Monday Message 27.07.20

Chair’s Update:
Caroline Goodwin QC

 

 

 

THE FORGOTTEN PROFESSION

DO WE HAVE ANY WORTH?

We need action and a positive response from this government.

Since the 23rd of March 2020, when trials formally ceased, it would be an understatement to say that it has been a battle royale to engage with the government and to get them to recognise that we, as a profession actually exist.

We can be forgiven for thinking that they neither care nor are really interested in the problems that this profession presently faces.

They have given us nothing.

They have saved millions.

On a rough and ready calculation, they have saved approximately a third of the budget which would ordinarily go to the criminal bar in particular the bar conducting trials.

Shame, on a government that says is it interested in law and order.

Shame, on a government which identifies this profession as” key workers” and yet will offer no financial support.

Shame, on a government that is going to sit idly by and watch a profession slowly and painfully collapse.

Shame, on those in Treasury who in a high-handed arrogant way dismiss the publicly funded bar away.

YES MINISTER, NO MINISTER, THREE BAGS FULL MINISTER:

Our help and cooperation in assisting during this crisis has garnered no favours with Treasury. We are surrounded by parasites slowly draining us of our resources, taking our ideas, utilising our skills, expecting us to provide more for nothing. We have endeavoured to support the sinking ship that they created, and this is indeed the wreck of the Hesperus. We have answered the Siren’s call and like all heroes we have been given naught.

FINANCIAL AID: WHAT HAVE THEY GIVEN US WHEN WE HAVE GIVEN SO MUCH ?

The Bars asks of Treasury went unanswered, ignored and were booted to high heaven.

Re the Legal Aid Agency: we argued for and wrote many policy papers, with innovative ideas to help the profession, such as for special preparation to be paid to those cases which had a trial date vacated due to COVID-19. So far nothing.

All we have seen, in brutal terms, is an opportunity to try and access existing money, designated to a trial. No compensation, not even a scintilla of real assistance and yet they remain shocked when we don’t take up hardship payments. That is because people are fearful that they cannot pay it back, due to existing debt. The bureaucracy surrounding the LAA makes any attempt at claiming something, stressful and one might thing designed to put people off.

CPS: No extra money, but their systems and their attitude does deserve positive recognition.

MOJ: More meetings, trying to keep CLAR 1 in sight and get ready for CLAR 2. The endless discussions about the need for financial aid, falling flat at the door of Treasury.

WORKING GROUPS: covering the re- start of criminal trials, from the emperor’s new clothes, Nightingales or is it Blackstone Courts, this week? To ideas for building reopening protocols, to risk assessments on air ducting. I suppose I can be a heating engineer after all of this. To the consideration of PPE, to the plexiglass in court, to the personal needs of juries and how they will be accommodated in court; to the misery that has been created for practitioners by the lack of consistency over listing protocols and the vexed question of whether a hearing should be remote or not. To wear PPE or not to wear PPE that is the question. The sea of troubles is relentless.

The Crime Recovery Engagement Group, The Extended Operating hours group, multi hander sub group, magistrates recovery groups, the listing group, the S28 group and more.

We have given so much of our time; hours of meetings, day in and day out and we need to see some action for us.

Of course, it was depressing to see that there was an increment for the public sector. We don’t begrudge the acknowledgement that they are deserving but let’s be honest, it felt like a kick in the teeth and what do they expect us to say to you…carry on? It will be all right because you are a resilient profession?

ANY REWARD FOR THIS MASSIVE EFFORT?

Well our reward is not only to receive and expect nothing, but to do more for less.

They want to bring in changes to our work and practices without proper consultation. Just because you are on a committee does not mean that the message the committee sends out is listened to. What is the point of extending the working day when you can only have one or two jury’s at a court centre because someone is too mean to invest in alternatives? Justice delayed absolutely, justice denied absolutely, justice ignored absolutely.

SWEATING THE COURT ESTATE?
NO, NO AND CERTAINLY NOT
Friday 24th July 2020

  • 243 courtrooms sitting
  • 36 Trials (excluding floaters)
  • No trials at 42 Court Centres (!)
  • 3 Court Centres not sitting at all (Burnley, Newport (IOW) and Salisbury). Burnley and Salisbury have their hearings transferred to other sites.
  • Ipswich: Court 5 had just one FCM listed at 10am, lasted until 12:07pm
  • Merthyr Tydfil: Court 4 sitting from 2:30pm for one sentence
  • Stafford: Court 4 sat at 3pm until 3:10pm
  •  Birmingham: Court 5 sat only from 2pm

Monday 27th July 2020

  • 242 courtrooms sitting
  • 68 Trials (excluding floaters)
  • No trials at 24 Court Centres
  • 3 Court Centres not sitting at all (Burnley, Newport (IOW) and Salisbury). Burnley and Salisbury have their hearings transferred to other sites

Some of the big court centres continue to be leaving most of their courtrooms empty:

  • Snaresbrook: 8/20 courtrooms in use
  • Birmingham: 8/17 courtrooms in use
  • Bailey: 8/18 courtrooms in use
  • Inner London: 4/ 10 courtrooms in use
  • Kingston upon Thames: 5/12 courtrooms in use
  • Preston: 5/12 courtrooms in use

THIS IS DEMONSTRATIVE OF AN UNDER UTILISED COURT ESTATE:

Why are courts such as Newcastle vacating cases from their lists? How is it that Wales can have a full compliment of court centres holding trials and the rest of the court estate gives the impression of being paralysed?

Counsel from up and down the country are consistently reporting the removal of cases from the court list which could easily be heard. We do not need juries for appeals against conviction or sentence, POCA hearings, Newton hearings. Open up the courts have those hearings dealt with. Put the Recorders to work. Do not keep repeating the mantra what the bar needs is trials. The lack of utilisation of the court estate combined with a starvation policy of funding is at the very heart of this critical situation.

We have achieved over 250 trials apparently since 18th May 2020, which sends out a clear message.  If we cannot have trials operating at capacity and given that social distancing will remain a problem, put your hand in your pocket, provide buildings and portacabins, be imaginative with the ideas. Those areas which appear to be risk averse in listing cases, need to be spoken with. The Bar cannot survive on zero.

Will the Chief Secretary to the Treasury go and tell the rape victim that the trial in which she is due to give evidence cannot go ahead because they are still negotiating a lease on a large static caravan? Will the Chief Secretary to the Treasury tell the innocent man on remand that his trial cannot be listed until 2022? Perhaps Rishi Sunak MP ought to start spending in his own shop, in his own front window, namely the courts, because if you don’t we won’t be here in the numbers you need; women will have left the profession and an opportunity to have a diverse and vibrant profession will have slipped between your fingers. If you did not know it before, over 38 %of criminal barristers are reconsidering whether they should renew their practicing certificates. So, explain then how it is that the “key worker” profession is going to service the backlog, when the key workers are no longer there?

ACT NOW, DO SOMETHING AND DO IT FAST. THIS IS A PROFESSION THAT IS ANGRY AND FED UP WITH THE INACTIVITY.

POSITIVES?

Not this week.

FILM OF THE WEEK:

A Fistful of Dollars……….yeah, in your dreams.

Stay safe,  onwards and upward

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