Weekly Round Up 18.03.13
CBA Chairman’s Update: Michael Turner QC
Personal Email: [email protected]
• Do Right Fear No One: The Link between QASA and BVT
• BVT consultation – an update/ getting the message to MPs
• A welcome initiative from the CCSA
• An update from Maura McGowan QC: Chair of the Bar Council.
• Curtailing the right to jury trial; A dangerous idea from the Chairman of the Magistrates Association.
• The CBA Blog: a tool for all.
• Social Media: Follow the debate on Twitter.
1. Do Right Fear No One: Chairman’s Comment
Last week, the Attorney General, Dominic Grieve QC, told an audience that the Bar would be “foolish” to reject QASA as it may be thought that we are seeking to avoid scrutiny. Might we suggest that, on the contrary, the Bar would be worse than foolish, but just plain irresponsible, to engage with a scheme which, in its present form, is nothing more than a massive con trick. It will perpetrate a fraud upon the public by providing a cloak of respectability for advocates whose talents do not warrant it.
The CBA, other representative bodies, and individual barristers, told the BSB this in over 350 responses to the fourth QASA consultation – that the scheme was not in the public interest in its current form. The CBA said it. Michael Todd QC, immediate past Bar Chair said it, Maura McGowan QC said it and the BSB has acknowledged it privately to us.
How then, you may ask, has it come about that a scheme which, far from promoting the regulatory objectives in section 1 of the Legal Services Act 2007 [read it HERE] – to protect the interests of ‘consumers of legal services’ and to promote strong and independent legal professions, but instead irreparably damages them – is being waved through by the BSB, the body specifically created to discharge these statutory functions so far as barristers are concerned? The BSB is an independent regulator which is meant to be independent of the profession and of the politicians. It is clear, you may think, it has not ridded itself of the latter’s influence.
The bar and solicitors are united in saying that QASA is not in the public interest. The CBA is in the forefront of getting the message out, both to barristers and to the wider public. There have been some excellent contributions on the blog from our members. We encourage you to express your support or indeed disagreement with the views expressed by using the ‘Reply’ facility.
When we are looking to influence policy and decision making; when we are assessing the strength of feeling, and considering strategy options which include direct action, numbers matter. We want to know, no, we need to know, what you, practitioners at the coal face up and down the country, think. One of the replies to Ian’s article has come from Patricia Robertson QC of the BSB. As you might expect, she disagrees with his analysis. Her reply has itself provoked a flurry of responses, and I urge you to read this thread of correspondence, and have your say. I could myself say more, here, about the BSB’s views as adumbrated by Patricia Robertson, but I will, for now, say only this. The BSB, instead of listening to its constituents, first ignores us, then, worse, does the government’s job for it, suggesting that our opposition to QASA is born of self-interest, and an unwillingness to submit ourselves to quality assessment. Perhaps before putting that spin on it the BSB should honestly and publically declare what they have said to us namely, that QASA in its current format is not in the public interest.
Let me say it again, loud and clear. Barristers are not afraid of quality assessment. We negotiated, with one of our biggest customers, a scheme – the CPS Panels Scheme – which delivers real quality assurance for the prosecution work we do. We did so without the slightest input from the BSB. And we have said all along, and say again, that we remain willing to sit down with the LSC and do the same for defence work. We see no necessity for the BSB to be involved in those negotiations either.
The regulatory structure of the LSA is, by design, intended to be ‘light touch’. Section 28 [read it HERE] requires a necessity for regulation before the BSB’s powers are engaged. There is no such necessity for the BSB to intervene by regulation. Regulation brings bureaucracy with all its concomitant expense. We have proposed the framework for a scheme which draws on the best elements of QASA and the CPS Panels scheme, and which would actually ‘do what it says on the tin’, instead of merely pretending to, and which needs no input from the BSB. But our offer to engage, and to build such a scheme, has been ignored.
We are not wreckers. We thrive on quality. The public interest is at the forefront of our opposition to QASA. We do not fear, but would welcome and embrace, a robust quality assurance scheme, but QASA is not it. It is a fake, a sham, a fraud, and an expensive one at that. It is for us all to decide where we stand when the only people willing to protect the public interest are the profession itself.
The Attorney-General, in his speech, said that QASA and BVT are separate issues. Not so. ‘Foolish’ we may be: stupid we most certainly are not. As we said in our Response to the fourth ‘consultation’, QASA and BVT are inextricably bound together. QASA is an essential stepping-stone to BVT, a safety net, a defence mechanism against the complaints and appeals that will inevitably come from defendants ill-served by the cheap, bad advocates that Eddie Stobart, Tescos and the like, will, in Grayling’s brave new world, provide for them. The client will have no choice but to accept the ‘QASA-badged’ incompetent that is all that the state will provide. The proposed change in the Cab Rank Rule is a further indicator of the direction of travel. The suggested alternative will allow an Eddie Stobart’s brief to turn a case down provided the client has rejected EddieStobart’s first appropriately QASA badged first offering. This is what happens in the United States and is the public defender system by another name.
It is plain to see that it is not mere self-preservation that causes us to oppose QASA and all that will follow from it. Our profession, which has endured for a thousand years has served the public well, and at a reasonable price, will be decimated, destroyed, and for what? A ha’porth of tar. QASA means BVT, and BVT means the end of the independent Bar as a referral profession of advocates of the highest quality and probity, available for hire by both the prosecution and the defence, and from whose ranks our excellent criminal judiciary is drawn. (Looking forward, Mr Grayling, to the first Tesco Law Lord: Lord Smith of Low-Low-Prices?)
I never want to be in a position to say ‘I told you so’. We are working hard to unite this profession and to defeat this threat. We must strain every sinew to do it, but we can do it, if, but only if we stand together. If we do not, or God forbid, we fail, we will never have another chance; there will be nothing left of us. We MUST not fail.
2. Getting the Message across to MPs
Last week we promised you a list of the e-mail addresses of all MPs, well HERE it is. Many MPs are surprisingly ignorant on important matters of public interest, such as the future of the Bar. We are determined that MPs know what is happening. An MP cannot afford to ignore a letter from a constituent, and we invite you to write to your own MP. Justice is not a party political issue. If every member of the Bar writes to his or her constituency MP, that MP will have to think about the points raised and respond, and may take the matter up with the MoJ. From the contributions on the blog, I know that barristers are more than capable of penning their own letters to express how wrongheaded this Government’s approach to legal aid is. But for those of you pushed for time we suggest something like this.
3. A welcome initiative from the CCSA
Robin Murray (Vice Chair of the Criminal Courts Solicitors Association) rang me this week to invite the Bar to a meeting with themselves, the Law Society, the LCCSA (London Criminal Courts Solicitors Association) and SAHCA. The topic: a united front on QASA and BVT. He is going to book the Friends Meeting House in Euston (capacity 75) so this is not intended to be a ‘leaders only’ meeting. We have extended the hand of friendship to those in our sister profession, they have taken it up. We will announce next Monday, the date and time, and how to book. We hope you will think this is a wonderful opportunity for the professions to unite at grass roots level and above. Meanwhile, I met with Akhtar Ahmad, President of the LCCSA, and some of his committee last week. They are an impressive group who are singing from the same hymn sheet as us. We have now spoken to, and are working with, all of the solicitors’ representative bodies. We are united in our determination to repel the threat to our noble professions.
4. An update from Maura McGowan QC: Chair of the Bar Council.
Maura has issued a statement, updating the profession on the Bar Council’s position on QASA and BVT. Read it HERE.
5. Curtailing the right to jury trial; A dangerous idea from the Chairman of the Magistrates Association.
In Saturday’s press Mr Fassenfelt ( Chairman of the Magistrates Association ), suggested that the right to jury trial should be removed from certain sections of society, not on the basis of the offence charged but on the basis of the nature of the accused. Yes, Mr Fassenfelt is Chairman of the Magistrates Court in this country. His idea is to prevent “persistent offenders” being able to elect jury trial for low level offences. Personally, I find this idea offensive and highly dangerous for our democracy. Once you give your accuser the right to determine your mode of trial not on the basis of the offence with which you are charged but on your antecedent history you are on a very slippery slope indeed. No doubt Damien Green ( the Criminal Justice Minister ), will pick up this particular ball and run with it.
6. The CBA Blog. A tool for All
I have already touched upon this. A number of you have, in the past week, written asking if you could post an article on the CBA blog. You do not need my permission or anyone else’s to post your views as a Reply to an article on the blog. If you want to write a guest article of your own, similar to those you see on the blog, email it to the Editor [email protected] We set up the blog to provide you with a vehicle to express your views to the whole Bar and indeed a wider audience. Politicians, the LSB, BSB, Bar Council, solicitors, and many others are avid followers. Some have complained about its content. Bah Humbug, this is a democracy, where we hope, at least for the time being, the right of freedom of speech is still alive and well. Post now, while we’re still here!
7. Follow the CBA on Twitter.
Join Twitter! You don’t HAVE to follow Stephen Fry or Joey Barton. If you want you need only follow @TheCriminalBar and #NoToQASA
You will soon find that not only our Twitter account, but those of many other lawyers will be tweeting up to the minute information and links to matters of vital importance, you will find that you are not alone.
Too often have we heard the moan in a Robing Room, “nobody tells us what’s going on.” Well now you only have yourselves to blame if you don’t know. Social Media has proved to be a new dawn in the spreading of information. As a bonus, it gives YOU the chance to tell US, what you think.
Since we relaunched the Twitter account in January, we have increased our followers from around 500 to nearly 2,000. It really does work, and you too can benefit from it.
Only this week we began the #NoToQASA Twitter campaign. As a direct result, Tony Cross QC has arranged for the printing of #NoToQASA badges, which will soon be available for all. Wear it with pride
The Blog began at the end of January. As of yesterday morning, it had received 28,000 + views. We ARE being heard and we are attracting views from all over. It even drew a response from the vice chair of the BSB, which gave Ian West and others the opportunity to express our views on the BSB’s approach quite “firmly.”
Now it’s in full stride, the level of hits is averaging over 1,000 per day. It works. Keep contributing. There have been 217 comments from you to date, in addition to the blog articles themselves.
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