‘Monday’ Message 11.02.20
Caroline Goodwin QC
Over the last years the CBA has been battling hard and often against the tide, to try and ensure that as a profession we are remunerated fairly and properly. We are all, and when I say that I mean CBA, Bar Council and all senior leaders, keen to ensure that in the wider review in respect of both prosecution and defence fees the Bar can see a real and positive future. We can brook no more cuts.
You know that I met with the Lord Chancellor the previous week who, from having spoken to him, is committed to making sure that the Criminal Legal Aid Review leads to an outcome that works for both the profession and for those who need access to legal aid-funded practitioners. The CBA identified issues requiring urgent accelerated measures and whilst these are a good first step in the process, there is still more to do which the full review will consider.
We have continued to meet with the Ministry of Justice concerning the accelerated policy proposals and I can report that we expect to see publication of the consultation concerning this towards the end of February. This will follow internal processes, a key part of which is ensuring collective cross-government agreement. The process as ever is not simple and we must keep our eye on the ball.
The consultation period is our collective chance to shape the future of the criminal legal aid fees scheme. The three accelerated asks are interim proposals, with those areas to be further considered in the wider review.
I have been specifically invited to emphasise and I do wholeheartedly, when I say that the Lord Chancellor and indeed the MOJ will encourage you to take the opportunity to respond with your views on the detail. A wide range of responses will help to make this a robust and representative consultation.
On a separate note, work continues in relation to the CPS fee scheme. James and I are also due to see the Attorney General in the next few weeks. I shall keep you updated as to what happens.
IT’S A FUDGE – TIMELINESS MY FOOT!
More of a round up this week but as ever the issue of listing is high on the agenda. An increasing trend is for the listing of cases to be altered so that the statistics are maintained. No wonder the allocation of sitting days has been so farcical if the data relied on is skewed and out of date. Matters which are “trials” are being brought into the list as “mentions” thus avoiding the trap of being a trial which is not reached. For those of you in the know, that is a sin. This approach utterly undermines and devalues the purpose of these figures. We already know that the statistics do not represent that which is happening on the ground. The word “median” should be removed from the statistical data and true and accurate figures as to the timeliness of trials properly acknowledged. Trials that require a fixture of more than 4 – 5 days are being listed well into 2021. The data that the general public is interested in is not the efficiency of, albeit we applaud it, the straightforward guilty plea but those matters which go off for trial.
- Why are we having to wait months and months for trials which are easily foreseeable as “complex”, for that is the business of the crown court, before a trial slot is offered?
- Who is sanctioning the manipulation of trial listing so that as if by magic a trial is demoted to a mere mention?
The Bar speaks with one voice no matter what part of the country we practise in. If you have experienced the above, please take the time to email in and add to the database. How long is it taking for your cases to be given a trial date? Have your cases been demoted from trial to mention?
This practice is destroying the ability of the Crown Courts and the Bar to deliver a public service and access to courts.
NO PUBLIC SERVICE:
The CBA is hugely appreciative of the efforts that you all make to engage and highlight the problems that on the ground. We log them all. Here is an example of one that was sent in. Perhaps the politicians would like to take note when they are all procrastinating and pontificating across the board that law and order is top of the agenda as to what is going on. How would they feel if this was a case in which they were involved?
A “floating trial” listed twice before so now the third time. Previously, the witnesses attended both times when the trial was not reached. It was again a floater. The defendant was charged with 2 dwelling house burglaries with intent to steal. The first was on a neighbour who had known him since school, he lifted a sliding door off its hinges, the occupant would usually have been at work but was in. The second was at his estranged mother’s and step -father’s. They too were supposed to be at work. When he was discovered he left both houses.
The defendant would have been a third striker. The witnesses refused to come from Berwick. They said they were not coming all the way to Newcastle to not get heard again, for the third time, and would go to work. They pointed out the defendant had been on bail for nearly 2 years, so it was a waste of time even if they came.
How exactly is the CPS to cope when witnesses are treated and left feeling that way by the court system? Why would the general public feel any confidence that a complaint is going to be treated with the proper respect it deserves? This is not a game. This is not something to be blamed on the Judges or the lawyers. This is frankly deplorable and just not acceptable. Any politician can see that this basic example is not serving anyone. Start recognising that the little people matter. Do something, open the courts.
We have recently received a number of incredibly disturbing letters from practitioners about the difficulties that they have had with their banks. At this juncture, I name no bank in particular, but we have had correspondence about the painful discussions that have had to be had about long term existing overdraft facilities. In a nutshell, working overdrafts are being slashed and extortionate rates are being imposed on relatively minor sums and on practitioners who have excellent histories with their banks. When one adds this to the burden of reduced sitting days and the fact that trials are going off for long periods without remuneration (and of course the tax man does not like to wait), the lot of the barrister is becoming like a board game, but without the community chest. The CBA would like to hear please about what is going on.
ITS GRIM UP NORTH – THE COURT ESTATE:
Talk about soldiering on…..news from a correspondent in the North as emailed in 6th February:
“Yesterday the heating dropped out at Durham so in the afternoon the jury had to sit in their coats for 2 hours whilst counsel delivered their speeches in a serious case of domestic violence rape. That you would think is bad enough…
This morning we arrive at court to find that the heating is still not fixed so in an effort to heat the building (its -2 outside) the court staff used portable heaters (no trip hazard there) to try and heat the building. This inevitably then led to the electrics tripping out delaying the whole list.
Counsel are currently sat in a dark robing room waiting, you couldn’t make it up. I’d take a picture of the bizarre situation if it wasn’t illegal”
It is like an Ealing comedy and would be almost amusing if not for that fact that it was so serious. The majesty of justice being measured by the length of an electricity extension. Plus ca change!
VOTE CHRIS HENLEY QC:
FILM OF THE WEEK:
Cabaret as recommended by Tracy Ayling QC
“When the entire world goes mad and speeds to a catastrophe, life is a cabaret!”
Most certainly must have been written by a barrister then.
Onwards and upwards