We have posted here, a guest blog from two Law Students Eloisa Tovee and Joseph Sherlock, who blog via their Twitter account @LegalHalfHour
They were in the audience at QMC on 13th March, listening to a talk on the Independence of the Prosecution process.
The Principal Speaker was Dominic Grieve QC MP, Attorney General, and ex officio head of the Bar.
When questions were invited from the floor, they asked the Attorney if BVT or OCOF could still be implemented if the Bar successfully resisted the introduction of QASA in its present form.
Their Blog is an account of what follows.
We invite your comments, if indeed you are one of the hundreds or even thousands of Criminal Barristers who oppose QASA, to the suggestion from the leader of your profession, that you are all fools.
You may also wish to look at the Guardian’s account here of his announcement of his plans to go back to the days when Police Officers prosecuted cases in Magistrates Courts.
We are unable to find any mention of his intention to submit Police advocates to any quality assessment process.
“The Criminal Bar would be foolish to resist QASA” was the message delivered by the Attorney General Dominic Grieve tonight, 13th March 2013. He said that to do so would give the impression that the bar wished to avoid scrutiny. QASA, said the AG, was about ensuring quality and was unrelated to the issue of ‘Best Value Tendering’ and all that such practices would mean for the independent criminal bar.
Extraordinarily these comments came at an event concerning the independence of prosecutors. Mr Grieve spoke about the importance of the CPS being separated from investigators, being unburdened by the financial pressures that privatisation would bring, and being as free from political pressure as possible. The Attorney General suggested that commercial pressures would corrupt the work of the CPS.
Luckily the DPP, who was watching from the audience, had no cause to be embarrassed as the AG didn’t mention that such commercial pressure clearly already affects the prosecution service as is evident from the leaked ‘ticks and stars’ email of a few weeks ago. Despite these words in favour of independence for the CPS, when asked to comment on the fears of the Criminal Bar Association that QASA is a step on the road to such pressure being exerted against the independent bar, he described them as ‘foolish’. He further said that he saw QASA and BVT as separate issues and said that to comment further would be to encroach into the portfolio of the Lord Chancellor and Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling.
In conversation after the main event had finished, the AG acknowledged that the government had to ensure that people had access to representation for their defence but then stated that this had to be provided with an eye on the costs. He failed to say that the first duty of the government was to ensure that the representation was of the highest standard possible. He spoke of the independent bar as a commercial enterprise and when discussing Legal Aid funding was quick to point to the economic position of the country, stating that even the CPS had to cut its budget by more than 20 percent. He did not mention that the CPS has to do this because the government of which he is a member has decided that they must, and when the relatively minuscule size of the legal aid budget was pointed out he simply said that no department was immune and that all the costs add up.
Concerning the scrutiny the Bar are under the AG defended the necessity of the QASA by saying that at the moment barristers are only judged by their successes and failures. He didn’t say what additional metric the QASA would introduce.
The word which is key here is obviously ‘foolish’. Already this point has been taken up by the CBA and many barristers, lawyers and commentators. It can only mean three things either:
• the Attorney General thinks that barristers are fools to think that QASA will be a disaster for the profession or
• he thinks that this fear is reasonable but that they are fools to resist.
• The third option is that he thinks both ideas are absurd and that members of the profession which he leads are fools twice over.
Well to be fair to him, the AG has responded, and quickly too. As luck would have it, our intrepid friends from Legal Cheek, in the shape of Kevin Poulter, conducted a filmed interview with him the very next morning here, which they have been kind enough to allow us to link to.
That’s the good news. Sadly it seems both from his response this morning, taken together with his comments last night, as though the Attorney genuinely has not understood either the full implications of #QASA and its inextricable links with #OCOF #BVT and certainly has not understood the CBA’s response. See Ian West’s Twelve Questions.
He suggests there will be no public support for the arguments the Bar put forward. he doesn’t say which arguments. Our arguments relate solely to the preservation of an independent referral bar and a viable Criminal Justice System. Hard to see how THAT would not appeal to public opinion. hence we ask, does he actually know what we have been arguing, or does he think we are saying what Grayling would have the public think we are saying?
This has nothing to do with fees. We already lost that one a while back.
And secondly, his observation that there is no link between #QASA and #BVT. if he doesn’t realise it, then Grayling certainly does, hence the latter’s decision suddenly to advance the consultation and start dates when he realised that the #NoToQASA campaign was gaining momentum.
Without #QASA to provide the fig leaf of grading essential to a Stobart type operation, ABS or LDP, #QASA cannot operate. It really is as simple as that. When the AG batted away the question last night, suggesting it was beyond his brief, he really revealed his ignorance of what the Justice Secretary is up to. Or so we prefer to believe.
All further comments are welcome, including any from the Bar Council?!