I am a junior criminal barrister of 9 years call. My practice has, inevitably, been severely affected by the recent cuts to legal aid, and the further proposed cuts would, in my view, make my practice untenable. It is against this backdrop, and with the very future of my career at stake, that I approach the current CBA ballot. I have supported the CBA’s position in respect of the cuts from the outset, appeared on the demonstrations, and upheld the ‘no returns’ and ‘no to VHCC’ policies. I have done all this with very little, if any, expectation as to the success of these actions. Throughout the negotiations, there seemed to me to be no realistic prospect of shifting the Government’s intransigent and illogical position.
Last week’s announcement by the CBA, with the Government offering to defer the proposed cuts until at least the summer of 2015, offers us hope and a very precious opportunity to salvage what remains of the Criminal Bar. In obtaining this offer, the CBA achieved the major and essential part of it what it asked of the Government on our behalf. The Government will undertake to consider the independent reports into legal aid in the interim and engage with the alternative proposals as to how make the savings it insists are required. In the real world in which we live, where cuts and savings are necessary across the entire public sector, this offer is as much, and probably much more, than we could have ever hoped for. The political landscape may change dramatically by next summer, offering the Bar a fresh start to make its case and continue to negotiate for a fair deal. If we vote ‘yes’ in this ballot, all of those benefits are lost, and lost (most likely) for good. We will end the week in a worse position than we started last week.
The negotiations by the CBA have so far been conducted in a robust, consistent, and honest manner. If the Criminal Bar now declines the offer on the table each of those virtues is undermined, and our position weakened beyond repair. To reject the very offer which has been fought so hard for will appear inconsistent, divided and untrustworthy, and continuing negotiations in these circumstances will be utterly hopeless. Far from getting more, we will get less. We will very likely get nothing. And my practice, like many of those of my generation, will be consigned to history. It is for all these reasons that I will be voting ‘no’ in the ballot, so that I retain hope of saying ‘yes’ to a future career at the Criminal Bar.