The Criminal Bar has not, and will not forget the efforts of both the current and previous Governments to destroy our profession.
We are however most grateful for attempts by those in the current Parliament, to redress the balance and protect what remains from the annihilation that must surely come with OCOF/BVT and QASA.
One of the most prominent MP’s leading that fight is Karl Turner, MP for Hull East and a former practising Barrister himself. He is married to a Solicitor, so has a broad understanding of the issues we face.
He works tirelessly on our behalf, both in public and behind the scenes.
His Circuit, the North Eastern, is one of our most active supporters. Others take note.
We are very happy to publish below, an article from Karl’s own Parliamentary website. It delivers a dire warning to those in Government who have little or no understanding of the damage to society that they threaten.
Or, as you can see from his exchange with Chris Grayling…. perhaps they do!
Further cuts to the legal aid system have been announced without any assessment of the last round of cuts. The Government has failed to understand the impact of the savage cuts to Civil legal aid following from the the Legal Aid, Punishment and Sentencing of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO). Despite this the Government is now driving cuts to Criminal legal aid.
It is deeply concerning that our Lord Chancellor, Rt Hon Chris Grayling MP has failed to learn lessons from previously failed attempts at introducing competitive tendering and in my view fails to appreciate that Best Value Tendering (BVT) in the Criminal Justice System will savagely erode access to a justice.
The privatisation of the Court Interpreting Services and the failure of the Criminal Defence Service direct should surely be a sign to slow this systematic drive to the cheapest tender providing, in my view, the worst value.
Our legal system is admired throughout the world and fairness in the Criminal Justice System is underpinned by legal aid. If factory firms simply focused on profit are allowed to take control of the justice system quality will decline and many small and extremely dedicated Solicitors providing publicly funded criminal representation will be swallowed up. Once they’ve gone they will not return.
Opening up the legal market to firms run by non-lawyers such as the haulage company Eddie Stobart or indeed the Co-Op is short sighted and will inevitably lead to smaller firms in places like Hull closing down for good. This can only deny the most vulnerable people in my constituency (and across the country) access to justice.
Another unintended consequence of BVT will be to close off the legal profession to under-represented groups such as ethnic minorities, women and people from moderate backgrounds like my own. The continual driving down of fees will ultimately price out many people from the profession.
My own nephew, Matthew will finish Bar School this year with crippling debts of more than £25,000. Many others in his position may reconsider a career in publicly funded law if they fear not being able to repay those debts.
I was not entirely convinced by the Lord Chancellor’s stance this week in the House of Commons lobby, when I challenged him on the issue of BVT. He tried to reassure me that the Co-Op was a very competent organisation that ran a very successful funeral business.
Although I have the utmost respect for the Co-Op’s funeral services and would not object to my wife instructing them to bury me, I would not instruct them to represent me on a charge of Murder.
I am not convinced that this example highlights a level of understanding of the criminal justice system that I expect from our Lord Chancellor.
Criminal lawyers already provide “best value” we must remember that fees paid to Criminal Barristers and Solicitors have remained static since the mid-1990s.
In 2010 Criminal Defence fees were cut by a whopping 13.5% and there were further reductions in 2011. Criminal prosecution fees were also cut substantially in 2012.
A whole raft of Civil law will of course also cease to be eligible for legal aid as a result of LASPO. This will be devastating on the most vulnerable people in my constituency of Hull East (and across the country) who will be forced to represent themselves in often procedurally and legally complicated cases. This will not represent a saving to the tax payer in the long run as cases will be slowed up in the Court system.
Amongst the Barristers that I completed Bar School with in 2004 most are earning less than at £30,000 at the Criminal Bar. It should be noted that from that they need to pay Chambers expenses (12% at my former set but as much as 20% at most others) and then deduct income tax. This represents a net income of less than £15,000 per year. So it’s clear that the Government are not going for the so called “fat cat lawyers” they like to describe from the dispatch box. They are savagely attacking junior Barristers and Solicitors that choose to practice publicly funded law.
In the Magistrates’ Court Barristers will be instructed on an average fee of between £50 to £100 for the day in Court. They will be required to pay for their own travel to and from Court and having diligently prepared their case and done the client proud with their skillful advocacy they will then have to wait for sometimes many months for the fee to come in.
In the Crown Court it doesn’t get much better, and I’ve known juniors return the brief to a senior member of Chambers (already at Court) because it is simply uneconomical to do the case.
There can only be one conclusion, the Government will find savings from the implementation of BVT but the question remains – what is the real cost to our society?