Monday Message 10.10.16
Francis FitzGibbon QC
Attack on Human Rights Lawyers:
The CBA is not a political organisation. Our members have diverse opinions – some left, some right, some mixed, some non-political. The CBA speaks for all its members, regardless of their politics. What unites us is a belief in the rule of law – we know that the law we practise can deliver justice, whatever side of the political house we are on. That belief commits us to certain other beliefs – in particular that the law and those who work in it should be respected, and the justice system should be properly resourced to ensure that the process and the outcomes are fair. The law is not just an instrument of state, it is also an instrument of redress against the state. The Courts can hold the state to account for its wrongs, and prevent it from exceeding its proper powers – whether in everyday criminal trials or on the grander stage of human rights litigation. And so it is with the deepest regret that we confront the latest attack on ‘left wing human rights lawyers’: a phrase no doubt dreamed up by a PR genius to press three separate hate buttons: left wing, human rights, and lawyers.
The fact is that since the Human Right Act came into force, we have all become human rights lawyers: it is deeply embedded in virtually every area of law. It does not matter where we stand politically. The big concepts such as proportionality and equality of arms have permeated the law and entered the consciousness of every serious lawyer. Without human rights law, there would have been no second Hillsborough inquest. Human rights doctrines have enriched our law and made it better.
A Prime Minister’s attack on lawyers doesn’t just gain a headline: it ripples outwards and diminishes the law itself, while reinforcing prejudices. We don’t ask to be loved, but without respect for the law our country will become nastier, poorer, and more brutish.
CPD – The New Scheme:
The BSB’s roadshows are under way. The CPD system was tired and needed refreshing. The scramble for points as the year ended was not a good way to develop professionally, and the activities that earned points were too restrictive. As people whose raison d’ētre is asking difficult questions and not taking no (or even yes) for an answer, we push back when the Regulator changes the rules. But negativity as the default setting doesn’t get us very far.
The new arrangements offer challenges, for sure, but they also give us a chance to demonstrate that we are not reluctant learners, but are willing to improve our knowledge and skills as we go through our careers. A warning about lack of knowledge of professional ethics by advocates in this report (commissioned by the Advocacy Training Council) should alarm us, as it will certainly alarm those who want to find fault with us. The public has a right to expect that we take our duties seriously, including our continuing education and professional development.
The BSB has indicated that it will respond to constructive criticism of the guidance and support materials for the new scheme, which comes into force on 1 January 2017.
Bar Conference & Young Bar Conference:
Next Saturday – including a session by Rosina Cottage QC, Sarah Vine & me on Court-craft and ‘soft skills’.
Belmarsh – Laptops & Discs:
Speaking only for myself, I am bothered by the present arrangements. They may be the best that could be negotiated. Belmarsh has had its own peculiar difficulties. Nevertheless, being supplied with a cameraless prison-issued laptop for conferences is irritating enough (I really won’t film anything inside the prison and will happily put a piece of tape over the lens); but handing in CDs with the case papers on them for prior scrutiny by – who knows who? – is something I just would not countenance. I’ve made my concerns known. We’ll see what happens.
If you’ve read the Transformation of Justice paper, you’ll know that the ‘common platform’ is the next stage of the ambitious plan to digitise the system – this time, giving all the participants a single channel of communication rather than the myriad we have now, some of which are incompatible.
Leanne Galbraith, a solicitor who is also the Legal Aid Agency’s ‘Digital Champion -Business Product Owner – Defence’, invites us to sign up to her blog (it’s inside the HMCTS website) for updates on the development of the common platform.
Women in Prison:
Women in Prison held a meeting (on 28 September, at Garden Court Chambers, arranged by CBA Executive Committee member Paramjit Ahluwalia). It was well attended by representatives of the legal profession, voluntary sector, media, politics, the arts and academia who are campaigning for fairer treatment of women offenders by legislators, sentencers, and inside prisons. Heard of the Bangkok Rules (the United Nations Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-custodial Measures for Women Offenders)? You have now.
To support the campaign or to refer women to WIP’s support services contact WIP’s Policy and Campaigns Manager: [email protected].
European Criminal Bar Association:
I attended the ECBA’s biannual conference, in Lisbon at the end of September – hence no Message last Monday. The ECBA was founded 19 years ago by Rock Tansey QC and others to bring together criminal lawyers from across the continent. Its mission is ‘to be a leading group of independent criminal defence lawyers in the Council of Europe promoting the fundamental rights of persons under criminal investigation, suspects, accused and convicted persons’.
That is exactly what it has become. It is a respected participant in the development of criminal law and procedure in the European Union, and it provides a host of high quality educational and training materials, in areas such as the European Arrest Warrant and defence rights in general. Above all, in this time of rupture and diminishing respect for legal norms, it enables lawyers to share experiences and give practical support to one another across borders.
The Law Commission asks us to take part in this short survey, canvassing views about its next programme of law reform, including confiscation, search warrants, and offensive online communications. The Commission wants to hear from us about these and any other proposals we may have for law reform. The survey is open until 31 October.
We are also seeking several CBA members to assist with our formal response to the Sentencing Guidelines Council’s consultation entitled ‘Knives and offensive weapons: consultation on new sentencing guidelines for possession and threats’.
The full details of the consultation can be found HERE.
If you would like to assist with our draft then please contact Aaron Dolan – the consultation has a closing date of 6th January 2017.
All our published responses to consultations are on the website – HERE