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Monday Message – 17.07.23

Last week I went to a silk party; probably one of the last celebrations of the KCs of 2023.

Why rush a good party?

This was the only one I have been to where there were goats to pet, a firepit to toast vegan marshmallows and a singing guest, who happened to be a Pogue.

I shouldn’t single out her name from our swaggering list of criminal silks, but if I mentioned the new criminal KCs at Doughty Street – Garry Green KC, Ben Newton KC, and Jonathan Lennon KC – and apologise for not mentioning all the other new silks, perhaps I can mitigate offence and so be forgiven for identifying Blinne Ní Ghrálaigh.

Yesterday afternoon, I attended a celebration of the life of Tony Arlidge KC, who sadly died on 27th January 2023.

The two barristers are from different generations and could not be more different. The celebrations differed as one was unshackled, joyful happiness and the other happiness soaked in sadness.

However, the heartbeat of each event was stories, of cases won and lost, of barristers who had shaped choices, and of decisions made that had changed journeys.

At both events, barrister guests picked up conversations with colleagues they had not seen for years, and the stories continued from the memories.

The pulse of life at the criminal bar felt precious.

It is worth the fight.

Meeting with Lord Chancellor Alex Chalk MP

On the 10th of July 2023, Vice-Chair Tana Adkin KC and Secretary Mark Watson and I met the Lord Chancellor.

He is the third I have met since I became Chair on the 1st of September 2022.

Happily, there is no change of furniture and so the room has become familiar, even if the people within in have rotated out of the door.

The Chair of the Bar Nick Vineall KC and Vice-Chair Sam Townend KC also were in the meeting and provided support for our requests.

We raised that the bolt-on fee for section 28 Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999 hearings requires increasing to comply with the £4 million spend commitment during the spending review.

Those following the detail of the deal will know that the review should have completed in the Spring and that the arguments we are making were made at the time of the deal. It was never accepted that an extra £670 would be sufficient to attract or retain barristers needed to defend and prosecute in section 28 RASSO cases.

I referred to the latest data in my last message which shows this to be correct.

Our representations in September 2022, on the number of section 28 hearings, relying on CPS data, also has been shown to be correct by the Ministry of Justice data.

The Ministry of Justice remains cautious in its risk assessment that the number of hearings might increase; despite there not being sufficient barristers for a sudden spike in hearings.

Representations on your behalf are ongoing. I remain optimistic that the fee will increase. When this will happen is more uncertain.

The timeline is being stretched by the Ministry of Justice.

It is unacceptable to continue to delay.

The longer the increase is withheld, the harder it will be to encourage barristers to return to section 28 hearings and the longer will be the delay in increasing the prosecution fees.

Ultimately, it is the complainants, victims and defendants and witnesses who suffer when they receive the news that their trial has been adjourned for another year, as no barrister is available.

It also is depressing that the CBA is fighting over amounts of money that are rounding up figures in Treasury terms, whilst the HMCTS is failing and overrunning with a court reform budget of £1.3 billion.

Whilst the Common Platform flails, barristers work in crumbling courts, cases are delayed due to lack of barristers and trials stop and start due to prisoners being delivered to courts late.

The government must focus on the lawyers needed to make the criminal justice system work.

A delay to a case hits as hard on complainants and defendants, irrespective of whether the years of delay are recorded on the new expensive Common Platform or on a piece of paper.

We also raised with the Lord Chancellor:

  • The requirement to start the review of special preparation/wasted preparation fees.
  • Inappropriate over-listing.
  • Court conditions.
  • Magistrates’ courts fees.
  • Criminal barristers and work on legal remedies and training in Ukraine.

The next meeting of CLAAB is on the 20th of July 2023.

I will relay further on whether the new Chair will be announced and in position by that date.


On the 13th of July, HMCTS published is monthly update, to the end of May 2023, on case backlogs in both the magistrates’ and Crown Courts.

HMCTS records the “Crown Open Caseload” in May 2023 as 63,238, a rise of 1,176 on April’s 62,062 and a third consecutive monthly increase after 60936 recorded in February.  Access the data here.

Public Accounts Committee- Common Platform “Blow upon a Bruise”

The PAC found that the MoJ continues not to learn lessons from the same mistakes in 2018.

Complete delivery of its digital case-management system, the Common Platform, is expected in March 2025, over a year later than planned.

Despite having just £120 million left of its total £1.3 billion budget, HMCTS has only completed 24 of 44 reform projects.

Dame Meg Hillier MP, Chair of the Committee, said:

“Our courts were already stretched thin before the pandemic, and the backlogs now faced pose a real threat to timely access to justice. These are services crying out for critical reform, but frustratingly HM Courts & Tribunal’s attempts appear in some cases to be actively hindering its own staff’s ability to carry out their jobs. In particular, the roll-out of the Common Platform digital system was a blow upon a bruise for pressured court users.

We would expect HMCTS to appreciate by now that complex reform such as this cannot be properly implemented while failing to engage with those impacted, but our report paints a picture of a service now rushing to introduce its plans following multiple delays. HMCTS has now burnt through almost its entire budget for a programme of reform only a little over halfway complete. The Government told us that the complexity of managing some of these reforms was like ‘redesigning the jet engine while it is in flight’. It must explain how it intends to land the plane.”

Please keep sending your examples of issues with the Common Platform to [email protected].

I am raising them with HMCTS and, where appropriate, at the Crown Court Improvement Group.

Paul Keleher KC continues to work for the CBA on its Technical Team.

Attorney General’s Breakfast Reception

One of the perks of the job materialised last week, in the form of the AG’s breakfast at Number 10 Downing Street; in itself a first.

I have not been inside Number 10 before.

I was told that the boss was away.

Indeed, there was no sign of Larry the cat.

It was a lovely gathering of the legal community leaders from across the United Kingdom.

With thanks to the Attorney General, Victoria Prentiss KC MP, who has been a constant support to the Criminal Bar since she came into office.

CBA Podcast Series

Our podcast series Criminal Justice Matters is turning in a good performance in Apple podcast rankings.

Have a listen and let us know your thoughts.

Also, do share episode 2 – about the junior bar- amongst students, pupils and juniors.

It might inspire a few people to listen to Zayd Ahmed and Jennifer Devans – Tamakloe

Access our podcast series here.

In our third podcast, I speak to Mary Prior KC, Chair of the CBA RASSO sub-committee and incoming Vice-Chair of the CBA, about prosecutions of sexual offences.

We hope to bust a few myths!

Listen here.

Chair and Committee Summer Drinks Party – 27th July 2023

I hope you can make it. Amongst invitees are Judges, Law Officers, those who have helped the CBA and, above all, our members.

It is our thank you, to you the Criminal Bar, who have supported us and the criminal justice system.

It also is a time to renew friendships and look forward.

Let’s celebrate our profession and support our juniors.

It is a packed CBA diary right up until the stroke of midnight on the 31st of August and I am looking forward to seeing as many of you as possible outside a zoom meeting.

Please let Aaron know if you can attend.

Access further details here.

Chair’s Essay Writing Competition for Under 7 years’ Call

This Competition has been extended by a fortnight, now closing on 28th July, and inviting Pupils’ as well as Barristers under 7 years’ call to apply.

Applications are invited for awards from the Criminal Bar Association Chair’s Essay Award.

You will need to indicate which award you are applying for when completing the application form as this will depict which essay you undertake.

Major Bursaries of £3,000 will be awarded to successful applicants. 

The competition is open to members of the CBA under 7 years’ call and Pupils’.

Please complete the application form and return, along with your essay, to the CBA Administrator by noon on Friday 28th July 2023.

Applicants will be notified shortly after the 1st of August of their particular outcome.

Download the Application Form here.

Final Words

David Hume argued that our lives are held together by custom, habit, and tradition.

Hume argued that nothing was certain, whilst living as though everything were.

It is worth remembering.

Come to the summer drinks party, book those holidays, do not take your laptop and lift your eyes from your ‘phone.

Before you do that, under 7 years’ call barristers, enter the Chair’s Essay Writing competition to win £3000 for the summer.

See you on the 27th!

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