Fifteenth Letter to the Lord Chancellor

The Intrigant. Hits the nail on the head yet again. Such a pity that Grayling clearly does not do Irony.


Fifteenth Letter to the Lord Chancellor,

Secretary of State for Justice,

Mr Chris Grayling,

25th April 2014,

Dear Lord Chancellor,

I read your article published in The Daily Telegraph on 20th April 2014 when you glowingly stated “We are lucky and privileged that we have one of the finest legal systems in the world.” Well, it is true that you inherited one. Let’s have a look at what the coalition Government has done with it.

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Saving Justice…

“What we, and our colleagues at the bar do is done not for the money, not for the glamour and certainly not for the job security. We do it because our clients can’t, we do it because justice is not just a word or a concept but a real and tangible thing.”


The campaign agaisnt the Mininstry of Justice plan to Transform Legal Aid was from the outset opposed by the profession.

They above all understood what there was to lose if the proposals went through as set out in the consultation. 

Almost as soon as the consultation was published the movement against it started.  There have been meetings, strikes, marches, an online petition, TV and press interviews and in this increasingly digital age, a concerted campaign on Twitter and by bloggers.

For me, as with so many of my colleagues being a criminal defence solicitor is not so much a job but a way of life.   Countless bank holidays, birthdays, Christmases and days off have been spent looking at the dull,  institutionalised paint scheme of a police custody block rather than at home with family and friends.   Evenings have been spent writing up the days cases, planning for the following days…

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Alistair Mitchell Votes Yes

The hardworking foot soldiers of the Junior Bar are the backbone of the profession, in unity with solicitors.
Here is yet another from the Midland Circuit, @carnybull who argues with precision and passion why that Junior Bar should stand up and vote Yes, for the long term future, not the short term fix.


When I moved my family from our council flat in Peckham (in a southern city now known as ‘Moscow-on-Thames’) to the relative housing sanity of the Midlands at the turn of the century, legal aid remuneration was considerably better than it is now. Even basic agency rates in 2000 eclipsed those currently offered by the CPS.

I set up on my own after enduring practice with an HoC who habitually rolled into Court with three pilot cases full of PCMH’s, leaving rent fodder (as I then was) with the odd probation breach. Ten years later, I still enjoy freedom from the rents and constraints of most conventional Chambers. With a common law practice incorporating Public Access work, I readily admit to being not so vulnerable to the effects of the cuts. That does not mean I am in favour of the terrible destruction of the criminal justice system by, of…

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Should we bank or reject the success of our campaign? by Chris Henley

I am reflagging this post, not because I agree with its conclusions, I don’t, but out of immense respect for its author Chris Henley, who has done more than anyone else I know to demonstrate to the MoJ just how wrong they are. His work on the figures has been tireless. Without him we would not be where we are today.


Should we bank or reject the success of our campaign?

A conversation

On Friday I was talking to a colleague about the ballot. He told me he had voted yes but hopes that the no vote wins. Was his behaviour pure cynicism? Let others take the difficult but necessary decision, whilst personally parading a clear conscience? Or was it a case of an angry heart ruling a more thoughtful and honest head? I have concluded it was the latter – we are all probably wrestling with this conflict – but that conversation in part has provoked this piece.

I would like to rewind very briefly.

Advocates fees have been cut relentlessly over the last 3 years, following years of no increases. I won’t repeat all the numbers. When I first read those notorious words ‘spiralled out of control’ in the first TLA paper, I instinctively doubted the truth of those…

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“There is Just Us”

A contribution from the wholly unrelated Sarah Vine @queenofjustice


So, I should start by saying that I would love – really, really love – to be for this deal. I would like nothing more than to believe that it will save the inextricable interests of the Criminal Bar and the Criminal Justice System. Personally (and I appreciate just how far from the moral high ground this sentiment knocks me) I would like nothing more than to be able to characterise this deal as a humiliating climbdown by Grayling, and then spend the remainder of his tenure sending him ever more colourful, weekly reminders of his defeat.

Needless to say, I have been disappointed in this wish. I have read every post explaining why people are voting for the deal, and I have read them with as open a mind as I can. It would be simperingly dishonest to suggest that I was ever unsure, but I was most certainly prepared to be persuaded from my initial view, not least because I really wanted to be.

But I can’t get there, because the single most urgent question for us is a practical one, and no-one on the ‘No’ side of the debate has offered any practical solution. The cut to litigation fees of the 20th March was a stab to the femoral artery for most criminal solicitors. So, what will this deal do to stem the bleeding? The inevitable consequences will be twofold and will impact directly and practically on the Bar. First, solicitors will need to find an alternative source of income to recover from the fact that this cut has transformed their already modest profit margin into a loss. Obviously, the first port of call will be AGFS, partially (through referral fees or, as we at the Bar know them, ‘bribes’) or in total. Either way, this is more work that the Bar will no longer be getting. Second, high street solicitors will start folding, at an alarming rate. You think it’s been bad recently? Just wait. Remember how long it took you to establish that relationship with your principal I.S.? Perhaps you are right in the middle of that difficult trust-building exercise. Where is your work going to come from when they are out of the picture? Nowhere. You are toast. Your vulnerability is absolute. The power of withdrawing labour, goodwill or anything else will be eviscerated, not least because the unity we have witnessed recently will have been torn, irreparably, to pieces. Accepting the deal is like feeding a starving person, while hoping that someone else will come along and deal with that severed femoral artery.

And what have I heard from the pro-deal campaign on this question? I have heard the following, which I have expressed in terms of ‘us’ (the Bar) and ‘them’ (the solicitors) because that appears to be the preferred language of those who support the deal:
i) They would take the offer if it was made to them.
ii) They have already stabbed us in the back by briefing HCAs.
iii) They will send the work to HCAs anyway (a particular favourite of mine).
iv) They can look after themselves.
v) They can’t look after themselves.
vi) Screw them, they expect us to fight their battles for them.

Assuming that all of the above statements are true (and I’m certainly happy to accept more than one of them), none of them diminishes the imperative to continue the fight, and number iii appears to underline it, although the author would probably never acknowledge that fact. Curiously, those who seek to separate the interests of the Bar from those of solicitors for the purposes of persuading people to accept this deal render the Bar a hostage to fortune, leaving us all with crossed fingers that solicitors will look after themselves and thereby save our source of work.

This division did not seem to arise when we were, almost without exception, prepared to man the barricades over the introduction of PCT, although there is no real distinction between PCT and the current ‘transformation’. The net effect of dual contracts will be precisely the same as PCT. How many of us, when drafting our responses to the consultation thought to ourselves, “Well, I’ll be prepared to down tools over these proposed cuts to advocacy fees, but if the Minister stays his hand on these, the solicitors can sort this whole PCT thing out themselves. I mean, it’s a completely separate issue.”?

There is no ‘us’ and ‘them’, for these purposes. This is not an argument about whether we have ‘abandoned’ solicitors, because our opposition has never been predicated on some fluffy idea of togetherness. The need to continue to fight, and to fight in the only way that Grayling understands, is about the absolutely coextensive interests of the Bar, solicitors and – lest we forget – our clients. It is our clients who are the weak and the vulnerable. The Bar is not being expected to look after solicitors who may or may not be able to look after themselves. We are faced with the choice to protect or fail those who emphatically can’t. Where others have borrowed from Michelangelo and the Bible, I must borrow from (and contort unforgivably) Terry Pratchett: In the preservation of justice, there is no ‘us’ and ‘them’. There is just us.

The Merchant of Epsom

This extract is a chilling crystallisations of everything that is wrong with the MoJ psyche.
“In a meeting very recently with a senior civil servant who was in town, ostensibly, to consult with the professions on the quality of ‘an independent advocacy service’ aka the bar, stressing he was not there to talk about cuts, the words ‘does it need to be excellent or can it just be good enough’ were uttered from his mouth in reference to the quality of legal representation. Whether this was an intended statement or a slip, I believe this is the mentality behind the culture at the MOJ which informs its agenda and decisions. In my view, this translates as, “what can we get away with”.

A view from the North

A further guest post on the subject of “the deal”. This one comes from a practitioner on the Northern Circuit of less than three years’ call. Once again posted anonymously.

“Do as adversaries do in law. Strive mightily then eat and drink as friends”. This was the message at the end of Saturday’s Northern Circuit meeting. So I ask myself, what am I striving for.

One of the speakers pointed out the debate was all about three letters. In my view it centres around three Ps: 1) the politics, 2) the practicalities and 3) the principles.

I won’t pretend to know or understand every nuance of the argument.

However, like any good debate there are polar opposites and then everything in between.

The politics doesn’t just mean Grayling’s politics, it includes the politics between solicitors firms, between solicitors and the bar, between chambers and of course, between the professions and…

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Message from the Chairman


It is essential that the ballot should be decided upon the real issues in question and not on speculation. Many people have posted comments stating that they hope Tony & I will continue to lead the CBA if the deal is rejected. Others have gone much further and asserted that, if we were going to resign in the event that the deal is rejected, we would already have said as much. We would not dream of making any such announcement either way.

Nigel Lithman QC

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This is why the Bar, and it’s leadership is so much stronger this week than it has ever been.

 Last week the roof almost came down. There was anger, vitriol and division within the Bar itself, and between the two halves of the profession.

That was SO last week.

The MoJ must have been rubbing its hands with glee. A smile on the Lord Chancellor’s face for the first time in a long time.

But not THIS week.

The CBA Officers, and by association, the Circuit Leaders are to be congratulated, as they already have been, for recognising the need to consult the rank and file membership by way of this blog, thus allowing a proper debate, and most importantly, to hold an open vote.

Let’s not forget how this all started. Although we are not privy to the precise details, they were called in to the MoJ at 24 hour’s notice, and presented not with a deal, but an ultimatum. Many have observed, me included, that it offered an almost overwhelmingly tempting carrot to the Bar, whilst giving nothing to our sister profession, least of all in terms of shelving the Dual Contracts proposal. I and others have demonstrated elsewhere on this blog why that issue is so crucial to the Bar as well as solicitors. If not stopped, it will lead to de facto PCT and the end of independent advocacy in the CJS such as we know it now.

24 hours later, meetings of the CBA Executive and Heads of Chambers on all Circuits were held. With the exception of the Northern Circuit, the “Deal” was ratified. I cannot and will not go into the details of any meetings I have attended, although my opposition to the deal is no secret, as is my reaction to it at the time.

But is the Lord Chancellor rubbing his hands THIS week? My guess is, not rubbing, but wringing.

He thought he had bulldozed through a classic divide and rule manouevre which would have the Bar divided within itself, and solicitors at our throats. For a day or so, it looked as though he was right.

But what happened then? The CBA Officers recognized that a significant number of the membership they represent were opposed. Opposed very strongly to what they had agreed with the MoJ.

What did they do? What any truly democratic organization should do. They called a ballot, allowing a week for debate, and set up the facility for that debate on the CBA blog.

Since then, we have all demonstrated a willingness to enter that debate. It’s what we do.

What we have done, to the MoJ’s eternal shame, is show them that bullies back off when those with courage turn round and face them, not with fists, but with facts.

One of the blog entries on the “No” side, regrettably tried to suggest that if the deal was voted down, this would lead to resignations from those who were instrumental in agreeing it on that fateful Tuesday.

He or she surely could not be more wrong.

We may disagree fundamentally with the “Deal”, and I certainly do, BUT we now have a pretty good idea how it happened. Who is to say, were they in that room on that Tuesday, that they would not have done the same thing? Some of us would hope that we would not have, but negotiating with a ministerial gun pointed at your head is not the easiest of places to be.

Since that day, having realized the strength of feeling across the CJS, our leaders, of whatever group, have taken a step back, and promoted a debate. Both that decision and the contributions to that debate, have immeasurably strengthened us all.

They have shown that we have integrity, and a genuine wish to save the Criminal Justice System of which we are all a part, rather than just grab a deal and run.

As to the suggestion that our leaders would be bound to resign if the “Yes” vote succeeds, that has now been shown to be nonsense.

Leaders only resign if they can be shown to have acted in bad faith. Leaders who make a decision in extremis and with no opportunity to consult their membership, BUT who subsequently do so when asked, have nothing to be ashamed of. On the contrary, they have demonstrated true leadership, by consultation and consensus.

Leaders who act in this way demonstrate strength not weakness. The strength that shows they will not walk away from the troops, but have listened and carried the fight to the opposition, with an even greater strength of purpose than before.

The debate itself has shown that as a profession, we have the integrity and the commitment that others can only dream of.

Whatever the result, we should make it very clear to our leaders that they have our support, boosted immeasurably by the resolution of their membership.

James Vine

BE STRONG – VOTE YES by Jamie Hamilton

Our nine remaining lives. Let’s not lose them!


Why should you? 9 reasons.

Firstly because we are facing another year when fees that are already too low will further reduce in real terms due to the effect of inflation. Meanwhile the passage of the year will allow the MoJ to regroup and improve their resources. In that time we will have the opportunity to influence two reviews. Of course those two reviews had already been announced before the deal. And are not going to be withdrawn if we refuse the deal. Which allows us to influence those reviews regardless of whether we accept the deal or not. Oh and they are not reviews that will have a remit to influence our fees. Achieving this stay in relation to AGFS only achieves half of what we set out to do as represented by our very bottom line.

Secondly refusing the deal will show the MoJ we mean business. It…

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