JusticeWatch: Crunch time for the Bar

Crunch time
Criminal barristers will decide this weekend whether to accept the government’s £15m offer to settle their boycott of new legal aid work; but, the Law Society’s Gazette reported, some solicitors are concerned the money will be ‘recouped from their fees’.

The Criminal Bar Association ballot has opened and a result is expected by Tuesday.

‘If the proposals are rejected it is likely that a policy of ‘no returns’, which has been suspended until 12 June, will immediately take effect, potentially throwing the court system into chaos,’ the Gazette reported.

The CBA has been told that the £15m is new money from the Treasury. ‘However, solicitor Greg Powell, president of the London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association, says “given the historical record we can expect MoJ to recoup any AGFS concession from solicitors”.’

Meanwhile, the Secret Barrister hosted various blogs on his site about the vote (here). ‘If we reject this offer, we will sacrifice the good will and the credibility that we have painstakingly built up, and this valuable opportunity will be lost,’ argued form CBA chair Francis FitzGibbon. ‘Our action has been successful. If we overplay our hand, all progress will be lost.’

‘I hope we are all brave enough to take a stand against a Government determined to see the demise of our criminal justice system,’ wrote another CBA chair Michael Turner QC.

‘We live in a democracy and I nor others, I hope, seek to bully participants in the ballot to vote one way or the other. I can and do only express my personal view and I know that of many others. However if the Yes vote wins, like Brexit, it will be no good saying in a year’s time we wish we had not. The life support machine will have been turned off and there will be no going back.’
Michael Turner QC

Pro bono week to be ditched
National Pro Bono week was ‘meant to be a cuddly, good natured series of events that remind the great, the good and the ordinary punters of the free work UK lawyers offer’, said the Times Brief. However, it reckons that the event might be ‘ditched amid claims that the justice system is in such a parlous state that more robust lobbying is needed’.

‘The annual event was launched in 2001 by Lord Goldsmith, QC, who was attorney-general, and for years it was fronted by Michael Napier, former president of the Law Society of England and Wales. However, Napier stood down in 2015 and organisers are understood to have found it increasingly difficult to promote the event, not least because their core rallying cry — that pro bono was no substitute for legal aid — was starting to sound hollow.’
The Times’ Brief

According to the Brief, potentially more uncomfortable for the organisers was ‘a recognition the week was becoming too inward focused’. ‘In other words, it has turned into a mutual back-slapping exercise, with senior partners at wealthy City of London firms congratulating each other on what a good job they were all making of offering pro bono services, while continuing to see their multimillion pound profits rise.’ Interesting.

It was also reported in the Law Society’s Gazette. It wasn’t entirely clear whether the intention was to make it more hard hitting. ‘Given the success of pro bono week, discussions have been taking place as to whether it is possible to widen its scope to other justice issues such as public legal education and the role of technology,’ a Society spokesperson said. ‘The ongoing conversation about the possibility of rebranding the week involves partner organisations across the legal sector.’

Deploying the purple parachute
The criminal justice system is ‘badly beleaguered’, began an FT editorial today. ‘More crimes are being committed, more people are in prison, there are more violent incidents in jails and more repeat offenders cycle through the system,’ it continued. ‘Legal aid, critical to equality before the law, is increasingly hard to access (harming both defendants and the legal profession) and even after acquittal, legal costs are harder to recover.’

The FT argued that to prevent further damage being done the government needed to increase spending on the court system and on prisons. Morale was so low that more than one-third of criminal barristers were considering leaving the profession, it said (quoting the Bar Council).

Deploying the ‘purple parachute’ (i.e., being promoted to the judiciary) was no longer as attractive as it was.

‘There are eight unfilled vacancies on the High Court benches, and many more at circuit and district levels. Advocates and judges feel increasingly exposed to politicians’ public displeasure and served up as target practice for trolls on social media and the tabloid press. This is because they no longer have a reliable champion in the lord chancellor.’
FT leader

Keeping it in the family
Lady Justice Arden looks likely to be promoted to the Supreme Court as her husband stepped down, according to a diary piece in The Times. Lord Mance has retired as a Supreme Court justice ‘but the gold robes may stay in the family’. ‘His replacement is expected to be a woman, bringing the gender balance in the court to 9-3 in favour of men. The gossip at El Vino is that Dame Mary Arden, aka Lady Mance, will take her husband’s place.’ Apparently, Lady Hale, president of the Supreme Court, ‘gave a wink to this yesterday, remarking that Arden and Mance are perfectly matched “in every way”’.

The barrister Desmond de Silva has died aged 78. According to the Times’ Brief, the ‘renowned bon viveur and raconteur’ was prosecutor to the special court for Sierra Leone which brought him to international attention. De Silva was ‘large physically but he also had a large character’. It quoted the following tweet.








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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