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A Junior Barristers View – voting yes

Why I am in favour of direct action – a junior barrister’s perspective

I cannot speak for all junior criminal barristers. I speak as the most junior member of the crime team at my chambers.

My message is clear: I urge you to support direct action by barristers against the further cuts to solicitors’ legal aid fees.

I did not become a barrister for money or status. I believed, and still want to believe, the law can be used as a tool to bring about social change. To create a fairer society. To protect our most vulnerable members. To achieve that goal I believe access to justice for all is essential.

Like many of my peers, my journey to the Bar has been a struggle. I funded university and my masters through loans and part-time work. I funded a part-time BPTC through work and a scholarship. Throughout this period I carried out pro bono work to gain experience and live my politics.

I am the first in my family to get a degree. Their reaction to my career has been priceless. Graduation – proud. Masters – confused. Call to the Bar – giddy. Pupillage – ecstatic. Tenancy – euphoric.

It’s fair to say that I am living my dream. Since becoming a tenant I have been instructed in several Crown Court trials against opponents called to the Bar before I was even born. I love it. The guidance and support I receive from those around me at chambers is priceless. I am becoming a better advocate each week.

Unfortunately, I am living just that: a dream. The reality is if this government continues to cut legal aid rates it will not be financially viable for a firm to instruct me. If dual contracts go ahead those firms who have given me a chance may simply disappear.

I want to stay but I will be forced to leave. Maybe people from my background don’t belong at the Bar after all. Maybe this government does not want people like me here. I don’t know.

I do know that in order to have meaningful access to justice and a diverse junior Bar we cannot allow this government to go ahead with these cuts. As a junior, direct action will be painful but inaction will be fatal. I believe we are at the point of no return.
Tom Copeland
Garden Court Chambers
Year of call: 2013

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