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Monday Message 04.07.16

Vice Chair Election
The manifestos can be found HERE and HERE.  Please urge friends and colleagues to read, consider and vote before the ballot closes on Friday.
AGM/ next meeting of the Executive
Our AGM and the July exec meeting will be held on 20th July.  This year we are going to do things slightly differently.  I am most grateful to the Recorder of London who has arranged that we can use the Bar Mess at the Old Bailey for the meetings to which all CBA members are invited.
The agenda will probably be short.  I will speak about the events of the past year, what we have been striving to achieve and where we have reached, recent political developments and the implications for the health of the CJS.  Francis will outline his thoughts for the CBA’s year ahead when he takes over as Chair on 1st September.
Precise timings are yet to be fixed, but the AGM is likely to start at around 5:30pm, the exec meeting to follow shortly afterwards.  There will be refreshments served afterwards. Please inform Aaron if you wish to attend so the he may inform Bailey security.
The world we face
A lifetime ago on Friday 27th May The recent “Public Accounts Committee” published a report.

The summary begins:

The criminal justice system is close to breaking point. Lack of shared accountability
and resource pressures mean that costs are being shunted from one part of the system
to another and the system suffers from too many delays and inefficiencies. There is
insufficient focus on victims, who face a postcode lottery in their access to justice due to
the significant variations in performance in different areas of the country. The system
is already overstretched and we consider that the Ministry of Justice has exhausted the
scope to make more cuts without further detriment to performance. The Government
is implementing reforms to improve the system but we are concerned that users of the
system won’t see the full benefit for another four years.”

This is the world we inhabit.  This is what we struggle to help hold together in the courts every day of the week, and every evening and at every weekend.  The personal toll can be considerable.  Please read my article in CBQ, published today, that looks at the Bar Council’s wellbeing project.
Last week HMCTS has published a tool which ‘displays data on the Crown Courts of England and Wales’.  As with any set of data there is bound to be limitations, but if you are interested in trying to explore the ‘postcode lottery’ in your region you can start your search HERE

The website suggests that 
‘It provides an overview of key statistics for Crown Courts and allows users to analyse and compare the following:

  • workload of cases received by individual courts
  • number of cases disposed of by offence group
  • average duration and number of hearings of cases disposed of by offence group
  • average waiting time of cases disposed of from date received at Crown Court to first main hearing
  • number of disposed cases where a guilty plea was entered
  • number of ineffective and cracked trials at Crown Court by reason
  • number of outstanding cases’ 

Allocation Guidelines and the number of cases in the Crown Court
The latest quarterly legal aid statistics were published on Friday morning.  The numbers need careful study.

If you compare the first quarter of 2016 to first quarter of 2015 there has been a 19% reduction in the number of Crown Court representation orders granted.

Everyone should look to these numbers and think about what they might mean for their business plans in the next two to three years.
Transparency surrounding the choice of advocate 
The LAA is consulting on the 2017 standard crime contract for solicitors.  For reasons shrouded in the mists of time (my euphemism for I don’t know why) the Law Society and the Bar Council are statutory consultees but the specialist associations are not.
I do not profess to be any kind of expert on these contracts, but it seems to me that one clear point should be made.  It is essential that transactions involving public money should be open, honest, and transparent. It is also essential that criminal advocacy should be free of any taint of corruption. If there is none, well and good: but even the suspicion of it harms the whole enterprise in the public mind.  Therefore, the contract must expressly rule out any perversely incentivising financial arrangements between instructing solicitor and advocate – no matter where the advocate comes from.
The lay client must be informed if the solicitor, firm or advocate (whether barrister or solicitor) has any financial interest in the particular advocate who is being recommended to provide advocacy services. 

This is not an attack on solicitors or advocates of any particular type.  This should apply equally whether the advocate being chosen is employed, or self-employed.  There is no magic in self-employment being a marker of quality.  An employed advocate may of course offer an equally good or better service than someone who is self-employed. 

What matters is that the advocate is selected on reputation alone rather than the financial self-interest of one or more of the parties.  All I am suggesting be required is transparency as to the financial implications of the choice that is made.

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