Chris Grayling is, as we all know, a man of integrity and honour. He’s not a lawyer, which isn’t an obstacle in itself, as long as he is prepared to educate himself. In that respect, he is fortunate to have had plenty of offers from members of the bar to offer him some free ‘work experience’ to see what life at the coalface is like.
Here, one of our number (Emma Nash) details the attempts that she has made to arrange for our noble Lord Chancellor to go back to school, which raises the curious case of the anonymous barrister…
I attended the Houses of Parliament on 26 June along with many others to take part in the mass lobby of MPs. My MP was unavailable but a group of us were lucky (?!) enough to encounter Mr Grayling, who was passing through. He reluctantly gave us his attention for a few minutes, during which I invited him to come to Court with any of us for the day to see the working realities of the system he was in charge of. This would allow him understand properly how the CJS works ‘at the coalface’. He said to email him with details. I asked him to promise to reply as he made good his escape.
I emailed him that very night offering him the opportunity to visit court with me to give him insight and a perspective unobtainable in any other way. He didn’t reply. I resent the email a couple of times :
On 26 Jun 2013, at 23:41, “Emma” wrote:
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 remuneration 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 look forward to your reply which is what you promised to me when I made you the offer today.
I can be contacted on [mobile number] if that is easier.
I finally got a reply on 4th July :
On Jul 4, 2013, at 8:25 AM, “GRAYLING, Chris” wrote:
Thanks for your message. You haven’t told me where you are…. Some of your group had come from Cornwall.
You have probably seen that I have signalled a couple of changes since we spoke. My diary is mad at the moment, but I am not ruling it out….
I replied the same day :
On Jul 4, 2013, at 12:11 PM, Emma wrote:
Dear Mr Grayling,
Thank you for your reply.
I am based in chambers in the Temple, London and practice mainly in Essex although do appear in crown courts in Suffolk, Norfolk and London as well. So all easily accessible for you from London as opposed to Cornwall!
However, if traveling to where i practice is too difficult for you to manage I am happy to arrange for you to go to court with another barrister at any court you choose convenient to you in England and Wales on any date you can manage and for any duration. That would be no problem at all to arrange. Surely you can fit that in even if just for a couple of hours?
I urge you to find time in your busy diary to take me up on this offer. How can you truly propose effective savings if you’ve never even seen the criminal courts from that perspective? I have seen the changes you signaled. I remain deeply disturbed by the proposals as they stand as set out in my consultation response and also in more detail in the response of the CBA, south eastern circuit and other representative bodies. You really need to listen to those who know the system and work it in on a daily basis. Coming to court with me (or anybody else) will allow you to understand their objections with new perspective.
I look forward to hearing back from you to arrange this.
This email had to be sent 3 times before a reply was received on 18 July :
On Jul 18, 2013, at 3:07 PM, “GRAYLING, Chris” wrote:
Sorry – I try to do my own emails, but am always a bit behind. I’m afraid you have been beaten to it. I will be in court with one of your colleagues in the next few days. I had the same offer twice on the same evening.
Thanks for the offer anyway. I can only say again that I have been listening carefully to what everyone has said in the last few weeks.
I replied on the same date querying this and asking for details of who he was going to court with, where and when. I queried why he’d said on 4 July he was not ruling my offer out if he’d had another offer that same night he was planning to take up. :
Dear Mr Grayling
I sadly cannot say that I am surprised that you have declined my offer. I wonder though why you asked me on 4 July where I was based as you were not ruling out the possibility of coming to court with me if you’d had a similar offer which you were going to take up from a colleague. May I ask who my colleague is you propose to go to court with? Is it a member if the junior criminal bar? Which court will you be attending and when? I thought that my group were the only ones who managed to speak to you at the House of Commons on that day and make the offer to come to court to you. I look forward to your clarification on those points.
Despite not permitting me to show you in person the realities, I sincerely hope that you have listened carefully to the arguments advanced and that you do go to court to see the realities for yourself. I encourage you to put your own political aspirations behind your duty as The Lord chancellor to protect our justice system. Please do not make cuts and changes which would leave behind a devastated system as your legacy when you are in a different role hot off the heels of your ‘savings’. Take heed of the stark warnings given by on particular those who have nothing to gain from making them.
I look forward to hearing back
His final reply dated 22 July was that he would not tell me the information I’d asked for, save that it was a member of the junior bar indeed “2 in fact”. Despite further prompting, there has been no response.
Conclusion and a mystery
So. This leaves a tantalising mystery – who are the two (presumably shy and retiring wallflowers of barristers) who made the offer. And more significantly, who had the pleasure of the Lord Chancellor as a mini-pupil? The CBA has on numerous times requested these answers from the MOJ, as well as the details of the identity of the lucky barrister and the courts attended with dates. But alas, to date, answer there has been none.
Please, please, if you know of the identity of the chosen barrister (or even better, if you are them), contact us. It cannot, surely, be the case that the Lord Chancellor was telling porkies?
If not, well, you can always email Chris Grayling (email@example.com) and ask him for yourself.