Monday, 23 February 2015

Tuesday Truth

How to Respond to an Austerity Apologist.
By Ali Parker, Saunders Law.

The American film-maker and writer Michael Moore once wrote a brilliant chapter called “How to talk to your conservative brother-in-law”. Today, I will attempt to mirror that by talking to our chief opponents, namely those citing the need for austerity in legal aid spending.

The general election is in 11 weeks. It is high time to lay to rest the myth that further cuts to criminal legal aid is going to help the UK repay its debts. It makes me smile just to type out that theory. To state the obvious:

1)      We have already endured hugely disproportionate austerity, and this started long before the financial crisis of 2008,

2)      The amount of money being saved from us is so tiny in relative terms, it is like trimming your contents insurance by a tenner when you owe £75,000 in credit cards.

The golden rule: We must let no one tell us about austerity. We are austerity. We live it, we breathe it, we embody it.  Here is why:

Because austerity is no fee increases since 1997, during which inflation eats away at your profit margins, finally stagnating and then downgrading your salaries.

Because austerity is £172million actual savings since 2012/3, way ahead of Mr Grayling’s scheduled £215million savings by 2018/19. Have you noticed he doesn’t mention that number anymore?  See, now you’re getting it. Keep reading.

Because austerity is having no pension, no savings, relying on travel expenses and payday becoming an aspiration not a fixture. At the same time, the ‘too big to fail’ bank that refused your overdraft extension has not repaid its multi-billion government bailout but its senior officers still get seven figure bonuses. 

Because austerity is having a spiralling tax bill but no disposable income, whilst the newly-appointed Solicitor General invests his savings in ‘Invicta Film Partnership No 25’, a scheme which was absolutely ‘not an attempt to avoid tax’. (I imagine his IFA had no idea about the tax break on this, so they just discussed the weather, the Big Society, things like that).

Because austerity is when the litigator fee for the entire work in preparing a 4-day trial for Assault occasioning ABH is less than the cost of a ticket to the Global Law Summit.

Because austerity is telling your lender that you've lots of exciting complex cases on, but no control over how much they're worth and, oh yes, the waiting time for these trials is now about 18 months.

Because austerity is a solicitor rushing from her home in Milton Keynes to reach a deserted iron barn AKA a ‘Metropolitan police custody centre’. Neither the solicitor nor the Met police is valued highly enough to afford real London property.

Because austerity is standing in the dark and drizzle outside one of these deserted 'custody centres' with a hole in your shoe and an out-of-date Snickers for your dinner (which was called a Marathon when you last got a pay rise).

Because austerity is duty solicitors now typically earning half the wage of London tube drivers, for no other reason than the latter know how to unite and to strike. (that’s a compliment, they deserve it).

Because austerity is shopping around for an expert witness who still dabbles in legal aid out of academic curiosity.

Because austerity is handing a carefully-worded Basis of Plea to a ‘Prosecuting case worker’ who pretends to know what it is, but then asks whether you are pleading guilty or not.

Because austerity is hearing that a Court interpreter was refused entry to Leicester Magistrates’ Court last week because he was so drunk. Quite literally out-sauced.

Because austerity is passionately applying for an adjournment to your trial, but being secretly relieved when it’s refused because at least your case might actually end, so you can bill it.

Because austerity is being told that external photocopying is capped at 5p per page, and the 28 lever arch files, plus tabs and dividers are  'general office overheads'. Never before did 'BYOB' mean 'bring your own binders'.

Because austerity is the fact that in legal aid these days, a ‘company car’ is actually when the entire company operates from inside a car.

Because austerity is knowing that if every public sector had endured what we have, there would have been (a) mass rioting and (b) a UK budget surplus roughly the size of Qatar.

Because austerity is seeing the careers advisor's patronising smile as he says 'Now, have you really thought that through?'

Because austerity is being a trainee solicitor and so losing your minimum salary rights just after your tuition fees got trebled.             

Because austerity is trying to explain the benefits of legal aid work to a promising student but you can see her thinking 'Poor chap, I suppose it's too late for him'.

So when people glibly say legal aid lawyers need to adapt in line with 'austerity', we must reply: "Well, you either can't read, or can't count. We are austerity's blue-eyed boy, you utter pillock" (those last three words are optional but usually deserved).

Please, to all 'austerity' apologists out there with half a brain - enough of the fatuous comments about the 'bigger economic picture' as if you work for the UK Treasury. You don’t. Read the facts. Do the maths. You are supposed to be too smart to fall for this tosh. You are letting your justice system down.

The Tuesday Truth is that despite our campaigns, our principled rhetoric and our sabre-rattling about strikes, during this Parliament legal aid lawyers proved more austere than Mr Grayling could ever have dreamed of, and more efficient than attaching a waste disposal unit to his chin.

Monday, 16 February 2015

The Tuesday Truth

The Global Law Summit v Not the Global Law Summit
Karl Turner MP Shadow Solicitor  General
I will not attend the hypocritical Global Law Summit even if they’d asked me, which in fact they did
The 23rd February marks the start of the Global Law Summit in London with the pretence of commemorating 800 years since Magna Carta and the introduction of the rule of law in Britain. The actual anniversary falls in June, however the Lord Chancellor, Chris Grayling has brought the event forward, to just before the election to try and make political capital out of the anniversary. It also marks the point at which the Government will be beyond satire when it comes to Justice. The hypocrisy of a Coalition Government that wants to extol the virtues of British Justice whilst at the same time dismantling the Legal Aid system and systematically restricting access to the Courts is astounding.
Given the Coalition Government’s sell off of Royal Mail I thought that perhaps my invitation may have been lost in the post. I do however have it on the highest authority that I was in fact sent an invite, nevertheless, I will not be attending as I cannot abide the falseness of the proposed event
The event is designed to showcase British Justice to the world, but at prices of up to £1,750 for a ticket, only the rich and well off will be able to attend. This is a perfect reflection of this government’s out of touch attitude. A telling giveaway of the event’s real intention to facilitate business networks and access to key industry decision makers”. So the event isn’t about the celebration of British Justice, it is a schmooze-fest aimed at connecting rich commercial lawyers with big business and politicians.
This government’s approach to the rule of law is completely contrary to the values with which Magna Carta is associated. This week saw the Criminal Justice Bill receive Royal Assent in Parliament. The Bill aims to severely curtail Judicial Review, the measure with which civil society can use to challenge Government decisions. Again, this is another assault on the rule of law which should not go unnoticed and should not go unchallenged.
Instead of this sham event, I will be attending the real deal the ‘Not the Global Law Summit’ whose events include a march from Runnymede to Westminster, a protest outside Parliament and a ‘Stand Up For Legal Aid Event’.
Magna Carta declares that “To no one will we sell, to no one will we deny or delay, right or justice”. If we look at the Coalition government, they have done exactly that.
I cannot in good conscience attend an event that goes against everything the rule of law stands for. The Global Law Summit will be attended by people being used as Chris Grayling’s patsies, I hope that they can see the hypocrisy of the event and stay away. I will not hold my breath.    

Dinah Rose QC; Leading Civil Rights lawyer
David Cameron: “Magna Carta , ooh I know this one , err is it…? No just give me minute, um, oh I had it a second ago, err no, no, I give up . What is it? ” 
“This Government has eviscerated legal aid, restricted judicial review, and proposes massive increases in court fees which will bar the door of the Court to most people in this country. Now it says it wants to celebrate Magna Carta. It must be assumed that, as David Cameron admitted on American TV, it doesn’t understand what Magna Carta means.”
Camilla Graham Wood: Young Legal Aid Lawyers

Can’t go won’t go

“Grayling's cuts to legal aid and changes to judicial review have shown how little he knows or cares about the need for everyone to have access to justice irrespective of wealth, and the importance of holding the State to account. These are values which can be traced back to the original Magna Carta. The fact that Grayling is leading the sham celebration of 800 years of Magna Carta at the Global Law Summit - which incidentally not one single Young Legal Aid Lawyer, or legally aided client, would be able to afford to go to  - whilst decimating access to justice, is an affront to this history and to the Rule of Law."

Bill Waddington: Chairman of the Criminal Law Solicitors Association

Access no areas

“800 years ago the Magna Carta laid down the foundation stones of the Rule of Law, a system of Justice with access to all. Since then our system has been exported to most parts of the world. In 2015 the Lord Chancellor's demolition squad moved in to prevent a huge proportion of the population from having access to Justice by unsustainable cuts to civil and criminal legal aid with more to come, Court closures with more to come and extravagant hikes in Court fees, preventing all but the very rich from access to Justice and representation . There is no better example of this than the cost of the tickets for the Global Law Summit, priced at £1750 per head).  At £1750 per head, we surely now have the most expensive Global Law Summit in the world. ”
Jon Black: President of the London Criminal Courts Solicitors Association

Timesharing Magna Carta 
“There is a time and a place to sell the UK and its legal system. At a time when austerity measures are causing widespread suffering this is no time to show off, particularly using Magna Carta, the cornerstone of our system of rights as a vehicle for doing so. If the Magna Carta was such an important theme of this conference and our legal system something of great pride, we would expect the MOJ to be inviting their overseas guests inside our court rooms so that they could showcase our modern and progressive justice system that they are seeking to sell. The reality is they know how embarrassing it would be to see courts not sitting, defendants unrepresented, and the slow delivery of prisoners alongside disillusioned lawyers, probation officers and judges. Like timeshare salesmen they will only allow the show homes to be viewed. At least the translators accompanying delegates may be available at short notice to fill in for the absent interpreters at court. 

Rebecca Herbert Barrister and Committee member of the Criminal Bar Association
Standing up for justice not sitting down at the Global Law Summit
I can’t speak to historical accuracy, but the fact is, Magna Carta has become synonymous with rights. Most particularly it has come to symbolise the empowerment of the weak by allowing their unfettered access to the protection of the law, and a guarantee that discrimination in favour of power, riches or influence has no place in our Courts.  This is true cause for celebration.
That this celebration has been cynically hijacked by this government, this Lord Chancellor, at this time, whilst unsurprising, given its record for hypocrisy and cant, is about as unsavoury a political spectacle as one can conceive – and let’s face it, it’s a high bar. This government has done more than any before it to obstruct access to our Courts by those in society most in need of them; it has done more than any before it to wrongfully assert its power against those who would challenge it; and what is more, it is utterly unrepentant, even triumphant about that. Some, more forgiving than I, might say that the Lord Chancellor has no idea what he does:  I refuse to give him such allowance. If he does not know, it is because he has wilfully refused to listen, but I accuse him of more than that failure, and remind him and his acolytes of this;
“Once you've built the big machinery of political power, remember you won't always be the one to run it”. (P.J.O’Rourke)
So, no, I will not be part of party political back slapping at £1750 a ticket, for the great and the good, to congratulate themselves on the money to be made out of my legal system. I will not celebrate the reductions in legal aid, the destruction of judicial review, the annihilation of the Criminal Bar, and of scores of solicitors, the devastation wreaked upon my colleagues in CPS, probation, prisons and police. I will stand up, as should we all, with the Justice Alliance, in protest at the mockery made of our cherished values, as Mr Grayling and his friends applaud each other at the GLS.

Nicola Hill: Partner at Kingsley Napley
You only had one thing to do…

What a shame that the Lord Chancellor has taken something as important as the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta and used it for political advantage; celebrating four months early in advance of a general election. A shame but not a surprise. This is the Lord Chancellor who has destroyed the one precious thing he was charged with protecting: the rule of law.

Russell Fraser: Chair Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers

The rule of law is not for sale
The Global Law Summit is the true face of this government, its friends, and what it holds to be important. It is a gathering for big business and is intended to promote London as the legal forum of choice for the super rich. Not the Global Law Summit provides the last chance to protest against this government’s destruction of publicly-funded legal advice before the general election. The hypocrisy of the GLS which masquerades as a celebration of Magna Carta and the rule of law while simultaneously denying access to the courts to vast numbers of people should not be lost on anyone. It is vital that everyone who has opposed the government’s wrecking of legal aid comes together on 23 February.

Hester Russell: Partner at Harthills Solicitors and CLSA Committee Member 
Magna Carta for all
I was raised in Hereford, home of the Mappa Mundi and, of course, a 1217 version of the great Magna Carta. For me Magna Carta is not about Global Leaders or International Businesses; it is about individuals, it is about fairness, it is about equality and it is about justice:-
"To no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay right or justice".

If, like me, you recognise the irony of the £1,750 per ticket, Government Backed "Global Law Summit", exercise your democratic rights and join the Justice Alliance in standing against this revolting hypocrisy.  

Rhona Friedman: Co-founder of Justice Alliance

From Magna Carta to market   

One definition of a summit is a meeting of high-level leaders, usually called upon to shape a programme of action. What programme could emerge from the Global Law Summit? It can’t be a programme to improve access to justice and freedom of speech for ordinary people in the countries sending representatives to the event because otherwise panel sessions would have been addressed by a plethora of legal aid experts and civil rights lawyers from the UK and abroad. We may also have seen an entire session devoted to the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) which if it becomes treaty law will create secret courts, hearing cases in which transnational corporations will sue elected governments, reaching secret judgment completely outside the reach of the rule of law.  
So no programme of action on rule of law issues then but instead a “valuable opportunity to meet and do business” according to the Summit’s co-chair.  Do business leaders really need the rule of law to flog their products? I’m not sure they do otherwise the Prosecutor General of Kazakhstan wouldn’t have been invited. You can read about that country’s attitude to the rule of law here:
The first morning of the Summit starts with a key note address by the current Lord Chancellor, the two year report card on his attitude to access to justice and state accountability, both guarantors of the rule of law, has been well and truly marked by others. Lord Green was until the recent excitement due to have appeared alongside him on the platform. He was boss of HSBC when the rule of hiding assets from the tax authorities and from criminal justice apparently took precedence over the rule of law.
After the key note speeches comes panel session one Business and the Rule of Law. The Chair of BAe Systems has been chosen to sit on this panel which may be sensible scheduling by the organisers because he can be asked questions about how in 2010 the rule of law in the UK and US cost his business nearly £300m in fines for criminal behaviour. BAe Systems set a UK record for a corporate criminal fine which may or may not be what the organisers had in mind when they themed the event around “Law at the heart of 21st Century Business.”     
It is clear that Magna Carta and the rule of law have been plastered on to this jamboree as mere branding stickers for the event. Why don’t they just drop the pretence and be unashamedly direct in their direct marketing and call it what it is: “The London Law Marketplace”? Not the “Davos of law” but speed dating with nibbles for corporate lawyers queuing up to speak to a man (they will mostly be men) who knows a man who is close to the Big Man who wants to sell off a state asset or enter into a contract for telecoms or buy riot control equipment to quell those pesky campaigners at home who want rule by law founded upon the rule of law.  
Justice Alliance is heartened that so many people – lawyers and non lawyers, have seen through the artifice and have spoken out against the hypocrisy of the Ministry of Justice co-hosting this event at a time when the government has embarked upon an unprecedented attack on access to justice and civil liberties.
From 21st February onwards we will be holding King John Grayling to account not with the military threat of the barons but with people speaking truth to power, accompanied by 13th Century tunes, some capering fools and most importantly Magna Carta.   Join us either on our Relay for Rights on the 21st –to the morning of 23rd February or at Not the Global Law Summit from 1pm at Old Palace Yard, Westminster.     
Please see our website for more details.    





Monday, 9 February 2015

The Tuesday Truth

When I started the Tuesday Truth I hoped it would become a weekly blog for Solicitors to provide experiences of working at the coalface of Criminal Justice. I did not want it to be a weekly attack on the government or the bar or both. I have tried, but have succumbed to the former this week, but not the latter.

Solicitors are entitled to be heard more, their contribution to the criminal justice system is invaluable. Going to the police station at all hours often for many hours to protect the rights of the individual is of immeasurable value in terms of how a case or investigation is dealt with.

When I was an Articled Clerk I was accused by a police officer of intimidating a client into making no comment when he really wanted to co-operate. I was accused of perverting the course of justice.

The police conducted a formal investigation, I was interviewed under caution, my firm instructed Counsel. I became the client, 9 months into my training contract having spent the first 8 months in Conveyancing and Probate (living the dream) No further action was taken, my employers then and now made a complaint and I received a formal apology confirming there was never any evidence against me.

What shocked me about the whole process which was very unpleasant is that one officer made a statement where he said I had leaned towards the suspect in an intimidating way in the interview. Anyone who knows me will know that my two 4 year old daughters can take me, and when I play 5 a side football I get frightened if there is a fight in another match on another pitch.

This though was a formative experience in my development as an Articled clerk and indeed as a person who recognised that if the police could turn on the legal representative in this manner then what hope did the suspect have.

Many expert criminal defence barristers will say the most important part of the client’s defence is what he or she said at the police station. This is why really it is a disgrace that a solicitor with over 25 years experience gets paid the same for acting for a client as a paralegal who is accredited. If you are accused of murder who would you rather have?

25 years ago there were no adverse inferences at police station interviews, it was no comment all the way if you had any doubts, now there are several inferences that can be triggered, bad character interviews and the rest and still of course police officers who tell clients that it is the solicitor who holds everything up and it will be much quicker to go ahead without.

Of course we go to police stations to represent our clients because we enjoy the work, we enjoy the buzz of protecting the suspect and dealing with the police, this is one part of a great job or what was a great job.

The fees paid for police stations show that the state is getting incredibly good value for money for having what is effectively police station cover available all over the country, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.

When I read on social media the many accounts of devoted criminal solicitors heading off to police stations at all hours I recognise the incredible contribution that they make which is totally unappreciated.

I wince when I see solicitors in police stations being portrayed on TV, they almost seem to be mute, dishevelled, somewhat odd and the evil link in the relationship between the client and the officer. They seem to come over as so unattractive yet by the time the case gets to court the barrister is portrayed as dynamic and sexy.

Today there are many barristers on the duty solicitor rotas. I have no idea how often they attend police stations, or what experience they have, but those who do go regularly will know just what a challenge this type of work is and why it is important that properly able and experienced solicitors or police station representatives are properly remunerated for acting in the most serious cases, after all you would not have a pupil barrister leading in a murder.

The right to free advice and representation at the police station followed the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 introduced by the Conservative government, the same party who are currently tearing up legal aid and access to justice.

Recently we acted for a youth arrested for murder. He had never been arrested before and was interviewed and bailed on a number of occasions. The solicitor concerned dealt with him and his understandably anxious family. The experienced solicitor spent in total 7 hours in providing advice and assistance and a total of 12 hours in travel and waiting. There were also numerous phone calls. The fee was just under £220. Ignoring all the phone calls that works out at about £11 an hour for an expert advising on the most serious type of allegation. Does this seem right to anybody?

Many people are never arrested, and so maybe this scenario does not trouble them, but innocent people do get arrested, in the wrong place at the wrong time, falsely accused etc, a fair justice system requires quality lawyers being available to advise at rates that enable them to at least make a living.




Monday, 2 February 2015

The Tuesday Truth

This week's Tuesday Truth is by Ali Parker Solicitor at Saunders Law and committee member of the London Criminal Courts Solicitors Association

A Diary of Progress, Politics, and Pessimists
23 December: High Court, JR proceedings. Application for Interim Relief Granted.
James Eadie QC for the MoJ “It’s the usual problem at this time of year M’Lud - all our staff have fled
to the shires. I shan’t be able to take proper instructions until 5 January”.  Now, these civil servants are regulating a 24-7, 365 day legal service. Yet they operate at 9am-5pm for about 40 weeks in the year. The irony of catching them out two days before Christmas was exquisite.

15 to 19 January: High Court, Judicial Review hearing
A masterclass by our entire legal team is all I will say. Incredible input from LCCSA and CLSA members, as well as Law Society stalwarts, like Richard Miller.  If you haven’t read the skeleton arguments, you really should.

21 January: Chris Grayling’s interview with ConservativeHome.
Not being a lawyer is a positive advantage to a Lord Chancellor, he explains:
"So you don't arrive at a decision because you're a barrister and therefore you favour the Bar, or because you're a solicitor and therefore you favour the solicitors' firms," Thus impugning the motives of 400 years of his predecessors.
Being neither barrister nor a solicitor also allows me to dispassionately play one body off against the other”. Okay, so I made that second sentence up. He makes statistics up. We’ll call it a draw.

22 January: Jerry Hayes’ Blog
Jerry Hayes, a barrister and former Tory MP, wrote on his blog that Chris Grayling is “a sh*t that will have to be flushed” once the Tories win the general election. 
I appreciate the sentiment but I seriously doubt Mr. Grayling would be replaced by a compassionate and liberal Tory. The direction of the Tories on justice, rights of the individual, and the rule of law recently is clear. Just ask Dominic Grieve. As for a Tory replacement – apparently Michael Gove needs a job. I hear he gets on just fabulously with any profession he presides over.

23 January: The People have spoken.
Legal networking website Mootis found that 82% of its users were more likely to vote Conservative if Chris Grayling were replaced. Now, a word of caution here - this was clearly not a scientifically accurate poll. I know this because it appears to be off by about 18%.
29 January: MoJ Guidance.
The MoJ published an easy-to-use Court guide for those without lawyers. It includes the sentence:
“If you say you did not do a crime, you may have to go back to Court on a different day, to show the Court you did not do the crime. This is called a trial.”
Honestly, I go to real effort to think of amusing lines about criminal law, only for a civil servant to come up with a cracker like that without even trying. There’s no justice.

30 January: Labour Day
In the dead of night, the Labour Party finally declared their partial support. Sadiq Khan MP and his party would stop implementation of the much-reviled ‘two tier’ duty contract system, even if the government wins the judicial review. Labour would also ‘review’ the 8.75% solicitors’ fee cut due in June 2015, and work with the Law Society to try to find savings elsewhere.
There was a gasp of disbelief, muted applause, bursts of hope… but then the doom-mongers piled in. Those eternal glumsters with their prophecies of betrayal and defeat. Some of them honestly believe they’re being helpful. When it comes to political campaigning, their typical pattern is this:
Doom-monger without political support“No politician cares about legal aid. There are no votes in it, you see. They aren’t people of principle, they only care about votes. That is why they ignore us, and always will”.
Doom-monger with political support“Oh look, the Labour Party have just backed the LCCSA and CLSA on legal aid. What a bunch of opportunistic, untrustworthy vote-chasing shysters they are”.
Erm… excuse me?
Dear Brigade of Doom: if you proceed on the basis that no politician is ever worth a 10p phone call, then what is your plan, exactly? To spurn everyone in power, even when they agree with you? Such a policy would find favour with the People’s Front of Judea, but it won’t do for us. Not the 16,000 who responded to the first consultation, nor the 4,000 who responded to the last consultation, at the rate of 200 responses per day. Nor will it do for all those donors to our huge war-chest for these Judicial Reviews. Most importantly, pessimism won’t do for the wrongly-accused, the over-charged or the vulnerable defendants of the future. Some of whom would be going to Court with nothing but a government guide that gets the burden of proof wrong.

Crystal Ed Balls
What will happen with the current judicial review? What will happen during the election campaign? What will happen after that? Well, the Tuesday Truth is that none of us really know. But we do know that we will be on the right side. Nearly two years into this latest onslaught, and we’re still very much in the game. Personally, I suggest we say “Thank you Mr Khan. Now, what about the rest of you? Lib Dems? Greens? Plaid Cymru? Okay, even you compassionate Tories chained up in Lynton Crosby’s basement? Can any of you match or better that pledge on criminal legal aid?”
This is the question we should all be asking now. Like them or loathe them, it is the Labour Party that empowers us to ask it.
So whilst I am not authorised to provide financial advice, I wouldn’t start investing in “The End is Nigh” sandwich boards just yet.