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Mansfield Chambers: Vote Yes

The criminal bar does not need this further ballot. We have already expressed our views forcefully and after significant debate in the ballot in May: 96% of votes were in favour of action. A stronger mandate the leadership of the CBA could not have hoped for. Our profession demanded direct action to bring an end to the government’s dual contracts scheme. The CBA sought their mandate then and they received it. No rational person would seek another mandate in the circumstances. What this fresh ballot in fact represents is an attempt to force the bar to backtrack. The CBA leadership has built in inordinate delay to the process of a further ballot – after all, what barrister is not already aware of the issues, so why the need for two weeks of voting? The CBA have proposed a question designed to confuse the issues, trying to make this about solicitors, when it is about our own survival. And they have launched with their own well-paid propaganda machine an attack on all those who oppose them.
The sophistry employed by the CBA leadership in seeking to portray the May ballot as a mere consultative survey may now lead you to conclude that they never in fact wanted the mandate for action it gave them. It may lead you to conclude that they were surprised to obtain it – indeed, at no stage have they acted on the expressed wishes of members of the bar. And you may well conclude that ignoring the result of that ballot and instead negotiating with Gove on unrelated matters shows the contempt that the leadership must hold for the junior members of our profession.
I say “junior members” advisedly. The most senior members of the bar will see little effect either way from the outcome of this ballot. Whether you vote yes or no, we will continue gracefully to our retirements, continuing to receive the most complex briefs that solicitors’ firms cannot keep in house. The leaders of the bar have every interest in not rocking the boat, and preserving good relations with ministers. Their future includes the prospect of elevation to the bench or a prosperous retirement. In contrast, the junior members of our profession wonder constantly whether they have a future at all.
You may think that this explains why the most senior members of the CBA have been content to ignore their members: this issue does not affect them. When you elected to the CBA’s executive a set of candidates who were universally in favour of action, they were outvoted at every opportunity by unelected appointees of the chair and circuit leaders. When a ballot produced a 96% vote in favour of action, it was simply ignored. When in your hundreds you attended meetings around the country, you were declared by the CBA’s chair as unrepresentative of the bar! The will of the bar is there. We are united. All of us, it seems, other than the CBA’s unrepresentative and insular leadership. In the light of each of these developments the chair of the CBA sounds increasingly like the defeated military leader hiding in his bunker, foreign tanks surrounding his city, mapping out how his armies will come to his rescue, and how his people will never abandon him. The CBA now needs to clean house. It needs, and already has, a membership that will take action with or without it, and it needs a leadership that will lead from the front, rather than trying to hobble the membership from behind.
If the CBA leadership think that the government will listen to their pleas for a little more advocacy to go to barristers, or for quality control of advocacy to be improved, they are naïve. Gove is a seasoned political operator. He is only going through the motions of negotiations with the CBA because there is hanging over him a threat of humiliating and effective direct action to fight the cuts. As soon as that threat disappears, Gove will walk away from the CBA leadership. The chair and those around him will be left with nothing to show for their capitulation. The only result will be that our last chance to save our instructing solicitors, and thereby to save our own jobs and quality legal representation for our clients, will have disappeared. We will be alone. We will be divided. We will be unable to defend ourselves from further attacks.
Gove’s extraordinary speeches to the private sector about pro bono work show what little regard he has for the public, let alone the lawyers serving them on legal aid. They are also a stark warning of the future that awaits us if we roll over and do nothing. If the future you wish to see is not one where legal representation is a matter of charity, but rather one where the criminal bar amounts to a decent career of public service, you must stand with us and fight.
For your jobs, for your colleagues, and for your clients, please vote “yes”.
Michael Mansfield QC
On behalf of Mansfield Chambers

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