Why I voted Yes in the Ballot and No to the deal.
The CBA leadership of recent vintage, from Max Hill QC, through Michael Turner QC and now Nigel Lithman QC have done a terrific job in the last few years. They have woken the sleeping giant of the Criminal Bar and given it a voice in the Criminal Justice system. They have of course proposed things such as Grad Fee + that I, as someone who is privileged enough to have 90% of his practice in VHCCs, fundamentally disagree with. But their leadership has been outstanding and proved to us all that we are more than the sum of our parts.
I voted Yes to the question on the ballot.
An 8.75% cuts to Solicitors fees came in on 20th March. Another 8.75% of cuts will come in next year, despite reports to the contrary, whether deliberately misleading or not. If the majority of the CBA membership vote No to the measure and yes to the deal it does not take a genius to see that the one area that Solicitors must look to offset the catastrophic cuts that will have wiped out their very slim profit margins is AGFS and keeping Crown Court briefs in-house. You cannot blame them for that and as small and medium business owners they would be mad not to. As others have said if we vote No on this ballot measure it is a rerun of the Carter reforms, which we know resulted in a loss of work for the Bar to solicitor-advocates and HCAs such that their share of AGFS is now some 30%. Voting No to the ballot question (and yes to the deal) will be the death of the junior bar.
It is really that straightforward.
We have seen unprecedented unity across the CJS to oppose this Government’s barmy approach. We have had success with all the things we as a Criminal Bar have initiated: days of action getting publicity, VHCCs returned (and not taken up by others) and the No Returns policy making Judiciary and MoJ sit up and take notice. Solicitors have supported us with all these. The success of this approach is that having been put on the naughty step by the MoJ for much of the previous year our leaders are now regular guests at Petty France. The MoJ approached us to negotiate last week – not the other way round. The time limited deal offered last week is not, following another meeting Our Leaders were invited to on 3rd April, apparently quite so time limited. I am sure that I do not need to spell out the implications of this to you.
We can and must do more for all CJS professionals.
A No vote in the ballot is to reject the actions of counsel who took the brave decision to return their VHCCs briefs last year when the 30% cuts were confirmed not knowing whether the rest of the Bar would support them. A No vote rejects the part those who returned VHCCs (and those who have had cases contracted since December who have declined to sign) in getting the MoJ to approach the CBA to negotiate.
Forgive me for personalising this but I was one who returned a VHCC and I did so as the sole breadwinner in my household and with two sons under four. Even though VHCCs are 90% of my practice, enough was enough. I have not worked for 4 months but it remains the right decision. There is no commitment by the MoJ to negotiate on VHCCs other than ‘within the existing financial envelope’ ie they have no intention of reversing the cuts with this deal. VHCCs are not, as some have tried to argue, a separate issue. It may have been a quirk of timing that the return of VHCC briefs has spearheaded the CBA campaign to oppose the MoJ’s cuts but spearheaded it has. Operation Cotton, the VHCC I returned, with 5 defendants without counsel and 101,000 pages of served evidence, is due to begin on 28th April.
I do not think it is an accident there have been two meetings with the MoJ in the last eight days.
The return of VHCCs and the days of action have had an impact. The No Returns policy was making huge waves and if re-initiated will keep doing so. Combined with the radical and brave decision by the LCCSA and CLSA to have its members decline to apply for Legal Aid in the Crown Court from 7th April I believe that we will be successful. It may be painful – it has already has been so for VHCC practitioners and the Junior Bar with No Returns. But we have a once in a life time opportunity here to safeguard the system that we have spent our professional lives supporting, Criminal Justice. We must continue to fight the cuts and unite more closely with our Solicitor colleagues.
Solicitors and Barristers cannot be simply replaced by Green Goddesses.
A Yes vote is a vote for 100% of the Criminal Bar and 100% of the Criminal Justice System.
Tim Thomas, 1 Pump Court Chambers, firstname.lastname@example.org, @TimothyThomas79