Yesterday 1,878 members of the Criminal Bar participated in a ballot that will shape their immediate future. This turnout was way in excess of any previous CBA vote and showed the depth of concern felt by so many for the issues that have confronted them for so long (for those unaware the “No” vote polled 1249 votes and the “Yes” vote 629).
The vote followed open and informed debate from the majority of those seeking to share their views.
Whilst a mandate was given for banking the agreement to shelve the cuts and accepting the “deal” offered by government, 1/3rd of those voting felt obvious misgivings about how the Bar would be impacted upon by cuts and dual contracts being imposed on solicitors. Their views will not be ignored.
The immediate task to hand is for the leadership to reunite the membership as we move forward in pursuit of an ever more secure Criminal Bar. This will be achieved through engagement via the different inquiries into criminal advocacy currently commissioned, as well as continuing the intense discussions with government, which they have committed to approaching with “an open mind”. We have accepted these assurances in good faith.
At the same time, whilst the CBA has naturally concentrated on removing the imminent threat of cuts to the junior bar, it knows that this has to be seen within a broader context. We will thus now hope to reengage with solicitors and hold constructive talks.
This is a first step. There is a long road ahead. VHCCs will remain a matter of personal choice and we will monitor how the market operates closely. Direct action is suspended and we hope will not be needed again. This is a milestone in the history of the Criminal Bar. It was achieved through unity of the membership and with the combined leadership of the Bar Council and Circuit Leaders. We trust that no one will ever confuse again the fact that we are a responsible profession with the idea that we are a powerless one.
May I thank Aaron Dolan for his work above and beyond, Richard Bentwood for operating the blog and all of those that took the time and trouble to write for it as well as vote.
Nigel Lithman QC