The the independent criminal bar has reached a turning point. We have to make critical choices. We can wave it goodbye with a teary handkerchief and cry into our gins as much as genteel poverty will allow. We can strike, withdraw, our Labour, refuse returns and wreck the system. Or we can negotiate our future.
That was never an option with Grayling. He delighted in bringing a wrecking ball to what he regarded as vested interests, which were in reality committed and highly skills professionals doing their best against the odds of keeping the court system operational. The horror and misery inflicted by this truly dreadful man is a painful memory.
Understandably feelings are still running high. There are sets who are refusing to accept legal aid returns dated after 1 July. If there is a groundswell of support for this Crown Courts would cease to function, trials delayed, and those on remand left to rot. The CBA are balloting us on this now. I supported last year’s industrial action because it was not just the last resort, it was the only resort. The MOJ refused to consult, negotiate or take a blind bit of notice of the dire warnings of the judiciary, the bar, solicitors and even their own consultants. Worse, egged on by Grayling, they took a sick delight in hearing our cries of pain. But Grayling has gone, so has the last Permanent Secretary, and also the chief architect of all this dangerous lunacy, Dr. Gribby. We are in a new place. There is a constructive atmosphere. Negotiations are genuine. Reforms and efficiencies can be made. For the first time in many, many years the mood music has changed because of the conductor.
This is not to say that all those in the MOJ who want to destroy us have disappeared. They are still there. But they are more muted simply because Gove has a reputation for summary executions of officials who do not follow the line. His line. It is of significance that in pride of place in his office are two pictures. One Thatcher, the other Lenin. Both were lawyers.
For colleagues who have only read extracts of Gove’s speeches I entreat you to read them in full. You will be shocked. He has taken a genuine interest in supporting a flourishing independent bar. He does not sneer at us like Grayling, nor treat us cockroaches to be crunched under foot. We are dealing with a committed intellectual who not only understands the rule of law but cares about it.
Of course, words are cheap. But now is the time to negotiate our destiny. To have the rational argument which which have been denied us for so long. It will be rigourous. But it has to be worth it.
That is why I will not be withdrawing my labour; yet. To try and persuade a government of any colour to reverse a pay cut is suicidal. It lumps us in with UNITE. No government could afford to let us succeed as the floodgates would be open. And don’t expect any support from the press. But I would have withdrawn my labour if we could speak in unity against the two tier system which will destroy so many decent firms of solicitors and undermine the independent bar. The Law Society should have balloted their members on this. They can’t because the profession is deeply divided. The fat cats want to devour the mice. The simple solution would be for firms who have put in tenders to withdraw them. That would have made the system unworkable. But they won’t. It is a thoroughly dishonest and disgraceful state of affairs.
So this is where we are and not where we would like to be. We must look reality firmly in the eye and not blink. Now is the time for negotiation not industrial action. But if this fails then let loose the dogs of war.