To Act or not to Act
1. Our CBA and circuit leaders have been the most effective leaders we have seen in 25 years. If we had been led in this fashion throughout that period, we at the Criminal Bar would not be in the mess we are in now. We owe them a huge debt of thanks for the many months’ unpaid work which they have done on our behalf. I have read and understand what they have said about last week’s decision. I am outraged at the nature of some of the inappropriate criticism I have heard. I have emailed Nigel Lithman QC to tell him so. Rather than be castigated, they should and must be praised for their efforts. But I am afraid I shall be voting “Yes” to further action in the ballot, and I encourage you to do so too.
2. The AGFS cut, viewed from one angle, was a huge achievement. Bringing Grayling to the table at all was a huge achievement. The only snag is this: there will hardly be any solicitors out there to instruct us at those preserved rates 12 or 18 months from now. A simple equation follows: 100% x 0 = 0. Also, what we achieved was almost exclusively a matter of money. We have fought this campaign on a platform of access to justice. We secured a temporary respite in fee cuts whilst Grayling’s tanks continue to drive all over access to justice. His assurances about reviews after Jeffrey, Leveson etc are utterly worthless. Can there ever have been a more cynical, determined liar at the heart of government? Talk of negotiating uplifts in fees is pie in the sky unless this Justice Secretary, this year, loses so badly that no Justice Secretary for a generation will ever take us on again.
3. The bottom line is this: Grayling talks when he’s worried and not otherwise. We had him worried and last week he wanted to talk. After the resulting “deal”, he thought his biggest problem had gone away. Talk of ballot makes him worried again, so today he wants to talk again to the CBA. There are bound to be more dire threats. “Don’t you dare hold a ballot. We had a deal. I shall bring in one case, one fee. Return of cases will be punishable with imprisonment. I shall create a 5,000 strong PDS and legislate to make them the only criminal defenders. I shall abolish the bar. I shall burn your houses down. I will do such things… What they are yet I know not, but they shall be the terrors of the earth” (borrowing slightly on Lear, but you have the point).
4. Grayling’s request for talks last week, its very urgency, his bullying tactics, the artificial deadlines, his unreasonable pre-conditions, his extreme and (I say) undeliverable threats, his rapid response to the calling of the ballot: these are the typical actions of a man desperately worried for his own future. He has of late been ridiculed within his own party and is fighting on too many fronts. I am sure that NLQC and the CBA will be telling him at today’s meeting that he can threaten all he likes, our ballot must go ahead. It is worth noting that he would hardly be worried if he thought we were unlikely to vote “Yes” to further action; nor if he thought that such action would be ineffective. There you have it: he fears a “Yes” vote; he knows our action will be effective. He smugly told Nicola Hill of the LCCSA: “You didn’t complain hard enough”. It was careless comment in what he thought was his hour of triumph: the converse is “those who do complain hard enough get what they want”. We have complained hard and we can do so again. Does this help you decide how to vote?
5. If Grayling threatens our leaders today, I am sure the threatened consequences will be relayed to us. Courage, friends: the more dire his threats, the more frightened he is and the more undeliverable they will be. His stock is falling, his judgment suspect, his position insecure.
6. Solicitors’ action is gathering pace and will be given an enormous lift if we go back on the offensive. It is, however, naïve to think that they might achieve the level of unity which we at the bar have recently reached. I have never for a moment believed that in most areas they would unite sufficiently. It was always the case that we had to do it. Slowly, as we did it, we were drawing more solicitors than ever before to our side: not enough, but more than ever before. They are now seeking Judicial Review: we must offer them financial support. Their days of action may be imperfectly supported by their own number but in future we must join them and it will help to turn the screw. Last week’s settlement was damaging and reduced their morale. A “Yes” vote in our ballot will restore it.
7. This year, right now, we still have a near stranglehold over serious criminal cases in the Crown Courts. Trust me, the coal is being stockpiled and if we do not press home our advantage now, Grayling will use the next 12 months in further attempts to limit our scope for action in future. See, for example, his attempts at PDS recruitment and the current BSB consultation over returns, prompted by our supremely effective VHCC action. To that ludicrous consultation, clearly MoJ inspired, all of you must respond without fail before 25th April. The obvious remedy, of course, is that government shysters must be prevented from retrospectively reducing agreed rates of remuneration for ongoing cases. That the BSB should think any other approach might be necessary tells you a great deal about our regulator.
8. I am voting “Yes” in the ballot. I want to close the Crown Courts until Grayling is begging (as he must be made to do) to speak to the CBA & CLSA together. I suspect two weeks may do it, but if not I am willing to do more. If the ballot result is “No” then I shall have to set about planning a future which does not involve criminal defence work: not because I want to, but because our only alternative over time will be employment as in-house “Guilty Plea” counsel with Eddie Stobart or similar (Putin Law? Gazprom Defence?) on a zero hours contract.
9. Meanwhile, the Northern Circuit wonder whether we shall accept their returns during continuing action on their circuit. No, we shall not.
10. Grayling is more worried than any of our leaders, good though they are, have realized. This is a time for greater resolve, not less. Vote “Yes”.