Justice For Sale Meeting – 1st October 2013

Introduction

Several hundred lawyers met in Camden on Tuesday night (1st October 2013) to get updated on the revised consultation paper and discuss tactics for the future. If you weren’t there, here’s a few pieces to get an overview of what happened:

Where was it left? The short answer is that I’m not entirely sure. The mood for action was clear, how we go forward is less so. The deadline for the consultation is fast approaching (although it’s been pushed back to the 1st November) and obviously we start with making sure that everyone responds to that.

But after that fails (which I think everyone believes it will), what happens next? I’m just going to add a few points.

What is to be done?

It seems to me to be clear. The only way forward is some form of direct action. I’m not a fan of talk of ‘training days’ and the like – let’s be realistic. It is a strike – a withdrawal of labour. The competition law argument was never particularly convincing and (as I understand it) has been debunked.

I doubt anyone wants to strike. It would certainly be difficult for us. But there is, in reality, no other option. Reason, demonstration, persuasion and negotiation have all been tried (repeatedly) and they have all failed. There is no alternative.

The only question for me is what sort of action we should take. There seemed to be a disagreement between stopping taking new instructions at the new rates and a strike for a day (or more). Even within those different views, there are various other views as to what is best.

I wrote something for the CBA Blog back in January which sets out my preferred option, and nothing has changed since then.   The only effective measure is action by all of us at the same time “The last attempt at a ‘strike’ involved declining new instructions. This allowed people to be in favour in public but carry on in private. If everyone does it at once then it will be clear who, if any, will be the ones that decide to carry on working in the face of the opposition of the profession.” I would also add that a piecemeal refusal will (obviously) have a much smaller impact.

I’m actually just going to cut and paste (with a few edits) from that blog, as I still stand by the points I made there:

Won’t this be counter-productive? The media will eat us alive : fat cats etc?

I can see that is a genuine concern. However, they do that anyway, don’t they? There has been some excellent work done on making known the truth about publicly funded lawyers, but that doesn’t fit the narrative the media want to spin. Direct action can’t make it any worse for us, and it may force the media to actually address the facts rather than the myths.

Is this fair on the clients?

This is obviously a worry for many people. Historically, legal aid lawyers have been excellent at ensuring that people have representation, even if we have to do it for free. I understand that. However, there comes a time when we have to look at the wider picture. If we let these further cuts happen, we are letting down all the clients of the future. The judiciary will know what is happening. Many support us. We have to trust that for the period of time any action is taken, they ensure that our clients’ rights are protected. I have faith in our judges that that will be the case. We cannot afford to do nothing. To step away from this fight is actually to do our clients a disservice.

Who is going to organise this?

That is the question that Greg Powell asked, and it is a vital one.

Ideally, we would get in a time machine and go back ten years and set up a Criminal Lawyers Association (or Criminal Defence Lawyers Association to co-ordinate across the two professions. Sadly, that is not possible (and if we had a time machine, I’d probably go back and do a different job anyway), and it is now too late to set one up for the current fight (although I still think that it’s a good idea for the future).

Short of hiring Bob Crow and getting him to deal with it, we have to use the current organisations. We can discount the Bar Council straight away. They have been, mostly ineffective, apart from the times when they have been downright counter-productive (over Carter for example). Ditto the Law Society, given the current circumstances.

The CBA, CLSA and LCCSA have been excellent. I think we have to (and we can) rely on them to co-ordinate the action. I don’t know if the format of direction action would require a ballot of us,  but I think that there are some good arguments for that. Additionally, it would raise the profile of the issues in the profession and show the Government that we are serious.

The two things that I took away from the meeting, and the discussions with people since, are that (1) we need to get on with planning the direct action and, (2) there’s a lot of uncertainty among lawyers as to what is actually happening, and it’s important that there is plenty of communication back down to  the ‘rank and file’. I understand that some stuff will need to be confidential, but there is a concern that the momentum will peter out unless we’re all to some extent ‘in the loop’.

 

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