7 things we learned from the strike

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Introduction

On 6th January 2014, for the first time in 500 years (give or take a couple of centuries) criminal lawyers went on strike.

There will no doubt be various blogs written about it from round the country, and from different perspectives, but Richard Bentwood was first out of the blocks (of the ones I’ve seen at least) and gives a good summary of the position if you’re just cVatching up.

Here’s my (minor) contribution – some of the lessons that we can take away from today. Some we knew, some perhaps are new …

The world didn’t collapse because of the ‘s’ word

This is the key point. The worry of many people is that the reaction from Judges or the public would be such that the strike would crumble, and/or, barristers would get hit with contempt and wasted cost application etc.

But that didn’t happen. The fact is that if there are thousands of us taking action, there is nothing that the BSB or Courts can actually do. And that is the key takeaway for me.

The genie is out of the bottle. Many people were nervous about striking, or thought that it was impossible. Today has shown that it is not. We can do this. Next time (and there has to be a next time realistically) it will be for a full day. Maybe the Judges won’t be happy with that, but we know that if we stick together, they can’t get us all.

There is a surprising amount of unity out there

We don’t know the exact figures of how many people attended, but the lowest figure that I heard was about ¾. On the face of it, that was pretty high, but when you factor in that some would have gone in because they had ‘vulnerable’ cases that they were obliged to attend under the protocol, and many were employed advocates who had to attend, there were very, very few people who chose to attend.

That’s pretty surprising. And runs contrary to the received wisdom that a strike wouldn’t work because there are too many ‘scabs’. Today has shown the opposite may be the case.

People in wigs make a good photo-op

I’m not a fan of the wig and gown – if it was up to me, I’d scrap our outdated outfits. But you can’t deny that it does create a good visual image and, much as it pains me to say it, does help (for some reason) with the cause. Maybe it softens the attack, or something, I don’t know.

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This may be why a serious American newspaper like the Washington Post picked up the story and ran with it. Note the headline – ‘British lawyers in wigs take to the picket line‘.

We’ll never win round the Daily Mail …

We know that they have their own agenda, so it was no surprise that they acted as the in-house rag for the MoJ. Would you expect anything less? Although their story on day after was almost neutral.

… But we can in the broadsheets

As some examples from across the spectrum – the Guardian, Indie and Telegraph.

Whether that counts for much is a different question. I think that it does, and for this reason. It will never be as important as cracking the Sun or Express (the Mirror is a different matter), but the more that there is an alternative view out there, the better. It provides a counter-balance of sorts.

If people listen, then they can be persuaded

It’s worth remembering this. Not saying it happens all the time, but most people aren’t Paul Dacre.

The most surreal moment I had was at Westminster Mags Court where I appeared at one point to be sandwiched between someone from the SWP and another from UKIP, both protesting at the cuts to legal aid. At that point, a random member of the public walked past. He made his initial view (fat cats, etc, etc) clear but was prepared to listen. And ultimately the facts can’t be argued with. He went away still with a desire to hang the bankers, but an acceptance that legal aid lawyers are not quite the fat cats we are portrayed as being.

And who could ever forget this one …

 

At £2bn a year we have one of the most expensive legal aid systems in the world.

Who knew? I didn’t until today. I can’t believe that I’d never heard it before. If it was true, it would be a pretty devastating statistic. Of course, it’s complete bollocks.

Conclusion

We did it. We went on strike and came out unscathed. We can do it again. We may not be able to win this fight, but we can try at least and go down fighting. The biggest thing that we should learn from today is that we should have done this years ago.

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9 thoughts on “7 things we learned from the strike

  1. Reblogged this on http://www.LipstickAndLaw.com – Anna Roffey and commented:
    Best post of the day!

    [….] At £2bn a year we have one of the most expensive legal aid systems in the world.

    Who knew? I didn’t until today. I can’t believe that I’d never heard it before. If it was true, it would be a pretty devastating statistic. Of course, it’s complete bollocks.

    Read more from Dan Bunting.

  2. Pingback: Morning round-up: Tuesday 7 January

  3. Agree with all the above – we have been very lucky in Sussex – our Judges have been very supportive – one who will remain nameless suggested a better day to strike was a Tuesday because the list office couldn’t limit the damage! We had some local press interest (not helped by the fact that it was raining heavily esp when the message was read but I think we can all do more to get our local press interested – and give them a prepared fact sheet on the real costs!

  4. So no downsides, Dan. I’ve yet to see any critical appraisal. Far, far too much back-slapping. What is missing is a survey of public opinion. Has opinion moved? If so in what direction. And it would help as a baseline for the next day of action. If the government see that it’s not an issue with the public, they’ll just hunker down.

    • That’s a fair comment Tony. I guess at the moment it’s about consolidating the internal position for those who took action to take stock of where we’re at. It’ll take a few days to gauge public opinion I guess, and I’m sure that is being done.

      Time will tell I guess, but it is important not to be too self-congratulatory, or stuck in the bubble.

  5. I think that the most impressive thing about the whole affair was that this was not a shop steward/union executive led thing but a groundswell of opinion from a probably unanimous profession (or branch thereof) expressing an extremely righteous point of view. No hysterical extreme views from either side of the political spectrum were in evidence and there was no obvious sign of a ‘picket line’. I hate the term ‘scab’ having been involved in the Fire Service strike in the 1970s I’ve seen the damage that type of language does. Many people have contrary and committed moral views of the use of ‘strike’ as tactic in disputes involving essential public services and I would hate to see that language emerge from a profession which I have always held in high regard.

  6. As a very active men and fathers’ rights activist for almost two decades now, I would offer this advice, which comes from George Orwell – who studied the powers-that-be in government.

    It is no use appealing to their sense of honour or justice. They will only respond if you threaten their power.

    And everything that I have ever seen in connection with getting a government to change its tune, confirms this fact.

    Nothing else seems to work.

  7. Pingback: Save UK justice: The Blogs | ilegality

  8. Pingback: Strike Two – 9th March 2014 | Dan Bunting - A Life in the Bus Lane

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