Unity With Solicitors: Michael Turner QC addresses The Solicitor’s Friendly Society, Criminal Conference
Unity with Solicitors:
Our legal system is made up of a number of parts, each part is in some way dependant on another and in order to function properly each part has to be fully oiled and working efficiently or the running of the whole engine is affected.
Those parts, in no particular order are:
Solicitors and barristers in independent practice.
The Judiciary and their support staff.
The Probation Service.
The Prison Service.
Translation and transcription services.
The investigative authorities in the guise of the police, customs, inland revenue ets.
If any one of those constituent parts is damaged it has a knock on effect on the functioning of the whole machine.
The prison service failure to deliver a defendant in custody to court on time or at all, a translator turning up who neither speaks the language of the defendant or the court. A probation report not being ready etc.
I start with, what will appear to most of you as an obvious proposition to provide the backdrop for why we the Bar have gone so disastrously wrong in terms of our negotiation with Government.
I start with Carter and the introduction of Graduated Fees. The Bar thought at that time they had got a decent deal and they then sat back and watched while our sister profession was forced to sign up to a graduated fee system which failed to provide them with appropriate remuneration for what they did. So what was the consequence ? The consequence was that in order to survive the solicitors’ profession had to take a slice of the advocacy cake and that they effectively did. It ushered in the HCA, it removed the solicitor support staff from the Crown court, it diminished the solicitor preparation of the case, it put the photocopying costs of the brief onto chambers. The result of all that together with an almost yearly assault on the level of fees has seen the number of available pupillages diminish to less than 350, with now less than 60 tenancies available for a pool of 1700 students who emerge from Bar school every year and have five years to complete their training. In percentage terms that means only 20% of those emerging from Bar school will ever get an opportunity to complete their training and only 3.5% will ever make it into practice. The effect of that on the diversity of the Bar has already been devastating.
And so what is the stage we have reached now. The Bar has accepted a deal which effectively pushes the 6.5% cut to AGFS into the long grass, with a few add on promises to look at VHCC and cracked trial fees in the future, through the eyes of The Jeffery Review and the Levison Enquiry. Meanwhile, QASA is very nearly upon us, and that provides the answer for why Grayling was happy to give away his 6.5%. The BSB has steadfastly refused to remove silks from Grade 4 of QASA, the inevitable consequence of this is that before long silks and leading juniors will be on the same fee, an cut far in excess of 6.5% right there. But there is a bigger knock on effect than that, with silks and leading juniors feeding from the same trough, it is inevitable that the leading juniors will seek work at level 3 and so on down the scale, pushing the juniors out at the bottom.
Meanwhile, the most effective protest, in industrial terms the Bar has ever had, the non returns policy, has been brought to an abrupt halt, with a tape effectively put across our months, leaving our sister profession to fend for themselves facing the introduction of no more that 500 duty contracts country wide. This is PCT in by a different route. What happens when this comes about, is the Bar going to be better off ? of course not. The 500 providers will take the junior Bar in house, self- employed, charging them 20% of their fees or more for administration.
The problem is that the Bar does not look any further than its own wage packet. It does not look at the knock on effect of changes to others. If we care about access to justice and the proper administration of justice we have to support the fight of all sectors within our profession. The next problem we have is that we are represented by a least 7 negotiating bodies, only one of them the CBA being properly accountable to an electorate, our sister profession has 3, the Law Society as with the Bar Council being elected by an in house coterie. If we are ever going to be effective in negotiating with Government we have to have a single, democratically elected negotiating body and that body must negotiate jointly with if not represent our sister profession.
We will only save our own profession, if we take an active interest is saving all other sectors within the judicial system and look far enough ahead to understand how the entire structure is effected by a diminution of one it’s constituent parts.
The Jeffrey review has been as could have been anticipated a massive disappointment effectively giving the green light to a fused profession. Rebecca Brooks has given us an insight into how Governments use so called independent reviews to manipulate the process. It was Tony Blair who advised her that she could make all her problems disappear with a Hutton type inquiry. The certainty with which Tony Blair spoke should tell you all you need to know not only that the Hutton inquiry was a sham but how our politicians use such inquiries to hide the truth and achieve their desired results.
You all must know by now that this Government has no interest in protecting the public purse its only interest is line the pockets of those in power and their friends. You need look no further than recent give away of Royal Mail and the vast profits made by all involved, including incredibly the Governments so called independent advisers who pretend their was no conflict in them setting the share price and being given preferential share holder status resulting in them receiving £1.5m for their advice and making a tidy £8.5 m profit in selling their shares the day after the shares were floated.
Those on the so called left of the Bar have always avoided involving themselves in Bar politics preferring to snipe from the sidelines on Twitter and face book. I hope that I demonstrated during my tenure of the CBA what can be achieved if we get involved. If you are serious about wishing to save our professions you must rise up and take control of our negotiating bodies and not leave its running to others of whom you do not approve.