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Monday Message – 07.09.15

CBA Chairman’s Message: 
Mark Fenhalls QC 

Before you read this letter, please consider donating to the “billable hour” fund raising campaign started by Sean Jones QC in response to the Syrian refugee crisis.  The amount each of you is able to donate will vary hugely depending on your call and practice.  Some of you who only do publicly funded work may wrestle with the idea of a “billable hour”, but the cause is critical and I hope you will do what you can. If you donate directly at JustGiving sends your donation straight to Save the Children and automatically reclaims Gift Aid.  The Bar Council and the Law Society should promote it and I hope every chambers and firm across the country circulates and promotes the link.

The first of September marks many things, and for me this year becoming Chairman.  We have all had a difficult summer and we face a complex autumn.  The pace of change and the challenges ahead seldom seem to diminish.  I have little wish to travel over old ground, but for those of you have been away or have sensibly switched off email / social media during August, I think it would help to reflect for a moment on recent events and the major issues we face in the next few months.

Our Criminal Justice System has been crumbling for years.  The paint has long since flaked off the walls and every day we all deal with problems arising from shortages of court staff and creaky, failing technology.   We can all ignore the paintwork, but when the technology fails everyone suffers delay and injustice, most of all the complainants in the system.  There are signs that the Government will be improving the position as far as capital expenditure is concerned, provided that its commitment to implementing “Leveson” survives as it must. 

But the people who operate the system have been taken for granted for too long – and this applies to the experienced court staff as much as those who act on both sides.  This will of course be the subject matter that underpins many a “Monday Message” throughout this year.  Throughout the CBA will strive to ensure that public money is spent where it should be spent – on the fabric of the justice system and in a way that rewards hard work, quality, experience and efficiency amongst all advocates and litigators in both Crown and Magistrates Courts.

The CBA will continue to do all that it can to make sure that “Justice” is accorded an equal respect and status with “Health” and “Education”.  We will continue to lobby government, contribute to debate on law reform and to act with the highest possible standards to fulfil our obligations to the justice system and by extension the general public.

And so to the events of August and more recently.  On Friday 24th August, following a survey of their members, the solicitors groups chose to go back to work.  Their reasons are well known.  Since then they have urged the government to suspend the implementation of “Two Tier” and to reconsider its position on cuts. 

Throughout, the CBA officers have been in close communication with the leaders of the solicitors’ organisations and have met on several occasions.  The most pressing issue is of course the prospect that the MoJ may be sending out offer letters for the “Two Tier” contracts towards the end of this month, seeking to have this new system in place by January.  The CBA and the Bar Leadership more generally, has been clear and unambiguous throughout – we think that “Two Tier” is a bad scheme that will adversely affect the quality of advice given at police stations and therefore damage the public interest. 

Many amongst the solicitors’ profession express dismay that this scheme is going ahead.  The LCCSA and CLSA have launched surveys to enable their members to indicate (confidentially) their willingness to withdraw their bids.  The deadline is 21st September.  Do not let it be thought that the resistance by solicitors to “Two Tier” is driven by naked self-interest.  Our sister profession contains thousands of hardworking professionals who have dedicated their adult lives to providing quality advice and playing their role in the justice system and it is plain that many solicitors genuinely believe that the “Two Tier” scheme is a serious car crash that will take place before our eyes in 2016.    All readers of this message who share our concern about the impact of this scheme on the justice system should encourage their friends and colleagues to participate HERE

Last week James Richardson QC, the editor of Archbold, drew my attention to the petition set up by a member of the Inner Temple library committee, in opposition to the Executive Committee’s proposals for dramatically reshaping the Inner Temple library. 
The submission of the Inner Temple library committee is trenchant in its opposition.  This link will take you to the submission.  I know that it will be hard for anyone to find the time to go through the whole document so I hope I am forgiven for highlighting a couple of matters.

The proposed schemes appear to risk huge damage to the fabric of the library.  Some of the variations are predicated on the construction of an arbitration centre.  The authors suggest that there is no business case whatsoever to justify this cost and disruption.  At appendix three there is a letter signed by the last four masters of the library (Sharp, Beatson, Sedley and Sumption), which includes the following paragraph.

We are concerned that consideration is being given to this radical proposal for reasons that have nothing to do with the Library’s layout or functioning but are to do with the viability of a planned commercial enterprise at best ancillary to the Inn’s chartered purposes.  There is a risk that the Library will suffer irreparable harm, both aesthetically and in terms of useable space, in order to provide a kitchen for arbitrations.”

You might be wondering “why does he care?”  Well put aside for the moment considerations of cultural vandalism when libraries are treated this way.  The proposals cost millions of pounds and surely the Inn’s resources could be far better directed.  The part of the Bar that practises publicly funded work is under staggering pressure and it may be, for example, that library based practise will become increasingly important and possibly essential for many in London in the years to come. 

This is the link to the petition. You do not have to be an Inner Temple member to sign.

You will be relieved to hear that this Monday Message is probably much longer than many that will follow.  You may be delighted to hear that when there is nothing to report I will not be troubling you at all.  In such circumstances please do not mistake silence for inactivity.  If the last year is anything to go by, no day will pass without some CBA business to conduct.  You will not be surprised to realise that I have the most profound respect for those previous Chairs who have served you in these troubled recent years and I would like to thank each of our last three Chairmen, but in particular Tony Cross QC, for his unstinting and principled service to the profession.

Do write to me if there are issues you wish me to address and I will do my best to respond as quickly as possible.  My email address will appear at the bottom of the message.  This is going to prove a far more effective way to communicate than phoning.  I am afraid you will be less successful if you send me a message on Twitter as I simply do not have the time or resources to correspond in that way.

E: [email protected]

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