Tag Archives: Legal aid

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

Speech at CLFS Conference, May 13 2016

Intro



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.

I have been asked to speak on the topic of “the victory”, or the “win” by which I think is meant the climb-down earlier this year by the MOJ in respect of two tier contracting.
I have to say that this was very much a Pyrrhic victory, and although there was much relief, there was only muted celebration.

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.

Some were bidders, some not, some “winners” some losers.

Then when contracts were awarded, those unfairly left out were minded to challenge the outcome, potentially in conflict with those awarded contracts.
What was Two Tier ?

Accompanying another 8.75% fee cut, yes the follow up to a the first 8.75% cut we had already absorbed, 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 BFG.

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 been effectively forcing many solicitors’ 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….

Take the example of EFBW:-

In October EFBW were informed by the LAA that they had been narrowly unsuccessful in their attempt to obtain a legal aid contract for duty solicitor work in Hackney, Newham and Tower Hamlets. EFBW brought legal challenges (represented by Bindmans) against the results of the procurement process in all three areas. Almost 100 other firms brought similar challenges.
The LAA then admitted that it made a basic transcription error in scoring at least one of EFBW’s bids, and that consequently EFBW should have been awarded a contract in Hackney. 

The possibility of such an error was identified by Bindmans in October, but was not addressed by the LAA in pre action correspondence and a formal offer of ADR was not taken up. 

The LAA sought to resist disclosure to other firms, and a Court order had to be requested.

Even after disclosure, the LAA ignored requests to settle EFBW’s claim and proceeded to file a defence that admitted the error but failed to acknowledge the consequences. Only later did they acknowledge that if the error had not been made, EFBW should have scored higher than at least one of the purported successful bidders, and therefore should have been awarded a contract.

The LAA still refused to settle the claim despite the fact that it should never have had to be brought, and summary judgement was sought.

So, increasingly firms involved were confident of victory, but the case rumbled on.
The Announcement.

In January the SoS for Justice, MIchael Gove announced that the plans for two-tier contracting and the cuts of 8.75% to legal aid fees for duty criminal solicitors were to be suspended.

This was a policy U-turn which followed many others, as Gove re-planted the scorched earth of the Grayling period.

Announcing the about-turn in a Commons written statement, Gove pointed out that awarding a limited number of “dual contracts” – under which solicitors take on duty legal aid work at police stations and magistrates courts as well as represent their own clients – would lead to a less diverse and competitive market.

WE COULD HAVE TOLD THEM THAT!

(WE DID TELL THEM THAT!!)



 We had pointed out that natural consolidation was already taking place in the criminal legal aid market, as crime reduced and natural competition took place.
Gove also accepted his department had already made substantial savings.
Secondly,as he said:-

 ” it has become clear, following legal challenges mounted against our procurement process, that there are real problems in pressing ahead as initially proposed. My department currently faces 99 separate legal challenges over the procurement process, which has required us to stay the award of new contracts. 

In addition, a judicial review challenging the entire process has raised additional implementation challenges. Given how delicately balanced the arguments have always been … I have decided not to go ahead with the introduction of the dual contracting system”
So ultimately it was the lawyers wot won it, using the only effective tactic in our armoury- the law.

We can celebrate the acts of those in the litigation that argued the tendering process was fundamentally flawed. There was also support even from those not directly involved:

big firms and small, private and legal aid, 

two-tier contracts, single-tier contracts and lots- of -tears no contracts.

History of Campaign



Before the “victory” there were other battles in the ongoing war, with many skirmishes along the way. By ongoing war, I mean the continuing battle for legal aid lawyers to be properly paid.

First there was a consultation, or bearing in mind it was from the MOJ a NONsultation.

That was flawed, and had to be re-run.

Then there was the tendering procurement scheme itself, and the 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 a leading Admin set totalled around £150k (which goes to show why we should practice admin law not crim law)

That meant, despite generous donations, we depleted our reserves and gave our treasurer sleepless nights. 

So the fact that we have survived as an Association, with membership steady, and in a period of consolidation, is a victory of sorts.
But campaigning had started long before the litigation

For example:-

On May 22nd 2013 the LCCSA organised a demo which generated national coverage

On the afternoon of the same day there was a national meeting attended by 1000 solicitors and barristers. 

On 4th June (the closing date of the first consultation) another demo organised by solicitors outside the MOJ again with considerable national publicity. 

By March the following year 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 fewer 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.

To be perfectly blunt, he was a bit of a

difficult man to engage with.

Grayling, known by all as “failing Grayling” was described by JH as a “turd that couldn’t be flushed”.Grayling didn’t like lawyers, and the feeling was mutual.

So, we rallied in Parliament square, outside Westminster Magistrates Court, the Old Bailey and MoJ HQ, and we walked from Runnymede to Westminster.
And we took legal action against the MoJ, with our JR at the High Court.
Much of this achieved little at the time, so maybe the “win” in January is something we should cherish.

The New Legal Aid Landscape



Right to legal aid is ‘basic human right’, Jeremy Corbyn told a Justice Alliance meeting at the start of this year. 

Whether you area Corbynista or not, the fact that the Leader of a Political Party – the leader of the opposition no less – not only mentions legal aid but does so in a supportive way is a significant development.

Labour have initiated the Bach review into Legal Aid, and Gove has said that he is convening a committee or forum to discuss legal aid in a constructive way.

There was nothing constructive about relations/negotiations with Failing Grayling, so the political landscape has certainly changed.

Unity 
Two years ago, Paul Harris spoke about the need for unity.

At that time, relations between leadership of the criminal bar and solicitors had reached a low point. Last year Greg Powell again spoke on the theme of unity. This followed a slightly fractious period- relations between solicitors and our friends at the bar had become strained. Like an old married couple, we were bickering, but I think we are living comfortably together again now.

At least until the next row! 

We are 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.

We can learn from what happened when Grayling successfully sought to divide and rule.

The lesson of unity is a simple one, especially where we have a common enemy.

United we stand, divided we fall.
Current Campaigns



There is always some horror lurking around the corner.

 Currently, during this quiet period when Michael Gove has become the SoS for Brexit, our friends at the Sentencing Guidelines Council are consulting on the amount of credit for guilty pleas- and with some alarming proposals out there to reduce the incentive if the client didn’t cough and confess at point of arrest. 

If not before.
BCM/ DCS/ PTPH/CJSM 


Yes its acronym time – Bloody Case Management, Dire Case Systems and Pressure to Plead Hearings. 

A good idea in principle- less hearings, less paper.

But the underlying problems have not gone away -inadequate disclosure, late disclosure, lack of legal aid, problem getting prison visits etc.

The LCCSA and CBA have worked hard to try and help this work, at a series of meetings, from the National Implementation Team (NIT) to the London Implementation Team (LIT)

Thankfully there hasn’t been further devolution to the Central London Implementation Team, or the South Hampstead Implementation Team, the anacronym of which may best sum up the whole mess.
Gove

Gove didn’t just abandon two-tier tendering.

He had already reversed many of Grayling’s money saving initiatives, including 

-the ban on prisoners receiving books from their families 

-the equally detested criminal courts courts charge, (the mandatory payment of up to £1,200 imposed on all convicted defendants irrespective or means or ability to pay

He forced the government to cancel a £5.9 million contract to advise the Saudi Arabian prison system.

He scrapped the commercial wing of the Ministry of Justice after human rights concerns.

And Gove abandoned plans to build a £100 million “secure college” for teenage prisoners.
But where is he now?

Missing in Action
He popped up at HCMC at the start of this year on a day where I also happened to be there, and as he was meeting everyone but the defence I ambushed him with a letter requesting a meeting, and he agreed.


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.

Brothers and sisters in arms.

So yes we had a victory in January, but let’s not be fooled- that was a battle, and so far as legal aid is concerned there is an ongoing war.

At least we no longer have Grayling, who managed to combine total war with Cold War.

But depending on the outcome of the Euro Referendum, we may not have Mr Gove much longer, and who knows who will succeed him?
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.

Which presents me the chance to do my one “plug” – the LCCSA Summer Party, July 8th!

So it’s a half- cheer for the Victory in January, and a relief that we can get back to our day jobs.

Some of us will always remember where we were on the day when we heard the news of Gove’s announcement abandoning two-tier. 

I certainly remember going to the pub to meet fellow lawyers to celebrate the victory.

Unhappily, I was in “dry January” and celebrated without the assistance of alcohol.

That bleak month has long passed, and I promised not too keep you too long from your drinks.

So I hope to see some of you in the pub- Steve has the details- and let us raise a glass to justice, celebrate solidarity, drink to the health of legal aid, and share a toast -to Victory.

Cheers!

Greg Foxsmith

President, LCCSA

Duty Solicitors Unite-don’t break the link! Guest Blog by Bev Hockley

Introduction by Greg Foxsmith

Criminal Legal Aid Lawyers of certain experience can apply to become duty solicitors. 

Duty Solicitors can represent people needing legal advice in criminal courts who have not instructed their own solicitors, and do so in rotation via a published rota administered via the Legal Aid Authority. 

The scheme was devised to provide solicitors for clients, not clients for solicitors, but in recent years the rotas became overloaded with providers, many of whom were not actually representing clients, but allowing their slots to be covered by others (sometimes for remuneration). These non-attendees have become known as “ghosts.”

The MoJ and LAA will soon be considering how to allocate duty “slots” when the new rotas are published, and how to tackle ghosts. 

In this blog freelance solicitor Bev Hockley says what she thinks  about long -standing proposals by the  “Big Firms Group*”   to “break the link”  between duty solicitors and the slots allocated to them on the duty rotas. (This proposal would mean that duty slots are allocated not to solicitors, but in blocks to firms.) The following is her answer:-

Ghosts’ have flourished in plain sight as named Duty Solicitors on rotas for years. 

 ‘Breaking the link’ by replacing Duty Solicitors slots in firms names will only serve to perpetuate this problem by providing ‘Ghosts’ with additional protection from detection.

 We have successfully challenged the implementation of Contracting Duty Solicitor work by asserting it would drive down the quality of fundamental front line services at the police station and magistrates court.

 ‘Breaking the link’ would rapidly evaporate this achievement and facilitate every ambition the Contracting proposals set out to accomplish. 

 The prestige of PIN numbers would become meaningless. 

 Every firm would have the tempting opportunity to replace highly experienced DS, employees and consultants alike, with inexperienced bargain-basement representation.

 The provision of quality services can only be preserved by maintaining the link between named and appointed DS on rotas.

 For those representing the profession in current crucial post Contract negotiations, the last bastion of guardianship must be to protect this link with the same tenacity which defeated the ill-fated Contracting proposals. 

Postscript

Keeping the link is important to all duty solicitors, not just freelancers! Solicitors in London who want to contribute to the debate should consider joining the LCCSA, a representative body with a democratically elected committee. In addition, Freelancers may want to attend a meeting for Freelance Solicitors at the Queens Head in Kings Cross on Monday 15th February at 6pm, or contact Theresa Hendrickx by texting  07949243949 for more information on the Freelancers Association mailing list. 

Bev Hockley, 12/02/2016

Bev Hockey trained at Hickman and Rose and has represented clients both as an employee and consultant at the police station and magistrate’s court for nearly 20 years. Bev is currently a consultant with Edward Fail Bradshaw and Waterson

Don’t break the chain



* The Big Firms Group” (or BFG) is an unelected body set up to represent the interests of “big firms” with a Criminal Legal Aid contract. There has been a doubt for some time as to whether they are a unified body and who exactly they speak for. It may only be a small number of firms with other firms historically under the BFG umbrella not wholly in support of recent positions. However, what is clear is that spokespeople for the BFG lobbied the MoJ in support of consolidation (and were supporters of the disastrous “two-tier” contracting) and appear to still be recognised as a “representative body” by the MoJ, despite apparently having no clear mandate or constitution. 

Pledge For Justice

The following pledge can be signed by any PPC in the 2016 Election if they care about Justice and support Legal Aid

LEGAL AID PLEDGE  For a just and fair society 

The most recent You-Gov poll on access to justice found that 84% of people said legal aid and a fair trial were fundamental rights. I agree!

If elected as an MP I pledge that :- 

1.    I will seek to ensure that the principle of access to justice for all will be upheld and protected

2.     I will ensure that the integrity of an independent justice system is maintained and promoted

3.    I will not support any further cuts to the legal aid budget in the next Parliament

4.    I will support a review of access to justice within the first year of a new parliament to consider the effect of cumulative cuts and changes to legal aid funding.

Signed:-

Name:-

Constituency


Notes

1 The Vote For Justice campaign was first organised by the LCCSA, for the 2015 election, and backed by Justice Campaigners and Legal Aid Supporters. It is non-Party Political, but campaigners will actively promote candidates of any party who sign (for example in Haringey at the last election, we supported Catherine West who signed the pledge, unseating incumbent Lynne Featherstone who did not)

2 See Here for covering letter inviting PPCs to sign the Justice Pledge.

 

Unrepresented Defendants (guest blog by Penelope Gibbs)

This blog is by Penelope Gibbs of TRANSFORM JUSTICE

Transform Justice was set up in 2012 by Penelope Gibbs, a former magistrate who had worked (successfully) to reduce child and youth imprisonment in the UK. The charity aims to help create a better justice system in the UK.

Please complete the survey at end of article, and forward to other practitioners
The mysterious increase in defendants without lawyers in the criminal courts 
People are slightly mystified why numbers of unrepresented litigants in the criminal courts seem to be rising.  Everyone expects numbers to rise steeply if the government succeeds in bringing in proposed changes to the way legal aid lawyers are paid.  Then there are likely to be legal aid deserts where no solicitor is willing to work for legal aid rates. But numbers have already started to rise according to a survey from the Magistrates’ Association (http://www.magistrates-association.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/01-Survey-on-litigants-in-person-and-unrepresented-defendants-13-January-2015.pdf).  This suggested one in five of those in 1st listed bail, “Narey”, courts were unrepresented, as were 14% of those on bail hearings, 23% of those being sentenced and 22% of those in criminal trials.  If scaled up countrywide, these would represent thousands of defendants.  No-one knows why these defendants are unrepresented since the criteria for legal aid have not changed for several years. Some people may be ineligible for legal aid either because their crime is serious enough, or because they do not meet the, quite low, means test. But Transform Justice is looking for more information about those struggling to defend themselves in the criminal courts. If you are a criminal solicitor or barrister, or someone who works in the courts in another capacity, please fill in this short survey https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/WBJ3VVY

Grayling Day- the Save Legal Aid Demo 07/03/14

The demonstration on 07 March 2014 in support of Legal Aid in Old Palace Yard, Westminster (outside Houses of Parliament) was possibly the largest gathering of protesting Legal Aid Criminal Lawyers and Supporters ever assembled, and became known as “Grayling Day”, after the man responsible for the cuts, MP Chris Grayling.

The demo raised the profile of the fight against Legal aid cuts. Guardian report here

Legal Aid Playlist here.   Highlights in this short film on YouTube

The Fight to Save Legal Aid

Justice Secretary Chris Grayling (a butcher posturing as Lord Chancellor) introduced further cuts to Legal Aid which threatened to destroy the ability of firms or individual lawyers to properly represent clients if reliant on legal aid.
The demo was not about Lawyers livelihoods. This was about equal access to justice for all, not just those who can afford to pay privately. No action was taken to stop wealthy defendants getting Legal Aid because their assets are “restrained” so they can’t use them to pay legal fees (as Martin Bentham  pointed out here)
I had the privilege of compering the demo, organised by LCCSA and the Justice Alliance, supported by revolting lawyers, inspirational speakers, MPs, and an effigy of Grayling. Many Legal Aid Lawyers were not working on the first ever full “strike” (day of action.) Concerns about the justice system were the theme. (BBC coverage here)

A full list of speakers with a summary of their contributions HERE.

I had previously blogged about a Legal Aid day of action in the New Year, (January 2014) but this demo was the first ever full-day National day of Action (aka a strike) by Criminal Lawyers.

20140301-091255.jpg

Footnote

Sadly, a year later the fight was ongoing, and we were back again.

We  kept fighting until Grayling had his day. Chris Grayling was demoted after the election, and replaced by Michael Gove,, who was in turn replaced by Liz Truss and two further changes.

Now, with disclosure issues, further funding problems, and a prison crisis, perhaps it is time to once more gear up to fight, campaign, demonstrate and if necessary take action once again.

The Impeachment of “King John” Christopher Grayling

0n 21st February 2015 the Justice Alliance met in Runnymede and set out for Westminster as part of a JA event called Relay for Rights.

This finished on 23rd February with the “NOT THE GREAT LEGAL SUMMIT” In Westminster.

This was organised as a direct response to the hypocritical “Great” Legal Summit, which in the name of Magna Carta, was being used to promote the kind of law that in fact has no resemblance to the principles still celebrated from that historic document.

At the alternative event, on the inspiration of Justice Alliance member Rhona Friedman, I was asked to seek impeachment of the Justice Secretary Chris Grayling by asking the assembled crowd to vote on “articles of impeachment” .

The Articles put to the crowd, and their responses, are recorded below:-

 

                                                 ARTICLES OF IMPEACHMENT 

 

                                    The People

                                      V

                     King John Christopher Grayling”

 

SummaryOne Resolution consisting of four articles of impeachment. 

The articles will be debated and voted on individually

 

Introduction

 

The original King John  had ruled using the principle of “force and will”, taking executive and sometimes arbitrary decisions, justified on the basis that a king was above the law.

800 years later, Chris Grayling, a man posturing as Lord Chancellor, takes executive and arbitrary decisions, and by seeking to remove the rights to Judicial Review attempts to place himself above the Law. 

Article 1   MISLEADING PARLIAMENT AND THE PEOPLE

 

As Secretary of State, King John Christopher Grayling provided false and misleading evidence to the House of Commons regarding Judicial Review Reform, having either knowingly lied in order to try to get his bill past the Commons or fundamentally misunderstanding his own legislation.

 

The Secretary of State further provided false and misleading evidence to the Commons about probation privatisation projects in that G4S and Serco confirmed they had been granted new government work during a period when Grayling had told MPs that contracts would not be awarded   Remember SERCO are the robber barons who claimed for supervising the dead!  

 

TO THIS ARTICLE DO YOU THE PEOPLE FIND THAT KING JOHN CHRISTOPHER GRAYLING HAS MISLED THE COMMONS AND THE PEOPLE?

 The People voted AYE 

 

 Article 2       OBSTRUCTION OF JUSTICE 

 

The Secretary of State has obstructed and diminished Justice by :

 

Reducing the number of people who took mental health cases from 42,000 to 523 in one year 

 

-Removing legal aid from family cases so that 2/3 of people face court alone 

 

Pricing peoplout of Employment Tribunals so that unfair employees know that they can sack their staff unlawfully 

 

Banning books in prisons until Court Action forced  him to stop 

 

Creating a two tier criminal justice

 

 TO THIS ARTICLE DO YOU THE PEOPLE FIND THAT KING JOHN CHRISTOPHER GRAYLING HAS OBSTRUCTED JUSTICE?

The people voted AYE 

 


 

 Article 3       ABUSE OF POWER

 

The Secretary of State misused and abused his office and impaired the administration of justice, in that

 

1. He forced through a privatisation of  Probation Service with no proper impact-assessment and at great risk
2. He has brought the Ministry of Justice into disrepute by “Flogging to the floggers” (contracting with the selling of legal services to Saudi Arabia, which has despotic judicial and barbaric punishment systems)
3. Whilst holding the title of Justice Secretary, he has practiced,supported and embodied INJUSTICE, and has been defeated repeatedly in the Courts.

 

TO THIS ARTICLE DO YOU THE PEOPLE FIND THAT KING JOHN CHRISTOPHER GRAYLING HAS ABUSED THE POWER VESTED IN HIM?

The people voted AYE

 

ARTICLE FOUR -ABUSE OF OATH OF OFFICE

 

AS Lord Chancellor King John Grayling is charged with upholding the Rule of Law  We the people have by the above articles found him guilty of misleading Parliament , obstructing justice and abuse of power.

 Do you the people therefore think he has properly discharged his constitutional duty in accordance with his oath of office to ensure the provision of services  for the efficient and effective support of the courts?

 TO THIS ARTICLE DO YOU THE PEOPLE FIND THAT KING JOHN CHRISTOPHER GRAYLING HAS ABUSED HIS OATH OF OFFICE-HOW SAY YOU, AYE OR NO?

The People voted AYE

Lastly do we the people on this fake anniversary of the Great Charter find him to be an Upholder OF THE RULE OF LAW?  AYE OR NO ? 

The People voted No

  

KING JOHN GRAYLING WAS DULY IMPEACHED- SO SAID WE ALL!

He was then conveyed, in stocks, amidst a jeering crowd,  to the “Great Legal Summit” , wherapon the Crowd did chant “Failing Grayling -out, out, out!”

But alas, he stayed in, and the will of the people once again was overborne.

800 years after it was sealed, people still remember the Magna Carta.

Grayling, if recalled in history at all, will be remembered about as fondly as his medieval predessor, the hated King John.


 

 

 

Grayling Day Demo -Speakers for Justice

The following speakers spoke up for Justice at The Grayling Day demo in Westminster on 07/03/14

1 Paul Harris
A former president of LCCSA, Paul opened the proceedings with a rousing address. He said the cuts would result in a two-tier system – one for those with money and one for those without.
2 Alistair Webster QC
20140313-233553.jpg
A Lib Dem peer but speaking as a lawyer he reminded us of their Party Policy of supporting Legal aid, but commented adversely on their failure in government to speak out against Grayling’s cuts, concluding “The politicians may have failed Justice. We will not.”

3 Laura Janes
Laura, representing The Howard League for Penal Reform dealt with how Chris Grayling has removed most prison law work from criminal legal aid.
4 Sir Ivan Lawrence QC
Sir Ivan (criminal barrister for over 50 years, and was a Tory MP for over 20 years) said he was ashamed of this Government. “We will bring the Criminal justice system to a halt to save it- that’s why we are here
5 Ian Lawrence (NAPO)
Representing the Probation Service, also under attack by Grayling,

6 Paddy Hill

20140314-003739.jpg

Paddy reminded us what is at stake. “There will be many more miscarriages of Justice like the Birmingham 6 if legal aid is cut to this level.” An article about Paddy’s speech, with a clip in which he brands the MOJ the “Ministry of Injustice” is here.

20140314-004257.jpg

7 Sir Anthony Hooper
Retired Court of Appeal Judge, Sir Anthony reminded us  eloquently:-“For some 60 years everyone has had the right to equal access to Justice. This Government is destroying that right”
8 Francis Neckles
Francis was rightly acquitted at trial, preserving his good character, thanks to good representation by his Legal Aid lawyer. “Chris Grayling says he can’t afford to fund legal aid- Francis Neckles says we can’t afford NOT to
9 Shami Chakrabarti

20140314-005149.jpg
Representing Liberty, Chakrabarti made a powerful speech linking Legal Aid with freedom.

10 Dave Rowntree
Dave is drummer with Blur and was also a solicitor with Kingsley Napley.
He spoke about the Magna Carta, which was signed 800 years ago next year, and clause 40 – “To no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay right or justice.”
11 Nigel Lithman QC
Representing the CBA, he had been invited to speak to demonstrate the unity between bar and solicitors in fighting the cuts. Three weeks later, Lithman struck a “deal ” with the MoJ, having met them secretly and without solicitors representatives being consulted. He was subsequently been appointed a Circuit  Judge. Relations between the criminal bar and solicitors reached an all-time low point following Lithman’s actions, but have improved enormously under subsequent and present CBA leadership.
12 Janis Sharp
Janis is Mum to Gary McKinnon, and led a courageous (and ultimately successful) fight against his extradition. She knows the value of legal aid, and  can be seen in the YouTube film below (incorrectly subtitled as Janis McKinnon- apologies Janis)
13 Bill Waddington
Bill was chair of CLSA, and after a two year gap is back as chair, continuing the fight.
14 Noela Claye
Speaking with the support of the charity Women against Rape WAR, Noela brought a victims perspective, and showed that ultimately this demo was not just about fees or careers, it was also about victims, clients, and justice.
Noela spoke on camera in the short film of the start of the demo (link below)

Hanna Evans
Hanna was a new tenant and rising star at 23 Essex St. Chambers. Read more (and hear her speech) at #Just4Justice demo here.
15 Sadiq Khan
A former lawyer in a legal aid practice,  Labour MP and shadow Lord Chancellor (as he then was) said he opposed Grayling’s cuts. When asked  to give an unequivocal commitment to reverse them if in office however he declined. In the run-up to the election campaign, he  combined his portfolio responsibility with the role of Labour lead for attacking the Green Party (who had made a commitment  to restore legal aid funding) and left the justice portfolio in favour of visits to Brighton rallying the Labour troops in an unsuccessful attempt to unseat Green MP Caroline Lucas. After the election, he successfully campaigned for London Mayor.
16 Matt Foot
Matt, one of the founder members of the Justice alliance summed up the rally, before leading a march to the Ministry of (In)Justice.

NOTES

Short summary of the event by film-maker Ed Stradling with speaker clips here on Youtube

Another short film of the start of the demo here (Thanks to Matt Tiller)

Excellent commentary and photos of “Grayling Day” here (courtesy of Legal Aid Watch)

Photos of demo, all speakers, thanks to Luca Nieve, here

Legal Aid Protest- lawyers on strike!

I was not representing anyone on January 6th this year.
Together with fellow legal aid lawyers, we were MAKING A STAND

What happened on 6th January?

There was this protest against legal aid cuts in the morning outside Westminster Court organised by the Justice Alliance.
This was a public demo, well attended despite the weather, to show support for legal aid and against Grayling’s proposed cuts.
I was stewarding a “training session” for lawyers, at Islington Town Hall (from 1115) organised by the LCCSA
It all started to feel a bit like a strike!
The protest was billed as a strike in the Daily Mirror
This had never happened before, and shows the MOJ is in a right old mess reported the Telegraph
The guardian also reported on the action
but was this just the usual stuff from fat cat lawyers?
The reality of life for the majority of legal aid lawyers is far, far removed from the distortions regularly reported in the popular media. What is dispiriting is that selective and misleading quotes and stats are routinely deployed by the MOJ to re-in force the stereotype.
Check out the Legal Aid MythBuster here
The point of the demo was to help make people aware that if this Government continues with these cuts, It will lead to the collapse of proper publicly funded defence, and innocent people will be either unrepresented or poorly represented, with bitter consequences for Justice and Society.
A report on the Days events in Islington is here

legal Aid playlist here

Catch up on twitter comments #fight4legalaid and/or #walkout4justice

20140106-014858.jpg

20140106-020615.jpg