‘Monday’ Message 02.07.19

Chair’s Update:
Chris Henley QC

 

 

The Vote: ‘A perfect expression of where we are’ 

I wrote on Friday that the final voting figures were the perfect expression of where we are as a profession; the proportions reflecting our head and our heart. We need both, we all need us all. Many will be disappointed, and frustrated. The passion of those who argued that we should reject the ‘offer’ will drive us on and keep us honest. The ballot should be seen as no more than the end of the beginning.

AGFS: The burning issues require significant investment:

The hard work on sorting out the burning problems with AGFS scheme 11, as the government has now agreed to do, must and will start now; we must engage energetically with the MoJ. The CBA will continue to consult you on how best to fix the flaws in the current iteration of the scheme. Focus groups are being coordinated by the Young Barristers Committee, with the CBA’s assistance, to feed back solutions and priorities to the MoJ. There is understandably some scepticism that the accelerated review will deliver what we need – it will certainly require significant new investment. We acknowledge the heavy responsibility on the CBA leadership to ensure it does and that the momentum, cohesion and focus that has developed over the last few months does not dissipate.

Prosecution fees: We are expecting a very positive outcome:

On the CPS front the next meeting of the Fees Review Steering Group will take place tomorrow. I was reading through the papers last night, which run to 27 pages. The work that has been going on is serious and substantial. The Bar Council is liaising with the CPS and the Institute of Barristers’ Clerks in relation to the software issues. The updated GFS Manual of Guidance, for what will be known as Scheme D, is scheduled to be published before the end of August to be ready for the implementation of the immediate changes on the 1st September. We are so grateful to Louise Oakley and Tom Little QC for agreeing to help with the drafting of this, and also for representing the Bar on the group that is reviewing all fees. 3000 case files are being reviewed by the CPS ‘to identify the volume and type of case material, the amount of material being shared with the advocate and the level of activity undertaken by the advocate at each stage of the case’. The data gathering is being done by 24 members of CPS staff, whose work will feed into the senior team who are reviewing all prosecution fees.

Our very strong sense from the meetings we have attended is that there is a sincere commitment to address the inadequate fees, and an absolute acceptance that the burden on prosecutors has grown to a very considerable extent, which the data gathering exercise will demonstrate, and which needs to be fully reflected in the new fees. We are expecting a very positive outcome when the review reports in September.

Serious crime increasing, case volumes falling off a cliff. The atrocious financial squeeze:

Fair remuneration is fundamental to the future sustainability and diversity of the criminal bar but how busy we are will also make a very big difference to our incomes and chambers’ turnovers. Serious crime has been increasing year on year but the volumes of cases going through the courts have been falling off a cliff. Wherever you look the public is being relentlessly let down by the atrocious financial squeeze on the police, the CPS and the SFO. This has to change. The police simply don’t have the necessary resources to cope with the explosion of knife crime, complaints of rape take months to reach charging decisions, and mainstream crime which affects thousands of people is barely investigated anymore. The Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police recently revealed that more than 40% of reported crimes in his area are not properly investigated because of a lack of resources and officers.

This is all inevitable and unsurprising if you cut police numbers by 20,000, and within that the number of detectives falls by 28%. The SFO now prosecutes a negligible number of cases. The quarterly legal aid statistics were published last week. They confirm in detail what we all know from our daily experience. Only 22,000 AGFS cases concluded in the Crown Courts in the final quarter of 2018/19, 10% lower than for the same period the previous year. In 2015/16 the full year figure was 111,00, pro rata a 20% reduction in 3 years. The picture is even worse in the Magistrates’ courts.

Recorders sold a completely false prospectus:

The collapsing volumes are used as justification for savage cutting of court sitting days. Newly appointed Recorders are dismayed and angry at being told they can’t expect any opportunities to sit in the criminal courts; they were sold a completely false prospectus. And yet the CBA inbox is still being jammed with stories of unrealistic listing. At one court centre recently all four floating trials listed failed to find courts to take them. Counsel explained in the email that there was not the slightest prospect of any of the listed and ongoing trials giving way, even though some courtrooms were sitting idle the court administration were not allowed to bring in a Recorder or two to help out because their unrealistic sitting day allocation had no slack.

There are however some imaginative pilots taking place, led by some of our best Crown Court Judges, to deal with the scourge of warned lists which waste so much time, disrupt witnesses and defendants’ lives, and cause huge amounts of unnecessary and unremunerated work for the Bar and solicitors. This is to be contrasted with shocking reports coming in from another court centre, which for the time being will remain nameless, of THREE WEEK WARNED LISTS being introduced. I struggle to believe that anyone who has slightest acquaintance with the impact of warned lists, let alone the interests of justice, could dream up such a philistine idea. But maybe wires have got crossed; let’s hope so.

The First Hundred Years:

On a very different note please do take the time to visit the ‘FIRST HUNDRED YEARS’ exhibition at Southwark Crown Court celebrating a hundred years of women in law which opens on Thursday.

Wilde words:

Finally, I did promise, to Caroline’s enormous relief that there would be no poetry for two weeks. So I’m sorry but I just couldn’t do it. It doesn’t really connect with anything, I was reading it on the train to Derby this morning so I can’t credit my destination, but I have always loved the ‘Ballad of Reading Gaol’, the bricks of shame bit in particular (almost as much as someone else loves ‘Her Voice’, which is indeed a perfect thing).

So the end of it to end:

‘No need to waste the foolish tear,
Or heave the windy sigh: 
The man had killed the thing he loved,
And so he had to die.

And all men kill the thing they love,
By all let this be heard,
Some do it with a bitter look, 
Some with a flattering word, 
The coward does it with a kiss,
The brave man with a sword’.

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