortitude and fearlessness that has so vividly captured the attention of the nation, and their stories that have irrevocably altered the public’s understanding of the realities of life as a legal aid criminal barrister. From the very outset of this dispute, their sacrifices must never be forgotten.

It has also been a year of empowerment for our members built on continual engagement with the CBA leadership through regular national zoom meetings to hold us accountable. We have consulted with Heads of Chambers, provided numerous updates by email, supplied detailed guidance and template letters, organised a major survey about CLAR, and administered three decisive ballots. As an organisation, the CBA has undoubtedly become more inclusive, more proactive and more responsive.

Further, we have significantly recalibrated our relationship with the Ministry of Justice, key politicians, the judiciary, the Bar Council, Circuits Leaders, the CPS, the CLSA, LCCSA, CJS unions, and the media in order to ensure that we retain control over our own agenda and priorities and are able freely and effectively to promote the issues that matter most to our members. The cooperation we have enjoyed with several of these key partners has been instrumental to our campaign to secure a fair and decent long-term settlement with Government.

Most importantly, with the support of our CBA Executive, we formulated a careful and considered strategy for the pursuit of our objectives in relation to CLAR, but one that was flexible enough to react swiftly when it became clear that escalation would prove necessary. Our strict adherence to the democratic input of our members at key junctures has been critical to the legitimacy of our actions. We have learned that transparency and inclusion are essential elements to the building of unity and the maintenance of solidarity.

Courage and an unshakeable resolve have brought us this far. The tide is turning in our favour. We are within touching distance of a resolution that reflects the just and equitable demands we have made, and which have been mandated repeatedly by the ordinary men and women who defend and prosecute in our criminal courts throughout the jurisdiction.

Any new government should therefore understand that we will not be deflected from achieving an outcome that safeguards the future sustainability of our criminal justice system. Faithful to our members, that outcome must include an increase to our fees of 25%, payment for written work, a clear timetable for the implementation of the CLAR recommendations on wasted and special preparation, a second brief fee for section 28 cases, and a pay review body that protects us from the ravages of inflation. And the prerequisite for all these changes must be an application of the fee increases to future work on the nearly 60,000 cases in the current backlog. It is the least you should expect after the sacrifices you have made.

As I step down as Chair of the CBA, I have every faith that my successor Kirsty Brimelow QC will pursue your mandate with the passion and vigour that the task demands. She will receive the same unstinting support of her fellow Officers and the Executive that has sustained me over this past year. And at the heart of that engine room will be our inimitable and indefatigable administrator Aaron Dolan. It will prove an exceptional team.

But it will only succeed if each of us remains true to the democratic principles that have guided our action at every turn. The foundation of our remarkable solidarity is the mutual respect and kindness we share in our everyday lives as members of an extraordinary profession. They are the very qualities that will carry us through the weeks ahead.

It has been an honour and a privilege to serve you.


Jo Sidhu QC

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