This is a manifesto for engagement and creative thinking, not for the status quo.
For the first time in decades, government and the senior judiciary are aligned about the need for comprehensive reform of criminal justice: we can improve and develop their plans. To do so, we must retain our credibility, or they won’t listen. Militancy need not be the CBA’s default setting: it’s a currency that devalues fast. I supported the direct actions in 2013-4: all else had failed, and they were brilliantly planned and executed, with a clear strategic vision. Now, circumstances have changed, and as good advocates, we should adapt our strategy to them. An advocate who loses the ear of the Court is no use to anyone.
If I’ve learnt anything during nearly 30 years at the Bar, it’s that calmness, determination, astute tactics, and logic work better than belligerence and noise. There are times to be adversarial and to make no compromises: and there are times to settle differences. We have the opportunity to hold Michael Gove to his word about ending the ‘two-tier’ justice system. If we continue to engage purposefully and imaginatively, in an organised fashion, we can help to shape a better future for criminal justice for everyone. That’s what I’ll do if you elect me as vice-chair.
In my heart I understand the anger and frustration that have led to the present call for action, and I share the membership’s fears for the future. If things carry on as they are, the whole profession will wither away from bottom to top, and with it the great tradition of excellent legal representation for all. But in my head I have serious doubts whether this action will strengthen the profession’s hand or advance the cause of access to justice: I think it is premature and full of danger. If you want militancy, slogans, and what Tony Cross QC calls ‘perpetual antagonism’, please don’t vote for me.
I’m not interested in advancing my career, only in doing what I think best for the profession and the people we serve. I have no interest in appeasing the MOJ, but in persuading them that the criminal justice system needs high quality advocates working with equally competent litigators – because together they make it work properly, which is a good thing in itself; and when it works properly, it saves money. To make it work properly, it must be funded properly, and proper funding includes sensible rates of legal aid to make the work attractive to the best and brightest. You know all this. They appear to be beginning to recognise it – belatedly, but nonetheless. At least Gove is asking the right questions, which is more than any of his predecessors has done. The CBA can give him the right answers, and as you would with a difficult tribunal, show him the way to the right result. If engagement fails, then other options remain. But why assume it will fail? We are advocates, after all, and no case is too hard.
We should support solicitor colleagues when we can, be honest and respectful when we cannot, and expect the same from them in return. Negativity, the pursuit of narrow sectional agendas, and fighting yesterday’s battles will get us nowhere. Nothing is off the table: we must reach a sensible settlement on legal aid, and that may call for further action. The 8.75% cut to the litigator fee is bad enough, but the greater danger lies in the two-tier contract, which has been forecast to put the whole system at risk. But a revolt now, based on a howl of pain, with no long-term objective and no exit strategy, while discussions are pending, will leave the MOJ cold and us out in the cold.
I support the present leadership, which has made difficult but correct decisions and is not into crowd-pleasing. I will help continue their work, with the best interests of the public and the profession at the forefront.