Author Archives: Greg Foxsmith

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Name, Number and Nationality

This blog has also been published by the JUSTICE GAP here

Excerpts were quoted in a Law Society Gazette article here: https://www.lawgazette.co.uk/law/defendant-nationality-declarations-offensive/5063715.article  (see also the lively comments thread)

A new requirement is in force (with effect from Monday 13th November) that requires every defendant appearing before a Criminal Court to confirm their nationality, or risk a prosecution and imprisonment.

I believe a conviction arising from this provision  can be challenged due to the inherently discriminatory nature of this legislation. I am in contact with other lawyers who are considering strategies to remove this provision, but we need to know how the legislation is being enforced. Have you been involved with or witnessed such a case? Please let me know! We can exchange info to see if there is any uniformity of approach, and evaluate the impact. Email gregfoxsmith@msn.com

The provisions are as follows:-
Section 162 of the Policing and Crime Act 2017 provides as follows:

162.         Requirement to give information in criminal proceedings
In the Courts Act 2003, after section 86 (alteration of place fixed for Crown Court trial) insert—

86A         Requirement to give information in criminal proceedings
(1)          A person who is a defendant in proceedings in a criminal court must provide his or her name, date of birth and nationality if required to do so at any stage of proceedings by the court.

(2)          Criminal Procedure Rules must specify the stages of proceedings at which requirements are to be imposed by virtue of subsection (1) (and may specify other stages of proceedings when such requirements may be imposed).
(3)           A person commits an offence if, without reasonable excuse, the person fails to comply with a requirement imposed by virtue of subsection (1), whether by providing false or incomplete information or by providing no information.
(4)            Information provided by a person in response to a requirement imposed by virtue of subsection (1) is not admissible in evidence in criminal proceedings against that person other than proceedings for an offence under this section.
(5)           A person guilty of an offence under subsection (3) is liable on summary conviction to either or both of the following—
(a)     imprisonment for a term not exceeding 51 weeks (or 6 months if the offence was committed before the commencement of section 281(5) of the Criminal Justice Act 2003), or
(b)     a fine.
(6)          The criminal court before which a person is required to provide his or her name, date of birth and nationality may deal with any suspected offence under subsection (3) at the same time as dealing with the offence for which the person was already before the court.
(7)          In this section a “criminal court” is, when dealing with any criminal cause or matter—
(a)     the Crown Court;
(b)     a magistrates’ court.”

 

In practice, “the Court”  is likely to be the Magistrates Court, at the first appearance in a case. The provision is offensive and objectionable, and straight out of the UKIP dream statute book. Why stop there? Why not require confirmation of ethnicity or of religion? Perhaps instead of requiring a question and answer routine, the Court could just write down the defendant’s skin colour.

It is presumed the legislation is to assist with the speedy deportation of “foreign” criminals. But how to monitor them once identified? Well lock them up obviously – something that is 9 times more likely to happen if the foreign national is non-white, as evidenced in the Lammy report.

But after that?  It is a only a short step from obtaining verification of nationality to requiring the foreign defendant to be tagged , a digital equivalent of being forced to display a star or triangle. The legislation ironically became effective the day after Remembrance Sunday.

Enforcement

How are the provisions to be policed? If a defendant fails to answer, it presumably falls on the Prosecutor to lay a charge, yet the CPS have had no training or guidance in respect of this legislation.

How will the charge be proved? The prosecutor presumably cannot be a witness in their own case. Will the Judge be required to give evidence, or treat it as they would a contempt? (See para 6 above)  Is the defence Advocate professionally embarrassed in the substantive proceedings as well as the nationality offence?

There may well be a temptation for a foreign national appearing in Court to keep their head down and answer “British”, to avoid some unspecified future sanction.

But perversely, as a British born citizen ashamed of this legislation and outraged at it’s purpose, the temptation for me were I appearing as a defendant would be to refuse to answer out of sheer bloody-mindedness (“don’t tell em Pike!”) or to say something flippant (European? Independent republic of ISLINGTON?) That is probably the British in me coming out.

Answering questions in these circumstances (rather than sticking up two fingers)  would feel “un-British” – as alien as compulsory ID cards.

Absurdities

Is it permissible to answer “none” if the defendant is stateless, the refugee without a Nation home?

What of the defendant who answers one nationality, but is believed to be of another (the first limb of the s3 offence?) How is the “true” nationality to be proven?

Is there a defence if the defendant genuinely believes they have acquired British nationality, answers accordingly, but finds out status still undetermined, or is it a strict liability offence?

What is the penalty for the prankster who answers “Vulcan” or “Jedi”?

Do they get a second chance, or like the drink-driver at the police station who doesnt blow into the tube hard enough, is it a one-off opportunity?

Which nationalities are recognised? The 193 currently recognised by the UN, or a broader definition? There are said to be 270 nationalities (and 300 different languages) in London alone.

What of dependent territories, or those are on the verge of becoming sovereign nations? What of autonomous regions of different nations? Can a resident from Barcelona answer “Catalan”?

Are fat-cat tax avoiders to say “British”, or name their off-shore domiciled Nationality?

What of those with joint or dual nationality- do they get to choose?

How about somebody with mental health issues who is unfit to plead-are they also unfit to confirm Nationality?

What about a defendant who is silent throughout the proceedings? Mute by malice, or by visitation of God?

Conclusion

At this post-Brexit time of national discourse leading to discontent, with the issues of prejudice and discrimination in the criminal justice system to the fore after publication of David Lammy’s report, the timing of this rushed and  ill-judged legislation is unfortunate. Nigel Farage may be cheering, I am not.

Challenge to legislation, and appeal for information

Anecdotally I am told that defendants are complying with the legislation and stating their nationality (although often initially answering by ethnicity) and have been unable yet to find a case where somebody has been charged.

I believe the provisions can be challenged due to the inherently discriminatory nature of this legislation. I am in contact with other lawyers who are considering strategies to remove this provision, but we need to know how the legislation is being enforced. have you been involved with or witnessed such a case? Please let me know! We can exchange info to see if there is any uniformity of approach, and evaluate the impact. Email gregfoxsmith@msn.com

 
 

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Book Review: Jeremy Hutchinson’s Case Histories

Title -Jeremy Hutchinson’s Case Histories
Author-Thomas Grant QC
Publisher – Hodder and Stoughton

An earlier version of this review was published in The London Advocate here

As the title suggests , this book summarises some of the many illustrious cases in which Jeremy Hutchinson appeared. It is not a conventional biography, and all the better for it.
Hutchinson was defence counsel of choice in some of the greatest trials in the 1960s and 1970s. His roll-call of cases includes defending both Christine Keeler and Howard Marks, as well as appearing for Penguin Books in the “Lady Chatterly” trial.
He was always well prepared, speaking fearlessly to Judges and clearly to juries.
What is clear is that as much as highly regarded, he was also greatly liked, by colleagues, solicitors and clients alike. He is one of those characters about whom it is hard to find anyone having a bad word to say, and his natural modesty meant he never put pen to paper to set out an auto-biography, despite several invitations to do so.
Thankfully, Thomas Grant QC, who met Hutchinson (now over 100) a few years ago has performed a valuable service in penning this book, telling (thematically rather than chronologically) the stories of some of the best cases from Hutchinson’s career.
Each fascinates, and even those that are already familiar pieces of social history are brought vividly to life. Hutchinson is the “golden thread” that binds together the battles played out in the Old Bailey- defending alleged spies and traitors, peace protesters, art thieves, and battling against reactionary forces- from heavy handed Government to Mary Whitehouse. This is a book that is informative but also a pleasure to read, and should appeal equally to a wide readership, not just (as is often the case in legal biographies) lawyers.
Grant makes the case that Hutchinson represents the finest traditions of the Independent Bar.
He certainly had the right background (son of an eminent QC and Judge, public school education followed by Oxbridge, and an opportunity to be a Judge’s Marshall with a “family friend”). He bought his first home with the proceeds of a Monet painting that he had been gifted. That’s not the start that all of us enjoy.
Hutchinson was nonetheless happy to take on the establishment if that what was justice required, and did so defending without fear or favour.
Hutchinson also had an extraordinary upbringing- the family being connected with the Bloomsbury set. For this reviewer, the introductory chapter that charts the connections with numerous well known luminaries of the era was the least satisfactory. Of more interest are the wonderful portraits in the case histories of some of the legal characters of the day-an array of cantankerous opponents and eccentric Judges.
Reading about the trials is a reminder how much has changed from what was a truly adversarial system to the case managed process of today. Here you will be reminded of the days of contested committals with live witnesses, defences not disclosed until the start of the case, the right to jury challenge, and the absolute right to silence without adverse comment.
In one case, Hutchinson introduces without prior notice a defence witness who would only identify himself as “Agent X”, who purportedly worked for the Mexican Secret Service and gave evidence that the defendant had also done so. No “Notice of Defence Witnesses” required!
The longest case that Hutchinson ever conducted was a multi-handed drug importation which lasted two months. Now similar cases can last much longer, due to the modern tendency to “read” or play long passages of intercept transcripts, and lengthy mobile telephone and cell-site material. But it is not just trial length that has increased- so have the length of sentences, leading to a phenomenal rise in the prison population. Heavy sentencing and overcrowded prisons are matters that Hutchinson deprecates, and in his retirement from the bar he has, amongst many other worthwhile endeavours, supported Penal Reform and campaigned for the abolition of the “dock”.
We need advocates of his calibre and courage just as much today, to challenge the power of the State with it’s increased surveillance powers, and discrimination and prejudice that still exists in the CJS as the Lammy report has revealed.
The book concluded with a postscript from Jeremy Hutchinson himself, then a sprightly almost Centurion. He explains how when called to the bar there was no formal advocacy training, and he learned his trade by countless appearances in the Magistrates Court. This will strike a chord with many solicitor HCAs who trained in the same way, yet are criticised by some at the bar for “lack of training”. He laments Government cuts to Legal Aid, and lambasts a recent incumbent of the office of Lord Chancellor- the odious Chris Grayling. Still forthright, his views remained cogent to the end.
This book is an affectionate tribute to one of the greats of Adversarial Advocacy. Mr Grant clearly grew to like Jeremy Hutchinson very much. After reading this book so will you.

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Freelance Advocacy Services: News and Advocacy Availability

Subscribe to the Friday Freelancer! A monthly email bulletin. Email gregfoxsmith@msn.com to be added to the distribution list.
Content is updated regularly here (as is availability on www.freelanceadvocacyservices.uk )

Greg Foxsmith COURT AVAILABILITY  good availability for this month- see www.freelanceadvocacyservices.uk)Book via gregfoxsmith@msn.com  

NEWS

Disclosure Disaster The trial of a criminology student accused of rape collapsed yesterday when it was revealed that police had failed to reveal evidence proving his innocence. Yesterday the trial judge demanded a review of disclosure of evidence by the police and warned of the risks of a “serious miscarriages of justice” after hearing that prosecutors were not handing material to defence lawyers to save costs. Report here

Happy Christmas! Great to see so many criiminal lawyers wearing Christmas jumpers today for #ChristmasJumperDay!  I was glad to have an opportunity to joint the GTS Hackney Office for Christmas drinks-thanks guys! All freelance solicitors are grateful to be included in Christmas parties of the firms they work for.

LCCSA response to proposed PACE changes here –very worrying proposals to interview suspects on BWV without access to legal advice

It’s all white at the bar https://www.thetimesbrief.co.uk/users/39175-the-brief-team/posts/28590-white-students-dominate-bar-pupillage-intake

Specialist prosecutors should be appointed to take charging decisions in cases of mentally ill suspects, a campaign group has said as it accused the criminal justice system of “letting down” the vulnerable.

Justice, the independent law reform group, said in a report published this morning that from first contact with the police through to sentencing, “there remain fundamental problems with the English justice system’s response to mental health”.

Law Society JR challenge to MoJ on PPE cut. The Law Society said that “concerns over the sustainability of the fragile criminal legal aid sector in England and Wales” had forced it to go to court for a judicial review of the Ministry of Justice’s proposals.

Defendants having to identify their nationality in court -an appeal for information. (See blog Name Number and Nationality on the provisions and their inherent absurdities)  I believe these provisions can be challenged due to the inherently discriminatory nature of this legislation. I am in contact with other lawyers who are considering strategies to remove this provision, but we need to know how the legislation is being enforced. Have you been involved with or witnessed such a case? Please let me know! We can exchange info to see if there is any uniformity of approach, and evaluate the impact. Email gregfoxsmith@msn.com  Thank you

More info on the Law Society Gazette website-with a lively comments thread! https://www.lawgazette.co.uk/law/defendant-nationality-declarations-offensive/5063715.article

Police reckon 10,000 cases affected by ‘data manipulation’ in biggest forensics scandal in years. Read more in the Justice Gap here 

LCCSA – I attended the AGM/Dinner last month, my last as a Committee member.  I presented the Accounts- and summarised the year here. A report of the AGM including details of the new committee is here

RIP Jeremy Hutchinson. My book review here

The Youth Justice Legal Centre  provides training to lawyers who act for children in criminal proceedings. The centre has already trained more than 50 lawyers and aims to instruct enough so that every child involved with the criminal justice system has access to a trained legal adviser. Check out their website and sign up for updates.

 Public watchdog says Aylesbury prison is in trouble, with violence, 500 incidents of self-harm, and makes recommendations for action by Ministers. It is in the Secretary of State’s constituency. IMB Report here https://s3-eu-west-2.amazonaws.com/imb-prod-storage-1ocod6bqky0vo/uploads/2017/11/Aylesbury-2016-17-2.pdf

Shocking state of young offender institutions revealed yet another shocking report, detail here

MOJ Budget cuts confirmed to be 40% by 2020. See Gazette here for detail

Other Freelance Advocate support:-

Agency cover at Highbury Theresa Hendrickx 07949243949

Central Booking http://www.centralbookingadvocates.com/

Bike In September I cycled from London to Paris. Please sponsor me here!

Music My Christmas playlist here 🎅🏻

Lawyer of the month-November -Diana Payne

Diana is a partner at Blackfords solicitors. She is also training officer for the LCCSA, responsible for delivering a wide range of talks, lectures and events for members. Her report for the last year as delivered at the AGM can be seen here.

Special thanks this week to Rebecca Cook, and Alecsandra Rees 👍

Congratulations to the new partners and promotions in the expanding Criminal team at HJA   (great Party BTW ! 👍)

Lawyer of the Month for October was Charlotte Watts. Charlotte was the inspiration for and organiser of the event “the Lammy Review- a conversation”.  An outstanding advocate and tenacious fighter for justice, Charlotte is counsel at 2 Hare Court.

A list of lawyers of the Year for 2016 is here, and here is a 2015 list,

RIP Aidan McCroary. Very sad to hear that Freelance solicitor Aidan passed away at the weekend. Rest in peace.

No fireworks in Islington

Remember, remember, the 5th of November,

Labour losing the plot.

Prior to the 2006 local elections, a promise was made by Islington Labour to restore the bonfire night firework display to Highbury Fields. Councillor Convery made the pledge, which was an unqualified promise, not hedged with “subject to finances”.
Post election, no fireworks.
Like fellow 2006 election promise-breaker Lib Dem Nick Clegg and his infamous reneging of the tuition fee pledge, it later turns out that this, if not a blatant lie, was more of a wish than a promise.

The Islington Gazette reported the original broken pledge back in 2010 here
Each subsequent year the promise remains unfulfilled.
And alas, in Islington there are no fireworks once again this year, just the traditional annual disappointment of another broken promise.
So the  whizz-bang election pledges by Islington Labour turned out to be no more than a damp squib, and a bonfire of the vanities.
They say it can’t be done for budgetary reasons, ignoring the fact that a properly organised display is self-financing. Other London Labour Boroughs  host successful events, and unsurprisingly the Ally Pally event in neighbouring Haringey is once again sold out.

A Playlist of songs about Islington’s firework flop here

Updated article in Gazette here

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Speech at CLFS Autumn Confrence, London, 2017

I was invited (jointly with Greg Powell) to speak at this CLFS conference in the final speaker slot, on the topic of “unity, and changes ahead”

Greg Powell spoke first, lambasting the MoJ for their announcement earlier in the week that following their LGFS consultation (and despite 97% opposition) they would cap payment at 6k pages of PPE. (For non criminal legal aid lawyers, this basically is yet another cut in legal aid payments) 

The text of my speech is below:

I am now all that stands between you and the Friday evening drink, and all that stands between you and the weekend. I therefore hope to be brief.
Although probably not as much as you hope that I will be brief.

Anyway, once again I have been asked to speak on unity in the profession. This year, clearly not to be trusted I am sharing with Greg Powell,  a hard act to follow.
In the programme we are billed as the “two Gregs” – like the three amigos but less fun and without the sombreros.
Or perhaps when you think of “Greggs” plural  you have an image of a couple of sausage rolls.

I am no more qualified than anyone else to speak on the topic of unity.
But I suppose being involved in a rep body- in my case the LCCSA-has given me some small insight into where we, as a profession, have successfully united, and where we have not, as well as whether it matters.

I am also going to touch on breakfast Courts and the 14 hour rule for duty solicitors in the current LAA contract.
And there will be a thinly veiled appeal to join and support the LCCSA.
And in case none of that appeals I will have a go at Grayling.

Unity

Can we achieve it even between ourselves as criminal lawyers?
It’s a good topic because we have much that divides us, not least healthy competition, but it seems to me that in recent years there has been an increase in shabby gamesmanship by unscrupulous client-chasers posturing as reputable lawyers but lacking integrity.

A 1/4 century or so ago, when I was first attending courts and police stations, (back in the days when we were paid travel, waiting and a London allowance) other solicitor firms were rivals, but also friends and colleagues.
people I could approach for advice, and who would gladly provide it.
Nobody interfered with client choice or objected to a LA transfer.

Now you can go to some Courts (one in North London comes to mind) and find an army of solicitors from a rival firm armed with clipboards hovering by the door of the court or by the notice-board with list of cases, tapping up all the clients and diverting first appearances from the duty.
These are rivals but neither friends or colleagues.They are touts.

These sharp practices, whilst deplorable, probably arise from the ceaseless cuts which lead to a race to the bottom, and the less scrupulous fighting like rats in a  barrel.
But ignoring that debased minority, criminal lawyers nonetheless have much in common.
The work we do, undervalued and underfunded though it is, is not merely a job, it is a profession and a vocation.
We have, I think, uniting us, an overarching interest in justice.

Of course we all have a degree of self interest, and we all would like to be well paid.
Or at least properly paid
Or sometimes even paid at all

So we are united in wanting better, and fairer, rates of pay.

We are also, I imagine,  united in wanting, amongst other things:-

-Properly equipped courts with an adequate advocates room, and maybe even a cafe

-List officers that take into account advocates availability

-video-links that work,

-prisoners to arrive on time,

-competent interpreters to be booked,

-timely and adequate disclosure

and an opportunity to properly assess the evidence, give proper advice, and where appropriate prepare properly for trial including the right to challenge prosecution evidence and put forward a defence case.

We want a level playing field, we want a fair hearing.

But we also have different interests.
Big firms vs small, legal aid v private, generalist v specialist, own client vs duty, etc.

And then within law firms there are divergent interests, typically between employers (partners or co directors, firm owners) and salaried staff, or “overheads” as the former sometimes think of them.
If only there were an organisation that strives to represent all those interests, not just one vested interest group….

So what is left that may unite us?
A desire for better rates of pay
A desire that the Government may just leave us alone for a while
A wish that the LAA would go and f, f, f, fade away

Can we unite around our common interests?

How do we unite?

Firstly you need strong and accountable representative organisations.
We don’t have a trades union.
We have the Law Society, but….

Here in London you have the LCCSA .

We respond to the consultations.
We lobby.
And we reluctantly became an effective campaigning organisation

How do the LCCSA and other representative bodies work together?

Easy enough when campaigning against cuts or a Lord Chancellor so universally hated that all are joined in opposition

Remember Grayling?  Whatever happened to him?
Grayling as Transport secretary
In October Grayling attending the launch of the new hybrid train between Bristol and London. A service that not only arrived into Paddington 45 minutes late after the train broke down while switching from diesel to electricity, but whose air conditioning had failed, drenching dozens of passengers with water.
As for Brexit, he says that everything will be fine because “British farmers will grow more”, a comment so facile it is beautifully eviscerated in this must-read demolition of Grayling’s ignorance  which describes him as “the wilfully ignorant, insouciantly callous former Justice Secretary who took a sledgehammer to the legal aid and prison systems” (independent)
He also appeared before the Transport Select Committee, in a shambolic performance that was beautifully captured in this sketch  (worth reading in full) which concludes with “while there was a refreshing honesty to his incompetence, there really didn’t seem to be any part of his brief that Grayling fully grasped. He was dangerously deluded about what had gone on on his watch and complacent about the here and now

After CG , we had Gove, we liked him, but he didn’t last.

He did give us the Bell Committee- anyone remember that?
Gary Bell QC, the HCA hating barrister, who was to report on the CJS
His self appointed committee appears to have died a natural death
That has certainly helped unity 🙂

A year ago we had Liz Truss, lover of cheese and pork markets, who failed to stand up for the judiciary when they were attacked by the tabloids.

Now we have Lidington, beneath the radar. Not very high profile – perhaps this week’s announcement mean he is a silent assassin.
Anyway, irrespective of which Lord Chancellor we have, there are always

topics we can unite on by opposing:-
1 The announcement this week of the LGFS “restructure” (cut) which 97% of those consulted were against. Greg Powell has dealt with the absurdity of the MOJ response and this uneccessary cut. LCCSA Statement here

The Criminal Bar Association have put out a statement which “reminds the legal community and the MOJ that the system is at breaking point. There should be investment in Criminal legal aid, not cuts or reductions of any kind. We are unified with our solicitor colleagues in our aim to ensure that legal aid survives, and thrives.”
So that is unity with our friends at the bar and we thank them for it.

2 Flexible Operating Hours

The proposal came from nowhere, no consultation.
Promised it would have robust evaluation.
That evaluation went to Tender, they got that wrong, so proposals were deferred or, we hoped, died, but now they have revived the corpse.
The Breakfast court at HCMC seems to have gone, but they will be listing CPS bail trials from 5.30 pm to 8:30 pm Mon-Thursday.

Perhaps they don’t realise that Court sometimes sits that late already, with trials listed from 2-4pm. With these plans you could be there to midnight,   So be ready to resist when handing in your PET forms…
Blackfriars will piloting 2 four-hour CC sessions and a half CC /half MC session (as before.)
Make sure the obvious objections are made at each stage, and this pilot will inevitably show the failings inherent in this half baked scheme.
3.  14 hours term in the new duty contracts 

The duty solicitor rotas were bloated
There was a desire to remove ghosts
But what are ghosts?
We thought they were the ones on the rota who were dead retired or abroad
I’m which case a requirement to do a min amount of ps work or duty compliance would suffice
So why 14 hours p/w?!

Two examples of why this is crazy:-

1 HCAs for example do considerably more than 14 hours per week, the vast majority of which is Crown Court preparation or advocacy paid on a legal aid account under the AF1.

This is not “Contract Work” and does not therefore count. Sitting behind that advocate unpaid while they undertook the advocacy on a case would count.
The absurdity of this situation is obvious.

Equally obvious is that neither of them is remotely ghost-like. I can see no logical reason why “Contract Work” is the defining element for hours worked for the firm.
Nobody is begging to be woken up at 4am to undertake duty work but it provides clients with good quality legal advice to have people like this on the rota – this is after all the point of the duty solicitor scheme.

I cannot see the justification for disallowing this work from the 14 hours. It goes way beyond the purpose of the rule and is completely unacceptable to anyone with an ounce of common sense.

2.       Child care

A DS (over 20 years call) is also a consultant and has child care responsibilities for two young but school age children. Duty work suits her well as she knows in advance when she has to be available for work and she undertakes her duty work.
She undertakes more than 14 hours a week if you do not count the weeks that she has had to be unavailable for work due to child care responsibilities, namely the school holidays. The period of review includes both Easter and the summer holidays when she was unavailable for any work at all.

When you add in those 0 hour weeks, she falls below the 14 hours and likely to be removed. Madness. And discriminatory.

It also begs the question as to how the 14 hours is calculated. Is it 14 x 52 per year – no one works 52 weeks a year – apart from probably Greg Powell. So is it 14 x 48 (4 weeks holiday) or 14 x 46 (6 weeks civil service holiday allowance)? In which case it averages over a year at less than 14 hours a week?

How did we get into this mess?
It was an LAA idea, but when canvassing representative bodies only the LCCSA objected.

For others, ghosts were not just those on the rota who never went to PS or court or undertook their duties, ghosts also included freelancers. So they supported, and still do, a requirement that solicitors work 14 hours a week and just for one firm.

The LCCSA position on 14 hours is consistent:-

In The past we have been driven into a contracting supplier base and pessimism by relentless cuts , unnecessary bureaucracy , and too often by overly hostile stances by assessors , auditors and managers .
The collapse of the scheme to contract duties passed without apology .
The LCCSA argued in relation to rules for Duty Solicitors for simplicity and an acceptable minimum standard , namely a mix of actual duties completed in court and police stations with some minimum number of overall attendances.
We argued against any hours requirement as unnecessary , bureaucratic and against the interests of working parents and especially that it offended the principles of simplicity and ease of checking .

The Present
Predictably “the Hours” will now consume much energy .All its limitations and difficulties are thrown into sharp relief as reports of overzealous interventions by account managers filter through while confusion over aspects of the schemes detail spreads .
As a membership organisation we have always fought to protect individual ownership of scheme membership .
Similarly we have favoured the widest interpretation of qualifying work and terms that allow our diverse membership to properly contribute through duty solicitor work whilst maintaining a wide variety of working lives .
The future
We will be informed by our members response .Some argue that the future should involve consolidation of the supplier Base and the concentration of ownership of duties in the hands of fewer powerful owners .This would devalue the economic positions of members of the LCCSA . It is not a position we will adopt. It is sometimes disguised as concern for the future stability of supply when it really reflects a desire to gain economic advantage.
What we always need is unity around the political issue which has been the Government desire to restrict scope and impose austerity. The hours issue is a battle for a settlement in the widest interests of members but the great issues are restoring value and scope

Well we are where we are.
What do we do about it?
Can we bring a JR ?
Well Legal Action being a last resort, we are first making representations to the LAA to soften the harsh interpretation.

We want HCA Advocacy to Count, as well as file reviews and supervision. Also:-
-Pro-rata reduction for part time workers, and for absence through illness,
-VHCC work to Count
-Hours to count whichever firm or office carried out for

Who makes these reps?
The Law Society leads.
They have a group called the ”Practitioner Group”
That includes elected bodies such as the LCCSA and CLSA
Also it includes the “Big Firms Group”

Who are the BFG ?

Nobody really knows
They don’t have a constitution
Or a website
If they have aims they are not made public
If they have a committee, we don’t know who is on it , how they were elected or even if they were elected.
They are not accountable.
We know they supported breaking the link between indiv Duty sols and their slots, putting duties in the name of the firms to distribute as they wish.

And their name suggests they focus on the interests of Big Firms, or more accurately over those that own and run them (their employee base are not consulted and do not participate)

And yet they- this self appointed group- sit at the table seeking to influence the decision makers. The two-tier contracting proposals arose from their wish to restrict the supplier base.
It is a matter of regret, that we have allowed this body to fracture Big Firms from small.
Perhaps there should also be a “Small  Firms Group”  and a “medium Firms Group”. There was a freelancers group, but the BFG and CLSA objected to them participating at meetings of the Practitioner Group.

Or perhaps we could just tell TLS and the MoJ to ignore the BFG, and we could all unite behind an organisation that represents big firms and small, owners, the employed and the self employed.

The LCCSA is that organisation.

The LCCSA have the following objectives,

The objects of the London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association are to:
▪ Encourage and maintain the highest standards of advocacy and practice in the Criminal Courts in and around London;
▪ To participate in discussions on developments in the criminal process;
▪ To represent and further the interests of the Members on any matters which may affect Solicitors who practise in the Criminal Courts; and
▪ To improve, develop and maintain the education and knowledge of those actively concerned with the Criminal Courts, including those who are in the course of their training.

So to conclude:-
The LCCSA had virtually -and by necessity- re-invented ourselves as a campaigning organisation.
We are if necessary prepared to fight again against cuts and to protect the interests of all who practice in criminal law.

Are you up for that fight?
Any representative bodies is only as strong as our membership.
We can only campaign, take legal action, put on events if our membership is strong, and we are funded by our membership fees.
If you join, or retain a membership, we are stronger.
My plea to you is, if you are not already signed up, is to join your representative body the LCCSA.
If you are a member already-thank you- and remember membership renewals are due on 1st November
Please come to our AGM Dinner on November 13th
Please consider joining the committee.

Thank you for your support.
We don’t want to do this without you, and tbh we can’t do it without you.
Join up, and we are united together.
United we stand, divided we fall.
That is the true message of Unity.

And now, time to unite and join friends and colleagues in the pub.
I hope you will raise a glass to justice, celebrate solidarity, drink to the health of legal aid, and share a toast -to Unity.

Cheers

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Lammy Review-We must NOT be silent

Colour-blind justice? – the long-awaited review by David Lammy MP on race and the criminal justice system released in September concluded that the system discriminates against black, Asian and minority ethnic people.

We already knew that. The disproportionality in outcome between different ethnic groups has been known of and remarked on for as long as I can remember. Nothing meaningful has been done.

Young black people are nine times more likely to be locked up in England and Wales than their white peers, The report delivers some recommendations on how to fix this, some better than others. (See this Summary in the Law Soc Gazette)

The report also noted  that because black defendants distrust the system, they tend to plead not guilty in court – disqualifying themselves from the reduced sentences that can come with an early guilty plea. Lammy calls for deferred prosecutions where suspects can have charges dropped by completing rehabilitation; basing criminal responsibility on a suspect’s maturity rather than age; and wiping the slate clean earlier for young offenders who rehabilitate, so they can get on with finding employment. Lammy, writing in the Guardian, calls for urgent action to implement his recommendations which require political support and legislative action.

But what can lawyers do within the system to combat the ongoing systemic imbalance? The discrimination which underlies these stark statistics is institutionalised, but covert, and as it is never openly expressed remains unchallenged.
We all know what the problem is, but what  are we going to do about it?

Usually, the answer do the question “what do we do” is “nothing”.
We need new answers.

There is already a “trust deficit”. To win back trust, we need to deserve that trust. #WeMustNotStaySilent

We have to talk about Discrimination. Prejudice. Racism.

We have to challeng why some parts of our profession have race inequality https://www.thetimesbrief.co.uk/users/39175-the-brief-team/posts/28590-white-students-dominate-bar-pupillage-intake

We have to challenge the Police about their charging decisions.

We need to raise the issue of sentencing disparity in Court. The  Magistrates need to hear it, and our clients need to hear it.

We have become complicit in an unfair Justice system.

To stay silent is no longer good enough.

There was an event for Lawyers to discuss his report on 2 October 2017 at Kings College which David Lammy attended and I chaired. (Panel: Sir Anthony Hooper, DPP Policy Advisor Sara Carnegie, Sandra Paul of KN, Courtney Griffiths QC of 25 Bedford Row and Judy Khan QC of Garden Court)

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A review of the event is here or you can watch a video of  whole thing here

The Lammy Review equips us with the evidence and the stats to challenge injustice, particularly prevalent in the Youth Court.

When appearing in the Youth or Magistrates Court representing a young black defendant, dare we say to the bench in our closing submissions “my client is worried that statistically he is more likely to be convicted, and when convicted sentenced higher, than his white contemporary”? 

Traditionally we would not raise that directly, for fear that we may be thought to be accusing the bench of bias. It is time to stop being afraid.

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New Lord Chancellor David Lidington

On 11 June 2017 PM Theresa May in a post-election re-shuffle appointed David Lidington as Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor. He replaces Liz Truss,  who had herself been appointed by May in a post-election re-shuffle less than a year before.

Lidington is the fourth consecutive non-lawyer appointment- his predecessors were Liz Truss, Michael  Gove and Grayling (widely regarded as the worst Lord Chancellor ever).

Dominic Raab (courts and justice minister) Phillip Lee and Sam Gyimah ( junior ministers) complete the team.

This blog aims to monitor Lidington’s performance over his term of office.

Background

David Roy Lidington CBE PC (born 30 June 1956) has been MP for Aylesbury since 1992. He was Minister of State for Europe from May 2010 to July 2016, and Leader of the House of Commons.

He was educated at a public school, before studying history at Cambridge (appearing on University Challenge)

He was given a CBE in Cameron’s widely criticised resignation honours list.

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Expenses scandal In May 2009, it was revealed Lidington had claimed £1,300 on expenses for dry cleaning. He also claimed for toothpaste, shower gel, body spray, vitamin supplements and a second home allowance. He repaid the claims for toiletries, saying: “I accept that many people would see them as over-generous.”  So although he eventually came clean you paid for his soap 

Record in Parliament pre-appointment  (Justice issues)

Lidington voted in favour of repealing the Human Rights Act,  restricting the scope of legal aid and limiting fees paid to solicitors in no-win no-fee cases. The “they-work-for-you” website says Lidington generally voted against equal gay rights, and his record on cutting legal aid is here.

First six months

The new Lord Chancellor was sworn in on 19 June.  In the in-tray? Read anopen letter to Lord Chancellor from Joshua Rozenberg

Sort out the prison crisis! read these recommendations from the Howard League

His first official pronouncement, following the Grenfell tragedy, was on availability of legal aid in housing cases- and he got it wrong (see here)

There was then a period of calm, in a political period dominated by Brexit, we heard very little from or about the Lord Chancellor until the Party Conference in October when there were apparently conciliatory noises on LASPO reform

Prisons

The crisis within the prison service has shown no signs of improvement under Lidington. The shocking number of suicides by vulnerable prisoners, murder and violent assaults by against prisoners and staff remains at high levels in crumbling, under-staffed, unsafe failing prisons. The extent of this is too great to record in this blog, and can be charted elsewhere (see eg Howard League) but of the many scathing and shameful reports I include this one from the Independent Monitoring Board into Aylesbury Prison -it is in Lidingtons constituency, so the shameful record has happened “on his watch” as local MP and Justice Sec.

The treatment of young people in custody has also remained dire and dangerous under Lidington’s watch – see this report of November 2017 

Legal Aid and funding

Under this Lord Chancellor, there has been no sign of any improvement in funding for the MoJ in general or legal aid in particular, as it is revealed the department will have suffered a 40% cut in budget by 2020 (as reported in Gazette in November here)

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Lord Chancellor Liz Truss-a Review of her Term of Office

On 14th July 2016 incoming Prime Minister Theresa May  appointed Liz Truss as the new Secretary of State for Justice (also known as Lord Chancellor).

She lasted less than a year, being demoted by May on 11th June in the re-shuffle that followed the “mandate” election.

Truss took over from Michael Gove,  sacked for his disloyalty and failed leadership bid rather than his performance in post (Gove had replaced the hopeless and reviled Chris Grayling, widely believed to have been the worst Lord Chancellor in living memory)

Truss was the third consecutive non-lawyer to be appointed to the post. Did  that matter? Read the Secret Barrister blog.

This blog reviews Truss’  time in office.

Background-Pre-Justice Secretary

Truss was previously at DEFRA, and perhaps best known for her widely ridiculed Conservative Party conference speech about French cheese and British Pork (footage enjoyed on this clip from Have I Got News For You )  This was followed another much ridiculed Conference speech (October 2015) when she called for a return to “giving animals their proper names”

She co-authored a book (“Brittania unchained“) which accused British workers of laziness :”The British are among the worst idlers in the world. We work among the lowest hours, we retire early and our productivity is poor. Whereas Indian children aspire to be doctors or businessmen, the British are more interested in football and pop music.

Critics who have attempted to engage with her, (according to George Monbiot in The Guardian) have said she is “indissolubly wedded to a set of theories about how the world should be, that are impervious to argument, facts or experience.”

Background

Born: 26 July 1975, in Paisley, Renfrewshire
Constituency: MP for South West Norfolk since 2010
University: read PPE at Merton
Before politics: 10 years as a management accountant, economics director at Cable & Wireless; deputy director of Reform (education think tank)

Truss and Criminal Justice (pre-appointment)

Truss was a member of the Justice Select Committee between March 2011 and November 2012, but apparently only ever spoke about justice issues three times in parliament,one of which was to strongly support cutting the legal aid budget.

On Home Affairs she consistently voted for a stricter asylum system and stronger enforcement of immigration rules; for the introduction of Police & Crime Commissioners, and for requiring the mass retention of information about communications.  She spoke several times during the committee stages of LASPO (transcripts here)

Comments and initial reaction on her Appointment 

There was initially mixed disappointment and scepticism from legal aid lawyers, largely due to Truss’ record of continuously voting for Legal Aid cuts.  Her priority should have been to sort out and protect Legal Aid, said the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Legal Aid, as reported here in the Solicitors Journal. Concerns were also raised about her views on prisons (eg here in the Justice Gap, July 2016)

Lord Faulks,  justice minister under her two predecessors, resigned his post because he felt that the inexperience of Truss  could  put at risk the standing of the judiciary and courts.  Anna Soubry QC turned down post of No. 2 to Truss (according to this piece in Legal Cheek)

Much of the commentary focussed on Truss’ gender, and her being supposedly the first female Lord Chancellor, but critics of Truss denied misogyny ( eg Lord Falconer here in the Guardian)

Lord Pannick pointed out that contrary to some reports she is not the first female Lord Chancellor – that was Eleanor of Provence, who filled in for her husband Henry III in 1253.  He added that at the time “there was probably a 13th-Century Lord Falconer complaining Eleanor hadn’t been trained as a lawyer”.  

The CLSA released a statement welcoming her appointment.

Peter Oborne writing for the Mail on Sunday had this observation:-

I greatly enjoyed seeing Ms Liz Truss, the new Lord Chancellor, in her majestic Tudor-style robes of office, redolent of old England, tradition and deference.

It is amusing to recall Ms Truss’s radical anti-Monarchy speech to the Liberal Democrat conference in 1994 (she was once on the national executive committee of that party’s youth and student wing) when she proclaimed: ‘We do not believe people are born to rule.’ Her target was the Queen. 

She found out soon afterwards that Oxford graduates in Philosophy, Politics and Economics, such as herself, are indeed born to rule, and it doesn’t much matter which party they are in.  I’m sure she’ll enjoy the many conversations with Her Majesty she’ll now have, thanks to her new high office”

First days in post

The Annual HM Inspector Of Prisons report was published (19 July) and once again showed a prison service in crisis- violent, over-crowded and full of drugs with few opportunities of rehabilitation. Truss response below:-



On 21st July Truss got to dress up in black and gold robes, and was sworn-in as Lord Chancellor. The ceremony can be viewed on this YouTube clip.

 

 

First Three  Months

After a long  pause to master the brief, Truss gave her first interviews and indicated she was planning to introduce a Bill of Rights. No such bill was introduced.  It was initially unclear whether we would be keeping or scrapping the Human Rights Act.

Truss also indicated the Government would not be proceeding with “Problem Solving Courts” (previously announced by Gove) although it was later clarified she actually meant they were still considering them, and a week later confirmed the Government were in fact proceeding with them.

After a Summer break, Truss attended a meeting of the Justice select Committee, (07 September) where to the astonishment of all those attending or following, she could not confirm any planned legislation, merely saying everything was under review (Guardian report here ) Private Eye was also unimpressed:

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On 03 October Truss was all trussed up again in robes, together with a “train bearer”,  to attend her first “Opening of the Legal Year” service. Her speech here.

On 04 October Truss gave her first Conference speech as Lord Chancellor. It was a more assured performance than the infamous “cheese speech” (see above) but failed to mention Legal Aid or Access to Justice. She spoke of prison reform, announcing £14 million additional investment (although it turned out this was funding already announced by Gove). She did not acknowledge the then topical high suicide rate in prisons, but promised that “ex-soldiers” would be recruited as prison officers.  The rest of the speech was a series of platitudes. In. Very. Short. Sentences. Text  here.  Quentin Letts’ summary “How could so jellyfish and unformed a political personality have been made lord chancellor? I have known ping-pong  bats less wooden, CBeebies presenters more statesmanlike.”

November-Failure to Defend the Judiciary

On 03 November, the High Court ruled in the case of Miller that Brexit via article 50 should require a vote in Parliament. In an outpouring of outrage in the tabloids there was open hostility to the judges who were described on one front page as “enemies of the people” The LC, whose oath of office is to uphold and defend the Independence of the Judiciary, would be expected to speak up in defence of the rule of law. Instead, for a long period, silence. #WheresLizTruss?  was trending on twitter. Read more here. Then, belatedly a half-hearted statement as reported here.  Criticism continued to grow, with an attack by some Tory MPs, as well as lawyers (see this summary as reported in the Guardian)

Truss later managed a half-apology, but the criticism never really died away and (in March 2017) the Lord Chief Justice piled in  here.

Prisons Crisis

The effects of the drastic cuts implemented by Grayling led to a crisis which continued to escalate during Truss’ term of  office. There was an escalation of assaults on prison staff, suicide and self-harm of prisoners,  a “strike” by officers, violence, drugs, escapes and riots. How did Truss cope? Poorly is the general consensus – see eg here

PI Reform

Truss achieved better headlines for her “crack-down” on whiplash claims. But these “reforms” , badged as reducing insurance premiums supposedly over-inflated by dodgy claims and the “compensation culture” will in fact not help consumers, but harm those suffering genuine injury, and offer a bumper pay-out for insurance companies. See this article for the detail.

Six months In 

In December Truss appeared in the Commons to announce that “barking dogs” would tackle the problem of drones being used to courier drug deliveries. Seriously. Read this article and play the clip where Truss announces this (to laughter). Could they? See the Guardian Pass Notes

Happy Christmas!

Liz Truss extended a special message to hedgehogs. Happy Christmas hedgehogs!

2017

Februaryslammed by lawyers following another “car-crash” TV Interview

First bill  (23 February 2017) – the Prisons and Courts Bill (2017)  covering four main areas:-

1 Prison safety and reform –  described as a “new framework and clear system of accountability for prisons”  It will “enshrine into law ” that a key purpose of prison is to reform and rehabilitate
2 Court reform: -another commitment to victims and the most vulnerable, as well as improving the system by digitisation. (But see here for critical commentary)
3 The judiciary – a better working environment for judges,  modern court facilities + better IT
4 Whiplash compensation – new fixed tariffs capping whiplash compensation pay-outs

The bill has not yet been enacted.

April By April, Truss appeared out of her depth, and reports indicated she does not have the confidence of the Judiciary OR cabinet colleagues.

See this  summary of her tenure, by Frances Crook (Howard League) . Meanwhile, with the election called, pundits predicted she would not last a full year -see eg this Legal Cheek piece by Joshua Rosenberg They were right.

May-June and the General Election Truss was largely absent for most of the General election campaign. But she did visit Wibsey! 

Goodbye Truss, hello David Lidington 

So Truss has left the full cabinet by being demoted to first secretary to the treasury, replaced by David Lidington. Lidington is the 3rd new lord chancellor in little more than two years. It used to be a job that the recipient would fulfil for a decade. He is also the fourth consecutive non-lawyer to have held the post. Read more about Lidington here.

Conclusion

If Truss had showed even half the enthusiasm for justice that she has for cheese, she could have really made her mark in an area crying out for reform. As it is, Truss lasted just 11 months in the job, the shortest tenure since the post was created, and has now been demoted.

Truss was not the worst Lord Chancellor in recent time (Grayling set a high standard  for that) but she fell far short of what was required. She never appeared to be on top of her brief, abjectly failed to tackle the prison crisis, failed to stand up for the Judiciary, and does not appear to have a solitary positive achievement she can point to from her term of office. 

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London Legal Walk 2017

Monday 22 May  was the London  Legal Walk – with over 8,000 lawyers walking 10k to raise money for London Legal Support Trust.
The LLST  is an independent charity that raises funds for free legal advice services in London and the South East.
I entered as part of the Bullivant Law team- and we all finished!

Please sponsor the team! Our fundraising link is here:-http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/team/BullivantLaw2017

Thank you!

Check out my walking playlist here

Below- at the start with Judge Rinder

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Below-a well earned drink at the finish

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Unity in the Criminal Law Profession

Edited text of speech at CLFS Conferences (delivered 21/10/16 Manchester +  28/10/16 London)

Intro

I have been asked to speak on unity in the profession.
I am no better qualified than anyone else to speak on this topic, but I suppose being involved in a representative  body- in my case the LCCSA–  has given me some small insight into where we as criminal lawyers have successfully united, and where we have not.

Last week I attended the Parmour lecture for the Howard league, delivered by Nick Hardwick, now at parole board but perhaps better known in his previous capacity as a fearless Inspector of Prisons, whose reports graphically condemned prison after prison as unfit for purpose.
The audience included, as you might expect, bleeding hearts, liberals, lefties, lawyers, the usual suspects. So as you may imagine. I was at home.
But the lecture was at Clifford Chance, and I did not feel at home in their glittering building in Canary Wharf.
Lawyers there are not familiar with the type of law that we do anymore than we are with their commercial activities
They don’t understand criminal law as we understand it

(Although I did read last week that somebody employed in a City firm was sacked and struck off for stealing stationery. Perhaps it’s only to be expected that things disappear in a magic circle firm…)

Anyway…

At Clifford Chance, they don’t practice legal aid
A fixed fee for an entire case at the magistrates court is equivalent to the hourly rate of lawyers there.
What do we have in common with these “masters of the Universe?”
We have the same regulatory body, we pay the same practicing certificate, we are in the same profession….

..and we have virtually nothing in common.

So we can’t expect unity with City firms
Or can we?
Underneath their expensive suits do these lawyers not still have an interest in justice? Might they not help us? There was discussion at one point of a 1% tax on Commercial Law firm profits to fund Legal Aid. That’s not going to happen, but can we, should we, dare we approach our better-heeled fellow lawyers and ask for help?

I do not mean encouraging the provision of well intentioned “pro-bono” advice from junior employees at the Law Centre, but can they support legal aid practices by eg seconding trainees, or providing support services, in the way a PL club may “loan” a player to a less well-heeled club?

Or can they help us lobby MoJ using their access to the corridors of power?
Just ideas.
Unity.

Unity in the Profession

What about the High St Practice? The one-stop shop with a range of services , a holistic approach?
Law is increasingly fragmented, and LASPO has ripped the heart out of much of what would have been publicly funded advice.

We think we have it bad in Criminal Law, but where were we when multi-disciplinary practices were axing family departments, abandoning employment, immigration and welfare benefit advice? Were we campaigning and fighting for the principle of equal access to the law, or squabbling about page count?
We need to fight for Justice generally, not be marginalised into separate spheres of narrow self-interest.
Representative bodies try to do this, meeting together -TLS, LAPG, YLAL, CBA

Can we expect unity with our fellow lawyers from other disciplines? Do even we deserve it?
Can we achieve it even between ourselves as criminal lawyers? We are all competitors in a diminishing market.
I believe that although we have much that divides us we criminal lawyers have much more in common
We have , I think, an overarching interest in justice
This is not a job, or even just a profession, it is a vocation.

Of course we all have a degree of self interest, and we all would like to be well paid.
Or at least properly paid.
Or sometimes even paid at all.

But we care about the principle of justice.

And we actually want what the current Govt has adopted as a slogan- a “criminal justice system that works for all”

We are united in wanting for example:-
-video-links that work,
-prisoners to arrive on time,
-competent interpreters to be booked,
and an opportunity to assess the evidence, and give proper advice , and get proper credit for pleading guilty without being rushed or bullied into pleading.

We want a level playing field, we want a fair hearing.

So there is understandably good unity when we campaign on those issues that we all agree on.

Unity against a common enemy

Lawyers individually and their Practitioner Groups are at their best when have a common cause or better still a common enemy.
When we don’t it all falls apart and we can get back to hating each other, like the PFJ vs the JPF.

The last time we had a very obvious common enemy, it was an easy target, an odious pig-headed individual who will be forever remembered as worst LC ever.
I probably don’t even need to say his name, but it rhymes with Failing.

Which brings me back to the Howard League lecture I attended last night. Much of Grayling’s bad work has been overturned or abandoned, but in the failing prison estate we are seeing the legacy of Grayling’s cuts and policies.
The shocking murder in Pentonville this week is the 6th murder in prison SO FAR THIS YEAR.
Grayling described the increase in deaths in custody as a “blip”
I invite you to pause for a moment and consider that continuing blip
In last 12 months, over 300 deaths in prison (up 30%)
Over 100 were prisoners taking their own life.
Over 10k self harm incidents
Over 20k assaults
And the prison population keeps rising, as the resources and staffing for the prisons diminishes.

And where are the prison lawyers?
Access to legal advice to prisoners was heavily curtailed by Grayling in September 2013. That reform has not overturned.
Where were we when prison law was being axed?

First they came for the immigration lawyers, but I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t an immigration lawyer.
Then they came for the prison lawyers, but….

Well you know how it goes.

But it’s not all doom and gloom.
Let’s look at and celebrate what we can achieve when we are united-starting with “two-tier”

Unity in Adversity (fighting the two-tier litigation)
In January we had “the victory”, and although there was much relief, there was only muted celebration.
For those who don’t know or don’t remember, TT was the controversial contract-tendering procedure which would restrict the number of law firms permitted to do duty legal work.
It was hatched by the MOJ and initiated by Chris Grayling, the previous Injustice Secretary. It was supported -encouraged even- by some firms in the “Big Firms Group”.
Accompanying this was a proposed 8.75% fee cut, the follow up to the first 8.75% cut we had already absorbed

Much time, energy – and money – had been expended on tortuously difficult tendering documents, much anxiety hanging on the results. Firms had closed or merged in anticipation of the outcome, or planned mergers. Solicitors changed firms- only some voluntarily.

It threatened to wreak havoc on a supplier base acknowledged to be fragile, and for comparatively modest savings.
This proposed enforced consolidation of the profession would have effectively forced many firms to merge or close.
This, despite an acknowledgement that over the last parliament annual spending on legal aid was reduced from £2.4bn to £1.6bn.

What went wrong?

TT was wrong in principle, but to add insult to injury it was ultimately botched in application.
Contracts were awarded, and a whistleblower revealed the marking had been carried out by unqualified temps from a recruitment agency.
So unsuccessful firms took legal action against the MOJ
They banded together in a consolidated group action.
And they were successful.
Unity.

Before the tendering process began, there was a JR in which we argued the whole scheme was irrational.
The LCCSA was proud to have fought that battle, together with CLSA and TLS.
We lost.
And it was expensive.
We campaigned and fundraised.
Many of you contributed – thank you.

Counsel’s fees from Admin set 11kbw totalled around £150k (which goes to show why we should practice admin law not crim law)
It wasn’t pro-Bono, and it wasn’t mates rates.
That meant, despite generous donations, we depleted our reserves and gave our committee sleepless nights. We were not indemnified against losses, we were personally liable.
So in our darkest hour, we had to fundraise and more importantly trust that people would renew their memberships just to survive.

So the fact that we have survived as an Association, with membership steady, is a victory for Unity.
Although you may be interested to know that when we asked 11KBW whether they would contribute or sponsor an LCCSA event, answer came there none.
Instead our sponsorship came from friends at the criminal bar who don’t command such eye-watering fees, small firms, and individual solicitors.
I thank you.
Unity!

Unity in Campaigning

On May 22nd 2013 the LCCSA organised our first demo outside Parliament which generated national coverage.
On the afternoon of the same day there was a national meeting attended by 1000 solicitors and barristers.
In June another demo was organised by solicitors outside the MOJ
In March 2014 there was a day of action, a withdrawal of services from courts, called in some quarters a “strike”.

We had “No Returns.”

We had a protocol where firms agreed to sign up no new legal aid cases. Only a small minority breached that, some reluctantly for vulnerable own clients only, and a few still took an opportunity to clean up or profit.
We learned solidarity, and began to trust each other.

But the truth is so far as funding is concerned, for years we have endured a slow death by a thousand cuts, a sustained attack, and only belatedly we learned to fight back.
We campaigned, protested, demonstrated, withdrew services, and went on strike.
We battled the most odious and incompetent of Lord Chancellors, the infamous Chris Grayling, once memorably described by Jerry Hayes as a “turd that couldn’t be flushed”.
Grayling didn’t like lawyers, and the feeling was mutual.
So, we rallied, we lobbied, we marched, we demonstrated.

And we learned Unity

Unity Undermined: “divide and rule”

But Grayling’s one great trick- and looking back it’s hard to believe any of us let him get away with this- was to divide and conquer.
He played barrister against solicitor.
At those rallies and actions I described we were shoulder to shoulder with the criminal bar led by Michael Turner QC.
But later, the MoJ met other representatives of the bar privately, and struck a “deal”.

Relations between leadership of the criminal bar and solicitors reached a low point. Like an old married couple, we were bickering.
We lost that unity, and we were the poorer for it.

I believe put those differences behind us.
We enjoyed a good relationship with Mark Fennells QC, and have confidence in his successor Francis Fitzgibbon QC.
We need to working constructively on proposals for AGFS and litigator fees to try and make sure we are all properly paid for the work we properly do.

It wasn’t just solicitor v bar.
A few years ago we also saw the creation of new self-appointed special interest groups, principally the so-called Big Firms Group.
Who are they?
I don’t really know.
They don’t have a website.
I don’t know if they have a constitution, or if their committee -if they have one-is elected or self-appointed. I do know you cannot join them as an individual solicitor, even if you are employed by one of the Big Firms who apparently constitute the membership of the group, which again is unclear. Perhaps they have a secret handshake.
So they are unaccountable.
Now it is right that two of the leading firms of the BFG- TV Edwards, and Tuckers-joined the strike (sorry I mean individual actions) of June 2015.
And I accept unequivocally the right of any individual or firm to organise themselves as they want, and to act in their own best interest, and competitively. But, if we fracture into competing interest groups, big vs small, owners v staff, employed v freelancer, we are not united.

We can learn from what happened when Grayling successfully sought to divide and rule.
The lesson of unity is a simple one.
United we stand, divided we fall.


Current Campaigns

There is always some horror lurking around the corner.
We are currently engaged in 6 consultations.
And we have put a lot of work and endured many meetings with the LAA, to try and improve the contents of the new LA contracts.
Just this week we forced the LAA to redraft the embarrassment clause.
What was that?
Remember how in North Korea they banned sarcasm?
Well LAA inserted a clause in contracts that bans any contracting party from doing any act that “might cause embarrassment.”
This was nothing short of a “gagging” clause, and I am glad to see the back of it.

Gove
We liked Michael Gove.
He left us alone.
He made positive noises on prison reform.
He overturned Grayling’s policies.
He abandoned two tier.
He postponed the second cut.
The one thing I wasn’t so keen on, was his ill-judged appointment of an “advisory” committee, headed by his chum Gary Bell QC.
Gary had some strong views on solicitor advocates, and these were recorded NOT in off-the-cuff  remarks but (here) in an interview in socitors magazine Law Society Gazette  :-
“The biggest threat to its existence”, he asserted, is not the two-tier system for solicitors’ contracts, but a situation that has existed for some time — the increasing use of solicitor higher court advocates (HCAs), who are insufficiently qualified and ‘not up to the job’.

HCAs, he rates, as ‘rubbish’.  “I’m sure they’re nice people and are nice to their children. I’m sure they do their best for their clients.

The majority of solicitor HCAs, he suggests, are ‘failed barristers – who either started at the bar, but never got pupillage or tenancy, and for good reason, or who did but then found that they couldn’t make a living because they were useless.

‘So they go and work for these solicitor’s firms as very low paid HCAs and because the solicitors have got the ear of the client they can always persuade the client that this absolutely crap person that they employ is the best person to conduct their case.

‘They are the best person from one perspective — it’ll optimise the earning capacity of the solicitor’s firm. And if that means that the client has to go to prison for a few years, that’s not really a problem for the solicitor – at least they can buy another Aston Martin.’

His anger is not directed towards HCAs themselves, but the firms that compel them to do higher court advocacy. ‘It means that venal solicitors will earn a lot more money. It’s greed; it’s avarice”

Mr Bell is one of the highest earners at the criminal bar, reportedly earning nearly £1/4million p.a. On his legal Aid work. How are you doing in comparison, you “venal” greedy solicitors?
He concluded his interview with this:-
‘If there are any solicitors that read this who employ HCAs, they can fuck off anyway, because they’re destroying both professions’.

UNITY? Perhaps we still have some way to go.

Bell then appointed his own committee, bypassing representative organisations, and sidelining solicitors.

I don’t knows what has happened to his committee or his report

But as for Gove, he got caught up with Brexiting, and ended up exiting.

Truss

Our new LC Liz Truss was a bit of an unknown quantity.
We knew she liked British cheese and pork markets
But will she sort out the mess of our prison estate?
What will she do about the second cut?
We are still waiting.
But perhaps no news is good news.

We have had enough of diktat and pronouncement by highly paid civil servants at the MOJ , and we have had enough of cuts.
We cannot take any more.
The sustainability of the justice system relies on proper preparation and presentation of cases.
We all play our parts- barristers and solicitors.

So to conclude:-
The LCCSA had virtually -and by necessity- re-invented ourselves as a campaigning organisation.
Thankfully, we have put the banners and t-shirts away, at least for now , and gone back to our core business- training events, representing criminal lawyers in London whether doing legal aid or not, and of course our famous social events.
But we are ready to resume action if forced to do so, and will do so if the Government tries to bring in that second cut, which will threaten not profitability but sustainability.

But all the representative bodies are only as strong as our membership.
We can only campaign, take legal action, put on events if our membership is strong and we are funded by the membership fees.
If you join, or retain a membership, we are stronger.
My plea to you is, if you are not already signed up, join your representative body (LCCSA, CLSA, CBA)
If you are a member already-thank you.
Thank you for your support.
We don’t want to do this without you, and tbh we can’t do it without you.
Join up, and we are united together, and we can achieve great things together that we cannot do on our own.
That is the true message of Unity.

And now, time to “unite” and join friends and colleagues in the pub.

With thanks to CLFS for a fantastic conference, and 25BR for sponsorship.

Cheers!
Greg Foxsmith
President, LCCSA

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