Archive for the ‘Trainee solicitor’ Category

I said as a caveat on twitter that Tuckers is not a typical firm. That’s for two reasons: (1) they’re national, (2) they do virtually all their advocacy in-house. They are the type of firm that the Government want to replicate, because they hope eventually they’ll be able to get them to contract out large amounts of the system and squeeze them.

That said, my first ever brief was from Tuckers….!

And of course, they are the biggest recipient of criminal legal aid in the country.

Personal touch

When you watch Frank Sinclair visiting the 63 year old woman accused of drug dealing you know why Tuckers is a success. Like all good businesses, they look after their customers.  There is no doubt that the vast majority of my clients do not choose their solicitor because of their legal prowess but instead because of the relationship they enjoy with them.

90% of Tuckers work is returning customers.

Coleen’s camera

Well forget if the jury believe this chap, the narrator sure as hell doesn’t.

‘I’m pleading not guilty anyway’ – we’re not like doctors, people all too often don’t take our advice.

We need more quantity

That’s what worries me. ‘We need more quantity’ says head of the police station reps team. But, they’re not going to get any more staff. This is simply put the worry – that quality it put at risk by the need to increase quantity.

This isn’t going to be a problem for just Tuckers but for all our firms.

To maintain their income levels their staff are going to be expected to increase their caseloads.

Governments cut fees, they’re going to cut quality.

 Has he got a current mobile

I would say 25 to 30% of my legal aid Magistrates’ Court clients did not turn up to their criminal trials. We would always make the same call to the solicitors, ‘hi, you got a mobile?’

The disconnected number message and tone is a familiar sound.

Who do they believe on the day

People often don’t believe me when I tell them this, the evidence of one person is enough to make magistrates sure that you are guilty.

Juries… less so

Personally, one word against another – no other evidence,  it should rarely result in a conviction. Being ‘sure’ is a high threshold, although it seems a lot lower in the Magistrates.

The prosecution want to adjourn their case because they have no witnesses

Damn right the Magistrates ought not be adjourning these matters. The public really need to see what goes on in Magistrates’ Court. They need to see what the CPS actually do.

Not warning witnesses to attend? That’s basic. That’s the next step on from, getting the prosecutor to Court.

Feel quite deflated

At the end of Briefs episode 1, I feel quite deflated. It has certainly been very accurate in some respects but not in others. ITV have certainly spun the programme as ‘everybody is guilty’.

The Defendants shown as well are not likely to garner that much sympathy from the general public. Perhaps it’s worth noting that several of our clients are just like you, not alcoholics, or elderly drugs pushers. Although I had the twinge, when she said ‘you’ll be alright Dad’.

I also, and I really mean this, find the fact that Soham: A Parents’ Tale being advertised throughout really lacks taste.

My end conclusion, a very ITV take on our world and no doubt not reflecting on all the good work that criminal defence lawyers do nor the fact that not everyone is guilty.

 

 

 

If you follow me on twitter you’ll know I’ve had one of those weeks. There’s a pain in my neck and I’m not entirely sure if it’s from leaning over a computer or sleeping on a train.

When I finally got out tonight I was ready to switch off. So I dialled up ‘Pretty Boy’ – not that he’s inane, but when I phone him I don’t have to talk about crime, criminals, coppers, prisons or anything like that …. the conversation is much more… extra curricular. And, after ‘Pretty Boy’ I was going to call ‘TV Blonde’ – neither answered.

So as I wandered along through the streets of legal London, dragging wheelie bag behind I got thinking.

First, I smiled to myself, a helpful message @MPSWandsworth my local police, they looked into something I had concerns about. And, they’re fans of my blog, I laughed to myself, funny how many police readers I actually have.

Then I looked at twitter as I wandered along. The tweets were quite sad really. Sam Hallam was a happy piece of news in a sense, but sad that justice had taken so long. The Law Society announced what can only be described as a laughable minimum wage for new trainee solicitors and the police continued to talk about Winsor. Meanwhile home affairs correspondents and police commentators were talking about police privatisation. In other feeds human rights heroes, Hugh Southey QC and Mark George QC were talking about the death penalty.

I was shocked to see how many people had retweeted, my simple missive of the day:

‘Cut legal aid, lower advocacy standards, destroy the independent Bar, privatise the police and then #samhallam will be the norm. #legalaid

There is a divinity that shapes our ends, rough-hew them how we will

I had a total selfish moment. Bloody hell I thought, when I signed up for my wig it was meant to be simple, do a job I love, defend people in a fair forum, be paid a decent wage, get silk if I’m good enough, retire, die happy.

Now it hardly seems possible.

And then I thought, look at what I’ve missed,Bushel’s case, Somersett’s case, defending the suffragette, marching with the civil rights campaigners for racial integration here and in the US, busting the corrupt police squads, the Guildford 4, Birmingham 6.

And it’s only going to get worse, hellish vision posited here: http://forthedefence.org/2012/04/14/the-way-were-going-criminal-justice-2025/

I got quite depressed, as if I’d missed my moment to make a difference.

But then, I actually realised that we’re standing at a moment in history. A fundamental change in how we deliver criminal justice in this country. It started slowly under the Labour Government.

So: PCSOs, unqualified prosecutors in the Magistrates’ Courts, cuts to legal aid, erosion of the rules as to hearsay, the right to a jury trial and bad character evidence going before juries. A prison service which was underfunded and actively supplanted by the private sector. The probation service’s culture fundamentally changed virtually overnight. Indeterminate sentences handed out all over.

And nobody really paid attention to the slow drip. People complained about the individual changes, but nobody stepped back and looked at things in the whole.

In that environment, Barry George, Sam Hallam wrongfully convicted, probably with many others. It took what, almost 20 years to get justice for Stephen Lawrence.

Now, because of the economic circumstances, that drip has become a gush.

The police have marched against Winsor.

Court staff have walked out.

I’m going to have to learn four languages as there’s no interpreters left.

Barristers are trying to work out if there’s a right for them to strike.

Judges are complaining about declining standards in prosecutions.

People are worried about declining standards in criminal defence.

Trainee solicitors in legal aid fields are looking at a better living in Tescos.

People are asking whether you get a better service if you pay for your own defence and some lawyers are saying yes.

Naturally, we’re all concerned about our own position. We’ve all been reviewed individually, the Bar had Carter, the police have Winsor, the prison service have endless reviews and the probation service have a new name every other week.

Now, we’re saying there should be a Royal Commission on Policing, there should be advocacy tests for defence barristers, we ask Serco to fill the gap where public services used to.

When we say, we don’t like that, we’re accused of self-interest. And, of course that’s true, we are self-interested to a certain degree. But I hope people who don’t work in the criminal justice system accept this:

We were never in it for the money. If I’d wanted to earn more, I could have sat in the office next to ‘Pretty Boy’ in the city.

We’re vulnerable, why, because we’re in a vocation, our vocation is to secure justice, that I hope is the same for lawyers, coppers, probation officers and the rest…

And that should be our focus.

Hold the line

Has been a popular hash tag of the police in their campaign. A terribly British phrase which conjures a mental picture of other glorious moments in British history.

So rather than fighting individually (with the risk of being accused of self-interest), explaining how the gush will wash away our part of British criminal justice, why don’t we fight together for a single vision.

My Moses Moment

In my view, the ten commandments of British criminal justice are these:

1) The purpose of the criminal justice system is to protect the individual. Be it, to protect individuals from crime, protect individuals from the coercive power of the state, stop individuals from patterns of destructive behaviour and provide their safety through the passage of the system if Defendant, witness or victim.

2) The police, must police by consent. The police are holders of public office and can never be privatised. They must remain independent from Government, prosecutors and the media.

3)  Every person accused of a crime deserves quality legal representation. Quality of defence should not depend on ability to pay or the financial arrangements between legal services providers and the state.

4) Every person accused of a crime deserves to be tried by an independent body of their peers. The Magistracy must be diverse in age, race and gender and reflect their local communities. The Magistracy must be able to perform their function without excessive interference of the state. If accused of a serious, indictable offence, then every person has an absolute right to trial by jury.

5) Children should not be criminalised for trivial offences. Grass roots discipline comes from teachers and parents/carers not from police officers, lawyers and Judges.

6)The mentally ill should not be punishment for offending. Their treatment is from the social welfare element of the state not the imposition of punishment by the criminal justice system.

7)Prison shall be used as a last resort. Effective community punishment should be the preferred method of disposal. Restorative justice should be common place. For those who custody is the only option, they should be held in public owned prisons where their rehabilitation is the main aim. Punishment, be it in the community or in custody, ought never be for profit.

8) The purpose of the probation service is to prevent re-offending. This  is not an actuarial science, instead it is an idiosyncratic process where well funded probation officers aid offenders in re-integrating into society.

9)The Crown Prosecution Service must remain independent. They must make decisions as to prosecutions free from pressures of the police and the executive. Prosecutions should be based on local need and the prosecutor’s code not concerns of the media and/or pressure groups.

10)The Criminal law protects all and applies to all. Nobody will ever be subject to scrutiny by the police or punishment due to their race, age, gender, nationality or sexual preference. Nobody is above the criminal law due to their occupation, office or income. The Criminal law is deaf to the media but is open and accessible so that the public can see that justice is done.

At the bottom of Mount Sinai

I hope we could all be there together. Those above are my ten commandments. I am sure some of yours would be different. But imagine if we could agree them.

What an amazing message that would be to Government and to the public.

If we all held that line together.

Imagine the march, where I stood there wig and gown, next to me was a Magistrate like Bystander, on the other side a cop, or @Chairforce1, maybe some senior members of the judiciary, QCs too and solicitors from the £6 per hour trainee to the big hitting leaders  of major legal aid firms and the prosecutors, probation officers and YOT workers. Marching behind, coppers in their tunics, Occupy protestors with their banners, victim support workers, legal advisors to the magistrates and qualified criminal justice foreign language interpreters.

That’s not just a line. That’s a dam which could stop the gush from washing away 100s of years of British justice.

FTD

The year is 2028 and the last fifteen years have seen more change in English criminal justice than the 150 years before it.

The rapid change began toward the end of 2012. The Winsor report was on coffee tables across Westminster. The Police Federation march had put the rank and file officers in the cross hairs of the coalition.

Meanwhile, after 4% pay cuts across the Criminal Bar, a  number of mid ranking barristers have found themselves without employment as the CPS have restricted who can prosecute on the basis of how barristers fill out a form. A number of cases have collapsed as the jilted barristers refuse to prosecute.

And whilst prison numbers have reduced, the Government are not looking to share the scarce resources of the prison service, instead, to target and remove another prison establishment.

Double dip

The default of Greece in 2013 led to a Europe wide recession.  Germany, France and the UK as a result had to restructure public finances to keep the European project alive.

Overnight there is a hole in the public finances.  Defence recruitment is frozen. Public sector pay is subject to a wide review. University fees go beyond £10k. Fare subsidies are cut and capital transport projects are delayed. Again, nobody is prepared to consider waste in the NHS or rationing the provision.

The Government have passed early release legislation, a number of prisoners are released early. There is only the support of charities to help them.

Whilst in Eastern Europe organised crime has used its free movement rights across Europe. Multi national, cross border crime is now the norm.

Save money, save it quick

The need to save money quickly caused the Government to look at whole sale reform in crime and criminal justice.

By 2018 every category B and C prison was in the control of private companies, there is no focus on rehabilitation at all. The focus of these establishments is to hold inmates as cheaply as possible. The Prison and Probation Ombudsman was incapacitated by the number of complaints, in particular as regard to use of force. The majority of the open, category D prisons have been closed, the remaining two which are open are run for those coming to the end of life and IPP sentences, they are contracted to charities. Whilst the Government pays for the room and board of the prisoners, it is for the charities to fund rehabilitative and resettlement opportunities.

The recession has had a wide spread impact on crime. Most organised crime has now got a European dimension. In 2016, the European laws with regard to extradition were abolished. All over Europe savings were made in domestic legal budgets. Instead of domestic police forces dealing with extradition an European Marshall Service was created. The European Marshalls have jurisdiction throughout the EU and can arrest anybody to whom a warrant applies.

The police have taken the Winsor report to a new extreme. Entry requirements for officers is high indeed. Most officers are now taken directly at the age of 21 from Russell Group Universities. The low entry pay being offset against the job security that policing officers. This lack of diversity amongst police recruitment has led some to conclude that the police are no longer representative of the public.

In any event, the general public had little contact with the actual police. Instead, the obvious saving was to increase the power, but not the pay nor the training of PCSOs. In 2018, the Police Reform Act gave PCSOs all the powers that police constables have, the only difference being that they only exercised their powers whilst on duty, in full uniform and in their force areas. Despite the Police Federation warning that it might lead to lower standards of policing, UNISON representing the PCSOs demanded the powers and access to weaponry. There was no entry requirements for PCSOs and they could be recruited from the age of 16.

The Labour Party, receiving funding from UNISON could not oppose the new powers to the PCSOs.

By 2019, the public complained that the police were ruder than ever, violent and unresponsive. Crimes went uninvestigated. The IPCC were buckling under pressure and police forces were having to build contingency funds for litigation.

Looking to impress

In 2019, David Cameron was heading toward the next election, the end of his second term. Facing rising crime rates and heavy criticism from the public as to policing, the Conservative government enacted the Criminal Justice Reform Act 2019.

Overnight the Magistrates’ Court was renamed the District Criminal Court. The Magistrates were abolished. Instead, their legal advisors were overnight promoted to District Judges. The conviction rate in the lower court went up overnight. Money was saved to put toward popular public projects.

Appeals from the District Criminal Court to the Crown Court and High Court ended. Instead, appeals were sent to the Senior District Judges, mostly the District Judges who had been in place before the change.

In the District Criminal Court the law was changed with regard to representation. Barristers and solicitors continued to appear. But, also trainee solicitors were allowed to appear in the Court. Additionally, police station representatives with no formal legal qualification and CPS caseworkers were now allowed to do summary trials.

By the end of 2019 the public complained that the Courts were a mess. Victims complained of improper treatment and witnesses went either unquestioned or were subjected to clumsy questioning. The Law Society and the Bar Council complain loudly that justice cannot be done in these new criminal courts. The Government resist any suggestion that these District Criminal Courts ought to be televised.

The Government rejoice that they have increased the success rate of prosecutions whilst saving costs.

The final chapter of the Act was to remove the application of the Human Rights Act to any person or situation involved in the criminal justice system, prompting widespread protests from liberties campaigners and a crisis in the Higher Courts.

Third term

The libertarians may not have liked what was said about the Human Rights Act, but the rhetoric of the right wing electronic and visual press helped get the Conservatives a third term. The crime problem was supposedly solved with the increase in successful prosecutions and money was being saved to purchase shiny things.

And in 2020 huge capital investment was provided by Government into transport, energy security, new technological industry and the development of small enterprise.

Part of this was funded by the wider world economic recovery, otherwise by savings from elsewhere.

The big promise to the public was to put local power back to local people. That though had to be offset about the reality that a closer Europe would require European solutions.

The new reality. PSCOs have been doing low level, local policing now for several years, the public though want the police back. The solution? Every local authority becomes responsible for its own day-to-day policing. They can choose from a number of providers, Serco, G4S etc.

The remaining police force is reshaped and the numbers decreased. There is now one national domestic police force, responsible for policing serious offences.

To cope with European Union wide criminal offending the European Marshall Service is extended and expanded. In 2021, the European Union Crime Agency was formed. Their remit to investigate ‘Federal Crime’. A new multi million £ court house is opened in London, Birmingham and Cardiff.

HMP Wandsworth is taken away from G4S control and becomes EUP Wandsworth. It holds those who have committed Federal offences.

Despite British objections all EUCA Officers are routinely armed with Austrian made glock semi-automatic pistols. The proliferation of weapons throughout Europe, in particular of old soviet and adopted pistols, means that the Government decide to routinely arm all members of the national police force. Webley & Scott produce side arms for the first time since the 1970s. A signficant number of officers are sacked when they refuse to collect their weapons.

Just outside of Temple

There is a large stone building with oak doors, brass door knockers and black iron railings. It looks more 1925 than 2025.

The building inside was tidy, but modest. In three open plan offices, INQUEST, the Howard League and the Prisoners’ Advice Service go about their business. They survived the recession and legal aid cuts by sharing a building and some other costs.

On the floors above is one of the few barristers’ chambers which survived the reforms.

There are five criminal barristers’ chambers left in London. And even then, criminal law is not their main source of work. Of those chambers, two will only accept work on a private fee paying basis. The other two only represent the Government and the private companies involved in providing ‘criminal justice.’

The chambers FTD is a member at is the one outside of Temple. FTD’s practice is mostly paid for by wealthy individuals, sometimes solicitors firms are able to persuade their paymasters to  get in an independent barrister, but it is in less than 5% of cases. Nobody junior in chambers just has a crime practice. Actions against the police are booming, the untrained PSCOs with greater powers were a liability, the privatised PCSOs are worse.

A number of members of chambers work in the International Criminal Court and in the European Federal Criminal Court. It is very rare indeed they would get involved in a normal criminal offence.

Barristers are now instructed not only by solicitors in their own jurisdiction but others in Europe too.

In 2025, solicitors are in a recruitment crisis. National firms of solicitors won all the contracts to provide criminal defence under legal aid, they squeezed and squeezed each other to do it as cheap as possible under the ‘Best Value Tendering’ scheme which has crippled the profession for the last 10 years. The result is every lawyer has a huge caseload and little support. There has been little to attract high quality candidates into the criminal law as the money at the bottom end is so bad.

People mortgage their homes and sell their possessions if accused of a criminal offence to pay for proper representation.

A number of Judges and retired lawyers are making it clear in their media that they think there are huge numbers of miscarriages of justice. City law firms are taking on criminal appeals pro bono as obvious wrongful convictions flourish.

Another video was released of privatised community police abusing members of the public. One 17 year old private company police support officer was seen racially abusing a group of youths. Another has been indicted for extortion. The English national police force are having to spend large amounts of time investigating their private company colleagues.

Prison is having next to no effect on re-offending rates and crime is on the rise again this year.

Tomorrow, the Sun on Sunday will launch its return to justice campaign, calling for improvement of legal aid lawyers and an entirely public run police force.

FTD is appearing on the Sky E News bulletin to remind the Government that they were warned of the risks many years before.

Drip drip

I don’t mean to be a drip.

But, lawyers who are not properly trained and not properly resourced will not succeed in securing justice. Graduates from top universities will not be attracted to legally aided law if they see it as being unstable and offering no financial reward whatsoever. The slow drip out of the legal aid budget (and these annual 4% gashes) will kill quality. BVT would end it all together.

Would you be comfortable to live in a society where only the rich could access the best criminal defence?

Privatising police forces will lead to injustice, not only in employment terms, but to persons who are policed. Again, reduce training and entry standards you will reduce service.

Would you be comfortable to live in a society where you are policed for profit not protection?

And we ought to recognise that with the continuation of the European project there will come a time that we need to have a serious consideration as to the lines of jurisdiction. The more integrated Europe becomes more integrated crime becomes. Is anyone being honest about the prospect of European criminal justice?

Honesty too must be applied to our policy of imprisonment. If you cut funds to prison the frills go first. The frills are rehabilitation. Without rehabilitation you are merely locking people up in a public funded barn.

Criminal justice cannot be privatised, small slices lead to large injustices in the long run. If you don’t pay for proper criminal lawyers then you will never achieve criminal justice.

Is my vision of 2025 so unrealistic?

FTD

I realised the other day that I hadn’t done any prison law in months. It didn’t really worry me, when barristers are busy they don’t really worry at all.

But then I spoke to a QC in chambers. In terms of prison law, she’s one of the stars and has done some of the most interesting cases. She was asking me how I was doing with prison law, and I told her, she said I’m not alone. Even she has very few prison law instructions.

In terms of prison law practitioners, there were never many of us in the first place. And of the prison law lawyers, only a few did the whole ambit of prison law. In a basic sense prison law has two aspects: advocacy relating to release and litigation relating to conditions. The advocacy aspect was parole boards and adjudications (mini criminal trials in prison), the litigation aspect was amazingly varied from a prisoner’s security category to their rights to have visitors from their family.

And in terms of clients, prisoners are some of the most vulnerable. A prisoner can’t just pop down the local high street and visit the local solicitor or law centre. If they’re denied legal aid, they can’t sell assets or ask family members and friends to help them out. Nor can they visit the local university’s law clinic to ask law students to help for free.

Prison law: a potted history

In all honesty, there’s not much to the history of prison law.

In short:

Habeas Corpus Act 1640

Somersett’s Case 1771

Abolition of debtors’ prison 1869

Abolition of death penalty act 1965

But since then there has been an explosion of litigation.  A cadre of dedicated advice workers, solicitors, barristers and campaigners have pushed the envelopes of the minimum standards that prisoners can expect. They have fought to eradicate racism in prisons and to recognise that women prisoners have particular rights specific to their gender.

And to get to that point? A fraction of the legal aid budget, a very small fraction indeed. Every solicitors firm with a criminal contract were allowed to practice in prison law.

But then

With a populist stroke of a civil servant’s pen the outlook changed. Rates for prison law work were cut and firms were required to apply for a specialist contract. Each firm had to have a supervisor with large amounts of experience to supervise their prison law output.

The result? Overnight prison law practitioners shut up shop. Solicitors who had been practicing prison law were sent back to the Magistrates’ Court to fill duty solicitor slots. No new practices could be opened as they could not find the personnel to act as supervisors.

The net result? Less capacity.

Rights with an expiry date

Rights are useless without lawyers to enforce their recognition. I spent fifteen minutes or so trying to find training contracts being advertised for new solicitors to practice in prison law, I couldn’t find any. In terms of pupillage, I found four pupillages with a prison law aspect in chambers and two at solicitors’ firms with a prison law aspect.

But of course there has to be work for those pupils to do otherwise all they will do is learn from their pupil masters and when they’re off on their own have no hope of accessing any work to build on their own practical skills. If those pupils cannot find prison law work then they will be forced to abandon it as a practice area.

Charities will not be able to fill the gap. American prison law litigation (which is at least two or three decades between our own) is funded via charity subscription, mostly through the ACLU, but here there isn’t the same option. English prison law litigation is expensive. The Prisoners’ Advice Service, the Howard League and the Public Law Project all maintain legal staff, they do so as charities, they couldn’t on top pay for the litigation they undertake, they need legal aid.

Pro bono? Can you imagine city law firms dedicating time to represent prisoners? Hardly as great a photo opportunity as mentoring children in Tower Hamlets.

And on the other side

The Treasury Solicitors who represent the Government against these campaigns are still recruiting trainee solicitors and pupil barristers. In addition, the Treasury Solicitors run a ‘baby barrister’ scheme so that new barristers are exposed to public law litigation which will include prison law claims.

They cynic in me wonders whether there’s more to all this than meets the eye. Prison law and prisoners’ rights are never popular, especially not in the media. The prisoners’ right to vote cases have embarrassed both the present government and the previous government.

But yet, the prison law budget, although a fraction of the legal aid budget has had such minute examination. Oh, and I should point out, that examination started before I joined the Bar, before the cuts to other services all began.

The result of the above is simple. There’s a countdown on those prisoners’ rights that we have invested in over recent times. They will soon become worthless if there are now new lawyers to enforce and protect those rights.

FTD.

I sound like one of those American survivalists. I’ll be sat in Chambers with huge stock piles of pink tape, biscuits and counsel’s notebooks. At night I will sleep on the library floor and burn a copy of Halsbury’s for warmth. I’ll have enough tunic shirts dry cleaned and pressed so I can go to Court three weeks straight.

The Olympics are upon us. In the pub, the robing room, the library, people are wondering if all the train stations will be finished. Others wonder if the hospitals will cope or their holidays be disrupted.

But I’m wondering what’s going to happen to the Courts.

We’re expecting at least 450000foreignvisitors to the capital. That’s about 10 times London’s permanent population of Americans or Australians.

There’ll be domestic visitors too.

And it’s not only London, Coventry, Eton, Manchester, Weymouth and my own Wimbledon.

Preparation, preparation, preparation

We have seen the Met and BTP pretend to blow up a train station. The Marines have been throwing stun grenades on the old Thames Clipper. Even ‘Housemate’ been preparing one of London’s most major services.

Because, more people, means more use of services. More people means more risk.

And Courts are a public services.

And like it or not, Courts need various people to run. The criminal courts need cops, Counsel, solicitors, interpreters, witnesses, the works.

Immigration tribunals need UKBA staff, Counsel, solicitors, interpreters.

Extradition courts need Counsel, solicitors and lots and lots of interpreters.

My glass half empty vision

And off the planes, trains and boats will come some tourists, brandishing expensive electronic goods, dripping in Swiss watches and bum bags overflowing with £ sterling. And of course, with them, will come pick pockets, thieves and muggers.

Desperate asylum seekers will take advantage of increased traffic flow and try and stowaway at every port.

People with a past will find themselves flagging on an European Computer system as they cross into the UK. Soon after they’ll find themselves in handcuffs on European arrest warrants.

The result:

More work in the criminal court, more work in asylum tribunal and more cases in the extradition court.

Shut up FTD, more work means more money for you – does it?!

My vision of hell

You see, already there’s a shortage of criminal lawyers. London solicitors will be busy during the Olympics. They’ll be in the police station at all hours dealing with those robbers, they’ll be waiting for interpreters and investigating officers. The next day at Court, they’ll have to wait as the security vans take longer to deliver prisoners to Court. The new interpreter booking system which is already malfunctioning will simply fail.

Counsel will not be able to fill the gap, the transport problems will mean that junior counsel are not able to cover two courts in one day. The others will be in rural courts near where a large event has been held, or in the extradition court.

The Courts will have to sit late to try and free up the prison cell spaces.

But they’re already jammed. The extradition cases generated will need to take up all of the remaining places at HMP Wandsworth. There are not sufficient defence extradition solicitors and counsel to cover all the cases. A number of warrants will be discharged as persons arrested on warrants will not be brought to Westminster promptly.

The more senior immigration and extradition practitioners will be queuing up to get cases heard urgently in the High Court. Whilst the more junior practitioners will be queuing up to try and find a single interpreter. Of course they won’t be able to, as now all the Courts use the same limited pool of interpreters.

Solicitors and Counsel will run out of steam quickly.

And they won’t be able to call in reinforcements. The CPS won’t be able to go out to Counsel as they’ll be booked up. They can’t go to other agents  as they won’t be on the CPS list.

Lawyers won’t be drafted into London from other parts of the country. Why? Because they’ll be busy with their own increased caseloads. Some smaller places touched by the Olympics will have to call in what few free Counsel are available.

And who is going to pay for all this? How long is it going to take to process legal aid applications? Solicitors firms face being saddled with huge bills from agents and Counsel.

Google says

I was speaking to folk in chambers today about all this, the hell that I expect. They all just tell me to chill out. The clerks don’t have any plans apparently.

Well, if I google, I’m sure I’ll find something.

The plans? Close courts, send Judges on holiday… that will free up some police, some barristers, but won’t increase capacity in real terms.

Seems nobody has thought to talk to the lawyers from what I can find.

Maybe I should just chill out and then enjoy the ‘I told you so’ in 150 days time.

FTD

 

 What I have found really worrying about the way that people are pretending to support pupils whilst pretending that I do not, is the way in which they have phrased such “support”. Far too many of the reactions I have seen are full of self-serving ersatz indignation and can be fairly summarised as: “Look at me. I can show I’m down wid da kids by saying they contribute value by helping established figures do their research and answer questions about new law and sit there taking notes. And, if I say so, I’ll look well cool and gain even more cred by calling out a silk”.

Simon Myerson QC on http://pupillageandhowtogetit.wordpress.com/2012/02/27/slightly-famous-for-about-3-minutes/

And in response to Coffee v Pupils

I don’t know if he means me but I hope he doesn’t.

Because

He has now accepted that pupils contribute. He responded to what @lincolnslawyer wrote. He has publicly said that:

I ought to make it clear that of course pupils contribute something during pupillage.

Neither Sara  (@lincolnslawyer) nor I were trying to get cred. But we both come from the same position. You see, @lincolnslawyer and I both had a mentor whilst were searching for a pupillage, we in fact had the same mentor: ‘Silk Cut’. Both Sara and I did death penalty work pre pupillage. Both Sara and I had a job doing our own advocacy, managing our own caseloads and instructing counsel pre pupillage. Both Sara and I took a paycut to become pupil barristers.

I am incredibly grateful (as I know she is) for the support ‘Silk Cut’ gave us. I have no doubt that both of us feel that we owe something to the next generation and will protect them where we can. That’s why I wrote what I did, not to get ‘cred’.  And, to encourage junior members of the bar to become more involved in our own future.

Courage

Also, I would ask him to remember, anonymous, sobriquet or by real name, it takes a lot of courage for junior members of the bar to publicly contradict silks.

And it’s when I started thinking about courage that I realised something. We weren’t brave at bar school. Again, we were outside moaning, we’d send the occasional clipped email, but we never wanted to rock the boat. The fear was, that by rocking the boat our BVC (now BPTC) provider could narrow those pupillage odds even further.

I had vowed to email, or write to the powers that be when I got pupillage. But, I didn’t. There’s a lot wrong with our current system of legal education, in particular the BVC/BPTC course and some of the providers, ne’er shall it improve without the intervention of barristers.

Shoulder to shoulder

The Bar will survive. And it will do so by Simon Myerson QC running a blog about how to get pupillage. I hope fellow Silks will consider how to protect the squeezed middle of the bar. It will survive by ‘Silk Cut’ mentoring more bar school students. I hope others at his level will look after the youngsters like me. It will survive if @lincolnslawyer and I look after pupils, current and future.

My commitment

So I am going to put my money where my mouth is:

I am going to write to Professor Andrew Sanders the Chair of the Education and Training Committee of the Bar Standards Board. I am going to make some suggestions to him about how we can improve the BPTC. In particular, I am going to suggest that each provider has local junior barristers who are available to be contacted about problems with courses. I am going to ask that those junior barristers visit the local provider and are accessible. I am going to ask what is being done about numbers of entrants compared to pupillages. I am going to ask that a junior barrister as well as a senior barrister is part of the team that does the annual provider visit. I am going to ask that real thought is given to having discussions with banks about their finance packages for BPTC students.

Is there anything else you want me to write? Stick it in the comments section or tweet me.

And I’m going to email Benjamin Wood and Tope Adeyemi, two of the junior members of the committee who I know and ask them to lend their support.

The phalanx

So,  let’s put our shields together. Let’s all sign up.

And when we’re all together you might just see me and a blogging QC rap battle for a laugh.

Innit.

FTD.

 

In the last 48 hours, two friends, a family member, a twitter follower and an instructing solicitor have all expressed surprise that I’m so quiet. Not quiet in general, but on a certain issue.

‘Pupils contribute nothing’

Or,

‘Coffee v Pupils,’

Or,

‘Myersongate’

I think I prefer Myersongate.

In short, http://www.legalcheek.com/2012/02/simon-myerson-qc-12k-minimum-pupillage-award-is-fair/ Simon Myerson QC writes on legal cheek. In response to the suggestion that we give up a coffee a day in order to pay for pupils to secure the future of our profession.

The commercial silk says that pupils contribute nothing to chambers during their pupillage.

Watching and waiting

I’ve watched the fall out, not only on legalcheek itself, but also on other websites.

The feeling from other barristers, pupil barristers and bar school graduates has been resolutely contrary.

In my own mind, the suggestion that pupils contribute nothing is absolutely laughable. I drafted for senior juniors, I did legal research for solicitors, oh and when I got on my feet I gave chambers 10% of my earnings, brought in new solicitors and when we were short of clerks I humped box files from one chambers to another.

So, pupils contribute nothing?

Balls.

Also, I feel a responsibility to protect and encourage new members of my profession to come forward. Without barristers like ‘Silk Cut’ giving up his time, I would never have come to the bar. I now feel the same responsibility and help where I can.

But I’m worried

I find it worrying that a QC would make such a broad statement. I am not sure if it’s the same Myerson QC who is at Byrom Street Chambers. Byrom St is an impressive set, but they have something notable about them, they have nobody under a 1995 call.

In London, Cloth Fair chambers continues to pick up impressive work. They have four QCs and two senior juniors from 1997 call.

They have no pupils. No junior members of the bar get to learn from John Kelsey-Fry QC.

So there’s a subtle indication that business efficacy requires more senior members of the bar to cast off the more junior members.

Look to our leaders

My worry is that through history and courtesy we remain silent and expect our leaders to protect us.

The question of advocacy assessments looms, the dreaded QASA. Lord Justice Moses showed sympathy for those of us with a criminal practice, Joshua Rozenberg reports:

Young criminal advocates were already the least well paid and the most vilified of those who practised in the courts, Moses pointed out. They would be the guinea pigs while their counterparts in commercial chambers would remain free to sit in court, unassessed, behind a “heavyweight silk boring for England or for Russia”

I know it’s just a nod in our direction, but I’m really grateful that a senior member of the judiciary has recognised our existence. And it’s not only members of the judiciary, some silks have, even a Tory MP, Geoffrey Cox QC.

But we’re about to get to crunch time

Members of the Bar who rely on public funding will need more than just a few friends at the top. The junior members need a champion. And, as of late, I’ve been worried that we don’t have one.

I’ve also secretly worried that the future of the bar might be forgotten for a short reprieve in some respect which advantages senior colleagues.

Can we put our trust in the hands of senior practitioners?I simply don’t know, I hope so. But, with announcements that pupils are useless, and considering the Byrom/Cloth Fair models, what do we do?

Do we take door 1…

And stick to the status quo. There’s a strong argument to do so. All our senior colleagues were in our position at one time. We all know individuals QCs and senior juniors who will stand up for us and for future generations.

We should throw our weight behind the Young Legal Aid Lawyers, our circuit reps and our inns of court reps.

Or, we take door 2

And we decide to look after ourselves. This of course would necessitate more than a little work. The juniors would have to lobby for a position on every Inn and Circuit committee.

We would have to separate off and in terms of negotiation with the LSC and government, we would need to be certain that we have our own representatives.

Pub beer garden advocacy about where our profession is going would need to move from the heat of halogen lamps to board rooms and conference halls.

Trust

I take option 1, let’s trust our leaders. They don’t forget how difficult things can be and I am sure they see us as being of use. Also, there’s individual personalities to consider. A senior Judge has come out in our support, the leader of the South Eastern Circuit has also shown that he cares. We all individually know particular leading barristers who will stand up for us.

Their experience and gravitas is more likely to persuade and protect then if we send a champion who may just be thought of as a petulant child at the dinner table.

However, that said, we need some movement forward. We really cannot spend our time moaning in beer gardens and instead ought to focus.

We do need to stand for more committees. We do need to back each other and vote when a junior junior stands. We need to engage with and enlarge professional bodies such as the Young Legal Aid Lawyers association and Young Barristers’ Committee.

Perhaps we can remind Mr Myerson QC what we at the bottom rungs contribute to the profession.

FTD

Housemate: Oh shut up, you love being Dad.

FTD: No, no I don’t

Housemate: Yeah you do, you do a bit,

FTD: Yeah I do a bit,

Housemate: You love it when the lads come to you for advice, makes you think you’re wise or something

FTD: Yeahhhhh I do love it, and shut up I am wise, very wise.

I’ve been through at least 3 breakups in the last 6 months. None luckily have been mine. But some of my best mates have, and I have lived through the pain. And don’t get me wrong, my mates are not the scented candles, whale song, self-help book types – they’re blokes. So, yeah, I am pretty proud that they feel able to come to me to talk stuff through.

But then, when you think about it, most days of the week I have to talk things through with complete strangers, people who don’t know me at all. If you’re thinking about a career at the Bar in the areas of law I practice in then it’s very much public facing. And often they have to tell you about very personal things within a very short amount of time of meeting you.

Love and the law

‘Pretty Boy’ and I were discussing the impending doom recently that we face. That all the boys would marry off and we’d be left, in our pinstripe suits, in nightclubs on a Friday night.

He works stupid hours in the City, I work long hours at the Bar. What’s the solution? No, not ‘Lovely Solicitor’ – I haven’t seen her in months.

But we talked about the forbidden solution, the solution which we are all too afraid to mention. No, not civil partnership, although both our Mums have wondered. Worse: online dating.

Safety first

A couple of the police forces on twitter were advertising a website earlier today: ‘online dating safely.’ The website is sponsored by HM Government, HSBC and Microsoft.

So now, I am going to take dating advice from a global bank, a global corporation and a sovereign Government. Perhaps it’s easy to see why the lads are coming to me.

According to the website, ‘broken hearts and disappointment are perhaps the biggest risks in online dating.’ Well I think that’s exactly right.

Can I be Dad again for a moment and run through their advice:

Choose your forum carefully – yep – just as in real life, don’t go down dimly lit backstreets looking for the love of your life.

Protect your privacy – yep – when the guy in the shiny silver shirt and tight gold trousers sidled up to you in the bar, don’t give him your name, address and national insurance number.

Meeting someone – yep – don’t agree to go on a  first date at a disused canal.

Common sense told you all of the above, you don’t need FTD or HM Government to tell you.

Fear

Fear has become one of the overwhelming features of our society. It’s sad. Latest singleton mate is worried that he’ll revert to his former self now single, he won’t, he doesn’t seem to realise (yet) that he would have grown up anyway, no matter if he had a girlfriend or not.

All of us single lawyers are afraid to ask out ‘Lovely Solicitor’, or alternatively, too afraid that we might let something get in the way of our careers.

Looking down the list of lawyer facebook statuses tonight:

‘Banter and Hedges’ is drinking prosecco and watching Lord of the Rings.

A family law barrister is having a romantic evening in with two lever arch files.

‘GQ’ has ‘liked’ a picture of a newborn child – incredibly concerning

One of the city girls has just written, ‘Valentines Day. Pah’

NGO lawyer writes, ‘not even a pity card for the old spinster. shocker.’

So in short, lawyers are rubbish at love. My incredibly scientific survey just proved as much.

Uniform dating

Uniform dating is apparently one of the fastest growing dating websites on the internet. I imagine it is, people in their droves signing up to date a fireman.  I’m not convinced that Wig Romance or Legal Lovers would attract such a big crowd.

Anyway, I’m not convinced dating other lawyers is the way to go.  Having had my ex sit at the back of court throughout my hearing this morning. It was fine, no disorder in the court.

Some advice from Dad

Lawyers are rubbish at dating. But we’re brilliant at listening and rubbish at dating. So, next time you have a relationship meltdown, go to your lawyer friend. We’re better than the smug married lot who found each other at age 13.

If for some reason you do fancy dating a lawyer, I suggest you follow this utterly awful guide

http://www.avvo.com/legal-guides/ugc/how-to-date-a-lawyer

However, if you come up to me in a barrister bar, start chatting latin at me and then giving me a citation for every idea you have then I am likely to pass.

Who am I kidding, I’d rather that than trying to think up a witty mysinglefriend.com profile for ‘Pretty Boy’.

Happy St Valentine’s Day

FTD.

 

 

 

 

 

There are still days when I wonder if I want to be a barrister. I think that’s healthy. If I didn’t question my own professional worth then I’d let ego or destiny take over.

Ego is easy to give in to. There are moments of sheer glory in your wig. Heart stopping moments when a jury announces a not guilty verdict; when your opponent agrees a consent order; where a parole board releases your client. There are moments when people who you hardly know will throw their arms around you; grown men will cry; people will come up and shake your hand congratulating you for a wonderful performance.

It can be like a drug. After all there’s no doubt that we have adrenalin rush moments.

Can you keep a balance between ego and self-confidence? If ego takes over then you will lose professional perspective. If you lose all self-confidence then you’ll lose the confidence of your client, professional and public.

‘Silk-Cut’ , my mentor, is going to be a QC. He’s brilliant, the legal professional press says so. Clients, professional and public, love him. But even he has moments of doubt, gloom for the future.

But he will always tell aspirant barristers if you want it, if you can do it, you will.

Do you want it?

I won’t bore any of you with the statistics. Becoming a barrister is hard. There are more potential pupils then there are pupillages. There are fewer tenancies than there are pupils. The numbers indicate you’re taking a hard route.

But for the moments I mentioned above it is worth it. If I get a result for a client, I imagine it is the same feeling a doctor gets when he cures a patient.

But, the first thing you must remember is not all patients pull through.

Dead on arrival

Some cases that land in your pigeon hole are dead on arrival. The client has no defence or can not make a claim. Can you accept that? Can you accept that no matter what you do you are bound to fail?

For those going toward criminal types of work, the acquittal rate in the Magistrates’ Court is low. In extradition, I have no idea what the discharge rate is  for European Arrest Warrants but I imagine it is very low.

In immigration, asylum is regularly refused from people who come from countries which we cannot imagine living in.

Brave people are given a cold shoulder by the dispassionate law.

Sleep at night

You have to be able to switch off. I lose sleep before big cases, I dream about trials that will never happen. But after a case, I can generally switch off as if I didn’t I’d never be able to focus on the now and the next case.

So, you have to be in one sense as dispassionate as the law is and on the other hand show your client that you care enough to listen to their story.

Mercenary not miracle worker

Barristers especially get described as being mercenaries, going into battle to fight for a client for money. Factually that’s right, but we’re humans too, honestly.

I remember being in a conference room in my old chambers, one of my first cases which really required proper weeks and months of preparation. My client was a 12 year old boy, who was in tears, who didn’t really understand what was happening. His mother was full of anger and hurt. His solicitor full of outrage that things had got so far. I wanted to take that 12 year old boy home, I wanted to go to his school and sort things out. I couldn’t, it’s not my job. I got that boy the result he needed. But that doesn’t mean I’ve solved all his problems, it doesn’t mean that I’ve saved his life.

If you’re a barrister you cannot cure a person of their drugs problem. You cannot take an abused child away from their parent. You can’t erase their past. You can only help mould a moment of their future.

If you want to be a barrister you have to accept that you won’t be able to do everything for everyone.

It’s a rare case that changes the world

A rare case indeed, that would change the world. But some do. So it’s from one extreme to another. At this stage in my career I doubt I’ll ever be potent enough, clever enough, persuasive enough to hold on to a case which can change the world. There are people in my chambers who have had such cases, real moments in British history. I have unlimited respect for them.

Could you ever be strong enough to shoulder that kind of case? And, if you did, could you remember that the case never really belongs to you but to your solicitor and lay client?

Extreme

You know if you want to be a barrister that hours will be long. You know that your finances will be tough. You know you’ll go from ecstasy to agony in the same month, week, sometimes even day.

You can be the golden boy one day and the next you can be out of favour.

Barristers drink too much. Barrister smoke too much. Some eat too much. Some eat too little. Some trade children for fulfilling professional potential. Some can balance everything, never really having a moment for themselves.

Some change history. Some do little more than earn an average living.

Can you?

Risk several years of your life on your wig? By the time you add it all together it’s a decade long commitment to really give it a go from start to early finish.

You might be spat at.

You might be screamed at and insulted. There have been moments when I have walked across a court foyer with everyone’s eyes on me full of hate or distrust. Shoulders back, head up.

You might be dropped by a solicitor for a single tactical choice that you’d still stick to. You might be dropped by chambers because you forgot to shine your shoes one morning. You might not get pupillage because you answered a single question in a way which the panel didn’t quite like.

Do I still want to be a barrister

I still love my job. If I stop loving it I will do something else.

Tick box exercise

If you’re not sure about being a barrister then please don’t take the risk.

Once you’ve ticked all the boxes

x Don’t mind job insecurity

x Don’t mind financial insecurity

x Don’t mind long hours

x Like travel

x Like the public

x Like the law

Then tick a final box. Can you adopt the mentality of a barrister?

FTD

In most towns in the UK hidden down a backstreet or in a disused civic building you can find the Citizens’ Advice Bureau. Actually, you can now find them in Australia, New Zealand, Israel and the United States.

The CAB is a charity dedicated to two things:

The twin aims of the Citizens Advice service are:

  • To provide the advice people need for the problems they face.
  • To improve the policies and principles that affect people’s lives.

Trained volunteers and a small paid staff help people with everyday problems. Debt, employment, consumer complaints. All sorts of things. And, they campaign on and litigate bigger things.

They don’t charge people, they offer a confidential service and they are impartial.

Something for nothing

People who can’t afford lawyers, or people who just need a little know how – get something for nothing. They get a wonderful service.

Last year though that wonderful service was reduced across the country. In Cardiff the service closed. There was a political brawl in Birmingham.

And now the Legal Aid bill looms, paid staff who rely on an income from the legal services’ commission will find themselves unemployed as smaller areas of legal aid are no longer funded.

Get what you pay for

Citizen’s Advice Bureau staff are on the most part not paid. But it costs a lot to train them.

As a student I was a CAB advisor. It was a first for my rural bureau. The deal was I would work more days a week than the average advisor during my university breaks. It took about 8 months for my training to be completed. I was sent on a variety of courses in a variety of places.

I came out of it a person trained to deal with the public, to process information and to explain difficult concepts to sometimes difficult people. For the first time too I was trained to give bad news as well as good.

A lot of my soft skills as a lawyer were developed in a tiny little consulting room in a house converted into an advice centre.

I kept up my side of the bargain. I worked in the local bureau and did some work in the Oxford bureau too where I was studying.

The risk the bureau manager had taken, had paid off. She had an active advisor. CAB now have access to a barrister to help point them in the right direction when things get technical.

Pay your way

Many students looking for a career in the law start in CABx across the country. If you’re looking to improve your CV and your client skills I cannot recommend it enough.

But chambers and law firms are getting a lot for nothing.

City bashing is rife at the moment. If you’re in a big city law firm, why not consider a donation to the bureau that trained your new trainee in their soft skills. Part of the reason you’ve employed them is because of their CAB experience.  So reward the CAB. Pay them a premium for training they have done which you do not have to.

Large chambers – why not do the same? Or, why not release your non-practicing pupils to the local CAB to offer help at an evening session (it counts toward pupillage).

Local firms – adopt a CAB? The biggest solicitors’ firm in each town could adopt a CAB. Again, a wonderful training experience for trainee fee earners, a brilliant opportunity for PR. Indeed, an opportunity to generate potential clients. In return?  Help that CAB with their legal obligations, tax, charity status. Help them keep the lights on by running events for them. Invite their advisors to training and workshops so external trainers do not need to be paid.

The legal profession ought to do their bit. In particular when so many of us started life under the blue and yellow circle of the CAB.

It’s not sexy but it is important

As part of a firm’s PR strategy it might be important to say we let so many billable hours go to help local children, or to build a building elsewhere in the world.

But, justice is important. And justice isn’t just about the big cases and the headlines, we in the wigs or them in the big glass buildings.

Justice is getting the right DLA payment for a person injured. Helping the minimum wage worker get their proper holiday pay.  Stopping a landlord illegally harassing a tenant. Helping someone fill out a form.

It may not be sexy. It is almost always not glossy. But it helps people.

Help CAB

CAB have helped so many people with so many things. CAB have helped so many lawyers get their first job. CAB have helped firms and chambers by providing trainee lawyers with a set of real world skills.

It’s time for barristers and solicitors to help CAB.

I’ve just started, ‘Lad’ has text me wanting help with his tax return – he’s made an awful lot last year. Will be persuading him to make a donation.

Next time you haven’t got your wheelie bag and you think about taking a taxi, hail a different CAB and donate:

http://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/index/support-us.htm

FTD