Guest Post: To Arms

“We should stand now, as lawyers before us have done across so many other jurisdictions and through countless years to protect justice from the state. If we do not do so then we and the system clearly could not have been worth saving.”

Thoughts on the Criminal Justice System

Guest Post by Will Nelson (, Higher Courts Advocate at Kent Defence (

I was walking my dog just outside a little Kentish village at the weekend when I crossed the main road, rounded a bend and came upon the decaying remains of the old colliery. Red brick and brown rusting steal resting amongst the tall weeds like the skeletal carcass of a once great beast. It occurred to me that not that long ago and certainly within the memory of a great many in this profession, the miners who worked that pit had suddenly realised that something so important to them and the community was being ripped away for reasons of ideology hidden by the veil of cost and progress. I wonder how those that are still with us feel now when contracts for brand new coal fired power stations are awarded to overseas investors by the same party…

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Eleventh Letter to the Lord Chancellor


Eleventh Letter to the Lord Chancellor, Secretary of State for Justice,

Mr Chris Grayling,

28th January 2014,

Dear Lord Chancellor,

Let me congratulate you on your Transforming Legal Aid response to the consultation, published yesterday. I think that my imps did a pretty good job cloaking its savage implications under a veneer of reasonableness. You have listened to your opponents and ignored them all: bravo!

It estimates that your cuts to the legal aid fee scheme (AGFS) will save £130 million per year and, combined with your other savings, reach your Treasury-set target. The small print shows that there has already been a reduction last year of £126 million in criminal legal aid spending in any event. Don’t let anyone find out, or people will know you can make the required savings and prevent the justice system from being destroyed. That clearly would not be in the public interest. You…

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A Tale of Two Cases

Dan Bunting - A Life in the Bus Lane

Today (27th February 2014) the government published their latest response to the consultation.

This is a very quick post just dealing with the problems with AGFS Scheme 2 and why barristers (in chambers) shouldn’t be too happy with the outcome.

One week last year I prosecuted two cases. On the Monday it was a benefit fraud – a two day trial. The value was just over £20,000. To be ready for trial involved, say, 20 hours work doing interview edits, admissions and schedules. The defendant was convicted and the sentence was adjourned.

On Tuesday evening I got my case for the next day. It was a shoplifting (£12.09 of cat food from memory). There were two witnesses whose evidence took up three pages. The defendant hadn’t been interviewed and so the only exhibit was one page – the till receipt.

At court, the security guard didn’t turn up. The application…

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Two Little Things

A view from the North

It is often the little things in life that irritate – a man constantly coughing on the train, an unnecessary mention, Jimmy Krankie…. So today was a day when something big came along. Today was the day the MoJ announced their plans for the criminal justice system, or rather their plans for the carcass.

There is much to be irritated about in the big document that the Government have produced. The impenetrable and misleading “Chart B1” for example. Or the contention that we will all be able to make up the cuts in income by us all doing lots of other work that would otherwise have gone to our talented colleagues who have left. Solicitors may find the idea of an 8.5% cuts being introduced in three weeks time somewhat irritating as it wipes out the profit of most firms overnight.

However two “little things” have really got my goat…

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The Irreparable Damage that MoJ Cuts to The Criminal Justice System are Doing to Vulnerable Witnesses

We have posted below an account from one of our members of yet another example of the trauma suffered by so many young and vulnerable witnesses that is entirely attributable to the myopic cost cutting of the Lord Chancellor, and his civil servants. it is a pity that it is dedicated and hard working counsel who has to face these witnesses and explain it to them, rather than those who are really responsible, hiding away in Whitehall, behind their Spin Doctors, whilst claiming they do all they can to PROTECT the vulnerable.

As our member says at the end

” For this reason I remain committed to action. Whether it succeeds in making any difference remains to be seen. But together we have the power to try. Divided we can do nothing. Which is why I hope that we will be resolute and strong. And why I will not be in Court on 7th March, or accepting returns thereafter.”

I have just, for the second time, prepared a trial involving traumatised children alleging serious sexual abuse. For the second time, the trial has been removed from the list the night before the trial because there is no court/judge available to hear it. When I met these children, at court at the pre (first) trial visit, they came clutching their “Going to Crown Court” booklets. The youngest told me he had been having nightmares about court and barristers and the defendant coming to get him. The Defendant was arrested  two years ago. The Complainants were desperate to get the trial over with and get on with their lives. I promised them that whatever happened, it would soon be over. The very next day it was removed from the fixture list. Today it was removed from the list for tomorrow.


 I don’t know whether these allegations are true – that’s not my remit. What I do know is that true or false, one side or the other, arguably both, are very ill served by a system that makes 6 year olds wait two years for a trial only to be told it isn’t going to happen when everyone said it would. Twice. Despite the government’s protestations about its care for the victims of crime, this is a disgrace.


 The Courts are not to blame. They can only do what they are funded to do. The MoJ keep cutting court staff and judges and sitting days. This trial gave way for trials equally serious and traumatic.



 Quite apart from the fact that I have now lost days prepping the case, and 8 days of diary time when I was booked to do it, earning nothing as a result, I am ashamed of the state of our criminal justice system and the way it is racing to the bottom. I am frightened for the future, when I see hard pressed CPS lawyers and case workers have their case loads doubled and tripled overnight, as they see experienced colleagues being made redundant, and local CPS offices close. They are left with little hope of doing their job as well as they wish it to be done, or as well as they need it to be done. Despite this I see them battle on, desperately doing the best that they can.


 I’m frightened when I see experienced barristers, with years of crown court experience leave the Bar, or move into alternative areas of practice. I wonder when I will do the same.


 I find it hard to look alleged victims and witnesses and defendants in the face when they ask me when trials will take place.


 For this reason I remain committed to action. Whether it succeeds in making any difference remains to be seen. But together we have the power to try. Divided we can do nothing. Which is why I hope that we will be resolute and strong. And why I will not be in Court on 7th March, or accepting returns thereafter.


 If I can’t stand up and be counted for a legal system I was so proud to be part of, who will? When?

Silk. Get it while you can….



Chris Grayling, the Lord Chancellor, is doing his level best to ruin our profession. His plan, so it appears, is to achieve that aim by misleading (dishonest) statistics, responsibility for which he denies, and by peddling to the public the income of a minuscule minority in the hope that they will buy into the insinuation that every legal aid barrister is rolling in money.

At the same time, he advertises for Public Defenders to whom he will pay a pro rata rate which, when you factor in Paye, NI, holiday time, pensions, training and everything else will probably cost the taxpayer double what the current top grossing QCs are taking home.

This, simply, is because it’s not about the money money money, it’s all about the price tag.
Or using the price tag to deceive the public into thinking the Bar is a waste of money.

It’s not.

Last night…

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The History Boys (and Girls)

A view from the North

History teaches us many lessons. Do not invade Russia in the winter. Never invade Afghanistan. Do not marry Henry VIII. Turn the television off before an English side start the penalty shoot-out.

When it comes to “bar politics” we should not be slow to learn the lessons of recent history. And we have been here before. The Government poised to make cuts, the legal profession up in arms. We have had revisions to fee schemes, cuts to graduated fees and cuts to VHCCs. We have had defence cuts, prosecution cuts then defence cuts based on the prosecution cuts.

So what has happened before when we have been in a state of such revolt? We have failed to act with unity. We have either been talked down by wise heads who think there is a different way or we have been defeated by a failure to act with common purpose. I…

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