This week we are delighted to publish the speech given by Jon Black last night when he was elected President of the London Criminal Courts Solicitors Association.
I Thank Ed mill who inspired me to use notes for this speech.
I actually dreamt several weeks ago that
this moment has arrived and I still hadn’t written a speech - I had
To turn to Nicola and borrow a couple of
sheets of A4 to scribble away during dinner.
Talking of dreams , I have often felt this
year like Toto accompanying Dorothy along the yellow brick road to MOJ , along
the way we were joined by Robin Murray a
tin man with a heart , the scarecrow in Paul Harris with a brain, and of course
the lion like bravery of Bill Waddington . We, along with many others I will
mention pulled the curtain away to reveal not a wizard in Petty France, but a politician, surrounded by flying
advisers, who when confronted by lawyers
with brains, heart and bravery, along
with an annoying dog, had his ideological agenda exposed.
It's very fashionable to knock Chris
Grayling; it's very fashionable to dismiss him for being the first Lord
Chancellor not to be a lawyer - Which might well be the case but let's be
careful not to fall into to me same school of elitist thought which says that Solicitors should not appear in the
Crown Court or play for the first 11 ;
I am delighted to look around this room and
see amongst our number, some who have witnessed 30 or 40 years of change.
We as a profession are accused of being
dinosaurs, fat cat dinosaurs if ever they existed, but we have adapted to much
change, and will continue to embrace any change for the better.
When I started 20 years ago we would send a
non qualified person to a local police station, normally round the corner from
the office, they would bill at a reasonable hourly rate and act in a supportive
role for a client who could make no comment at will.
With inferences came accreditation, rightly
so given what was at stake, and because the stakes were accepted to be so high
remuneration was reasonable.
A client charged would go to a local
court near the office, could
elect their trial and not be expected to formally enter a plea until they knew
the case against them.
If the CPS inefficiencies prevented them
from serving their papers within timescales, the case may be dismissed.
We could challenge the evidence at
committal before it went to the crown court and be paid fairly for preventing
public expense further down the line.
There has since been a continuing obsession
with rebalancing the scales of justice, which politicians have constantly said
to be firmly balanced in favour of defendants.
Day in day out prosecutors are routinely breaching the Criminal
Procedure Rules that were introduced to enable a fairer and more efficient justice system, yet it is astonishing the
latitude that they are routinely given in many courts by late applications
whether to admit hearsay, to serve evidence or use screens .
When I first started we would instruct
counsel in The Crown Court because we had enough to do working the files
properly at hourly rates.
Fixed fees are in some cases so derisory
that it is difficult to complete a thorough job, but at the same time we are
threatened by regulatory intervention if we don’t do so to certain standards. I billed a
case that was a cracked trial last week, the fee was £259, barely covering the cost of the file
opening process, let alone a prison visit or clerk to attend the advocate.
Solicitors cannot be expected to be just
litigators anymore, and there needs to
be an understanding that we are not appearing in The Crown Court just for the
sake of cutting out the Bar, but because
we need to, we want to and we are capable of doing so.
Of course there are inadequate HCAs by
which we all mean both solicitors and barristers , I have sufficient self awareness to acknowledge I haven't
always crowned myself in glory, but we
shan't pander to elitist notions that we are not able to bat for the first 11,
or the ideas emanating from the Rivlin Review that we must certify that clients
have been notified that they could use a real barrister instead of the
imposters that call themselves Solicitor advocates; or even any attempts in the
wake of the QASA defeat to campaign for the curbing of the plea only advocate
Our association prides itself on positive
responses to adversity, and it is for that reason that as an organisation,
Julian and I, with Diana as training officer, are keen to ensure we can provide
a comprehensive advocacy training program to our members. Critics of solicitor
advocacy will either be silenced by our actions or be prepared to include us in
any debate. But let's avoid cheap shots aimed at solicitor advocates when the
reality is the challenges facing access to justice lie elsewhere , and the
recent conciliatory overtures in today's MM is a start .
Change has continued at pace marshalled by
the Emporer and his new clothes - sorry I don't live in the world of children's
stories - but it's a fine analogy for A
Lord Chancellor who doesn't want to hear anyone who points out to him that his
policies leave our justice system
exposed . This is a Lord chancellor
that wants to use change not as a force for good but to return us back to Pre
Far be it for me to brag about my Bailey
practice , but on a display I was reading last week at The Central Criminal Court
I read the following description of Newgate life 200 years ago:
"The Newgate Gaol keeper ran the
prison as a commercial enterprise . He profited by selling goods to prisoners.
Wealthy prisoners paid more to rent better rooms and eat well. Poor convicts
fell on the mercy of their relatives, charitable donations or were permitted to
beg outside prison”
Back then justice really was for sale and
that is where we are heading now.
Our own advocacy skills are beyond dismissing
Grayling simply because he is the
first non lawyer in 400 years to take
We have proven we can use our skills as
lawyers to tell him when he is wrong and to object to any proposals that may
lead to the wholesale commercialisation of the justice system.
He was brought in not because of his
knowledge of the legal system but to marshal cuts and privatisation .
And I have tried hard to avoid
personalising this speech but it is hard not to get personal about a man :
- who won't listen or even dismisses from
office anyone who points out his new
clothes don't fit.
- Who won't negotiate with those who
- Whose idea of a bill of rights is a
reward chart for those who don't speak out and those who comply.
- Who rewards with a stake in the
privatised justice system those who donate to his own party such as Serco and
inter serve .
This is why LCCSA refused to be brought off
with an empty promise that they would delay dual contracts if we abandon
JR. And unlike other organisations, we
won't be scared to speak out for fear of losing our negotiating position – it was famously said somewhere “do
right fear no one " .
How he is in office is anyone's guess - you
might like to think he has a stash of photos of David and George in their
Bullingdon days running through the cloisters of Oxford in a state of undress,
I couldn't possibly comment .
In February he
intends to showcase the justice system at The Global Law Summit. Mr
Grayling has dressed up a legal business
fair as a celebration of 800 years of the
Magna Carta . At over £1000 per delegate the event includes speakers such as:
Vice-president and Deputy General Counsel of Barrick Gold Corporation;
Executive Director of the UN Global Compact;
Group General Counsel and Company Secretary of Vodafone;
Sir Michael Rake,
Chairman of BT Group and Deputy Chairman of Barclays PLC;
General Counsel of BG Group;
And with no sense
of irony - Chris Grayling Lord Chancellor is addressing a summit to celebrate a
charter that includes a clause :
"We will not
make men justices, constables, sheriffs, or bailiffs unless they are such as
know the law of the realm, and are minded to observe it rightly."
I Apologise, I did
say I wouldn't criticise him for his lack of legal training.
We intend along with the Justice Alliance
to make a lot of noise and draw attention to the disgraceful fact that this
event ignores the painful destruction of our justice system by one of its own
This is one of Two
major events this year in which we need to put access to justices at top of the
agenda - the other being the General
election on May 7th.
Whilst labour have
now committed to say they can't reverse the cuts - this issue needs to be on
the agenda. We need to ensure politicians understand the real impact of the
erosion of legal aid on their constituents who see representation by solicitors
as less remote than that provided by their parliamentary representatives .
Every constituency should be holding "legal aid or justice hustings "
I am proud to be part of an association
that took The MoJ on in the only way we could at a time when we were abandoned
by those we thought were there to support us and it is imperative that others
who benefit from the work of the association join the membership to ensure we
can continue this work in years to come.
Lawyers should and must work together to
protect the justice system and this year we need to address the un- lawyerly practices that takes place as work becomes tighter,
competition increases and firms find themselves stooping to new levels to
We need a consensus
that it is not acceptable to scramble for cases, to use fixers, to make
unsolicited visits to clients of other firms , to lie about the role of the
duty solicitor or even impersonate the duty solicitor. Firms have grown using these tactics at the
expense of others who have closed down as a result. We need to show firms that
this helps no one it just speeds up the race to the bottom.
The MoJ exploit the
perceived oversupply and this scramble, by seeing the goodwill of firms extended
to the point that they are cutting their losses by doing more and more work for
free to keep the client base. The fee structures exploit this desperation and
the willingness for us all to participate in loss leaders, be it a weekend
spent in police station on a murder for little over £200 only to find
our representation has been so effective to lead to no charges, or the
crown court fixed fee which barely
covers file storage costs; yet we are criticised for not sending clerks and
relying on counsel to assist with the preparation of a case.
And let's just be
clear about one further thing, fee sharing may happen for advocacy services ,
but is not as widespread as believed and exists amongst both sides of the
This task ahead cannot be achieved without the team we have ,
we don't have a first 11, but in our committee we have a squad with strength
and depth. We saw that many times over
the last year .
I enjoyed a post interview pint with our
advocate editor Gwyn Morgan who led me into a pub game, whereby she likened the
LCCSA committee to a football team.
I'd like to share her thoughts building
from the back:
Our finances are in a safe pair of hands
with Tim Walker in goal
And solid at the back we have our Vidic and
Ferdinand Tony Miesels and Diana Payne
Supported by Rakesh Bashin and Greg
Foxsmith as wing backs , both ready to
bring the ball up and get back down
the pitch to help
In the centre the pitch we benefit from the
creativity and experience of Steve Bird
working alongside our immediate past president Nicola Hill as the box to
box midfielder , capable of scoring some great goals .
We are fortunate enough to have options on
the bench if we need to protect the defence with Mel Stooks coming on to help
defend our lead .
On the flanks we benefit from the energy of
Ali Parker and Jenny Wiltshire .
I promise that I didn't as much as raise smile when Gwynn suggested
putting Paul Harris in the hole with his
influential attacking play; and it was
decided to go for glamour with the number 9 shirt - My Vice President attack
dog Julian Hayes, always dangerous in
the box ,
"So where does that leave me ?" I
asked , "oh you can be the "super sub " in hour of need like
Goetze on the bench" . At least that enables me to spend the first half
Alongside me on the bench we have options
with Zaki, Sandra, Rhona , Jon, lucinda
, Mark, Ed and Gavin all of whom add strength in depth .
Malcolm and Raymond are track suited player
coaches who can come on in the hope that experience can lead to a late goal and
of course we have Sandra without whose patience management skills , none of
this would happen.
Bill - I am delighted to be able to
continue the ever developing friendship with the CLSA, I'm
originally from Harrogate , as is Sandra, Julian from Wearside, Greg
from Plymouth , Lucinda from Wales , Mel from Blackburn and Malcolm from Bradford , The LCCSA is more
provincial than the CLSA !
When Nicola asked me to be Junior Vice
President two years ago -my reaction was "it's a bit of a poisoned
chalice" She curtly remonstrated me
"Thank you I'm honoured is what you are supposed to say "- so I did .
And of course I am.
At that time Grayling had just become Lord
Chancellor - we knew a bombshell was on the horizon but never imagined the
campaign we have fought would run through three presidencies of the
thought i might be lucky.
However we all sit here with baited breath
awaiting their next move.
What is more daunting is following in the
footsteps of Nicola's incredible and dynamic leadership. A non legal aid lawyer
whose dedication to this fight has shown that she cares more than many who of
those rely on public funded work for their livelihood.
We considered asking Russell Brand to speak
tonight but we're concerned he might be interrupted at the end of every
sentence by Dave Rowntree shouting -Parklife
When I asked Sandra to suggest a guest
speaker, a solicitor friendly Judge , she didn't just find one , but 6 others
and and I found the 8th .
We are delighted to welcome eminent guests
from Snaresbrook, and thank you all for
supporting a profession under great deal of pressure we have experienced
recently. HHJ Kennedy was a solicitor at whiskers, not a fat cat firm, and many
will remember him as a stipe at Thames .
When the list caller would tell us that mr kennedy was sitting , we knew the
day would get better, and not simply because her answer wasn't Jackie Comyns.