Monday Message 20.01.20
Caroline Goodwin QC
WE ARE NOT DYING, WE ARE FIGHTIN ON:
Today, some of you may have read the article in The Times about the crisis in Criminal Law and in particular the Junior Bar. Many of the issues raised are issues which the CBA has been highlighting. We all know from personal experience that the junior bar is fighting hard to survive. The fact is the general public needs to be aware that the crucifying cuts to the Court System, Barristers fees, the closure of Courts, the slashing of Legal Aid and every other penny pinching plan has placed many many Junior Barristers under enormous pressures both financially and emotionally. It is no joke when Jonathan Ames writes “younger barristers specialising in criminal law said they were being driven to the wall by legal aid funding cuts and rising costs to their practices.”
This is, I am afraid, the norm, the reality and it needs to change. How many more surveys do there have to be before the Government sits up and takes notice that there are genuine concerns amongst the profession’s leadership as to the health of the Junior Bar? The hours are getting longer, the fees pro rata are getting smaller, the volume of admin is growing more cumbersome, regulation has increased, Courts are demanding more by way of preparatory work and clients are expecting a 24/7 service. This is the world of the Junior Barrister.
The fact of the matter is that the cuts to legal aid advocacy fees over the years has indeed had a corrosive effect on the retention of the brightest and best at the Criminal Bar. We are rapidly reaching a tipping point and all that we have achieved by way of increasing social diversity and punching through the glass ceiling for women is at risk of unravelling. There has to be, and needs to be, a mood change.
This week we have meetings with the CBA team and our partners, MOJ Tuesday and CPS, Wednesday of this week. We will update you and publish next week the timetable that we are adhering to. We know that you are all anxious as to what is going on and we are very aware of the time constraints. We will further update you as to the next meetings and where we are when there is something concrete to say but rest assured, we are actively engaged.
ENGAGE WITH THE CBA:
I received an email from a very senior clerk indicating that he found the Monday message at times disheartening. We accept, because we know, that the Junior Bar is working as hard as it has ever worked but it is no good pretending that these problems do not exist. What the Junior Bar needs to know is that the senior leaders of the profession are prepared to stand up and speak and voice the concerns that so many complain about but are often helpless to address. That is why the CBA has been at the vanguard of raising issues such as fees, Court sitting days, the crisis for Complainants and the general malaise towards the Criminal Justice System. It is only by coming together and standing shoulder to shoulder that we will be able to take the Bar forward.
Be rest assured that this Monday Message will continue to deliver not only the tough reality of what life at the Bar is really like but will seek to promote change. We as a profession will continue to stand together. I hope one day that we no longer have to write about the state of the Court Estate where there are holes in the roof and water is pouring through, or brickwork is dangerous, or fire escapes are locked. We receive emails about this problem continually. .
We need all members of the CBA to engage. If you are on circuit, speak to your circuit leader, get involved, attend conferences, it is worth the effort.
THE SAME OLD:
Dear Reader, the Court sitting days fiasco still continues, and this message, drafted from information provided by yourselves, enables us to highlight the disasters that we are having to contend with. I make no apology when I write today about cases that have been provided as examples of the rotten practice that has developed at the Crown Court by way of cases coming out. NO-ONE wants this. The following was sent to the CBA, one of many. Sound. familiar?
A REPEATED EXAMPLE:
In the instant case, the allegations date back to December 2015 with the Defendants being arrested in June 2016, they were finally charged in December 2018. The case relates to drugs. On 13th February 2019 at the PTPH, the trial date was set for 20th January 2020. On 23rd December 2019 at PTPH, the issue of whether the Trial Judge was going to be available was raised. Counsel was criticised for raising this issue in open Court on the basis that the question was a matter for listing and thus far there had been no suggestion from listing that trial could not be accommodated in the allocated trial window. The trial judge apparently was going part heard. On 16th January 2020 Counsel received notification that the trial could not be accommodated and would need to be re-fixed. The next suitable date for Counsel will be January 2021. Why is it even thought that this is to be viewed as normal? The Defendants, who people appear to pay lip service to, are on trial for very serious matters. Counsels diaries have been set, trial preparation has been made, witnesses warned what follows is an extract from an email received from Counsel in the case: –
“I am utterly appalled that our clients cannot be tried next due to Judge/Court availability. I have never experienced this for a serious case – perhaps the odd day or two, but never this. It is a complete disgrace that they have awaited trial for a year and have been told two days before it begins that their trial will not take place, they have been on bail since 2016 and face life changing sentences if convicted and I know my client is under tremendous stress and suffering with serious anxiety.
An allied point, and in my view a points of substance, is the impact this also has on our professional diaries, our incomes/livelihoods – both Counsel and Solicitors and associated issues with whether we will be available to do the cases in future.”
You get better service from a repairer who is booked in on a wide time slot.
That case has been listed as a mention for 2pm today. Where will that be placed in the statistics of which we all look forward to being published? What about counsel’s diary? What about the witnesses? Why are cases not being given the space to be tried?
Today at Chelmsford Crown Court, only 3 out of 7 courts is sitting. The Resident has an enormous list, with no time markings for the morning list. This is happening all over the country.
The fact is, this approach is wrecking lives and wreaking havoc; we need more sitting days, we need Judges to be available; the 700 days reallocated was just pathetic. Can no one see, and I don’t count the Judiciary or the listing offices in this, but can no one see that this approach is simply failing. So, we commend the investment in the police, we commend the investment in the CPS but what about us, what about the Courts and what about the future? The CBA will continue to highlight this issue and indeed I commend to you a report that will be coming out this week from the leader of the Western Circuit, Kate Brunner QC as to the effect of Court sitting days and the reduction. No more, this has to change.
This is a topic close to all of our hearts. We have been impressed with the protocol as prepared by the Family Bar and are mindful of its contents. Our working lives are difficult and pressured and any improvement we can make is a bonus. Please email in with examples of unreasonable expectations placed upon counsel. We know emailing late at night is a real difficulty.
We would like information from Salisbury, Cardiff, Manchester and Bradford please. All other court centers welcome.
FILM OF THE WEEK:
As recommended by Paul Bogan. He writes
“Released earlier this year it is documentary film about a family and their friends during the Syrian and Russian onslaught of Aleppo.
It is truly remarkable. It is both brutal and poignant and shows people behaving truly heroically.
It does put our own plight into perspective”
But for the recommendation, I would never have seen it. It is humbling. Many thanks Paul.
Come on you film buffs, send those recommendations in. The quirkier, the better.
Onwards and upwards
Caroline Goodwin QC