I’ve voted “yes.”
I’m almost six years call and have spent my time at the bar doing crime on the Northern Circuit. I was fortunate because I found myself in the Crown Court from day one on my feet – up against and learning from established practitioners who, just as Tom Copeland observed in his submission on the blog, had been around since before I was born.
After four years on my feet I felt able to say that I was doing ok. I had enough work to keep me going and sufficient confidence shown in me from smaller local sols to make me think there was some longevity to the job. I thought that the professional milestones – your first big multi-handed trial, being led for the first time by some rock-star silk who had already been immortalised in chalk thousands of times by Priscilla Coleman – would happen eventually; I’d just have to wait longer than people had done in the past. I was ok with that. I never wanted to run before I could walk anyway.
In May this year I defended my first rape trial. It was a return and represented, to me at least, a significant point in my own progression at the independent bar. The defendant was acquitted and it was genuinely the first time I’d realised the impact you can potentially have on somebody’s life when you do what we do. That guy’s “thank you” after being discharged from the dock gave me a two-week high. It was what the job was about – ensuring the State’s evidence is properly tested through solid advocacy skills, accumulated and developed through your training on the bar course, pupillage and watching those senior to you and, most importantly, making sure justice was done.
I’m worried that the way things are going people of my call and below won’t obtain the professional development accrued by those senior to us. Worse still, I worry that people of my call and below won’t exist because the work is not there for them to do as solicitors do their own advocacy or go to the wall.
When the CBA made the agreement it did with the MOJ in March 2014 I applied to go back to university to retrain two days a week. I finish a MSc in a non-legal subject area in September. Why? I was packing my parachute, readying myself to jump out of what I perceived to be a crashing plane. The fact is there are massively more talented and more intelligent juniors of all levels of call across all circuits who realise that they could do something else. If things don’t change there will be brain-drain at the criminal bar and no input at the bottom as recruitment stalls. I am, however, still invested enough to vote and to take action to stop the rot.
We’ve got many toweringly intellectual individuals at the bar capable of analysing the argument for action down to dust and telling you the many things that are wrong with the case for it. My own view is analysis is paralysis. I’m just going with what my gut tells me because however much we like to think we, as barristers, can formulate reasoned, measured and persuasive submissions that will naturally be listened to, it’s about time we accept that we’re not actually in court anymore and the people we’re arguing with are politicians, not lawyers. Personally I’m quite keen to demonstrate how unreasonable and intransigent I can be.
Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds courage and confidence. I don’t have a sufficiently large enough practice to have work regularly in my own name. I rely on returns. Despite this I am prepared to take the hit in the wider interests of solicitors and my colleagues at the bar by not doing them. So let’s just do it.