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THIS IS WHAT IS HAPPENING TO HONEST HARD WORKING LEGAL AID LAWYERS, AND WHY.


We received this yesterday, 11th June, before the Justice Select Committee hearing, and before Lord McNally’s “hysterical” outburst on Law in Action, in an admirable interview by @joshuarozenberg.

Then this morning, Quentin Letts in the Daily Mail attacks the “ashtray” voice of Michael Turner QC, and the “Biker” Lucy Scott Moncrieff whilst railing about legal aid lawyers in sharp suits on £200 per hour.

Who knows how far into the public arena this blog reaches? This post is certainly not one likely to feature in the Mail, as they do not have the wit or the guts to publish anything that offends against their slavish toadying to the likes of Grayling and his ilk.

If you sense anger in this introduction you are right. Far too much of what appears below strikes personal chords with your editor, as indeed it will with the vast majority of those practitioners who remain.

You will not find it easy reading. it is a courageous and heartfelt account of someone of whom the Bar, AND THE PUBLIC WE SERVE should be proud. I certainly am.

It’s not about the money, it’s about the loss of the finest, (and NOT the most expensive) Justice System in the world. lose the dedicated practitioners and you lose everything upon which it depends.

It brings nothing but shame on the heads of the likes of Grayling, McNally, Bob Neill and others.

Please read it to the end. It is entirely unedited. Some of the words I might not have chosen but it is not my business to do so in this case.

Then sign the petition in the unlikely event that you have not done so already.

And spread it around!

“When I was 14, I was an overweight, short loser who spent his weekends performing amateur dramatics.

I hated my time at school because I was unpopular and because I had a complete mental block when it came to any mathematical or scientific.

One week, my school organised a mock court case and a number of us were assigned various roles. I was asked to be a barrister and to argue a particular case.

A relative of mine was a barrister. On the night before the “case”, he helped me put together my argument – we spent the evening in his study looking at practitioner text books and case law – and the next morning I stood up and delivered my first set of submissions. I won.

In fact, I didn’t just win – I wiped the floor with my opponents. One by one, they stood up and said that they had nothing to say in response to me. I had found something that I enjoyed and that I appeared to be good at (albeit with a lot of help from a secret source). I knew that I wanted to be a barrister.

Throughout the following years of A-levels and a university degree, I set about taking various mini-pupillages in different areas of law and in different cities. I saw every type of work from large scale enquiries to a slip and trip case involving a supermarket floor but it was very quickly apparent that there was only one subject for me – crime.

It was so exciting. On my first day of my first criminal mini-pupillage, I went down into the cells of a Crown Court to meet a notorious gangster charged with an attempted murder in a nightclub with a shotgun. The barrister told me that I should sit closest to the door in case “it kicked off”. This was – perhaps – the single most exciting thing that I had ever heard. I loved everything else that I saw in the Crown Court and I knew that this was what I wanted to do with my life. I could not think of anything better in the world than to stand up and address a jury on behalf of a defendant charged with a criminal offence.

I took my degree at a very good red brick university. The vast majority of my fellow law students had their hearts set on a training contract with a magic circle firm of solicitors in the City. They thought that anything else was a failure but I couldn’t think of anything worse. I knew that I would not earn a fortune but I knew what I wanted and I was proud to say that I wanted to practise criminal law in “the provinces”. I remember, in my first year at university, one girl sitting on my bed in my halls of residence and telling me that I was “mad” to throw away the chance to try and get a training contract with a big firm (in fact she was so unimpressed that this remained the full extent of anything that happened with her on my bed).

That conversation took place 14 years ago.

If, during that conversation in 1999, I had been able to see my diary of professional bookings for 2013 I would have been confident that I had made the right choice. This is an anonymous post so I have no need to exaggerate the work that I do. My diary for the fortnight in which I write will give you a decent idea. I am doing the following cases:
– A complicated proceeds of crime case;
– A large scale fraud involving international businesses;
– Two large multi-handed Class A drug conspiracies involving thousands of pages of evidence;
– Two cases involving allegations of historic sexual abuse and rape

One of the above is for trial and the others are being heard for sentence or legal argument. Scattered around them are various other conferences and court hearings for everything from burglary to Section 18 assault.

This is not the greatest criminal practice in the world but it isn’t bad for somebody of my call and it compares favourably to most people around town.

This sort of work goes has consequences. I work all the time. A typical day for me starts at 6:00am when I get up to fit in an hour’s worth of work before my little toddler wakes up and demands a thousand different things at once. I am often too busy working to be able to see him.
I will then spend the day at court – an incredibly draining experience if you are involved in a serious trial in the Crown Court – before coming home. If I make it home to see my wife and child, I am usually so tired that I am grumpy and of little assistance to either of them. Once the little man is in bed, I rarely make it past 8:30pm before falling asleep on the sofa. At about 9:30pm, I then go back upstairs to my study and work until the small hours – I usually have 4 – 5 hours sleep but I often have less.

I used to wear all of the hard work as a badge of pride. I did a job which was respected and – I don’t mind admitting it – was well paid. I wasn’t paid mega-bucks and I didn’t have an extravagant lifestyle but I was paid enough that I felt that it was worth putting in the hours that I did.

I was so happy in my work that I couldn’t wait to tell people about it – I would bore people to death with stories of cases that I had been involved in. I would relish the chance to go out with the rest of the criminal team for a meal to swap anecdotes and tell war stories. In my first few years at the bar, I really did feel that I was living my dream.

That all seems very far away now.

Governments of all colours have shown an utter contempt for the criminal justice system. With one hand they have significantly increased the workload going through the system whilst on the other hand they have slashed the resources available. The sad fact is that both crown and magistrates courts are now badly run shambles where undervalued people (barristers; court staff; solicitors; judges; interpreters) grope their way through a bewildering series of reforms whilst not being given the resources to deal with things properly.

For my own part (and this is why this is an anonymous post) I am broke.
I cannot afford to pay my mortgage; I cannot afford to put petrol in my car; I cannot afford to pay my tax bills.
In the past 6 weeks I have received such a pathetic sum into my personal bank account that we are only able to cover (some of) the bills because my wife has a regular income. I have only been able to buy food for my family in the past month by spending the paltry sum that I had put aside to meet my tax bill. It is all gone now.
When I hear newspapers and politicians discuss “fat cat lawyers” who “feather their nests with legal aid” I can only laugh – I genuinely do not know how I am going to get to Court tomorrow morning and I do not know when I will next be paid.

The stress of the job; the sleepless nights and my financial situation have taken their toll. I now suffer from depression.
Some days I can’t get out of bed and go to my son if he is crying. Some days I lie on the kitchen floor and sob for no reason. Some days I shout at my wife because I feel as though my chest is going to explode and I have to find some sort of release. Some days I think about killing myself.
A few months ago I left Court, got changed out of my robes and – before I made it to my car – had a panic attack in the middle of the street. I got home and just fell asleep in the middle of the bedroom floor before waking up shaking and crying.

I know that I am not alone. The sad fact is that financial hardship and anxiety are a common experience for many members of the criminal legal profession. I have never known the mood of the bar and solicitors to be so low and this is all before Chris Grayling introduces his cuts and his devastating, evil reforms.

I’ve had enough.

I am quitting the criminal bar and finding something else to do – something which will pay the bills and give me some peace. I am not going to wait for another 20% cut in my fees. I am not going to wait to see just how bad it gets in court when Eddie Stobart is representing defendants. I am off.

I should imagine that I am precisely the sort of person that the government would quite like to remain at the bar. I am trusted by the CPS to prosecute serious crime – I have helped to convict murderers; rapists and drug dealers. There is a decent chance that I might have made it on to the bench one day to help run the courts. Perhaps I wouldn’t but I imagine that I am a better prospect than whoever G4S will find to conduct their cases for them.

I am not entirely sure what the purpose of this post is. I suppose that I just wanted to get this off my chest and know that somebody would hear it. Others have written persuasively and powerfully in the debate over Grayling’s reforms and I make no attempt at careful, considered argument – I just wanted to know that somebody had said how things really are.

Good luck.

Sign the petition: http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/48628

P.S. The girl on my bed is now filthy rich and splits her time between Dubai and a very large house in the home counties. I imagine that she does not write blogs about me

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98 thoughts on “THIS IS WHAT IS HAPPENING TO HONEST HARD WORKING LEGAL AID LAWYERS, AND WHY.

  1. Pingback: Legal Aid | St. Mary's Chesterfield Politics Society

  2. It is a shame that you are unwilling to accept the realities of the political situation. I am not defending the political establishment, far from it; but I am realistic; the political world works on spin and sound-bites (no matter how wrong that may be). I am in agreement that the solution is not more money for lawyers, but in fact a reasonable wage for reasonable work; however the political reality is that the government are hell bent on proving to the public that they are cutting costs, even if as a long term strategy it will cost more, they are not looking at the big picture because they don’t expect to be re-elected, all they want is cheap political gain.

    You can’t beat the system as it stands, if the politicians say these changes will bring about real savings there can be only one conclusion in the minds of the public and that is that lawyers will have to be paid less, any argument you raise will therefore sound like you are arguing against cutting costs and therefore in favour of “more money for lawyers”. I am not saying that this is fair, reasonable, honest or decent, it simply is the reality of the situation that this government has placed the profession in.

    I believe it was Abraham Lincoln that said something like ‘a lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client”; lawyers are too closely related to the problem to seem to be objective, therefore any argument raised by a lawyer is perceived, by the public at large, as self-interest. The problem is who else will stand up for more justice for the general public?

    You could parade before the media a string of convicted criminals all saying that they deserve decent representation but I think we all know the outcome of that will be to alienate the public, so you could bring forward people who have been wrongly accused and required a decent lawyer to stop them from being wrongly convicted, even this group has its problems as a proportion of the public will see them as people who ‘got away with it’ (no smoke without fire) because they had a decent lawyer; I would guess that many of these people would not welcome the publicity for an event they are trying to put behind them.

    It is for the above reasons that I feel the battle is already lost, but I am sure we all know that sometimes you may have to lose a battle… The key point is that this situation will only change when the government changes; dishonest spin is a fact of life and the politicians are masters of dishonest spin.

    • The battle is not lost. We have never been under any illusion about the nature of the opponent we face. We have faced the spin and fought against it.

      We continue to do so, and have far more to come in our armoury than you could possibly realise.

      The prospect of abject surrender to this government, which you perceive to be the only answer, is not one we are prepared to contemplate.

    • Roger,

      We are trying to spread the word about the fact the criminal legal aid is safety net for all society. Not even just for people who have been in some way culpable but for the entirely innocent.

      I give some genuine and recent examples here -http://wp.me/p3vDId-1o

  3. In the political world more justice for the general public translates to more money for lawyers. It is a sad fact that sometimes political decisions are based more on perception than on fact; certainly the current government won’t stop until it has got its pound of flesh from everyone, which is why I believe that this situation can only be altered by political change, rather than opposition or lobbying.

    • Criminal Legal Aid Fees are fixed. It is not a metter of how much we choose to charge. They are imposed upon us. I am only sorry that you are unable to grasp this point. Saving our Criminal Justice System has nothing whatever to do with “more money for lawyers.” That is precisely the dishonest spin that we are fighting against

  4. If the G4S vision was to come true as is proposed you must bear in mind that G4S would recruit their investigative staff from the Police force, their prosecutors would be employed from the Bar, the G4S court would employ judges, their security vans would no doubt recruit from prison officer or Police, the Prison officers would be recruited from Prisons and the Probation officers would be recruited from the Probation service. Is this really madness or just a change of ownership?

    Change is always traumatic, and people most closely affected by change are always the most resistant to that change, this is just a fact of life.

    Before I am attacked by the self interested please bear in mind I have no love for the political system, I certainly do believe that a cheaper justice system will most probably be a worse justice system, but I am realistic, the world economy is on the verge of disaster, the average man in the street is living with reduced wages and increased prices. What I believe is that during this period of economic re-adjustment we all have to bear some of the pain; granted it seems at the moment the legal profession is currently having to bear a disproportionate burden, but we all have to remember that in a political world more money for lawyers and less for the man in the street is never going to win votes.

    As this whole issue is mainly political and driven by the big parties we should all take a close look at why we continue to vote for the big 2 (or is it 3) party’s, who’s job it seems is to take from the poor and give to the rich, or themselves. Whilst we still have the semblance of a democracy intact we should use our democratic right to vote out those who seek to destroy what we hold precious.

  5. Failing Grayling is the biggest enemy of Justice & the State.

    Very soon an individual will be able to be investigated by G4S police staff, prosecuted by a G4S prosecutor (without access to legal aid), in a G4S Court, then taken in a G4S security van to a G4S prison, to be locked in by G4S Prison Officers and rehabilitated on release by G4S Probation Officers. This is madness!!

    We need to stop this man before we have no Justice system left.

  6. Probably best not to give the trolls the oxygen of attention. They wouldn’t post the comments they do if they were in any way susceptible to reason.

  7. “Nick” Interesting that the name you attach to this post does not match that of your email address?

    Do you have any particular evidence of “bleeding dry” by unscrupulous lawyers, by which we mean those who work within the Legal Aid system, usually earning around the same, or less than teachers and nurses?

    How are we to “regulate our greed” when for many years the fees we are paid have been those imposed upon us by Governments?

    I’m really not sure what you mean by nurturing some moral decency, or was that just a throwaway piece of gratuitous abuse? Don’t worry if it was, we get used to it.

    If you took the time to read the many posts on this and other blogs by Legal Aid lawyers, you might find that in reality, we spend our time working for the community, both prosecuting and defending remember, performing a valuable public service. You do want alleged criminals to be prosecuted and defended properly I take it?

    We do our utmost to maintain a balance between those claiming to be victims, and those claiming to be innocent. that’s how a free society should always work.

    As for what you say about recidivists, sure they exist, we don’t condone repeat offending, but we are also aware of what might be called “usual suspects syndrome” Remove any right to legal representation just because someone has numerous convictions and you increase the risk of the likes of the cynical Inspector Gadgets of this world to look for easy pickings by not investigating properly, arresting the usual suspects, and very possibly allowing the guilty to go free.

    Happily from our own experience we feel that there are mercifully few Inspector Gadgets in this world.

    I don’t suppose this response will have had any effect on your jaundiced view of lawyers, but hey, we can take it.

  8. I have no sympathy whatsoever. You have brought this on yourselves by allowing pompous unscrupulous lawyers to bleed the system dry. I am sure most lawyers are decent well meaning people but many are not. Perhaps if you regulated your greed and nurtured some moral decency, you may get more support. I think you will be dismayed to find that the general public have had enough and want the balance redressed in favour of the victim and not the recidivist offender. As InspectorGadget points out, ‘you reap what you sow’.

    • Sorry Nick, but your assumptions regarding the general public are misguided. In an independent survey published in May Eight out of ten (83%) of the British public believe that people accused of a crime should be treated as innocent until proven guilty, only a small minority (6%) disagreed,
      Seven in ten (71%) people are worried that innocent people could be convicted of crimes they did not commit if they are forced to use the cheapest defence lawyer available,
      three-quarters (75%) of the public say that it will be the poorest members of society who will be most affected if the Government makes cuts to legal aid, two-thirds (68%) also agree that at less than 0.5% of annual Government spending, legal aid is a worthwhile investment in our basic freedoms, and more than half of British adults (53%) agree that our justice system is respected by people around the world because of the quality of our barristers.

      I am sorry that the general public must be such a disappointment to you.

  9. As someone who works for several sets Chambers (not as a clerk or a barrister), it is very sad to think that the author could well be someone I work and I not know about it and at least be able to offer some kind of support. The previous Government encouraged young people to go to university, get qualifications but the jobs aren’t there for them and those that manage to come to the Bar are already burdened with a huge debt and little prospect of clearing it. It is affecting everyone but I do wonder if the Bar Council needs to be doing more to provide support to individuals in such a position or at least making the profession more aware of the support available. And as for Chris Grayling, we all understand the Government needs to make savings but Mr Grayling, in the words of Sir Humphrey Appleby, “If you must do this damn silly thing don’t do it in this damn silly way.”

  10. The performances of Mike, Moira and LSM at the Select Committee were inspirational. They spoke nothing but common sense but there is throughout the profession an enormous sense of impending gloom because we all know that so many of our friends and colleagues are about to lose their homes, their livelihoods and, as we have seen above, our sense of self worth.

    • Sorry didn’t quite catch that. How much do the individuals who sat on the Select Committee and those sitting in front of it earn in a year?

      • Significantly more than the vast majority of legal aid practitioners who are fighting to save the Criminal Justice System, and many of whom earn less than teachers and nurses.
        People at the very top of their profession are bound to be higher up the earnings bracket, and rightly so. Please do not get sucked in to the hackneyed propaganda nonsense that the MoJ continue to embarrass themselves by using.
        They don’t earn as much as Consultants in the medical profession, but can perform just as useful a public function, whether it be defending or prosecuting those accused of crime

  11. Ill conceived, ill thought out and extremely blinkered! Perhaps you, one day, will require representation! Then how would you react? You foolish and ignorant man! You bring shame on your profession! Inspector Gadget indeed,

      • The gravy train left the station before I ever came to the Criminal Bar – I am over 10 years call, I prosecute and defend serious cases – rape, serious violence, drug conspiracies etc.
        This is how much of a gravy train I’m on – last tax year my taxable earnings were £17k. My workload hasn’t dropped, I took no holidays. I worked an average of 16 to 18 hours a day. I can understand the writer of this blog’s utter despair. S/he is NOT alone, yesterday I borrowed £20 so I could get to court for the rest of the week.

        You sir (Wayne), are one of the misinformed who relish the opportunity to judge something of which you have little (or no) understanding.

        InspectorGadget – whoever you may be – there are no words and I give you no time.

        I am immensely proud if my profession and the people in it. I am not fighting for my fees – even though a number of my clients on benefits are better off than me – I am fighting for your right to a fair criminal justice system in which you, the jeering moron, are entitled to ethical, independent, competent representation – No matter who you are, where you come from or what your financial worth is.

        In other words Wayne, I care, we all do, about the people we represent be they defendants or victims of crime. Those who work for the paltry remuneration we receive and despite the debt, despite the manner in which we are vilified by such as you, are those who challenge the illegality of State actions, prevent the development of a “police state” by ensuring the Rule of Law (look it up – it has a special meaning when written with capitals) and help to ensure that you live in a democratic society in which you can live in the sound belief that you will not be subject to imprisonment without trial, that you will not and cannot be the victim of indiscriminate police or state action. You may want to do a little research into the atrocities in countries where people no longer have that security – start with Rwanda and don’t forget Turkey.

        Sleep well tonight – over the next years that security may no longer be yours.

  12. Difficult to add to such a moving blog but wanted to say that sadly these difficulties are not isolated.

    Things are partly so bad now because even if you have the work and earn some money from hours and hours of work, it can take up to a year to actually get paid, but everyone else still wants paying on time.

    The proposed changes will help nothing, if the MoJ had any credibility they would take up Maura McGowan QC’s suggestion of a hold on everything with a one to two year consultation on the whole system.

    Whatever happens we must keep an Independant Bar!

  13. A very moving account. May I suggest when you leave criminal law consider a move into politics? Your intelligence, work-ethic, dedication and a wish to make the world better shine through and these are exactly the skills that will help you succeed in politics, whether it be local or national.

    Who knows, in the future you may find yourself in a position to make a direct and positive change to criminal justice

  14. A very sad story. However people have to be realistic in that the structure of criminal work must change. There will be firms who operate now who are able to expand and compete legitimately for these new contracts. They will not be new market entrants such as Stobarts or G4S. They will be firms who can show a high quality threshold and that they can do the work at a competitive price. They will show innovative thinking and business acumen which is what the profession needs. They will have been doing the job for years and will be very good at it. Firms aren’t just going to produce lawyers overnight and the firms that remain will have their choice of the market place. It cant be right that we say that standards will slip as there is nothing in any code of conduct that says the quality that we provide is proportional to what we are paid. Lawyers are just going to have to accept that they will be paid less. There may have been 16,000 responses to the consultation, but not all of them will be negative and people are living in cloud cuckoo land if they think that if PCT comes in firms will not bid. They all will!

    • I think you need to look at another post on this blog by solicitor Oliver Kirk relating to Price Competitive Tendering, which explains how wrong you are, and how,it is logistically and financially impossible for small firms of solicitors to,tender individually, or combine as you suggest.
      This could almost have been written by an MoJ spin doctor! 😉

      • There are quite simply some firms that will make this work and make it profitable. The Bar have a misguided view that people won’t bid, in fact they are actively saying we shouldn’t. The Bar will however be ok. They will be in a position where they can still accept instructions. The firms that they told not to bid will have shut and the ones that did bid will have jobs. I don’t recall the Bar going on strike when fixed fees for police station and magistrates court work came in not did they strike when means testing came in at the lower courts. The more cynical may say that they are only bothered now as it affects them!!

    • David, have you been hibernating for the last six months? The Bar and the solicitors’ profession are united as never before. There is wide consensus that even the largest existing firms will not be in a position to bid for a contract. Your blithe assertion that ‘the Bar will be ok’ simply confirms my suspicion that you either haven’t read the proposals or that you have but haven’t thought through the consequences – none of the defence firms who instruct me will survive the holocaust that Chris Grayling has in mind, so even though I may not be vaporised by the initial blast I will certainly die in the nuclear winter that follows (I’m using a metaphor here, David).

      • Funnily enough, I haven’t been hibernating. I am just putting forward an honest view from what I have seen. I have been to local law society meetings where we have been asked to state publicly whether we will bid for contracts. Firms there, after telling me they would bid, did not say that publicly. This is what I mean. They may be publicly united but the reality is that when this is all over and if indeed the consultation is a sham as most of the Bar believe, then PCT in some form will come in and firms will bid. Lawyers firms at the coal face do not trust each other and the government know this. I have read the proposals and we are already planning for this and establishing links, interestingly with high profile barristers chambers, who although publicly saying they are against PCT are more than happy to deal with us behind the scenes for PCT. I understand your metaphor. Like the rest of the Bar you’re completely unrealistic and I don’t mean this in a nasty way.

    • If “David” isn’t an MOJ stooge I’m sure he can tell us what firm he is from and how they intend to adapt to the proposed changes. I look forward to reading all about it.

      • Sam, I’m not an MOJ stooge as you so politely put it. I’m counsel and have been for 18 years now. I see that this profession is antiquated and I have seen it from both sides. I have seen counsel desperate to crack cases so they don’t have to do a trial and I have seen solicitors encourage clients to plead guilty. Sometimes neither of these have resulted in the best result for the client. What I resent is being told by the Bar that firms shouldn’t bid for contracts. I also resent the current stance that this is about losing quality and justice. Our firm provide both in abundance and the public will not lose out if we and firms like ours get a contract. Of course, publicly everyone is against PCT, but please be realistic. Solicitors firms are stabbing each other in the back now to get legal aid orders transferred. There is no such thing as ‘we’re all in this together’. We are until a big case comes along and they want to transfer!

  15. Obviously “Inspector Gadget” is an absolute clown but it’s worth pointing out, having read the other comments on his post, that “Inspector Gadget” is the name of a cartoon character and our brave wordsmith is unlikely to be an actual police officer. As an aside I wonder if his attraction to that particular sobriquet lies in the fact that the cartoon character has extendable appendages? Anyway, in summary: a moron but (probably) not a police officer

  16. What an awful irony that we need (either prosecuting or defending) people like the author of the article to check disclosure decisions made by the likes of “inspectorgadget”.

  17. Very honest, open and moving piece. Shocking? No, unfortunately not. There are so many others in the same situation and often suffering in silence, I come across them every day, it is a sad reality of, once, a very desirable profession.

  18. Such a moving account and so true. Thank you for sharing. I’m a criminal solicitor and I don’t intend to stick around and see what mess our justice system ends up in. Hence starting the travel blog!

  19. Prior to studying law at university I had aspirations to be a criminal barrister. After leaving university I joined a small solicitors practice and have practised as a solicitor for 17 years in Australia and the UK 8 years as a partner in a large London practice. While I have never earnt mega bucks – the GFC certainly didn’t help – I have always had a reasonably secure income albeit earnt by working around the clock – leading to a divorce and another failed relationship.

    But I consider myself very fortunate. I know a number of very good criminal barristers in London. Extremely bright extremely hard working people who dedicate their lives to serving the community for very little financial reward.

    The government needs to take serious stock of stories like this and as a society we cannot lose such people from the profession. In hindsight I am glad I didn’t go to the bar but am very grateful that many bright men and women do. It is terrible to see them fighting a losing battle when they do so much maintain one of the most fundamental aspects of our society.

  20. My dear fellow esquire, you have a high calling on your life henceforth. In Mathew 6:33 Jesus says: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things shall be added unto you.” I pray as you draw near to Him in sincere surrender of your heart and mind that the Holy Spirit will, by divine revelation, impart to you the peace and guidance that you desire and His plans for your life going forward.

    • I have often said to myself of late, “Christ knows what I’m going to do when my job goes down the tubes.” Apparently he does. What a relief.

  21. Pingback: Save UK justice: the blogs | ilegality

  22. Reblogged this on a barrister's wife and commented:
    A heartbreaking post on the reality of life for another criminal barrister. There are so many in similar situations. Indeed, if my husband and I had children, this could be us. Yet certain quarters of the media still perpetuate the myth of of the £200 an hour legal aid lawyer.

  23. Thank you for writing this blog post because when I read this passage, it felt better to know that I am not entirely alone in this failure:

    “Some days I lie on the kitchen floor and sob for no reason. Some days I shout at my wife because I feel as though my chest is going to explode and I have to find some sort of release. Some days I think about killing myself.”

    However, there is one stark difference. I am separated from my wife.

    I can only give you (and other readers in the same situation) this advice, as hard and inadequate and flippant as it is; pick yourself up and stop and change because if you think your situation cannot get worse, it can.

    I asked my wife many years ago to promise me that she would still love me even if we were destitute and she did unequivocally. However, it turns out I asked her the wrong question because what I ought to have asked is: Will you still love me as I fall into a spiral of desperate self loathing and financial ruin after dedicating 7 years of my life to the bar? It’s the self loathing that destroys you and everything around you, not the financial ruin.

    There’s a reason why the bar association in my jurisdiction has a dedicated mental health service.

  24. I have been a clerk to criminal barristers for over 30 years and I am so sad to read this. Sad and furiously angry at the destruction of the finest, most transparent system of justice in the world and for what? So that an arrogant, self interested politician with an eye on a hugely lucrative commercial future, can mislead the public into thinking that he is proposing these ridiculous, unsupportable, unworkable changes for the good of the country.
    The best, the very best, are leaving. I don’t blame them. Why should they put in the hours, the commitment, the dedication to the job for very little financial reward, only to find themselves vilified on all sides for being a defence lawyer, portrayed unfairly at every turn for being a rich defence lawyer and publicly and repeatedly slated by the likes of the Mail for daring to protest at proposals which will leave this country with a US system of justice – the rich get justice, the poor get jail time.
    I want to stand on a roof top and shout till I have no voice left at the unfairness of all this, of the deception that is being played upon the public, of the selling of this country piece by large piece to G4S and the likes of Stobart. Protest wherever you can, tell everyone you know what is really happening, show them this story. The message has to be got out there that the MOJ are destroying one of the underlying strengths of this country. The right to representation, the right to choose, the right to protest in court when the Government gets it wrong.
    I want, on the one hand, to ask this person to stay because it is for this kind of lawyer that we must win this fight but on the other I understand that sometimes the constant battle to earn any kind of a decent living just gets to be too much for anyone. I wish you well whatever you decide. I intend to shout till G4S shut the doors personally on me.

  25. I can add little to what has already been written by way of replies to your article, and in any event – what is there to say? We are villified by the tabloid press, our role is wilfully misunderstood by the public, and politicians misrepresent our average incomes by moving the decimal point one place to the right. Everyone who works within the criminal justice system (apart from the bilious inspectorgadget) knows that we work our arses off because it matters to us that things are done properly. When in five years’ time (I’m being optimistic) we have gone the way of the dodo and the criminal justice system implodes we get to say “I told you so.” Yay.

    The Bar is a profession. I don’t think many people really understand what that means. It means we don’t just do it for the money. It means that we take pride in what we do. I feel privileged to be a member of the Bar, to do the work I do, and to make what I believe is a valuable contribution to society. The sort of person who would give any creedence to what Quentin Letts writes is utterly incapable of accepting that – to do so would prove dangerously unsettling to their comfortingly narrow world-view, one in which barristers are pantomime villains who feed on human misery.

    I accepted a little while ago that I am working jn the engine-room of the Titanic. I will keep doing so until the water is up to my chin – I’m just sorry that you’ve found yourself in that position already. Save a place for me in the lifeboat.

    Nick Tucker
    12 College Place
    Southampton

  26. this just made me cry. Thank you so much for your very honest account. I wish you all the best for the future.

  27. An inspirational and heart rending account of why we all do this difficult, stressful, wonderful, horrible, vital, upsetting, thrilling job. And also why many of the best among us are now giving up and turning to less worthwhile ways of earning a crust. I sympathise profoundly with the author of this piece. I recognise and share many of his circumstances. The writing has been on the wall for years. I have lingered in the job far too long – loath to leave off doing what I love, and terribly sad to have to accept that the vocation I have fought to do well for 16 years seems to be coming to a dead end.
    The politicians are betraying the public by thoughtlessly junking a precious and exceptional criminal justice system for the sake of short-term political capital and illusory savings. I am deeply bitter, for the country as well as for myself.
    I am very proud to have been a member of the independent criminal bar. Pride pays no bills though, and lord how they are mounting up (second mortgage, credit cards maxed, modest inheritance gone, my wife’s extraordinary patience almost spent too…). It may finally be time for me to move on too.

  28. Thank you so much for writing and sharing this. So depressing to read it and much that many of us recognise there unfortunately. It’s a tragedy that so many good people being driven out of the profession, I fear that it’s already too late, and the damage has been done. Pretty much everyone I know is looking for an escape route. I really do hope that this gets wider coverage …

    Good luck for the future.

  29. This is so dreadfully sad but regrettably a true reflection of many who have remained dedicated enough to remain in the criminal profession.
    Reading the completely insensitive comment made by “Inspector Gadget” quite frankly makes my blood boil. It is because of people like this that the criminal justice system needs dedicated and honest professionals to ensure that justice is upheld. Perhaps this person didn’t read the article, nowhere did I read any reference to “getting people off” when you “know they are guilty”. This sort of comment is made only by those who are too ignorant to try and comprehend what actually happens. Having been a defence practitioner for thirteen years I have never felt any satisfaction from seeing a case collapse when a conviction would have been the right result. Cases collapse because of poor policing and/or poor prosecuting. Perhaps you have extensive experience of this because you are incapable of doing your job?
    The fact that you feel justified in sneering at a man who has openly admitted suicidal thoughts and depression shows the measure of you. Shame on you. Might I suggest that you crawl back under whatever rock you emerged from.

  30. What a ridiculous sop and what a pathetic rant. Grow up. The public has no business paying for you to do something you love. Get a sense of responsibility rather than a sense of entitlement.

    • The public is quite happy to pay for nurses and teachers, most of whom love what they do, and many of whom, believe it or not, actually earn more than a lot of junior barristers.
      My plumber enjoys his job. I just paid his bill for £35 per hour labour, plus his expenses.
      On Monday I went to court for a case to be mentioned to a judge, and details sorted out. I got paid £46 for the day, before deduction of overheads. I do not get paid expenses.
      A couple of weeks ago, i was contacted by someone who had to go to court to appear for a client who,was to be sentenced. We are paid nothing for this. (Yes, you read that right, nothing!)
      He was kept waiting all day by the judge, who eventually told him to come back the next day, which was the start of his own family holiday.
      Because of his professional commitment to his client, he turned up for the second day, again for no pay, cancelled his family holiday, and lost what he had paid for it, in addition to the disappointment to his wife and children.
      We think we are quite responsibile.
      What makes you think we are not entitled to be paid?
      We have to eat FFS!

    • Mr Bowen. Do you think I have enjoyed any of the following in my career?
      Earning £49 an hour which less ovsrheads puts roughly£10 per hour in my pocket
      Holding up by the back of his jumper a vulnerable 20 year being charged with the murder of his baby?
      Driving a child in care back to care home in early hours of the morning rather than leave them in police cell waiting for someone to be free to collect them?
      Shaking hands with a suspect drenched in the blood of the wife he had just killed in front of their kids?
      Going through elderly clients home looking for evidence of a relationship with a girl who accused him of rape.
      This is not a hobby. People like me do it, and do it willingly for no pay, so people like you don’t have to. Am sure you would not wish to represent yourself if you defended your home and family from a burglar tonight and found yourself arrested. Be careful what you wish away. None of us know when we may need the assistance of a lawyer

    • If you are suggesting that it is infantile to be concerned about the rights of the individual when being prosecuted by the state, you might be misunderstand the generally accepted notion of justice or the concept of individual rights.

      The ‘public’ pay for a service to be delivered as part of the state’s criminal justice system. Whether or not people doing that work enjoy their job is not relevant, beyond a tendency for people to work better when they find their employment congenial.

      The situation described above, in what you term a “pathetic rant”, has come about because the barrister concerned has allowed his motivation to work as a criminal advocate override his selfish financial interests. His training and qualifications would enable him to earn substantially more doing privately funded work if he were willing to suppress his admitted anxiety that poorer members of society would suffer for want of assistance in a time of need if he – or people like him – were not willing to take on badly paid but worthwhile work.

      Barristers who are commercially unwise enough to take on legal aid briefs, tend to do so out of a sense of selflessness and public duty. If you don’t think this shows “responsibility” I would be intrigued to know what does.

      A sense of entitlement also seems a reasonable expectation where something has been done in the way of work, for which payment is the norm. If you are suggesting that barristers and solicitors should do their work for nothing, the “sense of entitlement” appears to be yours : as (presumably) a taxpayer, you appear to be expecting the protection of a criminal justice system without wanting to pay for it.

    • Mr Bowen, what a terribly jaundiced world you must live in if you read that blog and your first thoughts were that the author was expressing a sense of entitlement.

      He was expressing the impact that a number of factors of life at the bar have had on him. He was telling a tale of how he knows his ability, skill and hardwork can be deployed in areas that will provide him with a better standard of living and a better quality of life. His only entitlement is to proper remuneration for his skills.

      And why should the state pay for him to do the job he loves? Because the services he provides are necessary in a civilised society. If your house is burgled and the culprit caught do you want him prosecuted and punished? You may just want a lynch mob but I hope not. So do you want the prosecutor to be paid for his work? Do you want to cover all the costs personally just because it was your house that was burgled? Do you want him to be prosecuted by a lawyer with the skills to secure the conviction? That lawyer is the author of that blog. And that is why the state has to pay him for his hard work.

      Your lack of compassion is saddening. Your lack of understanding is disappointing. Your complete lack of appreciation of how society works is astounding.

  31. I don’t know your name, or if it may have been you that helped my brother and later my best friend. But if it was, thank you.

    Seeing both these good people finding themselves on the wrong side of the law was just devastating. Families were torn apart, jobs were lost and lives were devastated.

    As the suspect, the accused, the defendant – you will find yourself up against the full force and resources of the police, the crown and whatever specialist lawyer they choose. In the end it was the tenacity, humanity and dog-eared determination of the ‘silk’ that ensured that the juries returned the right judgements and preserved the liberty of two entirely innocent people.

    I am quite sure that should either scenario occur under a system now proposed, there would be two innocent people serving long jail terms.

    Our entire justice system, revered the world over will be destroyed if Grayling gets his way.

  32. This is appallingly sad, and a dreadful indictment of the contempt for criminal justice shown by both this and the previous government.

    I’d like to wish the author all the best for the future. He/she is just the kind of person the criminal bar needs, but she/he is more than justified in looking for a job that pays the bills instead. Maybe one day the government will realise that we need the criminal bar.

  33. The bailiff instructed by HMRC who came to my house was a very reasonable and polite man. Once he had cast his expert eye over my personal property and assessed it as valueless we settled down to a cup of tea and an Aldi “everyday value” digestive biscuit. “What do you think your car is worth?” he said, referring to my 10 year old Citroen with 150,000 miles on the clock that was slowly leaking oil onto the drive. “Well coincidentally”, I replied ” last week I went on the “Webuyanycar” website and they offered me £50 for it. Subject to inspection of course.” “I thought all barristers drove Rolls Royces.” he said. “Oh no.” I told him. “What the Criminal Bar does is provide a Rolls Royce service for a 10 year old Citroen price.”

  34. I am not married nor do I have children, but am of a similar call and have experienced all else you have written of. Similarly I am in the process of leaving the Bar and a job I was once proud of. Good luck to you and thank you for being brave enough to share your (our) experiences.

  35. Pingback: End of the day round-up | Legal Cheek

  36. Quentin Letts might like to know that I have just been paid £100 for a Pleas and Case Management Hearing that I prosecuted on 19th April 2012 (yes, Quentin, it was over a year before I got paid). Obviously, having read the papers, amended the indictment, advised the CPS on further evidence and having got on at 2:00 in a 10:30 list, the trial was then fixed for a time that I couldnt do it. On the day I received that payment I received a letter from a firm of High Street solicitors telling me that they charge £225 per hour for, what is effectively, domestic conveyancing (you will not be surprised to learn that this was in relation to remortgaging my house to pay my tax bill) and that they wanted a substantial payment on account. I am tempted to reply and ask them if they have any jobs going….

  37. I am so sad to read this account. I am not a lawyer; I do care about the criminal justice system; I don’t want people like you to leave the profession, but I do not blame you.

    All the best for the future, thanks for all you did over the years. I hope you find something as fulfilling that will make you and your family happy.

  38. Reblogged this on A view from the North and commented:
    Please read this. It shames me at the attempts I have made to get the message across. This is the final word on the realities of undertaking difficult work in circumstances where the profession is undervalued. This is not hysteria or hyperbole. It is frank and courageous.

  39. I feel inadequate in echoing the sympathy that has already been expressed by others. Your account is heartbreakingly honest and I hope will silence the ill-informed. Like Ian West I am sorry that you feel that you have to leave the profession but for your sake and perhaps more importantly, that of your family, I can understand why. I hope you regain your zest for life once you firmly close behind you the door to the profession you once loved.
    Sarah Regan
    Albion Chambers

  40. Thank you for setting out your reasons for leaving the criminal bar. It is vital that more people understand the true extent of the difficulties faced by criminal barristers. It is sad but understandable that you have made your decision and the criminal justice system will be that bit poorer for the loss of another experienced advocate. I wish you good luck for your future.
    Nathan Palmer
    5 Pump Court
    Temple

  41. You are now experiencing one tenth of the pain and anguish felt by every victim of every persistent criminal who you know is guilty, but still do your best to ‘get off’ in court. I have watched the sneering faces of those who think, like the writer, that when it ‘kicks off’ it is exciting. It is not exciting. It is violent, dangerous and brutal. As you sow, so shall you reap.

    • I wonder how many allegedly corrupt police officers who have been acquitted by a jury would share your view that they “got off” as a result of questionable representation.

      Doubtless you show the same concern for those who were the victims of that corruption, most of whom are honest (and not cynical) police officers whose credibility is damaged by the dishonesty of the few.

      The Bar does not “know” that a client is guilty unless he or she tells them so. If that happens, we advise them that we cannot act further unless they plead guilty.

      Anyone with the wit and wisdom to attain the rank of Inspector would know this, and would not sink, as you have, to the depths of gutter press cynicism.

      Be thankful you have an independent Bar. Who knows, even YOU might need it one day.

    • What an incredibly crass comment! So: in your world view everybody accused of a crime is guilty; trials are a waste of time; lawyers are evil; and people should just be arbitrarily arrested and sent to jail without passing ‘go’. Is that a fair summary? I sincerely hope that your avatar is misleading and that you are not in fact a police officer because if you are, God help us all!

    • Inspector Gadget, did you read the piece? If you did you would realise this professional and dedicated man has assisted countless victims of crime in the cases he has prosecuted. He also sounds like the sort of man who has taken his professional duties to heart and has never sneered at anyone involved in the criminal justice system. He has played his part in the system that this nation has designed to try those accused of crime. Unfortunately articulate men and women like this are being driven from the profession. And that means that they are lost to the prosecution side of things.

      In your hope that he reaps what he sows you should pause for a moment and consider the lack of compassion and understanding that you demonstrated with your response. I read his piece and tells me of a decent, hardworking, intelligent and caring man. Then I read your contribution of sneering anonymous bile and I think to myself – “I do not need to hide behind a cartoon character, I am Jaime Hamilton a barrister at 9 St John Street in Manchester and I can tell from your contribution that you sir, you are a moron.”

    • Howdy inspectorgadget,

      … erm, aren’t you equally onboard the criminal justice gravy train (“crime plc”)? i mean… if it wasn’t for these recidivists your job would be surplus to requirement?

      …also, i notice you have a tidy little sideline going of your own, writing about “violent/dangerous/brutal” stuff. sating the prurient interest of others… got the books there, hawking your wares on Amazon. nice little earner, that, i imagine.

      could call your next book “proceeds of crime”?

      care to talk about moral relativism, inspector?

    • Gadget, this surely can’t be you?

      You know better than most why run an adversarial system. Ultimately we’re all professionals doing our own roles. Blaming lawyers for the shortcomings in our legal system is like blaming gravity for people who leap off of buildings.

      We all have things we don’t like.. (my personal one is unverified mitigation during sentencing) but I think we have it alright here. You only have to look to the Italian/US legal systems….

    • Oh, Inspector Gadget (not, I suspect, your real name), being a criminal defence barrister is not about “getting people off”. Being a criminal prosecutor is about proving beyond reasonable doubt that the accused is guilty. Since a defendant will almost certainly be neither conversant with the law nor particularly eloquent, he is entitled to have someone acting for him who is. After all, the police have the CPS acting on their behalf, so fair enoughski, I’d have thought. I am not a barrister but nor am I disinterested – I work in a set of chambers which specialises in criminal legal aid. I know how much barristers work, I know what their commitment is, and I know that you have no idea what you’re talking about. I have no idea what has caused your bitterness but it has warped your judgement (if, indeed, you had any to begin with). You are, of course, entitled to your opinion, but please don’t be surprised if it strikes people as tiresome at best, at worst, offensive, ill-informed and idiotic.

    • Not every criminal is persistent. Not all defendants are guilty. Not every ‘victim’ (complainant) is telling the truth. Those who are guilty should be convicted, and where appropriate, jailed. Those who are not should be acquitted. In both cases the country should be able to say, with as much certainty as possible, that justice was done. Without qualified and dedicated legal representation on both sides it is not possible to have faith in the outcome.

      You forget, Inspector Gadget, that the author of this post both prosecutes and defends. His experience of defending no doubt improves his skills as a prosecutor (ability to see weaknesses in the case, ability to request further statements to plug evidential gaps etc). I would imagine you support wholeheartedly the notion that prosecutors are an essential part of the system, but prosecutors are one side of the coin. They do not exist without their defence counterparts. They are often better at what they do because they have worked with both hats on. If you want the guilty prosecuted, and convicted, you want the prosecution to be represented by someone who knows what they’re doing, and who is paid well enough that they are willing to put in the (unbelievable) extra hours required to do the job well.

      ‘As you sow so shall you reap’? Really? The author is a professional attempting to do his job well and suffering from depression. Who’s sneering at whom?

      Lydia

    • What an ill informed toad you are. God help us if you really are a police officer. Your colleagues will be disgusted to be associated with you I suspect.
      The Bar has sowed nothing but good into the justice system of this country and what the writer of this blog is reaping is unfair and cruel.

    • InspectorGadget – may you reap everything you deserve.

      I doubt you are a police officer, let alone an inspector! If you are, you are clearly one of those that should not be.

      If you are, you are a shining example of why an independent Criminal Bar is so essential to protect the Rule of Law, defend the accused (whether rightly or wrongly charged) and prosecute fairly.

  42. This is an immensely moving account, and one with which may at the criminal Bar can identify. It deserves a wider platform than this – perhaps the national print media as a feature, or even radio or television. Can I suggest that you contact Joshua Rozenberg and see what he can do: Joshua@rozenberg.net.

    I am very sorry to hear that you are leaving the profession. It needs people like you. The pity is that the public will not miss you until long after you have gone, and they have seen that what replaces you, and me, and the rest of us, demonstrably fails.

    Ian West
    Fountain Chambers
    Middlesbrough.

  43. OMFG!!! We here in Melbourne Australia have similar concerns. Legal Aid is on hold unless your client is facing actual Gaol. Prosecuting barristers have not had a pay rise since February 2008. I do both sides.
    I, and others, at the Victorian Bar are watching the reforms in your part of the world and believe we are only about 2 or 3 years behind you. I too am broke. 12 years call and fuck all to show for it. My wife can’t work because we have a disabled child.
    The Australian Taxation Office sees me as a ‘fat cat’ because of my income and takes nearly half. All the while my legally aided clients who actually own their own home get aid because they have a low ‘income.’ Useless drunken drug f*****d ***** get aid funded by my hard earned tax dollars whilst I am worrying when, not if, the bank will foreclose on my house.

  44. Pingback: THIS IS WHAT IS HAPPENING TO HONEST HARD WORKING LEGAL AID LAWYERS, AND WHY. | Charon QC

  45. Make sure this gets to a wider audience, I suspect, having read this very moving account, there are many who associate with it. The public do not know the reality of life at the bar for the vast majority of us, this will help.

    Andrew Alty  

    ________________________________

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