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.