Monday Message 30.06.14
CBA Chairman’s Update:
Nigel Lithman QC
Monday 30 June 2014
Personal Email: [email protected]
I lifted my head this week out of the bunker at CBA Headquarters. Not quite ready yet again with a formal announcement regarding VHCCs, allowed the time to press “pause” and see what is going on around us in the wider legal world. On which matters should the CBA be considering its views? How and where can it make its contribution?
A communications company known as Media Monitoring Service provides me with a daily roundup of what is going on in the press. It is sent in the middle of the night usually around 3.30 a.m. and is sent either when I’m asleep, counting briefs (sadly not the glut there was) or when I’ve woken up early in order to get in an hour or two’s worrying. Some nights are busier than others.
This prompts me to ask: where is the Bar now in its relationship with the media? The answer I believe is that it’s in a good place and certainly much better than it was.
On taking on the mantle last September, we were faced with one of many challenges. How to persuade the press to look beyond the “fat cats” stereotype, the earnings figures presented to them and understand the value of the Criminal Bar’s contribution to the smooth running of our justice system? I have no doubt that we owe a debt of gratitude to the main broadsheet journalists as well as TV commentators for questioning the figures presented to them and raising issues about the future of our justice system.
As my tenure enters its last phase I would like to acknowledge the media who have been so willing to engage in the struggle we have been through and in which so much remains to be done. Amongst them I include Frances Gibb of The Times, Owen Bowcott of The Guardian, Jane Croft of the FT and Jenny McCartney of the Telegraph, Catherine Baksi of the Law Society Gazette; Clive Coleman of the BBC and Simon Israel of Channel 4. All are interested in the fight for legal aid and how these matters affect the health of a nation. All have felt able to pick up the phone and talk to us about what is going on and this must continue.
It is a difficult task to ensure that the press are properly versed with what has been going and to that end Borkowski’s have proven an excellent PR team.
The importance of access to the press and the risk of relying on assumptions was exemplified in the Wall Street Journal this week. The struggle over legal aid in this country has been of interest in New York as well as Moscow. As the High Cost Case arrangement has not yet been announced, I declined to provide an immediate quote to the WSJ. Hence their article was not quite correct and of course was picked up by the twitterati within 4.7 seconds.
That said Margot Patrick of the Wall Street Journal is also a CBA friend.
I mention this litany of names not to boast of our contacts, but to send the message that the Bar need never again either be afraid of hostile press reports nor shy of demanding a fair hearing, which I am confident it will receive, save perhaps in one newspaper.
Meanwhile on Thursday morning my Media Monitoring service announced that the press were covering five absolutely seminal topics:
The need to legalise assisted suicide. This was considered by the Supreme Court who gave judgment last week. It raised the questions as to what steps government must take to change the law and any question of incompatibility with Human Rights; also whether the D.P.P. need provide further guidance to care professionals as to their position in this fraught area.
Judicial Review. The Times published Lord Faulks’ much disputed consideration of the need to cut legal aid for Judicial Review. He cited the case concerning the rightful resting place of Richard III, whose remains were found under the Leicester car park, along with those of some motorists that could not get their exit tickets into the machine at the barrier.
Privacy of victims in criminal trials as spoken of by David Blunkett in the Guardian.
Expenditure of money on building prisons was carried by the Independent
Frances Gibb spoke about the MMR families who were suing their lawyers over an alleged waste of money pursuing “hopeless” claims.
And last weekend the Sunday Mirror devoted a supplement to the state of legal aid.
All such articles reveal the need for the Bar to continue to contribute to the debates on the most important items within our jurisdiction.
THE STATE OF THE COMMONWEALTH
I intimated earlier that the importance of the Legal Aid Bar is being spoken of far and wide. On Tuesday I met with Susan Borg an Australian practitioner at the Victoria Bar and employee of the prosecution service, who provided an insight into life for our counterparts “down under” and to whom I returned the compliment.
Friday night at Middle Temple Hall, the South East Circuiteers were treated to a long peroration unassisted by notes, from the great advocate Sir Sydney Kentridge QC. I hope Sarah will be able to reproduce all or part of his speech somewhere.
For me it brought together a number of personal features. He of course had been part of the legal team representing Nelson Mandela in an early apartheid treason trial and hearing him speak was the same sort of privilege as having met Mr. Mandela on one of his trips to London. It was also heart warming as my Grandfather, whom I have mentioned in previous MMs, had graduated from the same University, Witswatersrand, some thirty years before him.
These larger than life characters all treasured as sacrosanct the Rule of Law, which they believed could not exist in Britain without the Independent Criminal Bar. From Susan to Sydney came the cry “make sure the Bar is preserved”
We will and hopefully the Fourth Estate will help usView more news