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I’m not a fan of the wig and gown – if it was up to me, I’d scrap our outdated outfits.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.
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 …
… But we can in the broadsheets
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.
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.