JusticeWatch: Beware the vulture solicitors

Vulture solicitors
The Secret Barrister was interviewed on the Justice Gap (here). Who has been the worst Lord Chancellor, and what was their worst policy, he/ she was asked. ‘Chris Grayling,’ was the unsurprising response. ‘He not only offered up the justice system for brutal cuts, in clear breach of his oath of office, but did so with a cartoon bad-guy relish,’ SB said.

As for his worst policy, it was ‘difficult to alight on just one’, the anonymous barrister said. ‘The fact that nearly every single decision he took has since been reversed by his successors perhaps says more than anything, but forced to pick, I would say that the state of our prisons is his ugliest legacy.’

SB also explained what he meant by ‘vulture solicitors’.

“Vulture solicitors” are not a common breed, but they do exist. They operate by, in a nutshell, poaching clients from more reputable firms (sometimes using outright bribes to the client or their family), and, once instructed, pocketing the fee paid by the Legal Aid Agency and doing minimal to no work on the case. They usually prosper for two reasons: first, some of them (such as the firm I refer to in my book) instruct diligent barristers, who will go the extra hundred miles by doing the litigator’s function for them and masking their ineffectiveness. Second, quite often their clients don’t realise how bad their instructed representatives are. They fall for the patter and assume that their brief is as good as his word. Any problems will be blamed on the barrister, or the CPS, or the court, or the jury, or the judge.
Secret Barrister

Vested interests
‘The criminal bar is right about legal aid rates,’ wrote the Tory peer Daniel Finkelstein for his column in the Times. ‘Solicitors and barristers are often paid so little for cases that they end up working for less than the minimum wage. This isn’t a bit of vested interest rhetoric,’ he continued. ‘It’s simple maths and it is certainly true. Indeed on numerous occasions, by the time they have paid out for travel, office and administrative costs, they end up actually paying to do their job.’

If criminal barristers and solicitors are paid such risible rates, the best will find more lucrative legal work and the rest will not give to cases the time they require. This is already happening. Innocent people will be convicted. Victims will not get justice. And what could be more fundamental than that? To fail to support the administration of justice properly is to undermine a critical part of what it means to be British.
Daniel Finkelstein

The peer reflected on the recently announced departure of the DPP. The tenure of Alison Saunders had not been a happy one, he said. ‘The way the CPS has taken to chasing the headlines – holding press conferences to announce decisions on charging famous people, focusing on conviction rates for high-profile crimes rather than on a reputation for justice, bringing weak cases to court to avoid criticism for failing to act, passive-aggressive statements implying guilt when its prosecutions fail – has rightly been the subject of much criticism.’

The former chief prosecutor Nazir Afzal has urged Saunders to be honest about the pressure that the CPS was under, reported in the Law Society’s Gazette (here). ‘They have an annual staff survey and morale is very poor,’ Nazir Afzal told a criminal justice event in London this week. ‘What I think the staff would want is to tell the truth. We would rather you say, when the disclosures arose and continue to arise, “We can’t do it with our current capacity, we can’t do it with our current capability, we can’t do it with the lack of supervision, the lack of experience, we can’t do it in our current budget.” Certainly you’ll get all your staff behind you, 5,000 more ambassadors speaking up, whether it’s on Twitter secretly or otherwise.’

I strongly support @TheCriminalBar in their action but:
By demonstrating in wigs & gowns & use legal language they perpetuate “them & us” & will struggle to get public support

Remind us all that it’s our human rights at stake, that most vulnerable are suffering. Let victims lead

— nazir afzal (@nazirafzal) April 12, 2018

Immigration appeals
Nearly half of decisions that go to appeal in England and Wales are overturned suggesting the system was ‘seriously flawed’, the Law Society said – as reported by the BBC. ‘Almost 50% of UK immigration and asylum appeals are upheld – clear evidence of serious flaws in the way visa and asylum applications are being dealt with,’ said the Law Society’s president Joe Egan. ‘We know there is good practice in the Home Office and officials who clearly want to make a difference, but each error or delay may – and often does – have a devastating effect on someone’s life.’

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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