Monday, 24 November 2014

The Tuesday Truth


This week's Tuesday Truth is written by Hester Russell Solicitor at Harthills Solicitors and committee member of the Criminal Law Solicitors Association

It’s now about 24 years since I first ventured into a solicitors’ office in Hereford.  During that week of work experience I quickly realised that I had no interest in Wills and Probate but that Criminal work was fascinating.  Visits to the Hereford Magistrates’ Court confirmed to me that – were I to become Criminal Lawyer – I could almost certainly make a difference.  As an idealistic 1990’s teenager “making a difference” was what really mattered to me; many years later it still does.  Criminal Law at University fuelled my enthusiasm and by 1997 I had secured myself a training contract in a high street practice in Rotherham.  Having confirmed to the – at first incredulous - partners that I had no passion for personal injury or family work I qualified in 1999 and threw myself into a life of crime!  In 2003 I became a salaried partner and ultimately head of the criminal department.
In 2008 I moved into equity partnership at Harthills in Rotherham, taking over responsibility for the Crime team from an inspirational predecessor as he moved into his hard-earned retirement.  Harthills is a firm with a strong local reputation built through the provision of a top quality service to legal aid clients.  Whilst Mr Grayling has done all he can to destroy small, specialist legal aid firms such as mine we continue to fight for individuals dealing with family difficulties, mental health problems and criminal allegations. I have been fortunate enough to receive instructions from a wide variety of clients, with a number of high profile cases hitting the local and indeed national headlines.
Feeling festive?
For me the first sign that Christmas is once again around the corner is not the John Lewis advert, nor is it the festive radio playlists; it is the “Christmas on-call rota”.  It’s a time of sharing – sharing responsibility that is.  There is, of course, no seasonal pay incentive for Criminal practitioners (Thursday 25th December will attract no greater police station fee than any other day since Thursday 20th March when we received an unwarranted 8.75% pay cut).  Yet every year, without fail, solicitors across the land volunteer to leave presents unopened, sprouts uneaten and relatives to fend for themselves.  We do this not for our own convenience but because we feel a sense of responsibility towards people in crisis; people who need our help. 

I wonder what New Years’ resolutions Mr Grayling has planned after what has, for those of us who struggle on within his failing justice system, been an annus horribillis.   Will the Ghost of Christmas 2013 visit the Injustice Secretary during his festive slumbers and tell him to take a long hard look at the damage that he has inflicted upon this country during the last twelve months? 

The headlines:-

23rd December 2013 “Chris Grayling branded ‘a Scrooge’ for banning festive presents for prisoners (The Independent http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/chris-grayling-branded-a-scrooge-for-banning-festive-parcels-for-prisoners-9023211.html# )

6th January 2014 Barristers Strike to delay hearings in protest over cuts in legal aid fees (London Evening Standard http://www.standard.co.uk/news/london/barristers-strike-to-delay-court-hearings-in-protest-over-cuts-in-legal-aid-fees-9041297.html )

19th February 2014 Chris Grayling is bullying his way to a worse criminal justice system (the Guardian http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/feb/19/chris-grayling-criminal-justice-system-justice-prisons-probation)

7th March 2014 Lawyers stage second walk out over legal aid cuts (BBC News UK http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-26472809)

2nd April 2014 Grayling, Grayling, Grayling – OUT, OUT, OUT (thejusticegap http://thejusticegap.com/2014/04/grayling-grayling-grayling/ )

26th May 2014 Look who’s talking.  Chris Grayling gets a wigging over court translators (the Guardian http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2014/may/26/chris-grayling-court-translators)

26th June 2014 Grayling’s tough justice is as expensive as it is useless (politics.co.uk http://www.politics.co.uk/blogs/2014/06/26/grayling-s-tough-justice-is-as-expensive-as-it-is-useless)

4th July 2014 Another bad week for Grayling (NAPO blog https://www.napo.org.uk/blogs/another-bad-week-grayling )

19th August 2014 Grayling in a state of unparalleled denial, experts warn (www.poitics.co.uk http://www.politics.co.uk/news/2014/08/19/grayling-denies-prison-crisis-amid-another-damning-report)

19th September 2014 Chris Grayling’s legal aid cuts ‘so unfair they are illegal’, rules High Court (the Independent http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/crime/chris-graylings-legal-aid-cuts-so-unfair-they-are-illegal-rules-high-court-9745175.html#)

27th October 2014 House of Lords votes against Grayling’s plans to restrict judicial review access (the Guardian http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2014/oct/27/house-of-lords-defeat-chris-grayling-judicial-review-plan)

16th November 2014 Mr Grayling, how do you account for these prison suicides (the Independent http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/mr-grayling-how-do-you-account-for-these-prison-suicides-9863262.html  )

 A variety of journalists and a selection of publications, all containing articles that should wake even the most hard-nosed politician from the living nightmare that is being inflicted upon so many within the this country’s faltering legal system.  Were Mr Grayling to stop and listen he would surely realise that his policies are reducing access to justice, causing misery, reducing the likelihood of rehabilitation and – tragically – increasing the occurrence of death in custody.

Look to the future
Each of us who abstains from festivities in order to care for the vulnerable should continue to feel pride in the work that we do and feel thankful for the difference that we make.  We must continue to use our voices to stand up for the rights of those who are unable to speak up for themselves, and as we approach another year we must work together and do battle against Mr Grayling’s bah humbug attitude to the Criminal Justice System and those within it. 

 

 

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