This is probably going to be an uncharacteristically short post. I have quite a lot to get through today (defence statement – unpaid, advice on leading counsel – unpaid, skeleton argument on abuse – unpaid). That list of work makes an important point about the work which the Bar does which never attracts any additional fee.
There is presently a debate about what form action, if any, should take. These are my brief thoughts.
Like many others I support direct action. There should have been more in the past but we are where we are. When Des Hudson of the Law Society says that the Government does things because it can, he makes that assertion on the basis of past performance. In the past there was no real, concerted action, and so the Government could do what it liked. I believe that if we do not change that now, and make clear the manner in which the system depends on the co-operation, dedication and diligence of experienced and professional lawyers for its proper and efficient operation, the system will collapse in short order. Very few of those presently practising can afford to run businesses or maintain practices on the proposed rates, and even Des Hudson concedes that. It is inevitable that the best will no longer consider crime as an option and that will effectively kill off the future. Those who have other options will have no choice but to take them. That will effectively kill off the present.
We have a duty to those who come after us, and to society, to protect the professionalism of the system. The Government wishes to destroy it. Once it is gone it will not be recreated. We have to be brave and take direct action, unpalatable though it is, to that end.
I do not know that the young Bar can afford an all-out strike. Some may have other work they can do, but those who have already specialised will not. A total walkout risks severe hardship for those with no backing. Any strike must be accompanied with an urgent appeal for welfare funding.
I suggest a combination of partial walkout and work to rule, with assistance from Recorders and Deputy Judges.
The partial walkout shows what happens when the Bar totally withdraw but alleviates some of the problems of a protracted strike. I’d suggest one long weekend where the Bar do not work on a Friday or the following Monday, followed by a rolling series of Mondays and/or Fridays.
Recorders and Deputies should assist. It would be wrong for senior members of the profession to insulate themselves from the risks and consequences of action by simply choosing to sit. Sitting also assists the MOJ in propping up a woefully underfunded and consequently underperforming system. I agree with the call expressed elsewhere for Recorders to make it clear that they are unavailable to work. This would show that the court system depends on the Bar in many ways. Some may feel that their conscience demands resignation.
Finally the work to rule. This has a wider point of emphasising in a real and tangible way the additional work which counsel do but which is never seen or appreciated. It is taken for granted by many judges and it is destructive in real terms of family relationships, marriages, holidays and social lives. I’m sure I’m not alone in having had weeks on end where I do not see my children because I am working.
Counsel should work the designated court day and no more. No task that is not paid for should be undertaken otherwise than in the course of that day. Unpaid hearings should not be attended.
On days when the Bar is on strike there should be representative picket lines at relevant court centres. Those not on the picket line should, however, do good in other ways. I would suggest that local law centres, CABs and other such bodies (amongst the many worthwhile charities) might be pleased to benefit from the presence of some experienced barristers, willing to donate their time for the public good. Law centres and others have suffered at the hands of funding cuts too. We’re all in this together, as they say.
Timing. It must be soon. With the greatest of respect for Sir Anthony Hooper it cannot wait until the cuts come in. Better to stop it happening in the first place. If the cuts are to come in there will be firms of solicitors forced to close in advance of the date because their responsible officers will have to report the likely financial damage. If they look like they will become insolvent the SRA will have to intervene and they will close. Action then will be too late.
I hope that solicitors and solicitor advocates, as well as employed barristers like myself, will support the chosen action. We must stand together.