JusticeWatch: Time, gentlemen, please

Time for a change
‘Time, gentlemen, please,’ was the headline of a Guardian leader on judicial diversity (or the lack thereof) in the Supreme Court. Its 12 members are all white and all but one is a man. It quoted JUSTICE which called progress on the issue ‘stagnant’. ‘In a report last week, it argued for targets and new talent pools to recruit the best judges and match them to court needs, as well as proper career structures and talent management,’ the paper said.

‘This kind of change will be anathema to the self-regulating legal profession. But if in 2017, when Britain has a female prime minister and Scotland a female first minister, and when until recently Northern Ireland had a female first minister, the courts still cannot find a woman for either president or lord chief justice, then surely change will have to come.’

Minimum wage law
‘I think anyone who wants to pursue a career in legal aid now needs to go in with their eyes open,’ Mary-Rachel McCabe told Chambers Student in an article called Becoming a legal aid Lawyer. ‘You would be a fool to think you’ll end up very wealthy, but at the same time you can make a living as a legal aid lawyer.’

The publication spoke to the chairman of the Criminal Bar Association, Francis FitzGibbon QC (called 1986), and ‘baby barrister’ and LV contributor Mary-Rachel McCabe (called 2015) to find out about ‘the state of legal aid today’. Both lawyers are at Doughty Street.

‘Criminal law has never been an area of the profession to enter with the ambition of becoming a millionaire,’ FitzGibbon reckoned. ‘But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to make a living – even a good living – as a criminal lawyer.’

The article cited a 2015 report by the Bar Council which reckoned that legal aid barristers ‘earn on average £28,000 a year (after tax and chambers rent), with junior barristers earning around minimum wage’.

The article continued:

‘You can get an idea of what a baby barrister at a given chambers may earn from what pupils receive: the value of the pupillage award plus guaranteed earnings at criminal sets 2 Bedford Row and 9-12 Bell Yard are £20,000 and £24,000 respectively. Doughty Street – which does a mix of work – offers £40,000, and McCabe confirms that those are roughly the net earnings a barrister in her position can expect to make. Many earn less – McCabe says she’s anecdotally aware of some baby juniors earning under £20,000, and close to minimum wage.’

But McCabe noted: ‘Working as a legal aid lawyer is an absolute privilege.’

Election Blues
‘Of course, politicians of all political persuasions know better than most the true impact of the legal aid cuts,’ I wrote for the New Law Journal in an article about the June 8 election. ‘Many constituents, who might have otherwise found help under the legal aid scheme, end up in their surgeries. ‘

I referenced a new report by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Pro Bono – as reported on LegalVoice here. The study drew on observations of 325 constituents’ appointments at MPs’ surgeries between October and November last year. It found that almost nine out of 10 of appointments (89%) related to issues of legal concern including housing (37%), immigration (23%) and welfare benefits (13%).

‘In a few situations MPs actually drew on their own budgets to pay for constituents to receive legal advice in the absence of legal aid and others provided basic legal and sometimes inaccurate help,’ the article said. ‘One MP advised incorrectly that autism was not a disability. The report provides a timely reminder should it be needed that the problems of our failing system of publicly funded law often find their way to MPs.’

The Young Legal Aid Lawyers are running a panel debate at 6:30pm on Wednesday next week at Garden Court Chambers. Book here.

The panel includes:

  • Mark Trafford QC, Society of Conservative Lawyers
  • Catherine Atkinson, Society of Labour Lawyers
  • Alistair Webster QC, Liberal Democrat Lawyers Association
  • Charley Pattison, Green Party Justice Spokesperson

Ditch or reduce tribunal fees
Only one in five businesses reckoned that employment tribunal claims had decreased since the government introduced controversial fees, according to a study jointly commissioned by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development and the London law firm Lewis Silkin – as reported in the Times brief daily newsletter. Only a handful of businesses (3%) reported an increase in tribunal claims. ‘About a third of employers said they wanted to retain the fees, but a significant minority of 15% said they should be abolished, while another 11% said they should be substantially reduced,’ the article continued. ‘Nearly 20% of businesses suggested a single £50 fee for all claims.’

Cautiously optimistic
Lawyers acting for the families of victims of the 1874 Birmingham pub bombings say they have finally been offered legal aid, reported the BBC.

A spokesman for KRW Law, which is representing the eight families, said: ‘[We] have been offered a contract to continue to represent our client and that this is in the best interests of the effective administration of justice. Financial eligibility limits for legal aid have been waived in this exceptional application.’

It added they hoped to represent the families at the next hearing later this month and were ‘cautiously optimistic’ they could move forward.



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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