JusticeWatch: Barristers step back from the brink

Barristers step back from the brink
Barristers called off an escalation of their two month dispute with the government over legal aid funding after the MoJ offered an extra £15m on Thursday, reported the FT here.

The Criminal Bar Association suspended its action until June 12 after David Gauke, the justice minister, ‘offered an additional £8m for barristers taking on fraud, drug and child sex cases and a further £4.5m for junior barristers’. ‘Angela Rafferty QC, chair of the CBA, said the Bar would continue with its existing action of not accepting new legal aid cases but would suspend any escalation until members had been consulted on the new offer,’ it said.

‘There has been a breakthrough,’ Rafferty told the paper. ‘We have been involved in extreme efforts to get to a position where we can consult the membership about a resolution.’ She said there was an ‘unprecedented commitment to further investment’, adding ‘at last the government is recognising the importance of the criminal justice system should have in our society’.

Behind the gown
Harassment was ‘rife in chambers and courts’, reported Owen Bowcott in the Guardian. He was writing about the new Behind the Gown initiative

According to the report, the group’s inaugural meeting heard complaints of inappropriate behaviour by judges, QCs and senior lawyers. ‘None of the victims or alleged abusers were named and the gathering was held under Chatham House rules, preventing identification of those who spoke,’ Bowcott wrote. ‘Inspired by the #MeToo movement that emerged following allegations of sexual abuse by the US film producer Harvey Weinstein, Behind the Gown aims to highlight harassment at the bar’

Earlier, Elizabeth Prochaska, legal director for the Equality and Human Rights Commission and founder of Behind the Gown, told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme, said that in chambers ‘you have a group of individuals who have agreed to work together but who are not managed by any central structure’.

‘We know from a recent survey that 40% of women [at the bar] complained that they had been subject to sexual harassment. [But] when people raise their voices about unacceptable behaviour, they are told to keep quiet.’
Elizabeth Prochaska

The Times’ Frances Gibb noted that in the past five years the Bar Standards Board had received only two complaints of sexual harassment or inappropriate behaviour. ‘The sad truth, the barristers Selena Plowden and Kate Brunner, QC, told Counsel magazine, is that “sexual harassment remains a widespread problem at the Bar”,’ she wrote. ‘… Reporting is difficult because of the “close-knit and collegiate character” of the Bar, along with its hierarchical structure and the need for younger barristers to depend on patronage for career progression. Second, as a profession of self-employed practitioners, there are not the normal human resources structures of most workplaces. The problem is not limited to unwarranted behaviour: sexism, more widely, has career implications.’

Meanwhile the Law Society’s Gazette reported that white students applying to study law at the University of Oxford were ‘over three times more likely to be admitted than their black counterparts‘. From 2015 to 2017, 11 (5.7%) of the 194 UK black students applying for law courses were admitted. This compared with 12.7% of black, Asian and minority ethnic applicants overall and 20% of white applicants.

Not a commercial matter
The Legal Aid Agency needed to change the way legal aid was run in housing cases because so many courts across the country are closing, the High Court heard – as reported by the Law Society’s Gazette. ‘The Law Centres Network is hoping that Mrs Justice Andrews DBE will quash the LAA’s tender for new contracts under the housing possession court duty scheme,’ it said.

As the Gazette explained, the Ministry of Justice is consolidating 113 schemes into 47 larger schemes. The ministry also introduced price-competitive tendering, which has led some law centres to battle each other for the new contracts, which come into operation this autumn.

‘It goes to the heart of the mission of law centres to use their legal skills to address underlying problems of poverty and social injustice. This is not a commercial matter,’ said Jason Coppel QC representing the LCN.

Burying bad news
A criminal investigation has been launched into the MoJ after a report was leaked to BuzzFeed News which ‘suggested the department buried damning research into people defending themselves in court’ – as reported by Legal Voice here.

BuzzFeed’s Emily Dugan reported that the decision was taken by the Information Commissioner’s Office following formal complaints from BuzzFeed and others that the government had concealed the existence of a 36-page internal report that contained explosive testimony from senior judges about the impact on the justice system of unrepresented people in crown court.

The Information Commissioner had forced the MoJ to release the report following Freedom of Information requests from BuzzFeed News and others.

London Legal Walk 2018
Some 13,000 people in 750 teams took part on this year’s London Legal Walk on Monday this week.  You can see pictures here.



About Jon Robins

Jon is a journalist and has written about the law and justice for the national papers and specialist press for more than 15 years. Jon is a visiting journalism lecturer at Winchester University, a visiting senior fellow in access to justice at the University of Lincoln and patron of Hackney Community Law Centre. He has won the Bar Council’s legal reporter of the year award twice (2015 and 2005). Jon is editor and co-founder of LegalVoice

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