Ultimately, this is where I think this debate has got to. I have taken the claims of those on each side at the proponents’ own estimation. An asterisk indicates where I think that is a higher estimation than must necessarily be taken. I have tried to set out what each side says will be achieved, or lost, first followed by what might be called more general reasons to support its position.


  • It would bring the courts to a halt.
  • It would thus demonstrate our ability to do so.
  • Which would teach the MoJ a lesson and thereby* increase our credibility.
  • And would achieve the aims of the strike more quickly.
  • It is certain* that this would help the solicitors succeed in reversing the rate cut.
  • It is more than likely* that without the rate cut, dual contracts would be abolished.
  • It demonstrates solidarity with the solicitors.
  • Lots of solicitors* would reward that solidarity by not doing any more advocacy work themselves in the short to medium term.
  • It involves very little* additional risk to the Bar, as there will be much less work coming through until this is sorted out.
  • The gains are thus worth* the loss of income to the Bar, especially its most junior members who are disproportionately hit by no returns.
  • In any event, striking is justified because if dual contracts is implemented the number of small and medium sized solicitors firms will shrink to the stage where the junior Bar cannot survive*. The Big Firms Group will, as now, continue to do as much of their own advocacy as possible.
  • Like it or not, the Bar is affected by this issue because the MoJ will* come after us next.

No Strike

  • It adversely affects clients.
  • It is a breach of our undertaking to the MoJ, which has honoured its side of the deal we reached with it.
  • It endangers our engagement with the MoJ, which is now significant and fruitful*.
  • As we now compete with solicitors for our work, but they do not compete with us for theirs, there is no true community of interest*.
  • If dual contracts were really the end of the road solicitors would not have bid for them and would be taking action about them*.
  • Dual contracts are probably here to stay because quite a lot of solicitors want them and (because of that) they are not taking action about them.
  • Unless the Bar can protect its ability to conduct advocacy, it will wither in any event. A strike would postpone the inevitable, not* prevent it.
  • Striking invokes the law of uncertain consequences. The MoJ can impose cuts on us or implement things like one case one fee, which would certainly kill the Bar.
  • Striking may not achieve the aims of the strike, either because the MoJ holds firm or because the solicitors do not.

As you can see, there are only 3 virtual certainties of note: that the Bar could halt the system; that without advocacy we cannot survive and that competition between solicitors will involve them doing more advocacy. The first 2 are obvious. The last seems obvious to me, but I have repeatedly asked whether solicitors will do less advocacy if they win and the answer is no – at least if payment for other work is not increased.

The rest of it is about where you personally put the emphasis and what your own take is about the asterisked issues. The asterisks essentially represent the areas of risk that you need to assess when making your decision.

I can see why those people whose primary motivation is  kicking the MoJ and solidarity want to strike. I’m not interested in the former (although I believe the MoJ is second rate at present), but the latter is important. I can see why you could honestly and passionately vote yes on an assessment of the issues. I would very much like to vote yes, because I believe the solicitors’ cause is just, and because I admire them, what they do and their commitment to it.

Yet, I still cannot accept that the Yes side has properly assessed its case, because almost every asterisked issue has been answered with a statement of faith, rather than a substantive argument. I think that to vote yes you have to be persuaded that the chance of saving the current level of work is worth the risk that the MoJ will not negotiate with us again and that the work will be available both to the solicitors who brief the Bar and to the Bar itself.

I also think that, perhaps because much of it is an issue of faith, the tone and shrillness of the Yes campaign has been a turn off. It certainly has been unpleasant to me personally (with some important exceptions), but it has also descended into personal attacks on honesty and ability. That’s demeaning and I cannot rid myself of the feeling that it indicates something about the merits. I wonder how broad the support for it really is, with the most vocal supporters coming from a handful of Chambers. That  isn’t a problem in itself, but it suggests that volume of advocacy isn’t equivalent to volume of support.

I would very much like to vote Yes. I hope the solicitors succeed. But I am going to vote No. I do not consider myself bound to support the solicitors. I do not believe that the prospect of their victory offers the Bar what we need. That being so, the fact that they may lose and that their defeat might affect the Bar is not a sufficient reason to support them. If there were nothing else for the Bar, then solidarity – for me – would suffice. But we have negotiated with the MoJ successfully and we are on the verge of a new relationship. That has been forged because we did a deal and both sides have honoured it. I have heard those words spat out too often. Negotiation is what we do. On what basis is it properly said to be an act of betrayal? Who makes an argument so much about emotion and not enough about hard fact? Normally, the party who knows the case needs a bit of oomph.

Of course, it may all go wrong. But at this time, and in this place, you have to make a hard headed assessment of where we are. The answer lies with those who can assist our futures and who are saying that they will. Hard as it is to stomach, that’s the MoJ.

The Future

Yes or No is an Individual Choice

aggressive-argumentationIt’s good that the CBA has published an article by Simon Csoka QC about why we should take action. These are important decisions: both sides need to be heard.

I have read the piece with care. I believe it is inaccurate and weakly argued. If you click on the link below, you will see the piece and my comments. Please feel free to make up you own mind. And, whichever way you go, please vote.

Why Simon Csoka QC is voting yes.commentary

There is no question but that the cuts will hurt solicitors and that they are unfair. I do not believe that the solicitors will go bust – if that were true, no one would have bid for a contract that cannot make them a living. It’s a shame the case was overstated, and it doesn’t help (when does it ever?). But the essential point is right.

The question is what we should do. What do we gain from action? Will your Solicitors survive and be grateful? Will that mean they send you more work? Are firms who do not brief you going to start briefing you?

What do we lose from action? Will the MoJ withdraw from what is currently the most active and positive engagement with us in a generation? Will it impose the cuts we successfully avoided last time? Will it impose OCOF? What affect would that have on your practice?

What does the future hold? The Big Firms Group will compete with the Bar (Tuckers are absolutely up front about that). Will they take your work? Will they brief you? How are we best placed to compete against them? Do the answers to those questions affect you if your small firm clients survive? How are they likely to affect you in, say, 5 years time.

I am not giving answers because – as I hope the above list makes perfectly clear – it is an individual decision. You may wish to take the interests of others in your Chambers – or even outside – into account, but the decision is yours. Chambers where those individual decisions have occurred in lockstep, have far more tightly focussed criminal teams than any of the 3 sets of which I have been a member.

But either way, publishing a group decision isn’t, in my book, about helping anyone decide. It’s about proclaiming publicly that the ‘right’ decision (whatever that is) has been taken. As to which, in my view, the better counsel is ‘do right and fear no one’.

Life at the Bar · The Future

What Are We Gonna Do Now?

What Are We Gonna Do Now
What Are We Gonna Do Now?

As readers will know, I have been distinctly uncertain about calls for industrial action, particularly the no returns option, which I regard as seriously disadvantaging the junior bar. Whilst it was on I offered my help to barristers needing it, because I went with the flow, but I was not terribly convinced by the arguments, the procedures or the options we were offered. I was also a supporter of the agreement that was reached with the Ministry of Justice, and I still am. That agreement was heavily supported by the Bar. It has, thus far, been honoured. It would be wrong to make any decision based on either of the following:

  1. A confident prediction that the MoJ will dishonour the agreement. There is no basis to adopt that position. At best it is a wild guess. At worst it is scare-mongering.
  2. That the original vote was in some way wrong (trans: its opponents do not like the result). That is navel-gazing of the highest order. It is also dishonourable. How on earth could we be trusted if our yea only meant yea for a random period and was transformed to nay without anything happening?

However, that isn’t the end of the story.

This government has determined to bring in 2 tier contracts. In truth, there is no concrete way of knowing that they will spell death for solicitors up and down the country. But, if they don’t it will be the only scheme devised by the Ministry under its current ownership that has ever worked. It will be the only scheme devised by the Ministry under its last ownership that ever worked.

The ‘reforms’ to the Criminal Justice System have not worked. They have not brought crime down. They have not made justice better or more secure. They may – just may – have succeeded politically: that is to say that in transferring the cost from the legal aid budget to the Courts budget (as waiting times for cases lengthen and the cases themselves do the same), the social care budget (as cases take longer to get resolved and stress the litigants in person who must now argue them), the education budget (as children suffer from the uncertainty surrounding their parents), and so on. In so doing the politicians may have persuaded enough people that money has been “saved” from one budget, whilst obscuring the fact that it was merely been transferred into another. But such “success” lies in fooling people with a sleight of hand. It is not designed to achieve anything save political advantage.

So, I believe we should work on the basis that what is coming, if the Tories win this election, is the catastrophe of which the solicitors warn. We can disregard the Lib Dems as they are utterly unable to resist the Tory agenda and, in the person of Simon Hughes, don’t even appear to have tried.

The solicitors cannot help themselves to the extent that would enable them to prevent what is coming. The reality is that despite the good sense and commitment of many, the big firms are less than supportive and, presumably, perceive they have much to gain. As the only way of gaining is to pile it high and sell it cheap – whether that is advocacy or advice – that seems to support the proposition that a catastrophe is truly looming.

It should not need saying, but it’s probably best to spell out that proper representation of horrible people, stupid people and desperate people is the only thing that stands between us and the horrible, stupid and desperate things that they would otherwise do. And, whilst I would welcome a bit more judicial intervention I can understand why serving Judges are silent. What I can’t understand is the silence from the Magic Circle. So, if you’re one of those – solicitor or barrister – I’d like to hear your voice.

The question therefore, is whether the publicly funded Bar – small, compact, brave and relatively united – should step into the breach.

There are some good arguments against. I did not come into the profession to strike – in any form. I want to represent clients. That’s why I am a barrister. I am not persuaded that I am justified in unilaterally abandoning today’s client on the basis that by doing so, I help tomorrow’s. Not only may that not be true – if the action doesn’t work I will simply have hurt more people – but even if it were true I am utterly unpersuaded that I can chose to abandon Mr Smith so that Mr Jones can have justice in 2 years time. No one asked Mr Smith to sacrifice himself in that way. All I would be doing is to arrogate that choice to myself, and that is the absolute antithesis of what we are about. Once you decide who to represent on the basis of your own choices, you can decline to represent anybody and everybody. The extent to which that argument is readily dismissed is a real concern. It suggests that people don’t understand what our profession stands for.

I’ve heard a lot of solicitors (and some barristers) suggest that the Bar ought to do this because otherwise we will lose out. That is also a dreadful argument. It is based on an implicit threat – and I really don’t care that the terms in which it is couched are that “we’d love to help you but we won’t be able to afford to”. It posits that the best advocate (in this case – but not necessarily always – the barrister) will not get a brief because the solicitor will decide that the client’s interests come second to the solicitor’s own.

I do understand that in desperate times people say and do desperate things, but what on earth is the point of being proud of representing people if you don’t do what is best for them? And, if you’re not proud of representing people and you are simply in it to make money, then what is the difference between the small solicitors firm adopting that approach and the huge conglomerate solicitors firms, which we are warned will take over if we don’t act?

As usual, when I see lousy arguments being advanced I am instinctively suspicious of the case they are being used to support.

But. And yet.

If catastrophe is just around the corner then representing Mr Smith is akin to putting a brick in a wall, whilst the wrecking ball is whistling over your shoulder. On a personal level, the brick may be grateful. Draw the picture even a millimetre wider and the question is “what the hell is the point’? Then factor in the possibility (only the possibility) that dropping that brick on the floor could enable you to stop the wrecking ball entirely.

That, it seems to me, is where we are. The point at which professional ethics focussing on one client, conflicts with a possibility so grotesque that professional ethics have never addressed it, because no one has ever contemplated the necessity to do so.

Reluctantly, I have concluded that if these stupid, expensive, unnecessary, ideologically driven, prideful, changes are implemented the proper course to take is to ask clients whether they would consent to me not doing their case or doing it differently. I will try to persuade them to agree to that – either for the foreseeable future (if we agree to strike), or for particular days (if we decide on days of action), or until the original barrister is available (if it is an existing return – new returns do not pose the same issue as far as I can see), or for much longer than the original estimate (if we adopt work to rule).

I want my client’s permission for two reasons. First, that satisfies my professional obligation to seek their consent to something that is out of the ordinary and departs from the way I would normally represent them. I am far from sure there will be a conflict with the Judiciary – the trend for the recently retired to express themselves about the cuts in extraordinarily strong terms  suggests not (although there will always be some martinets and some fools who perceive their prospects to be improved by cracking the whip). But if there is a conflict I will have done as much as I can to protect my own position.

On this topic, I am unimpressed by being told how difficult it is to have a row with the judiciary. That is, sometimes, our job. Moreover, it is a little inconsistent to be prepared to chuck clients overboard, but shy away from conflict with the Judge. That is a mistaken view of what our obligations are, and to whom they are owed. So, it may be difficult – well welcome to the world. Grow some. And yes the Silks should help, and I am happy to do it. But you shouldn’t need a leader to fight your corner.

Secondly, we keep saying that this is a public debate. We then bemoan the fact – true as it undoubtedly is – that, although the public love the idea of legal aid and fairness, they aren’t going to cast their vote on the basis of that issue in any large numbers (that is no reason not to campaign in marginals on the issue, because 100 people may matter). Well, we can have public debates all the time and we can start with our own clients. And we ought to be able to persuade them. They, at least, have a stake. And, judging from my last 28 years of practice, a large number of them will be repeat business….

I would try to apply the same test to prosecuting. The CPS is creaking at the seams. The new DPP – unjustly reviled by many – is the first DPP to say publicly that it cannot deliver service to the proper standard if it does not get more money. That message should have been delivered years ago, not least by the last incumbent, now offering himself as a politician. I don’t know why it was not. Maybe it was felt that advocacy worked better in private – as opposed to the usual way. Maybe it was thought better to absorb the blows than draw attention to them. If so I do not know if the question “better for whom” was asked and, if it was, how it was answered.

When prosecuting, I would seek to persuade the police or my instructing solicitor to ask the witnesses, before the witnesses provide their availability. And if they will not, then we could advertise the position – a step that would have a considerable impact. Of course, the witnesses do not have to consent in the same way that a client ought to, but this is a moral argument as much as anything else and we need to win the debate as well as satisfy professional obligations. We simply have to make the public feel part of the debate.

Exceptions may have to be made – the equation between the brick and the wall may alter if the brick is a small child or a vulnerable person. And people must always be able to say no. If we represent people, then we follow instructions. If we don’t represent them then we have abandoned our values.

Until we know the composition of the next government, there is no basis for acting in this way. Calls for action now miss both points – first that we have no justification for taking advantage of the situation now, and secondly that it won’t work. But, if the next government follows the path of the last one, that – for now at least – is where I am. I continue to favour work to rule over anything else, but action will be necessary, and if the client permits it I shall take it.

I haven’t tried to offend anyone in this critique, but the issue is too urgent to be anything other than blunt. If you have views I am happy to hear them.

Life at the Bar · The Future

Different Evidence, Different Conclusions

At paragraph 45 of the Operation Cotton Judgment, the Court of Appeal said this:

The agreed test to be applied was “Is there a realistic prospect of competent advocates with sufficient time to prepare being available in the foreseeable future?” At the date of the hearing before the judge, on our analysis, there was a sufficient prospect of a sufficient number of PDS advocates who were then available who would enable a trial to proceed in January 2015. That pool included a sufficient number of advocates of the rank of QC and was available at the date of the hearing. Consistent with the judge’s finding at paragraph 59 that the defence should instruct its advocates at a time which “does not jeopardise the date set for trial”, the obvious obligation on the defence should have been to instruct advocates at that point so as to retain them for a January 2015 trial.

Judge Leonard QC’s Judgment worked on the basis that the preparation time for Opinion Cotton was 450 hours. He said so at paragraph 63, and he thereafter adopted the 37 hour week, which the PDS requires of its employees, when not engaged in a trial.  It is clear that was his own view, because the FCA’s skeleton argument for the Court of Appeal makes it clear that the Defence were saying it would take longer. The Judge knew that junior counsel for the prosecution had spent over 1,000 hours on the case.

The figure of 45o hours was not challenged by the MoJ when it intervened in the Court of Appeal case. It was relied on by the FCA. At para 4.1 the FCA asserted the case was trial ready.

Oh dear.

Enter Tim Storrie of Lincoln House Chambers, Manchester. Like me, he could not reconcile what the MoJ were saying about barristers’ earnings in Operation Cotton with what HH Judge Leonard QC said. Unlike me, he did something about it. He wrote to the UK Statistics Authority.  He asked them to have a look at what the MoJ said. With his permission I set out their reply below.

Dear Mr Storrie,

Thank you for your email of 5 May 2014. I am sorry that it has taken some time to reply whilst I sought advice from statisticians in the Ministry of Justice (MoJ).
We have examined this case carefully in line with our role as regulator of Official Statistics. As you will see, we are not inclined to describe these figures quoted by MoJ as particularly misleading. We do, however, believe the issue you have brought to our attention is important and we propose that MoJ should enhance the official statistics it makes available on barrister earnings. I have attached some more detailed analysis as an annex to this letter. We will write to the Chief Statistician at MoJ suggesting that it should enhance its range of official statistics to inform public debate.

Yours sincerely

1. We have been advised that the basis of your calculation – that 450 hours of preparation was thought to be needed to prepare the case properly – differs from what the judge actually said: “it is hard to imagine that it would be less than, say, 450 hours. That would only allow … an hour to read every 100 pages without consideration of the 194 spreadsheets”.

2. It would seem therefore that the judge was saying that the 450 hours might be an absolute minimum for some of the preparation needed for this particular case.

3. We are also advised that the calculation you provided does not cover all the preparation an advocate would do. It covers reading of evidence but does not include consideration of the significant volume of evidence contained in spreadsheets (as the judge noted). Counsel would also need to consider the client’s instructions and defence case statement, review witness requirements, consider experts reports, review jury bundles and have conferences with all the defence team and the client to agree and review the defence strategy. In addition, in cases of this kind, there is a substantial amount of work required during the trial itself.

4. Ministry of Justice (MoJ) statisticians have told us, by way of further explanation of the figure, that the Legal Aid Agency, based on its experience of managing Very High Cost Cases (VHCC), calculated the following example for a category 2 fraud case with a trial lasting 60 days:

• Trial: 60 full day advocacy fees @ 333.20 per day = £19,992
• Pre-trial preparation: 1000 hours (165 hours per stage) @ £79.10 =
• Trial preparation: (10 hours per week) = 120 hours @ £79.10 = £9,492
• Total: £108,584 excluding VAT

5. We further understand that, of those trials which have run for around 60 – 70 days over the past 5 years and which involved a single QC representing an individual throughout the proceedings, the average preparation time has been in the region of 1300 hours. Given the example provided was based on 1120 hours, MoJ statisticians consider that it was not an unrealistic case example to have used.

6. Nevertheless, we conclude that fuller evidence should be made available to inform the debate on barristers’ earnings. The figures used above have not been published as Official Statistics as they are an exemplification of a case study for a particular kind of VHCC case, and our team has not validated them since they are based on high level assumptions and not a detailed analysis of empirical data gathered on a case-by-case basis. We consider that it would inform debate if MoJ were to consider enhancing its range of published official statistics with more information about the components and distributions of barristers’ earnings. We will write to the Chief Statistician at the Ministry accordingly.

It seems, therefore, that in order to get its figures, the MoJ more than doubled the Judge’s estimate. It accepted that the figure used by junior prosecuting counsel was also the correct figure for defence counsel. It was assisted by the LAA – known far and wide for its willingness to permit counsel the hours necessary to prepare a case properly. That, by the way, is sarcasm.

However, the Judge said something different about the necessary preparation. At paragraph 63 he expressly found that Defence counsel would require less time than junior counsel for the prosecution. At paragraphs 44 and 45 the Court of Appeal stressed the need for instructed advocates to be ready by January and concluded that, in order to do so, they should be instructed immediately. The Court of Appeal said the case could proceed on that basis.

1,000 hours preparation divided by 37 hours a week equals 27 weeks or 189 days. One assumes that the PDS advocates will take advantage of their generous (5 weeks pa) holiday scheme and take at least 2 of those weeks in the summer. One assumes also that they will not work on the August Bank Holiday and Christmas and New Year Bank holidays (as us independent advocates regularly do). To start a trial in January (say Monday the 5th), would require preparation starting 30th June, without those days being factored in. Assuming 3 weeks lost to holidays and bank holidays means preparation starting on 7th June, or within 2 weeks of the Court of Appeal Judgment. Of course, if the PDS advocates chose to take all their holidays between the Judgment and the case, the preparation would have to start before the  Court of Appeal gave its Judgment.

Although it said instructions should be given immediately, the Court of Appeal made no reference to any real urgency. It would have been open to them to direct an urgent hearing before the Judge, or that the identity of instructed counsel be communicated within, say, 7 days. In these days of judicial case management, that is what I would have expected. If the Court of Appeal had been working on the LAA’s own figures for preparation as adopted by the MoJ. Which they weren’t.

It leaves open the fascinating question of whether the MoJ’s estimate for preparation is designed to justify its public bleating about how much we would be paid if we did this case. Or whether it really believes that the Judge was completely wrong about prep time but that the Court of Appeal should not be told about that error. It’s got to be one of those.

Meanwhile, I’m glad that the Statistics Authority doesn’t regard a discrepancy of over 110% as “particularly misleading”. That provides an interesting insight into the standards expected of those who take taxpayers money to do their job – and I don’t mean the Bar. Perhaps “particularly misleading” is reserved for claims that the PDS offers value for money. At 1,000 hours and a 12 week trial Operation Cotton represents 9 months work. The holiday and public holiday entitlement given to PDS employees take that up to 10 ½  months. Extrapolating for the full 12 months – which is giving the PDS all the best of it and assumes each employee will be fully engaged on every working day – produces a yearly earnings figure of £124,200 for those on legal aid rates. Bizarrely, Silks joining the PDS were offered up to £125,000 pa plus a pension scheme, 5 weeks holiday plus all public holidays and – and how we need it, we barristers – free eye tests.

That means that the MoJ – trumpeting the cost of these cases, admits that the costs of the PDS increases the cost of those cases to the public. So much for the ruthless war on waste. Perhaps that isn’t “particularly misleading” either.

I’m sure none of this would have changed the Court of Appeal’s judgment. But I would be fascinated to hear the reasoning, had the actual evidence been known. And I wonder about the propriety of permitting a Judge to assess the position on a basis which is known to be false within a very few days, even if it isn’t at the time (as to which there is no evidence). It should not happen.

Humour · Life at the Bar · The Future

Maths 101 – Special Lessons for the MoJ

Grayling’s minions suggest that the greedy bastards in silk who turned down Operation Cotton (i.e. me and anyone and everyone else able to do VHCC work) would still get paid £100,000. This has, as per usual, been adopted by lazy journalists who would like to do v little work for their money but would simultaneously like to criticise the bar for allegedly adopting precisely the same stance. Ross Clark of The Times took this line on Saturday.

The reason I call it lazy is that the maths are so simple that even I can do them. We don’t need the wizardry of Dan Bunting for this.

Step one: at §63 the Judge said that the PDS advocates (working a 37 hour week!) would take 12 weeks to prepare the case. He even helpfully calculated the hours as 450 (actually 444 but who cares?).

Step two: the case is, presumably, a category 2 case. Silk rates under the new proposals are £79.10 per hour.

Step three: taking out my phone and using its calculator function I multiply 450 by 79.10 to produce £35,595. If Cotton is a cat 3 case that figure would be £28,665. If it is a cat 1 case the figure would be £45,675.

Step four: I can do the same calculation for the juniors, who the Men from the Ministry said would earn £60,000. Assuming the prep to be the same – which is probably giving the MoJ the best of it – the figures are: Cat 1 – £28,665. Cat 2 – £22,995. Cat 3 – £19,215.

Step 5: I add the daily refresher. Op Cotton is said to be a 5 month case. Let’s assume that is 100 working days. For silks that produces another £33,320. For juniors another £17,640.

Step 6: I add these figures together. A silk gets a likely figure of £68,915 (maximum £78,995: minimum £61,985). A junior gets a likely figure of £40,635 (maximum £46,305: minimum £36,855).

These figures share something. They share the fact that the MoJ have overestimated them by approximately 50%.

On the basis that Op Cotton is 8 months work, it also means that a silk doing this work would expect to earn £100,000 pa, assuming that they were employed 52 weeks a year without a holiday, and a junior £60,000 pa. Making it unlikely that the MoJ’s view of our average earnings is any more accurate than its spin on the figures for this case.

Of course, it is possible that the MoJ simply couldn’t do the maths. What do you think?

Life at the Bar · Qualities Required · The Future

A Reply to Dan Bunting

Dan has written a powerful post on why he will vote yes. He is one of the good guys, like Matthew, who is both genuinely troubled and is prepared to think through the consequences of what he is urging us all to do. He has not dodged the questions and he has answered them. He is a powerful example of what Grayling is endangering and why the country would miss us if we go. We must make up our own minds and as profoundly as I respect him and his arguments, I equally profoundly believe he is wrong. I have posted this on his blog as well.



You say, in answer to my first question, that you are questioning the wisdom of the decision, not the fact that it was the best deal we could have got. I understand that, but that does mean that we are unlikely to do better – even if your argument is correct – without significantly ramping up what we do. That, obviously, is a change of course, given that what Lithman got is most of what the CBA said we wanted.

Your suggested course of action is, in fact, to go back to where we were and ramp it up. More financial pain, with cuts in July. As that goes on, it is inevitable that the action will start to splinter because it will have to. Never mind supporting solicitors – how many of us are really going to fail to pay our mortgage and heave our families into the street? It’s the beginning of April, so this is going to go on for May and June and then get worse. Most of the junior bar to whom I have spoken haven’t got anything like the resources to manage for that long.

You don’t address this, but go on to talk about the MoJ response. The difficulty is that their response – leaving OCOF entirely aside for now – is likely to be to do nothing but impose the cuts and carry on waiting us out. We know that because Lithman has told us. We can’t pick and chose on this: if they are evil and will impose the cuts anyway in 2015 then they will certainly do so when we renege next week.

As they do nothing, we fade away. People will go and do returns. Or they will go bust and be struck off. Or leave. And your strategy will achieve – all on its own – exactly what you say the MoJ wants. Your only hope is that the MoJ buckles before we do. I can’t think of an example where a small group of people, about whom the public cares not very much, have achieved that. That is why the current deal is the limits of the possible.

You postulate OCOF as the worst thing and then say it isn’t. OCOF is the end of the Bar because the only competition will be on price. We will bring nothing to the party. Good advocacy will be a random event. But OCOF will be irrelevant if we do it to ourselves. As each person goes bust or returns to work, our ability to negotiate anything diminishes. We will make ourselves vanish. You say that this is what will happen anyway but that is such a counsel of despair I can barely bring myself to believe you mean it. It says nothing for the solicitors you urge us all to support. It is far from certain. It does not begin to factor in the Reviews that are to come.

Most of all, it argues that we should bring about the certain destruction of the Bar, because it is doomed anyway. What happened to fighting? To persuasiveness? To advocacy? You may be right – if we have stopped believing in the things we exist to do then we may as well pack up and go home. This is truly a Darwin moment. We are being urged to be the profession that commits suicide today, so that we aren’t strangled next year.

You explicitly say that we will never win. If that is your view then I think you ought to leave the decision to those who genuinely believe we can. Because, once you have accepted that nihilist position, it is impossible for you to be sure that you are voting responsibly. You are certain that nothing good can happen and your choices – as outlined above – will actually make certain that your prognostications of doom are correct.

And that, ultimately is where I think the Yes camp are. So convinced they are powerless that they would rather have a massive row they lose, than dare to dream of winning. For some – for you – I think it is genuine despair, and I am touched and sorry. For others – I fear – it is the excitement of leading a ‘glorious’ last charge, and I am dismayed.

Don’t do it – please. In 1918 Hopkins addressed this precise dilemma:

Not, I’ll not, carrion comfort, Despair, not feast on thee;
Not untwist—slack they may be—these last strands of man
In me ór, most weary, cry I can no more. I can;
Can something, hope, wish day come, not choose not to be.

Words to live by.


Life at the Bar · The Future

The Dark Side Speaks

Come-to-the-Dark-Side-We-have-Cookies-2You know your readership is growing when the opposition ask you to post their stuff. I am happy to do so for 3 reasons. First, the debate is important however you vote. Secondly, we will all have to try and get along later and, although I have used fairly strong language in arguing my view, I believe that most barristers are able to approach this professionally. As I said to my last opponent – kick lumps out of each other in court and have a drink afterwards. That’s how we do it. This helps. Thirdly, it is fair. The Bar has to make up its own mind.

My short answers are after this.

This is what Sam Parham  and Joanne Cecil have written.

A Call to Arms: Why we Must Hold the Line

“The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark” Michelangelo

  1. The ballot is a referendum on the merits of the deal and not on the leadership. We respect Nigel Lithman QC, Tony Cross QC and members of the CBA executive who have worked tirelessly on our behalf and in what they believed were our best interests. The CBA secured concessions but our demands were too limited in the wider context of the criminal justice system as a whole and it would be wrong to agree the terms of this deal.
  1. The proposed deal and its aftermath have the potential to be the most positive development of the campaign so far. Holding a ballot and a full and open debate is a sign of strength and should be applauded.
  1. We only need to look at the timing of the MoJ’s “ultimatum” and the tactics involved to understand just how effective the campaign had been. The Bar was operating a successful “no returns” policy, combined with days of action. VHCC cases (one of the strongest weapons in our armoury) were about to implode within weeks.
  1. Solicitors had mobilised: supporting our days of action, placating our lay clients and the courts and voting to join with probation officers for two days of direct action, coinciding with Grayling’s birthday (April Fool’s Day, we kid you not).  Regrettably, despite rank-and-file support from the Bar, the CBA elected not to support this action and instead to consult. In hindsight, this was a strategic disaster.
  1. Grayling spotted the opportunity to exploit a potential division between the professions and this allowed him to use his infamous “divide and rule” tactics to great success.
  1. Unfortunately, we fell into the trap laid for us by the MoJ and did what we had correctly criticised the Law Society for doing: deals behind closed doors. Grayling deigned to offer a 10-minute audience, during which the CBA was told the deal was (paraphrasing) a “one night only” offer and that discussion and the deal itself was embargoed preventing discussion. One only has to ask, why? The answer has been seen by all: the outpouring of rage, disappointment and dissent, “Not in our name”.

“Comments are free, but facts are sacred” C.P. Scott

  1. For those asking why we want more than the temporary protection of our fees, let us be clear: the independent Bar will be destroyed by the proposed but temporarily deferred cuts. Moreover, justice will be destroyed. Why?
    1. Solicitors face litigation fee cuts of 17.5%.
    2. Profit margins for firms are between 4.8% and 8.9%.
    3. 8.75% of those cuts have been implemented.
    4. Even if a firm survives the cuts, the MoJ plans to impose a “dual contract” system: a limited number of duty contracts and then own client contracts for the rest.
    5. Duty contracts are too big for 93% of firms.
    6. Those without a duty contract will not survive.
    7. Larger firms who survive will have no choice but to employ in-house advocates and exploit a modest profit margin to offset losses elsewhere.
  1. The deal is only a temporary stay of execution of our fees and in 15 months’ time, high street firms will have hit the wall (it is happening already). Our professional client base will have disappeared. The temporary protection of AGFS will not matter, because a 0% cut of what will be zero fees is zero. Grayling will have achieved his ultimate aim whilst maintaining a pretence of supporting the independent Bar.
  1. Those who believe that this will lead to us being able to negotiate for an increase in our fees in 15 months are, with respect, naive in the extreme and ignore what has gone before. The MoJ will come back when we are in a significantly weaker position than we are now, and will issue the final death blow.
  1. The BSB have issued a consultation where the proposals, if adopted, could mean that were the MoJ to impose unilateral cuts in the future, we would be unable to return such work notwithstanding that it may be economically unviable.

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” George Santayana

  1. Proclaiming that the deal protects the junior Bar is short-sighted. There will be no junior Bar. We have been here before.
  1. Carter was proclaimed as a big win for the junior Bar. Let us recall back in 2005 that Carter was a response to a call for action with the Bar threatening “strikes”. In fact the Bar continued to work and co-operated. To the surprise of the Government, Lord Carter found “a fragmented system that has not historically recognised a duty to deliver justice at an acceptable overall public cost”. The fees paid to the junior Bar at the time were seen as too low (the irony!). There was an increase in some fees to make up for the effects of inflation. The “victory” was short-lived: by 2009 the government decided to reduce the fees once again, flying in the face of Carter’s findings and an “astonishing volte-face”. In the face of opposition from the Bar, the government then threatened One Case One Fee (OCOF) and used it to secure further cuts in fees.
  1. A feeling of deja vu:
          • Each government assumes that:
              1. there is a gross over-supply of barristers; and
              2. when “push comes to shove” the Bar backs down.
          • When the Bar is united, the government offers talks with a view to finding savings. The Bar then works extremely hard to identify savings, which are then absorbed back into the MoJ.
          • Any apparent concession by the MoJ is then swiftly removed by applying the threat of OCOF. One only needs to recall the current Attorney-General’s comments about OCOF at the recent Bar Council conference. The MoJ relies on the Bar agreeing anything to avoid that “doomsday scenario”.
          • “Divide and rule” is fostered by:
              1. playing the Bar and solicitors against each other; and
              2. playing the senior and junior Bar off against each other (either by Carter “redistributing” top end fees to the junior end or as in the current scenario where VHCC co-operation is part of the negotiation package) enabling the MoJ to say that they are protecting the junior Bar but that the “fat cats” are letting them down.
  1. Under the current deal, nothing is on offer at all beyond a temporary stay of execution on fees and, yet again, an offer to discuss ways of saving money for the MoJ. It also represents a betrayal of those undertaking VHCC work who have shown real courage and strength of their convictions over recent months. If any review of VHCCs come to pass, the terms of the deal specify that it has to be within the current budget, meaning that the cuts of 30% are effectively set in stone. They are not on the table.

“Defend the children of the poor and punish the wrongdoer” Psalm 72:4

  1. We are fighting to retain a justice system in which those accused by the state are properly represented, in which victims can engage and in which society can have confidence.
  1. However, in exchange for a 15-month reprieve with a promise of nothing, we have abandoned our solicitor colleagues at a uniquely united moment in our history, abandoned our future clients to an uncertain but almost certainly unjust future, abandoned any hope of a diverse, vibrant and skilled profession and diluted our credibility in society.

“Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me” Anon

  1.  The time to win once and for all is now. There is a perfect storm brewing over Petty France: prisons are rioting; private sector MoJ contracts are in tatters; probation officers are striking; for the first time in history, the Bar is striking; the judiciary overwhelmingly oppose these cuts; Treasury Counsel are in revolt; VHCC trials are on the brink of implosion and members of his own party are “railing against Grayling”. He is teetering and now is the time to press home our advantage.
  1. We understand that the Northern Circuit is “not for turning” and is maintaining the “no returns” policy. Those on other circuits should respect their decision and show solidarity by refusing returns in such cases. We salute their courage and frankly, if they hold out, the deal is dead in the water.
  1. The question posed in the ballot is not ideal. It ought to have been a straight question about whether members supported the deal or not. The CBA refuse to alter the question and so we ask members to see this for what it is: a referendum on the deal.
  1. What can be achieved and what price failure? If you, like us, agree that so much more can be achieved, vote yes.
  • If you vote no we sign our own death warrants and succumb to a lingering death.
  • If you vote yes, at the very worst, we go down fighting. This is a time of unprecedented unity within the legal profession as a whole. The prize is a properly functioning and funded justice system with a sustainable future and it is within our grasp: it is our duty to fight for it.

Sam Parham, Garden Court Chambers                                          31st March 2014

Joanne Cecil, Garden Court Chambers

My response.

Sam and Jo,

Thanks for posting this. You bring my humble blog much honour.

Although you offer a fulsome tribute to Lithman and Cross, you are not supporting them. You assume – rightly or wrongly I don’t know and haven’t asked – that they will be willing to carry on if you defeat them. I think that is a touch too easy. You ought to be putting forward a team. Then people would understand what was at stake. As it is, you expect them to negotiate from a position of going back to Grayling as people who can’t carry their own membership. I don’t think we could expect much after that.

You begin by accusing the people you support of a strategic disaster. Hmm. Can I suggest that you are simply seeking to minimise the divisiveness you are actually promoting?

Not only is this a strategic disaster, in your terms. The CBA tactics then turn into idiocy, by allowing Grayling to exploit us. This is where we part company entirely. That team was packed full of people who negotiate and plan strategically for clients. They also did that for us. It is far, far more likely that they are not strategic incompetents or idiots who permit Grayling anything. You have mistaken assertion for proof. I think that the Bar as a whole is looking for the evidence before the final speech.

The evidence is what Lithman and the Circuit Leaders have given us. I believe that the proper thing to do is to actually engage with the substance of what they say. You gloss it over. It is the equivalent of the “golden thread of English justice” submission. Every barrister knows it sounds great. And every barrister knows it is what you use when you don’t have anything of substance to say about the evidence.

Your explanation of why we are doomed is, if I may say so, a trick. At paragraph 7, your points 1-6 are accurate. your point 7 – presented as if it were in the same category – is actually an enormous assumption. The Practice Manager of Tuckers has today said something entirely different. He may be wrong as well. No one knows. But, given that you are guessing, you should have said so.

In my view we will retain work. We will have to compete for it and I believe that this should now be our focus. Sadly, your determination to press the case that we have failed has done us all a disservice. We won. Not entirely but we won. The Bar should now be moving forward, secure in the knowledge that we can take on the government and win. Instead we are staring at our navels, gloomily contemplating a decision as to whether those we voted for and backed can actually be trusted to do the job we asked them to do.

Similarly, you will not accept that the cuts are gone. You seriously propose that after a year, 2 serious reviews and an election they will still be implemented. You do not accept that anything will make any difference, yet the call made by the CBA to postpone the cuts until after those 2 reviews was not a call you opposed. Forgive me, but it seems that you have changed your mind about those reviews. I looked hard to see if I could see why that is, but I cannot. Perhaps the MoJ is more untrustworthy because it backed down?

The BSB consultation – only a consultation – is about how to protect vulnerable clients. I don’t like it but a case that overstates itself is a bad case, and you hugely overstate it. We could always return the work: the only question is when. You don’t adopt the conspiracy theory which is bringing orgasmic despair to some on Twitter, that this too is part of a government plot (I can see all the Barristers and decent lay people on the BSB even now getting their kickback from Grayling – what a load of bastards) – for that, at least, I am grateful.

You invoke the spectre of Carter. Unlike Ian West you simply use it as an example of the government reneging on a deal. You condemn that. The irony is that you expect us to do the same. But this is not Carter: this is simply no cuts. And we can carry on refusing VHCCs.

You are right that OCOF is a threat. That is why I will vote No – to avoid that threat. But your position is wholly inconsistent. If OCOF is a threat we should, surely, seek to avoid it. However, you work on the basis that the government – the same government that means to renege on this deal and will stop at nothing to destroy us – will not introduce OCOF. Even when we renege.

I think this is where your argument falls to its own inconsistencies. There is no basis – on your own case – to assume that the government will act decently. Yet the one things it is most likely to do is the thing you ignore and pretend it will never do. I think this is because you wish to win the argument, regardless of the evidence. But the evidence is what counts.

I do agree that Grayling would love to divide and rule. He has already done so as regards the  solicitors. But at least they lost. They agreed to work under the new rates – precisely what Lithman ensured we avoided. They are not striking about that. Yet you propose that we ought to strike for them. If we are divided it is because you have felt unable to join us and unite.

Moreover, the solicitors could carry on taking action with us. They could work to rule and we could refuse VHCCs. Unity does not mean we do everything together, in lock step. That is why HCAs took returns when we did not. Unity means that we share aims and purposes and talk to each other. We have that unity – it is simply waiting for us to pick up and go.

I can see an advantage to certain sets of Chambers in being perceived as the solicitors’ friend and therefore, in some way, a better Chambers to brief, because of that. The same thing has been assumed over the years as regards human rights, refusal to prosecute and a myriad of other trendy causes. But that does not assist unity at all. I am concerned that you risk using unity as a convenient label, and thus inhibit, rather than encourage, the pursuit of it.

Having talked up the doom I looked – as I have so often this week – for a description of the positive result you offer by reneging on the deal, having our fees cut and risking OCOF. After all, there must be something in it for those voting Yes.

I haven’t got it. You have looked into your own crystal ball and, unsurprisingly, seen an outcome which would be wholly positive. Personally, I like my leaders to confront what happens when they’re wrong, not to assure me that it will be all right in the end. I don’t know what your plan B is, but it seems to be to go down fighting. There’s a lot about fighting. But the essence of a good general is that he (and it’s always a he) doesn’t hurl his troops over the top to certain death without good cause. Good leaders assess the risks. I don’t know if you have done that. If you have, you haven’t shared it with us.

You point about the Northern Circuit wrecking the deal anyway is a mistake. It sounds like blackmail and it must be wrong. I am absolutely confident that the Northern Circuit will accept the result of the ballot. Otherwise they ought to say so and not to vote in it.

You ask me to vote yes because so much more can be achieved. You don’t say what it is, or how we’re going to obtain it, or how long it’s going to take, or who’s going to lead us to it. Personally, I despise Republicans but the phrase is apposite: where’s the beef?

Funnily enough though, I agree with you that much more can be achieved. That’s why I’m going to vote No. Then we can get on, support the leaders who’ve achieved so much and plan the next victory.