Monday Message 12.12.16
Francis FitzGibbon QC
Listing and Other Disorders
The CBA continues, with the Circuits and the Bar Council, to identify the features of practice that cause unnecessary vexation to practitioners (and hence, worse service to the public): and where we can, to offer remedies for them. AGFS, obviously, and fees in general – it is hoped that the MOJ will soon tell us what it has in mind for AGFS reform. Then we can move on to the reforms that Leveson/Jeffrey/Rivlin have prescribed.
Well-being, at least, has come out of the shadows: the Bar Council’s well-being programme has a new course for 2017, to help deal with stress, burn-out and vicarious trauma. But there’s much to more to well-being than helping people who are already in trouble. Some features of criminal practice are enemies of well-being and cause stress: warned lists; unreasonable sitting hours (see below); the withdrawal of catering facilities at Court; lack of consideration for advocates’ availability. These and other things cause stress and unhappiness. None of them is a necessary part of anyone’s working life. Some talented people will give up and find other less stressful work. Stressed and unhappy people will not give of their best at work. Their clients and the public will suffer, too. Expect to hear more about this from the CBA in the months ahead.
In principle, the digital case system liberates us from physical burdens; and the new emphasis on telephone and digital hearings should cut out unnecessary and expensive journeys. And yet, counter to these positives, some Courts have a listing policy that makes our working lives near impossible – I mean the insistence on listing cases at 9.30 or earlier. Those responsible forget that advocates may not only have to travel long distances, leaving their children for longer periods in the hands of carers they can barely afford, but also find time to prepare the brief (commonly received the night before), speak to the client and the other side – all before 9.30. It’s not reasonable and not respectful of our private lives to make demands like this. The CBA is aware of particular instances, and now we ask you to complete this survey to get a broader picture. Sadly, the response to the last survey was on the thin side – if you want action, we need evidence, and that must come from you, so if you are having bad experiences with listing, please let us know. It’s doubtful if better through-put statistics improve the quality of justice.
CBA Old Bailey Lectures – Prison
The audience for Nicola Padfield’s lecture last week was disappointingly small. I know that there are many demands on our time, but these lectures are always interesting and informative, even (or especially) when they do not deal with our everyday concerns. In the intensity of our work we can lose sight of its ramifications. I for one did not know that our prisons are as overcrowded now as they were 20 years ago, but with fewer staff and many more problems. For an authoritative account of the state they’re in, here is the Prison Reform Trust’s latest briefing – it should be a source for evidence-led policy, which is a better bet than policy-led evidence.
Prison sentences have been getting longer: according to the MOJ’s Criminal Justice Statistics Quarterly Update to June 2016, since 2006, the…average custodial sentence length (ACSL) has increased… from 12.3 to 16.4 months in the latest year. The increase appears to have slowed in the latest year, with an increase of 1% over the last year, compared to a 6% increase between the years ending June 2014 and June 2015. So the average sentence is now longer by a third than it was 10 years ago. Community sentences have been in decline over the same period. Views differ about what drives sentence inflation, but it exists and helps to overfill the prisons. The coming new guidelines from the Sentencing Council on credit for pleas may fuel it more, if Courts feel compelled to pass longer sentences where a plea was not indicated with extreme promptness. The Government has a plan to build new prisons that are design to promote rehabilitation rather than inhibit it. They won’t solve the immediate crisis. There needs to be a rapid and brave change of culture, led from the top.
Criminal Appeal Office
The Criminal Appeal Office has vacancies for two Complex Casework Lawyers. More information here.
Practising Certificate Subs
The Bar Council’s pension fund is running a deficit, due largely to the continuing low interest rates which have cut the yield from the bonds it invests in. Unless the deficit is reduced, the BC and its pension fund trustees will be in breach of their obligations. It has decided that it has to raise the cost of the practising certificate by 12%. This means £13, £26, £53, £96, £148 and £198 per year for each earnings band.
187 Fleet Street has, with great sadness, announced the death of Jonathan Davies, a retired member of their chambers, well-known and liked by the Bar and by the readers of his legal thrillers. There will be a Memorial Service at Middle Temple on 15th March 2017 at 5pm.