27 POINTS TO TAKE INTO ACCOUNT IF CONSIDERING VOTING YES AND MY COMMITMENT TO YOU
“Do you wish to continue no returns and days of action until all the cuts and reductions in (solicitors’) contracts are abandoned?”
- If you vote Yes, CBA policy will change and direct action will continue until all the cuts and reductions for Bar and solicitors are abandoned. Those supporting this position must be prepared to do whatever it takes to achieve these aims. They must be prepared to demonstrate that they can lead a unified national organisation, which would operate with the full support of every circuit, to achieve their desired purpose in the way which we have demonstrated over the past 7 months, without fracturing that hard fought unity that we have achieved amongst our members by careful planning of our action.
- Prior to (in my role as Organiser of the Northern Circuit Action Committee) and, once elected as Vice Chairman of the CBA, I took two weeks out of court and toured the towns of Lancashire and Manchester and met with solicitors to try and build political relationships. It became apparent to me (if it was not already something that 32 years’ experience of practice had proved) that this would be an uphill struggle.
- During my time as VC (building on Mike Turner’s work) I have met with (and fostered good relations) with the current leadership of the LCCSA and the CLSA on many occasions. Bill Waddington and I spoke frequently by phone. They have a thankless task. They represent but a small proportion of practising solicitors.
- I have met with and spoken with members of the BFG. It is clear that they have their own agenda, which they intend to pursue in the interests of their own firms. I have spent hours with some of them. I have tried and better tried to find a way to accommodate their position with ours. I have learned though that it is foolish to pretend that there is unity between the bigger firms and the small. What unity exists is transient and temporary. Think back to 7th March. Why were some of the BFG motivated to join us? It was because they were disappointed that contracts were to be awarded to the 525 not the 300 they expected.
- I have been privileged to campaign alongside a small group of Manchester solicitor practitioners since April 2013 when I began to organise the Manchester ‘resistance’, if I may call it that. However those committed to the cause have been largely a handful of individuals based in Greater Manchester.
- I have been privileged to share campaign platforms with Manchester solicitors over the course of the dispute (and, may I say, whilst few other members of the Bar were present). I have chosen to support them. I have encouraged them to unite behind the CLSA and fight with us. I will return to what happened on 7th March and the message I conveyed to solicitors.
- I do not accept nor have I accepted that the partnership has been an equal one. The leadership of the solicitor organisations believe that they have made an equal contribution to the days of action and the No Returns Policy. I am afraid I disagree. I believe that this fight has been Bar led but with the support of some solicitors – not all by any stretch of the imagination.
- I do not say that the CLSA or the LCCSA have not led their own fight because of course they have (and have demonstrated real leadership in the organising of events) but I do say that it has been the Bar who has been united in not attending at Court and consequently the Bar that have had to make the majority of the economic sacrifices and who have run the risk of disciplinary action.
- Think back to 6th January. I accept solicitors had little time to prepare, but did solicitors nationwide really support the half day? In some areas support was very strong. In some areas the support was completely non-existent. The CLSA will disagree and it may be that in some areas support was strong, but what was the level of support in Lancashire and Greater Manchester and Liverpool? What degree of support was demonstrated on your Circuit?
- In the days leading up to the 7th March day of action, I discovered that the majority of Lancashire solicitors were all working. I discovered that the CLSA had only one representative on my part of the Northern Circuit. I communicated my concerns to Bill and Nicola Hill by email. I was certain that if that was happening in Lancashire it was also happening in other areas outside the major cities. Eventually because I knew the resources of the CLSA were stretched I took matters into my own hands. I asked a respected solicitor friend and colleague to call a meeting of solicitors for the county of Lancashire. A handful turned up. It was plain to me that there was little unity and that any impetus for action derived from the efforts of the Bar. On the 7,th the major Magistrates’ courts of Preston and Blackburn sat. HCAs went to work at Preston. Ask yourself this question about the courts near you for 6th January and 7th March. Did those regional Magistrates’ courts sit? What was the level of support given to you by HCAs?
- On 7th of March I spoke in Crown Square Manchester and then at the Friends Meeting House. (I wanted to speak in England’s first city-not London). There were perhaps 500 people outside Crown Square but later at the FMH perhaps 200 or so solicitors. Of those present only approximately 10% were members of the CLSA. 10%! I implored the remainder to join up. I spoke of my friendship and admiration for Bill Waddington and how those who were not present were letting him down personally. Of how he spent countless hours working on their behalf putting aside his own interests.
- Importantly that day I addressed that meeting on the concept of “sacrifice”. I told them of the sacrifices that were being made by people around the country; I told them of Tim Thomas and of how he had effectively returned all his work; I told them of the sacrifices that the junior Bar were making as a consequence of the No Returns policy.
- What did I ask them to do? I asked them to unify and to refuse to work at the reduced rates. I asked them not to accept the 8.75% cut. I implored them to unite to refuse to work at the new rates. It was obvious to me that this was the only way forward. It had been obvious to me that this issue would arise for months. I had asked them to prepare for it, they had not done so.
- Do you remember the pledge? I know the vast majority of your chambers signed it. Remember the pledge:- that it would be unprofessional to work at the new rates. That pledge, which you signed, was not the creation of solicitors. It was my creation. It was designed to get solicitors to state publicly that they could not work at the new rates. I took the idea to a young solicitor named Alistair Parker after I heard him speak passionately at Camden Town Hall in September 2013 and he persuaded the CLSA and the LCCSA to adopt it.
- So at that meeting on the 7th I asked solicitors from the BFG and firms of all sizes to unite to refuse to work at the new rates. I asked them to make the sacrifices that our members were doing. I told them that they had enough time to organise themselves and they had. I left that meeting to rousing applause. I believed that solicitors were finally going to unite.
- In effect I asked them to be faithful to the pledge that they had signed.
- On 11 March I attended (by phone) a meeting of the NJC. It was a long meeting but that night I learned of something which caused me great sadness. I learned that our solicitor colleagues were resigned to accepting the cuts and that their fight should turn in effect to judicially reviewing the MOJ. However, they decided to look at options for a national meeting.
- That led me the next day to write to Bill Waddington. I did not believe that the fight should end. I felt that if they worked at those rates then they would be defeated. It was time for them to really test unity. The full text of that email is HERE.
- I did not get a reply.
- On the 13th the CLSA announced their national meeting for the 19th in Manchester.
- I wrote to BW again. I offered him the logistical support of the Bar. I did not get a reply.
- I was extremely concerned that the meeting would be a failure. Some present say it was. Only approximately 500 firms turned up from the whole of the country. They couldn’t agree on the major issues but did agree to support probation on the 31st March and the 1st of April. I have an email from a solicitor who expresses support for my position who described the meeting as a shambles.
- However our solicitor colleagues effectively conceded defeat by agreeing to work at reduced rates at that meeting, it seemed to me that either they were not able (they say for contractual reasons) or were unwilling to do what they now expect our members to do on their behalf and that is to stop work and to suffer the economic hardship that was required of our own members.
- I knew then that although their fight was not over that they had weakened their position perhaps irrevocably.
- Since then the CLSA have sought to remedy this situation by not applying for through orders. Will this work? Is it a national scheme? Will it be supported?
- I have sought to work alongside our colleagues. But I am not VC of the CLSA. I represent Barristers. I cannot fight their fight for them. Our relationship with the Leadership of the CLSA and LCCSA seems badly damaged. I am sorry that that has happened. I dare say that had they been in the same position as us with the MOJ they would have taken the same decision and by a similar route. Do you believe that solicitors would have refused to accept the withdrawal of the 17.25% fee cuts until the Bar had got what they wanted? What would have been the reaction of their Solicitor members?
- I though have not withdrawn my support for Bill Waddington and Nicola Hill. I will continue to work with them if they wish so. We share many similar beliefs as to the structure of the CJS. I though firmly believe in the unique value that an independent Bar has for the CJS.
My commitment to you
Many of you are frightened that the reduction in the number and type of Solicitor firms will mean the end for the Bar. I do not agree. The CJS needs a strong independent bar. Remember my question of the Attorney General and his answer at the Bar Conference HERE Without a strong Bar and thriving sets of Chambers the system will crumble. Talent will go elsewhere. From where will the great prosecutors and defence counsel come? From where will the Judiciary of tomorrow come? Judges at all levels will be left with a rag tag and bob-tail of “Tied’ advocates, HCAs and who knows what else. Justice will be denied and delayed. We know this, the Judiciary knows this and I believe so does Mr. Grayling. I give you this undertaking. I will fight to ensure that the Bar has its rightful place in the system and the supply of work to support our members. I will work to ensure that those who support us are heard. It is time to unify our support:- from solicitors, the bench, and political organizations who believe in us and the value of an independent bar and make it heard. If any system is devised which threatens that service which we give to society and have done for centuries then I shall call upon you to demonstrate that you will not accept it.
We have said that we will engage with Jeffrey and Leveson. Nigel Lithman has shown the Bar what determined and courageous leadership can achieve. I have witnessed first hand the quite incredible effort he has shown on your behalf. I am proud to have been his VC. His determination with the support of the Executive Committee of the CBA has given us the time, leverage, and strength to try and cure the inequalities in the way that we work and are rewarded and I give my commitment to you that I will do my level best to ensure that your views are heard.
VOTE NO AND ALLOW ME TO CONTINUE THE FIGHT.