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to wonder why Chris Grayling's plans to smash our justice system appear to have gone unnoticed here?

(82 Posts)
rooiewooie Mon 22-Apr-13 14:08:01

I've been lurking on here for 3 years now. Never plucked up the courage to post until now.

Barristers in the North are "on strike" (ie meeting) to discuss the latest threat to legal aid and our justice system.

AIBU to wonder why this is not being discussed on MN?

rooiewooie Tue 23-Apr-13 12:36:46

Welll, if Labour opposition don't appear to understand what hope for the public? Karl Turner is the only MP saying or doing anything about it.

Merle Tue 23-Apr-13 12:44:21

Spero, some of them have.

ReindeerBollocks Tue 23-Apr-13 13:34:10

This isn't just about the Bar but solicitors and all criminal firms in the North and the potential for them all to close.

The biggest problem to this cause is that the lawyers aren't prepared to help themselves and have been busying stabbing each other in the backs over these new proposals. When that they should be doing is rallying together to take action. But they are all too busy working out how to benefit out of the new proposals. Ae you aware that the BFG and certain members of the Bar have been having discussions with CG for the last two years - those members have always been out for themselves. And everyone is going to get shafted as, under this new scheme, there are many none lawyer firms wanting to place bids under the new system (Tesco law anyone?).

Realistically, a solicitor can get called out in the night to deal with very serious matters such as rape or murder and gets paid about £100 for a full nights work. Do you know of any plumbers who would do that? And these are cases which could have hefty sentences, but legally aided lawyers aren't paid properly for them. Is that fair?

Solicitors in the new scheme will be paid a pittance (less than £25k a year) due to the way in which this has been funded. Why would anyone train for nine years (duty status) for that?! It will potentially destroy the system as no-one will want to do it anymore.

And what is the Law Society doing to protect lawyers? Sweet FA from what I can see - to think this is what people pay their registration fees for!

OP, YANBU, it hasn't been properly debated - but when the lawyers can't debate it themselves properly, how can the public be expected to?

Merle Tue 23-Apr-13 13:49:06

RB - what is BFG? No, I'm not aware of the discussions you refer to.

High street sols are already earning £25k.

The situation up here, from what I can tell, is that no one is back-stabbing. All the discussions have been constructive and purposeful and the Bar and solicitors are cooperating. I am not so naive to not realise that this won't be the position if the proposals go through and it's everyone for themselves.

rooiewooie Tue 23-Apr-13 14:11:29

BFG = big firms group. They won't be so big when TescoLaw takes over!

ReindeerBollocks Tue 23-Apr-13 14:19:12

BFG is the big firm group - a very select group of firm owners who have been liaising with Mr Grayling for some time 'on behalf of all lawyers' except, it's all bullshit as they were busy protecting their own interests (or so they thought!). So actually in the NW there has been backstabbing from some firms towards others.

There have been select meetings. As far as I know the Bar had theirs yesterday, as did the solicitors. So far they have resolved to have another meeting - thats action for you.

Most Duty Solicitors I know are on anything from £25-£35K depending on the firm, but I will agree that pay has dwindled over the years. The only problem being is that £25K will be the maximum for any duty solicitor, which is ridiculous.

And whilst I'm vehemently opposed to the new system, I dont think the old one was much better. Very much an old boys club, with new firms being few and far between. Lots of people have made money from Legal Aid but that isn't anyone who qualified in the last ten years. Paying off police for clients, and client retention for the established firms.

However, I do think that Tesco Law is scary and the thought of a non lawyer firm makes me very wary for the criminal profession indeed. Personally I think that decision needs serious review by the Law Society and the Bar Council.

Merle Tue 23-Apr-13 16:16:12

RB what action do you think the Bar could/should take?

Can't strike. Can accept to sign up to QASA en masse, though.

bobbywash Tue 23-Apr-13 17:05:03

It isn't just criminal work and remuneration rates though is it. The whole of the legal profession is being hit by cuts and changes. The Jackson reforms will be just as bad for the civil side. Don't even get me started on Portal PI claims.

I actually think QASA is a joke too. The profession spends too much time protecting its own little piece of turf without regard to the bigger picture.

Merle Tue 23-Apr-13 17:57:20

From what I have heard about the Manchester meeting there were significant contributions from civil practitioners.

rooiewooie Tue 23-Apr-13 19:17:53

why can't all solicitors and barristers go on strike Merle? It would give the country a taste of what will happen if the proposals go through.

rooiewooie Tue 23-Apr-13 22:17:53

petition is still only at 17000 names! we are doomed!

Merle Tue 23-Apr-13 22:22:27

The bar can't strike because we're self-employed. We have no rights, therefore we're easy to kick around. Conversely if we are due to be in court then we have to be there, otherwise it is professional misconduct. Many of the barristers who asked for time out of court to attend the meeting on Monday were refused.

There is a meeting in May. As many of us as possible are going to that.

kungfupannda Tue 23-Apr-13 22:23:29

Labour oposition? Excuse me while I piss myself laughing.

This was Labour's idea in the first place. The Tories promised that they wouldn't bring it in if they got into power, but that they wouldn't stop it if it was already underway.

It wasn't, and they have.

We've seen it off once and now they're having another go. This isn't anything new.

Spero Tue 23-Apr-13 22:26:50

that's the irritating thing - the Gov complain about how much legal aid costs in criminal/family cases but it doesn't have to pay me for holidays, sick leave, my admin staff, my office, or contribute to my pension. I meet all those costs myself.

kungfupannda Tue 23-Apr-13 22:32:14

It's nice to see that people are noticing and interested in this issue - but I would encourage people to read carefully and make sure they understand the proposals and the implications so that they are in the best position to object/raise awareness.

There are a few mistakes/misconceptions on this thread alone.
eg the CPS allocating defence lawyers

rooiewooie Tue 23-Apr-13 22:43:53

kungfupannada can you link to an easy read summary so I can disabuse myself of misconceptions? I had no idea this was Labour's doing or that it was old news.

ReindeerBollocks Tue 23-Apr-13 22:53:59

Merle there were civil practitioners in consultation with the Gov alongside Criminal Barristers but there were also representatives from the BFG, supposedly representing all the criminal solicitors. I know that tomorrow a meeting is taking place with a BFG member and Mr Grayling - again this meeting won't be for the benefit of all criminal practioners, merely a select few.

I know from the Manchester meeting on Monday that the majority of criminal solicitors were in the meeting (so no official strike but no hearing were held). As far as I was aware this was also the case with several members of the Criminal Bar, who were threatened with contempt of court, but which never actually followed through.

I don't know what the Bar should do, I suppose my viewpoint was that they made larger sums than the solicitors and were quite well protected by the Bar Council, moreso than solicitors are by the Law Society or the SRA. However I know that the climate has signficantly changed over the last five years and I agree that they could be afforded better protection. Not sure how to implement that though.

ReindeerBollocks Tue 23-Apr-13 23:02:38

Just to add (before I get lynched) that I am well aware that the funding at the Bar isn't anywhere near the civil counterparts and that the rates have been heavily reduced too - meaning barristers are not paid what they once were. Which is why the Bar and solicitors need more protection for their current positions.

Merle Wed 24-Apr-13 06:52:47

From what I understand the proposed rates of renumeration are too low for the BFG to think it worth bothering, even under PCT.

I tend to think that this wasn't implemented under Labour because that government had an ounce of concern about justice. This current lot couldn't care less. Chris Grayling is terrifying in his lack of concern; a Justice Minister who doesn't give a hoot about justice.

Going back to the original OP -

1. Everyone on here is busy.

2. If it's not your area of work or experience, it is all a bit theoretical.

3. There are worries about cuts in all walks of public life.

4. No one ever expects to come into contact with the cj system. No one expects their children to do so either.

5. However lots of us will do so, whether as a defendant, family member, witness (pros or defence) etc. then these changes will have a direct impact and maybe there will be new AIBU threads, on specific issues. Too late, by then.

We'll have to battle on.

Please could anyone reading this sign the petition - details upthread.

kungfupannda Wed 24-Apr-13 08:09:11

I'm not aware of any easy summaries of the history of this - but it was in the news last time round so if you google you'll see that this was initially a Labour initiative which has now been picked up by this government.

It's not old news - just something that has been trundling on for a few years now, and Labour are well aware of it because they started it back in 2005.

The misconceptions I was referring to are general things about the system - eg the CPS being responsible for allocating lawyers - the CPS are purely the prosecuting body. They have no involvement in the arrangements for defendants being represented.

Spero Wed 24-Apr-13 08:27:05

This is a good overview, but I agree, there is such a long history it is difficult to summarise succintly. I turned down a criminal pupillage in 1997 because I could see even then what was coming.

Spero Wed 24-Apr-13 08:29:37

For me, the most powerful point in that blog is to point out that Grayling never refers to 'defendants' only 'criminals'.

So we can add that to the list of reasons why people in general don't care; they see this all about lawyers trying to defend the undefensible, nasty little crims who just play the system at tax payers expense.

What is less recognised is the huge importance for EVERYONE of a well functioning criminal justice system

kungfupannda Wed 24-Apr-13 08:50:39

To answer the original OP, I think one of the reasons why the public aren't getting worked up about this, other than the obvious lack of sympathy for the nasty criminals and their only-slightly-less-nasty representatives, is that it is almost impossible to come up with a simple, punchy explanation of why this is bad.

Even on this thread, with several members of the profession giving perfectly correct information, someone reading this from a point of no knowledge, would be forgiven for thinking that BVT is directly aimed at the Bar.

The Bar are slightly more vocal and considerably better represented, so a lot of the media stories are inevitably going to focus on the threat to them. There is a threat, a huge threat but it comes from (excluding the whole QASA issue) the direct threat to solicitors from BVT.

If BVT comes in for solicitors, the Bar, particularly the junior Bar, are fucked - their pay is going to plummet way below what they can accept. But for solicitors, if BVT comes in, the majority of firms are going out of business, not because they can't survive on the lower fees, but because they won't have a contract at all. It's an absolute cut-off.

The general public aren't going to be vocal about all this, because it isn't something that they feel will affect them, so they won't wade through all the complicated information to get to the core issues. And the profession find it hard to get round that, because there is no simple, punchy headline.

And unfortunately, it is probably too late now. I was on a committee involved in fighting BVT last time round. We did everything in our power. We had a vocal presence at every meeting. We lobbied. We co-ordinated responses to the consultation. And we discovered that the general public simply won't get on board and that we're pretty much on our own.

There are a couple of members of the profession who have fought tirelessly against these proposals for years, never letting up, never entertaining the possibility of failure. One of them has now publicly said that we (solicitors) have to get our heads round the idea that BVT is going to happen and work out how we deal with it.

People always ask why we don't just go on strike, as though we're just sitting on our backsides saying "oh dear". The Bar have their own difficulties with striking, but they are at least all in it together. I have absolutely no doubt that certain members of the Bar are having discussions with certain large firms about going in-house, but generally the Bar will stand or fall together. Which is as it should be. The problem facing solicitors is a little different, and unfortunately we are not realistically going to stand together.

If the system comes in, any firm that does not bid for work will get no contract whatsoever. Their business will end. If you're not going to bid, you would have to be bloody sure that every other firm in your area is going to stick to their guns and not bid. I don't think any firm is able to have that level of confidence. The chances are that someone will crumble and put in a bid, or that someone will take advantage of the situation and put in a big bid. I've been in two different local justice areas during the two attempts to bring in BVT. In both areas, we could identify the firms that would inevitably stab the rest of us in the back.

Public awareness isn't going to see this off - there wasn't much public support last time and the government backed off, presumably because they accepted that the proposals were crap and weren't going to work. This government is having another go and, unfortunately, it is probably going to succeed, not least because they simply haven't left time for a proper round of consultations. They're pretty much sticking their fingers in their ears and saying "la la la we can't hear you."

The recent publicity is a good thing, obviously, but I think it's too late. This isn't a new thing - it's a fight that's been going on for years and we are losing.

Spero Wed 24-Apr-13 09:00:22

As they say, you don't miss the water until your well runs dry.

Merle Wed 24-Apr-13 11:24:32

I think we are guilty of being much too reasonable.

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