The issues appear to be to be twofold:
The fact that the membership were not consulted in advance of the “deal” and the fact that the two tier solicitors system remains in place, which will ultimately have a disastrous effect on the Bar.
The lack of consultation was without question a mistake. It was however required as part of the deal, a classic politicians trick. The leaders had to make a judgement call as to whether the deal would be removed if they did not agree to it. You will not be surprised to learn that Nigel and Tony consulted Max Hill and I on the evening of the meeting with the Ministry as I (and I expect you) would have expected them to have done.
I, like Max, gave them my full support then and did so at the Executive meeting 24 hours later. I continue to give them my full support.
This was not a deal brokered by them but a deal put to them on Tuesday without notice. You now have an opportunity to pass judgement on that call in the ballot. Whatever you may think it was a very difficult call and those who made it should not be vilified.
In relation to the two tier contract. You must bear in mind that virtually at the same time solicitors, through the Law Society, were accepting an 8.5 % cut and the two tier system in return for a delay of a further 8.5 % cut. Consequently, the question is whether the no returns policy could have been maintained when 89 % of what had been asked for had been granted and the Bar had no negotiating status as regard the two tier policy. At present the professions are separately represented.
As we have learnt, industrial action works if it is united. If fractured it fails.
The reality many may feel is that the professions need a single union. At present the Bar has 7 representative bodies and the solicitors’ profession at least 3. We cannot change that structure overnight although we tried.
What everyone must do in my judgement is vote in the ballot understanding what the aim is if the “deal” is rejected. If it is rejected the real prospect is that the cuts will be introduced and we will be in an all out strike, not against the imminent cuts because that battle was won, but against a structure for solicitors over which at present we have no influence.
Many of you may feel that we have let down those who stood up to be counted first, namely those who do VHCCs. You should know that Nigel and Tony refused to call them back to do work at those rates. They will not stop them but neither will they dictate to them. Market forces will no doubt decide and neither of us will be doing those cases on the basis of a 30% cut.
I have to say that I have found the level of abuse against those who have worked so hard on your behalf saddening. For the first time we have shown what collective action can achieve and at present we are now splitting ourselves apart whilst Grayling is laughing. No one took this decision other than in the honest belief that it represented the best that could be achieved in difficult circumstances. I and others have worked tirelessly to get the CBA to be the only democratic representative organisation the Bar has. We should not throw it away now.
If we want to take industrial action on behalf of our sister profession we must first get the structure right, which we can only do if you all get involved in the democratic process in the first place.
I have no doubt that if the majority are in favour of continuing the protest the CBA will be faithful to the democratic will.
I hope that all of you will respect the vote whichever way it goes The most important thing is that we all work together to achieve a justice system of which we can all be proud.