From the archive: Saving our justice system for the nation
‘Eddie fucking Stobart?’ Barked the Bearded Monogamist. ‘Eddie Stobart, Tescos, the Coop, G4S, Serco’ I replied. ‘Eddie Stobart is a hauliers’ by now the Bearded Monogamist looked very confused indeed. ‘I don’t get it’ Said another friend ‘Basically, the Government will put criminal legal aid out to contract. Big companies doing the defending for the lowest price possible. For profit of course.’ I explained shortly, ‘in two years time, there will not be an independent criminal bar.’ ‘Why do you never hear about this stuff.’ Asked our female friend. ‘Nobody really cares about criminal justice or legal aid,’ ‘Until they need it’ we said in chorus. ‘Do you want me to protest for you?’
How it all started…
It started really at Oxford in 2006, before the economic downturn, law, accountancy, management consultancy, banking, were all relatively easy professions to choose. In terms of the law, 80% signed up for the City. Pot luck really, they chose whichever solicitor’s firm best suited their personality, had the best freebies or dinners. Another 5% signed up for the larger regional firms, not fancying a London way of life. And 5% went for some type of Government job or similar.
The remainder went to the Bar. And all those who went to the Bar, even in 2006 were warned, the Criminal Bar was in the Government’s cross hairs in terms of funding. Bearded Monogamist chose one of those jobs in the city. Went to a decent firm, got a training contract, did his conversion, they paid for his LPC and then he spent two years in the City. Having done so he promptly left. He then joined a financial services firm. One which he has now exited. Last night he was saying that I am his shining example, the person who chose a job he loved.
“Young people, nowadays, imagine that money is everything”
It was last night that I realised that criminal justice would not be saved by practitioners but by the general public. For a start, culturally, we’ve a national predilection for stories of crime. Conan Doyle, Christie, Sayers, Ruth Rendell, Edmund Crispin (my fave) and Cole. Rumpole, Kavanagh QC, Judge John Deed, Law & Order UK (questionable taste). And, actually, we do have a national predilection for justice in reality.
I wrote last year about how the NHS had become the new national religion: http://forthedefence.org/2012/03/01/the-church-of-the-nhs/ But, deep down, fair play, proper justice, man over government, they’re all very British beliefs.
It’s not crime and justice as separated concepts which are of national interest. Criminal justice is part of our national identity.
The Christian conversion of England led to a transformation from a compensation culture in Anglo-Saxon law (yep, take out a man’s eye, you paid for it) to a more Christian conception of justice. I saw the other day a twitter follower of mine who has for her description a passage from the Bible, Isaiah 1.17, translated variously as: learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.
That Christian conversion was soon supplemented with the likes of Magna Carta 1215 and 1297 NO Freeman shall be taken or imprisoned, or be disseised of his Freehold, or Liberties, or free Customs, or be outlawed, or exiled, or any other wise destroyed; nor will We not pass upon him, nor condemn him, but by lawful judgment of his Peers, Followed by the Habeas Corpus Act 1679 and the Bill of Rights 1689 (or 1688 if you’re that way inclined), Excessive Bail. That excessive Baile ought not to be required nor excessive Fines imposed nor cruell and unusuall Punishments inflicted. Juries. That Jurors ought to be duely impannelled and returned . . . Grants of Forfeitures. That all Grants and Promises of Fines and Forfeitures of particular persons before Conviction are illegall and void.
So, criminal justice is part of our national identity. And y’all know what happens when you threaten, afternoon tea, the terraces, fish and chips and fair play. The British go to war.
It is then a Holy War that the Criminal Bar need to fight. They need to show the public that part of national identity, our national religion is being put at risk by Grayling’s proposals. There will be no Francis Bacon, Lord Mansfield, William Garrow, Thomas Erskine, Sir Edward Marshall Hall KC, Sir Charles Russell QC, George Carman QC, Dick Ferguson, no Michael Mansfield, no Kelsey-Fry, no Ed Fitzgerald QC.
Instead: a contracted defender, who protects for profits and works towards targets. Barristering in bulk. Soliciting to scale. Justice will not be served by conglomerates who are more focussed on KPIs and undercutting rival contractors who might do the job cheaper. Criminal justice can’t be contracted out like hospital cleaning.
Can I mention coin
It’s important to make something clear. The legitimacy of any war is undermined when there is a suspicion that it is being fought for profits. I can say for my own part that I always knew I would be paid less than other parts of the Bar. And, I always knew that I would be paid less compared to those individuals who went to commercial law firms. To give you an idea the difference at the moment is between £25000 and £30000 a year less. At the top-level, if I were to ever get there, the difference could be between £200,000 to £800,000 a year less.
Bearded Monogamist reassured me last night, in a public defender & private lawyer system, that the criminal bar would still survive in a smaller form and be paid for by private citizens and companies. I actually believe that to be true. But, I signed up to a profession and a system where all were entitled to an ‘A’ grade defence, not only those who can pay for it. And just as I won’t switch to being a ‘private’ only lawyer, I refuse to work for a company or firm who prioritise profits over performance. I accepted the pay differential on the basis that I could do a job, in a system I believed in, with the only pressure being personal. My pressure being the professional performance I give for my punters. Not, pressure as to targets or performance indicators.
The criminal justice system has two purposes: protection and punishment. Criminal justice is about protecting the public, protecting it from people who breach the rules of society and from the excess of state authority, i.e, making sure politicians don’t lock up people they don’t like. Punishment, or correction, is an aspect of criminal justice. Determining the correct punishment for a person should not have any financial aspect to it. The Criminal Bar need to focus their argument not on pay, or even showing that we are good value for money. Those arguments have a distance, but with the majority of even the criminal bar earning in excess of the national average wage they need to show more. The Criminal Bar must centre their argument and show that the injustices tendering would cause are against the British way of life.
Centuries of civil liberty are being put at risk by a man from who grew up in leafy Buckinghamshire, who studied history and then worked as a journalist and management consultant. A man who knows nothing about crime, is dodgy with crime stats and who compared Moss Side to the Wire. We will win the war when we expose #failingGrayling as someone who threatens very British ideals.
Courtesy of For the defence
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