Iolanthe Part 1

A view from the North

On Friday evening a group of barristers and solicitors met the Lord Chancellor. This is my report of the meeting interspersed with my commentary [in italics]. I am going to try to provide as much detail as possible so will split it in to three parts posted over the next few days. Part 2 is now available here.

I have met three Lord Chancellors in my time at the Bar, Lord Mackay, Lord Irvine and Chris Grayling. Who is the odd one out? That’s right, Chris Grayling. Why? No, it’s not because he is not a lawyer but because he is the first Lord Chancellor who has consulted and then engaged with me personally about fee proposals. If you have read my previous blogs then this may come as a surprise to you but last night I was impressed by Chris Grayling.

Pick yourself up off the floor…

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The Lord’s Finger

Particularly interesting are the observations about Helen Grant.

A view from the North

The famed Boardroom. In the middle sits Lord Sugar. To his right is Alan Beith and to his left Maura McGowan QC. The door opens and in walk the three contestants who have been brought back in to the Boardroom following this week’s task “Transforming Legal Aid”.

Lord Sugar Right you three sit down. This is the second task in a row that Team MoJ have failed and I am sick of the bloody sight of you lot. So come on then Chris, you were project manager, why wasn’t this all your fault?

Chris Grayling Well Lord Sugar, as project manager the most important role is to delegate responsibility and you’ll notice that a lot of the actual presentation was done by McNally because he said he had the skills to bring this home and I trusted him.

Lord McNally Hid behind me more like.

Lord Sugar But you did…

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GRAYLING COLLARED IN COMMONS!

As part of yesterday’s mass lobby of MP’s a group of intrepid Barristers, fronted by the fearsome (!) @emmanash2, confronted the Justice Secretary, the Right “Honourable” Chris Grayling, who appears to have taken a wrong turning into the lobby.

We have reproduced below Emma’s account of the conversation. It is clear that as she towered under him, she’s the one with fair hair at the front of the group, he was unable to answer most of the questions.

His remark about the #NoToQasa badge is interesting, especially when he and Tom McNally keep insisting that Quality lawyers will still be available under PCT.

The details of the conversation are followed by Emma’s email to Mr. Grayling, which she sent last night. We await an answer with bated breath.

Well done Emma and those who went with you!

image

Meeting with Chris grayling
26/6/13
Houses of Parliament lobby

Mr grayling was walking though and stopped and asked to discuss legal aid with about 14 or so lobbyists. He wasn’t keen to stop and talk and said he had to be somewhere. He was persuaded to give us a couple of minutes. He skilfully avoided answering much!

He was asked if he just wanted the savings or was set on a new working model. Replied all areas of moj budget had to be cut and solicitors had to work to new models to save money.
Asked if he was set on pct. asked to listen to other ways to save money. He denied saying previously that any alternatives would have to be breathtaking.
He was given various examples of delay at court and court wastages which occur daily which are not the fault of defence lawyers.
He was asked to consider the effect on all the smaller law firms who could simply not compete if pct comes in. Warned re dangers of big business running defence firms eg g4s. He denied g4s had expressed interest. Told it didn’t matter what big business interested point was only big national firms could compete. Asked to consider those big firms current performances both in the criminal justice system under various contracts and also generally eg Olympics.
He pointed to my ‘no to QASA’ badge and said that’s not to do with me!
Told him I was sort of person bar should want to attract and retain ie comprehensive education, not rich, teacher parents who had worked hard because its a system I believe in. But that I had to pay my bills from my job and I was being forced out as job uneconomical and not sufficiently remunerated to reflect hard work.
I offered him opportunity to come to court with me or any if us for just one day to see realities for himself before making decisions. He said he’s been to court before but suggested not at coal face. He ought to understand job and court and see real issues for himself before making decisions which will likely ruin system. He said he’s very busy. I said he must be able to spare one day at any time that’s convenient to him to come and see. He said to email him. I promised I would and asked for a promise he’d reply.
He was asked why he refused to meet mike turner qc. He said that he’d met lots of people involved. Asked again. Said lord McNally met mt qc a few weeks ago. Asked again. Said that the consultation period was now concluded. Asked whether the meant he was unwilling now to listen to alternatives. No answer.
Everyone implored on him that there were people there from distances such as Cornwall not because of self interest but because of a real fear of a system of which we are currently mostly proud being destroyed forever.
He then made good his escape!!…

And then the email

Dear Mr Grayling

My name is Emma Nash. I’m the barrister you met this evening in the Houses of Parliament lobby area whilst on your way to another appointment. You will recall inviting me to email you regarding my offer to come to court with me or one of my colleagues in chambers. The offer stands. We would be very happy to have you shadow for a day or even a few hours at one of the courts your department is responsible for.

I make this offer as I truly believe that you should, prior to making decisions on reform, come and see what really goes on at court. I know you said you’d been to court before but there is a vast difference in being a guest for the day or sitting in the public gallery as compared to working there as I do day in day out. It will give you perspective and insight unobtainable in any other way. You will see for yourself where improvements can reasonably be made and where delay and waste occur. I am confident that you will see that this is rarely the fault of the defence lawyers. More often the fault lies with the large contracted companies such as those who may bid for contracts under pct who currently provide interpreters, cell staff, prison transfers and the like. You will see examples of how hard lawyers work for their modest or often derisory renumeration for that hearing.

This email is not meant to be a rant nor is it meant to argue the case against your proposals; those arguments have been forcefully and well put in detail in the response to your consultation. This email is meant only to extend to you the offer to come and see the system you’re responsible for as minister for justice at work, to learn from that and to help you then make more informed decisions about it.

It’s not a perfect system, savings can be made, waste does happen but your current proposals will not solve the problems. Instead they will exacerbate them whilst destroying irretrievably what is excellent about it.

I implore you to take me up on my offer and to do so soon. I believe it will inform your views and that as our first ever non lawyer lord chancellor will be an invaluable and enlightening experience.

I loom forward to your reply which is what you promised to me when I made you the offer today.

Yours sincerely

Emma Nash

LibDem President Tim Farron Declares Support

This is the text of an email,from Tim Farron MP to a constituent dated yesterday, 25th June 2013.

He is clearly well briefed on the issues, and has seen through the MoJ spin.

“Dear A

Thankyou very much for your email dated 12 June detailing your concerns about the current discussions to reform Legal Aid. I absolutely share your worries.

At the moment this is just a consultation, not a firm proposal. However, awarding contracts based on price and dividing caseloads between providers removes all incentives for contracted providers to work hard in the interests of the client, and the scope for conflicts of interest are great.

Furthermore, cost comparisons with the systems in other countries are in some cases bogus. In France, for example, an inquisitorial system means that the judge’s office bears most of what our Legal Aid budget has to cover.

It seems to me that criminal work plays a vital role in keeping our legal system of a quality which is regarded highly throughout the world and which forms the ethical backbone of what is essentially a commercial undertaking. Everyone has the right to a fair trial. If you have to represent yourself, or must depend on a cheap lawyer not of your choosing, this must raise huge questions of the legitimacy of the system.

Our Legal Aid budget is the same now as it was twenty years ago. It can hardly be said to have spiralled out of control. In fact it is a miracle that it still provides support to so many people. I believe these changes could result in many more people representing themselves in court – which means trials would last longer and cost more – and that physical access to lawyers will be reduced, meaning clients will have to travel further at greater cost to see their solicitor.

I am desperately concerned that the relatively small proposed savings could end in wreaking damage on a massive scale. Our Lib Dem Lawyers Association has devised some possible alternative funding strategies for Legal Aid, including restrained funds, and requiring corporations to take out insurance. These are ideas which I believe deserve to be explored much more fully.

Nick Clegg has recently said that he is very concerned about the proposed changes, and that it might well be preferable to investigate alternative means of making the savings. The Attorney General, Dominic Grieve, has also been highly critical of the proposals.

I fully intend to lobby the ministers directly. I will also be raising this matter with Lord McNally and Nick Clegg at the earliest opportunity.

Best wishes,

Tim Farron”

The Unfair Taper

“The daily taper is a slur made against every advocate operating in the Crown Court. It says we drag cases out to make money. And it is exactly this false justification for the “reforms” like this that runs through the consultation like Blackpool through a stick of rock.”
And this is a graphic example of how Counsel work, but the Taper does not.

A view from the North

This is a genuine record of the progress of a criminal trial before the Crown Court. No criticism is intended of any party or individual. No exaggeration has been made. What is important is that under the current Government proposals counsel would be penalised for the progress of this case.

    Day One

The Judge has a couple of cases to deal with before commencing the trial. That allows counsel to discuss one or two final matters prior to the jury being sworn. As soon as the Judge has finished his other work the parties are ready to go. A jury is sworn. However this is a day of industrial action by certain members of the court staff. This trial involves one principle witness who will give evidence via the live link facilities. Other ongoing trials need the non-union staff to cover things like juries retiring to consider their verdicts so…

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Groundhog Day

This is well worth re-blogging for many reasons. Not the least of which is Guy’s demolition of Government spin, and let’s be honest, blatant dishonesty, in their campaign to destroy our Criminal Justice System

Guy Gozem

I know a lot of very good people who work in the criminal justice system (CJS). They have been treated quite appallingly by one government (and one Lord Chancellor) after another. Yet they have kept coming back for more. I’ve lost count of the cuts that have been imposed over the years. I know they have been big and I know they have been frequent. Now this government will introduce more. It might think we’ve cried wolf so often that it can ignore us as they have ignored us in the past. If that is what they think they are wrong. Funding has been cut to the bone. There is nothing left to cut. The system is as close to failure through underfunding as I have known. It would grind to a halt were it not for the goodwill and hard work of the legal profession. They deserve better. The government…

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