What’s this all about?
Today, 22nd April, a number of Courtrooms on the Northern Circuit will be closed as the lawyers (it will not be a joint meeting between barristers and solicitors) will be attending a meeting to discuss BVT and QASA (if you don’t know what this means, Ian West wrote a good piece discussing the problems and there are many lawyers who have now written excellent pieces – see here, here and here for starters).
This is not a strike (but strike action may well be discussed), but has been reported as if it were. The MoJ suddenly brought forward the timetable for the consultation and have imposed a very tight timetable. As a consequence, it is not realistic to organise a meeting during the weekend or evenings. Anyone annoyed or inconvenienced by this, please report it here.
How have ‘the powers that be’ reacted?
Not well. The CPS have reacted in rather strong terms sending a vaguely threatening letter. If the meeting is successful, we have a lot to the thank the CPS for – it certainly rallied everyone to the cause (and was the tipping point for one barrister who eloquently resigned from the CPS panel as a result). The MoJ were not particularly happy, while the Judges seem to be hedging their bets somewhat.
It is unprecedented for defence lawyers to walk out of Court to have a meeting, but that is perhaps a reflection of the dedication of the lawyers. Judges regualarly take time out of the Court day to have meetings (to be fair, this is sometime this is at the request of the other parties to the meeting).
It would be churlish to point out that the letter was even more surprising considering the CPS seem to be happy to have their own staff miss Court for a sports day (ok, it was from seven years ago, but still amusing, and the CPS have still not got an unblemished attendance record).
Oh, and the MoJ have organised their public meetings to explain and discuss the consultation during Court hours, which either shows contempt for the public, or is an invitation for lawyers to close the Courts (I take it as the latter).
Will the lawyers get in trouble?
I’m pretty confident that they won’t, were it one, or two, or maybe even ten, then possibly, but if enough people stand up to be counted, then realistically there is nothing that the Courts or BSB can do.
They are, however, taking a risk for which they should be applauded. There is the risk of sanctions here – wasted costs from the Judges, referrals to the Bar Standards Board and possibly Contempt of Court proceedings.
The South East Circuit (where I am based) has historically been the worst at taking any form of action (and has a reputation, not wholly undeserved, for putting a spanner in the works of protests from other areas of the country). I hope that that will not happen this time. The anger felt by lawyers due to the treatment we have received from the Government (as well as our own Regulator) is palpable and has, finally, pushed the majority in favour of action.
But, here the Northern Circuit has lead the way. They have stood up and been counted. Grayling may try to portray this as a ‘noisy minority’, or say that they do not reflect the views of lawyers as a whole. Well, they reflect the views of this barrister and, I believe, that of the overwhelming majority of lawyers all over the country. They deserve a big thank you from us, as well as our full support.
A couple of resources for today:
- Twitter will be quite active. Won’t single out anyone, but N/C Meeting will be tweeting updates
- And don’t forget that the MoJ is on twitter. Tell them what you think.
- Show your support for those at the meeting by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
- You can follow the action as to what’s happening in Court here (the MoJ Xhibit lists are are here) (update -the Court lists seems to have mysteriously disappeared today)
- Crimeline has an excellent collection of resources. Read and do as he suggests.
- The CBA blog has some excellent pieces setting out the issues.
- The PR war is not necessarily lost – see this from the Northern Echo, this blog in the Telegraph today. and some good coverage in the Sunday express yesterday, and there’s no harm in writing to your local rag
And today, we are all Northern Circuiteers.