Skip to main content

Monday Message 06.03.17

Chairman’s Update: 
Francis FitzGibbon QC

The AGFS consultation is over. Here is the CBA’s response. We have listened and will keep listening to your concerns. We know that you have deep-seated anxieties about the concept and the consequences of ‘cost-neutrality’, and its impact on you and your chambers. We will fight to get a fair settlement for you in the coming weeks while the final form of the MoJ’s scheme is being hammered out in the continuing discussions.
Having read many of the responses, I think that the CBA’s response has captured the prevailing mood. As the MoJ weighs them all up, they will rapidly realise that discontents run deep and they will need to offer something substantial to relieve them. Like most of those that I have seen, our response  insists at the very least on: 

  • indexing to prevent further erosion by inflation 
  • the ‘fair and permanent mechanism for reviewing of the operation of this Scheme’ that the Bar demanded when it announced its proposals in 2015, to ensure that as it goes along the scheme is not making cuts 
  • detailed changes that include altering some the bandings, and reviewing the rates of pay for the work that will go to the most junior advocates 

None of these demands is unreasonable. Still, the fundamental problem remains unanswered: system-wide, long-term underfunding. As Andrew Langdon QC told the Bar Council on 4 March, AGFS is ‘grotesquely underfunded to the tune of about 40%’. He’s right. Cost-neutrality fixed at one year’s figures is the wrong way to plan long-term future funding of Crown Court advocacy.
Lord Judge, now a member of the House of Lords Constitution Committee, asked this of the Lord Chancellor on 1 March (at 11.15 on the recording)  
How are we going to attract into the profession those from disadvantaged backgrounds when the legal aid system doesn’t give them a living if they do crime or family work?
She did not answer directly, but said ‘it is very important to our justice system that people earn a good living working as a lawyer’. Make of that what you will.
It is plain common sense that investing in people has long-term dividends, as much as investing in badly needed new technology. Human capital is indispensable. What sort of leaders and judges do we want in 15 or 20 years time? People with independent means who are good at filling in forms and operating computers, or men and women whose backgrounds represent society at large, and who have talent, skill and wisdom? If the latter, we need to make that investment now. 
In 2016, the upper age limit for jury service was raised to 75. The Justice Minister, Sir Oliver Heald, said ‘People are living longer, healthier lives, so it is right that our courts are able to benefit from the wisdom and experience that older people can offer.’ If ‘people’ include the senior judiciary, it is hard to see why they should not be appointed to positions whose terms of office will take them past three score years and ten. 
The CPS are offering secondment places for advocates on the CPS Panel at all levels, across the SE Circuit. Secondments last between 3 and 6 months. In the past they have been popular and valuable. Details here.  
That’s tomorrow, 5.30 pm: Dr Gillian Tully, the Forensic Science Regulator. Should be fascinating and highly topical.
HMCTS are asking practitioners to complete a surveyon their experience of PCU & Clickshare.

View more news