QC at Lincoln House Chambers | Tower 12 | Manchester
Sunday 9th June was a good day to wake up early. I did. The Observer editorial was a good read for legal aid lawyers. It concluded –
It is easy to characterise legal aid lawyers as feathering their nests by representing clients who are invariably guilty. But the truth is very different. Legal aid lawyers have suffered cuts over the last 15 years and frequently end up working long, unrewarded hours in a system that is already under severe strain
Under the suggested system, lawyers will be paid the same for a guilty plea as a not guilty plea. As the preparation for a trial will be unpaid the pressure for clients to plead guilty will be overwhelming.
That is unacceptable. The government needs to think again.
But I really had to rub my eyes when I got to the the Mail on Sunday. The Daily Mail had produced some of the vilest headlines based on the MoJ spin. It surprised me and many others with this article which is so very different from its previous coverage.
Dealing with fees, David Rose reported –
Meanwhile an analysis by The Mail on Sunday reveals that in its attempt to ‘spin’ support for the changes, the Ministry of Justice has been making claims about ‘fatcat’ legal aid lawyers which are highly misleading.
Last week the Ministry issued a table of solicitors firms which were paid the most criminal legal aid last year. The top firm, Tuckers, received £8.3 million. But this total does not take into account the fact the company would have to pay expenses such as VAT, payments to expert witnesses, travel costs, support staff and the cost of running an office.
Moreover, for this sum, Tuckers handled over 11,000 cases, some of them extremely serious, for an average fee of less than £550.
Franklin Sinclair, the firm’s senior partner, said the firm was paying its experienced lawyers about £30,000 a year. Newly qualified lawyers were getting a great deal less – about £15,000. ‘Trying to make political capital out of a headline figure like this is reprehensible and misleading,’ he said. ‘It distorts reality.’
East Midlands-based Johnsons, second on the list with £7.3 million, handled 13,448 cases last year, and it too pays its experienced lawyers £30,000 for an average 65 hour week. Partner Digby Johnson said: ‘I’m sitting in cramped offices sharing a room with nine other lawyers. I was at a police station until 1.30am on Monday, and I’m on call all Saturday.
Just who is left to spin for the MoJ?
Leo McKinstry‘s umbilical connection to Chris Grayling has been highlighted but not cut. He’ll come up with some more nonsense-on-demand journalism whenever asked. The chances are that Harry Mount has been seen off by Simon Myerson QC (twice) and Jerry Hayes.
The contributions to the ‘debate’ from so many who are not dependent on legal aid for their income have been absolutely invaluable. They have served to demonstrate the spin for what it is – a puerile attempt to avoid engagement – like a kid with fingers in his ears singing ‘La-la-la.’
Our message is beginning to get through. The argument might involve money, but it’s not about money. It’s about injustice, and the effect the MoJ proposals will have on the criminal justice system.
Today, Monday 10th June, I learnt the following from CBA newsletter which is a recommended read on this topic and others –
“Mr Grayling’s ever more desperate attempts to mislead”
‘We discovered last week that Mr Grayling had written to his own party members in April this year seeking to justify his stance. This is what he told them’ –
Subject: Dear Colleague from Chris Grayling – Changes to legal Aid
Date: Friday, 19/04/2013 11:13 AM
I wanted to write to you to enclose a couple of pieces of information about our planned changes to criminal legal aid
The key reason for the changes is that my Department, like most others, faces big financial challenges over the next few years. We inherited a legal aid system that cost more than two billion pounds a year, far more than in any other comparable or developed nation. In France, for example, the total cost is around four hundred million pounds, and even in countries like Canada and Australia which have very similar systems to our own, the cost is many times lower than in the UK.
Ken Clarke made big changes to the provision of civil legal aid, and brought down the cost significantly. But I will have to do the same to criminal legal aid, which costs more than a billion pounds a year, if I am to meet financial challenges.
As you know, my overall strategy is to sharpen up our narrative on criminal justice ahead of the election, and to give our supporters confidence that we are on their side when it comes to crime. I also intend to improve the way we rehabilitate offenders, to aim to break the cycle of reoffending that boosts crime levels in this country significantly.
I am also seeking to change the way we operate many parts of the current system so we can deliver the services we need but at a much lower cost. The criminal legal aid proposals, which are currently open for consultation, form part of that.
The changes involve putting the provision of legal aid services from the solicitors’ profession onto a competitive basis, to ensure we get the best value we can for the money we spend. We will ensure that we maintain good quality legal support for our courts, but we need to challenge the profession to do things differently. There is scope for delivering significant efficiencies in respect of litigation, which our proposals are designed to incentivise.
But I have taken steps to recognise the character of the bar. We are not proposing to introduce competitive tendering for the work the bar does in crown courts and above. This is an option we have had to seriously consider, but my judgement is that it would undermine the nature of the work done by barristers and I do not want to do that.
We have taken some tough decisions on barristers’ fees, particularly at the top end of the income scale. But I have also recognised the fact that many junior barristers are not excessively paid, and our proposals should actually mean a small pay rise for them if they continue to do the same mix of cases. This would be the first such increase for many years.
During the consultation process, we will undoubtedly face strong opposition from many in the profession. But I wanted you to understand where a lot of the pressure for that opposition is coming from. The main opponent of our plans is Michael Turner QC, who chairs the Criminal Bar Association. In order to give you a better sense of the perspectives he brings to the debate, I have attached below a copy of an article he wrote for the Daily Mirror last year. I think it speaks for itself.
There is no easy way of taking tough financial decisions, but some of them are essential if we are to bring down costs and deal with the deficit.
What Michael Turner had written in October 2012 in the Mirror is here.
Chris Grayling’s tactics can be reduced to the following –
Spin to drown out argument
Don’t debate – demonise your opponent
Ignore all argument
Call critics greedy/self-interested
Spin again to drown out argument
I’ve written about Chris Grayling on the page entitled history of the man.
I’ll let it speak for itself.