The LSC has pronounced on the new contracts. It boils down to this: 2,300 barristers were offered contracts. 130 signed them – about 6%.
This, however, is not the fault of the LSC and nor does it reflect the terms of the contract being unacceptable. Rather it is the fault of the Bar. The Bar tendered for the contract at the agreed rates and the failure to sign now is a lack of good faith.
This argument suffers from two flaws. Firstly it is untrue. Secondly it is stupid.
It is untrue because I did not know what the rate would be. I was asked if I would allow my name to go forward to be considered for an offer. To do so would potentially assist my solicitors and my Chambers. Not to do so would be to close the door on the work forever. I agreed to allow my name to be added to the tender. At no stage was I told that I would have to do the work for any particular price, still less on any particular terms.
It is stupid because the sight of the Legal Services Commission (stressing the word ‘Legal’ here) suggesting that pre-contractual negotiations are in any way binding almost beggars belief. They offered me a contract. I looked at the terms and didn’t like them. So I said no. They did not change the terms – instead they offered vague and non-enforceable ‘assurances’ that the contract didn’t quite mean what it said. I said ‘I don’t believe you, so it’s still no’. So there is no agreement. What there is, is a whinge that I should have signed before they told me what I was signing.
The lack of good faith inherent in that approach is a disgrace. No government body should attempt to mislead those with whom it works in such a manner.
But I take heart from the fact that the Press Release (which I gather was the way in which the matter was communicated to the Bar Council – what grace and elegance under pressure) is only the public face. Inside the LSC there will be a wailing and a gnashing of teeth. They will want to know how such misjudgments were made. The public declaration that the names of those who signed would be published (still a blank on the LSC website); the confidence that the Bar could be bullied into signing; the threatening letters sent to the Chairman of the Bar; the overweening confidence. I suspect the government might want to know precisely how they have been dropped in it. I shall endeavour to keep you informed.
Meanwhile the LSC press on without a panel. The rates remain the same but there is no longer any need to commit oneself to the panel. So I can take a case I am offered in Leeds and refuse one in Preston, which seems to me better than the previous position. What’s more I can refuse a case because the LSC aren’t willing to give me the hours I think I need to prepare it properly. I can say no unless I am paid travel and expenses.
I gather I am to be offered another chance to enter into the deal on less adavantageous terms. That is obviously terribly kind and I am grateful. But I don’t think I shall change my mind.
As to the suggestion that the Bar has engaged in activity not in the public interest: if they have evidence that the Bar pressured people not to sign then they should put it in the public domain. If they only have anonymous gossip and wishful thinking they should shut up. Issuing a press release that contains vague hints of unfairness is the sort of moaning a child does until its parents explain that sometimes life is unfair.
Right. I feel better now…