Can the Bar afford NOT to strike?

(Originally posted as a reply to Nigel Pascoe QC’s comments about a strike…..)

Nigel – it is always a pleasure to “speak” to you. I have been in this great vocation for many a year, not as many as you, not to the eminence you have justly achieved…. But in all my years, I have trudged through rain, and sleet and slow. I have dragged myself from my sick bed – be it flu, be it noro virus, be it at one time something far more serious. I have struggled in after a bi-lateral knee operation. I have continued with acute ear infections, with family crises, with school events being ignored and sidelined. I have worked until 3 in the morning, more often than not without any remuneration, with little prospect of any benefit to my client, let alone to me, but always to the benefit of the process, to the assistance of the court.

The very idea of not attending, with a client in mid-trial, fills me with horror, dread and revulsion. BUT this has carried on so long now. They have relied upon our honour, our integrity, our professional duty and ethics. They have used that to nail us to the cross, to cut us to the bone. No more, Nigel, no more. It cannot go on. We cannot go on. The justice system just cannot go on like this anymore.

You will be the first to accept that you and those of your contemporaries and those that followed immediately on, have earned a decent living and made a comfortable life from this great profession. I have made a very good living, ever diminishing, because I work very hard, very long hours, and, modesty aside, am relatively good and successful. But those very long hours cannot stretch any more. There are but 24 hours in a day. My children’s school will not be reducing their fees by 17.5% let alone 30%. Tesco will not be dropping the price of a roast chicken by that degree anytime soon. So selfishly, I feel I have no option.

But that pales into nothing, compared to the alternatives for the Criminal Bar in general, and those that are coming, and will come, after you and I. They, unless they are very lucky, have never really made a decent let alone a good living. They have not earned for themselves a comfortable life. They have no safety net. They doubtless have student debts and the like. How will they survive?

With their demise comes the demise of the Criminal Bar. The demise of the fair trial. The effective representation. The proper and safe prosecution. The fair and impartial yet qualified judiciary.

There is too much at stake, Nigel, in my humble opinion. If a Judge of Her Majesty’s Circuit Bench considers it fit and proper to carry on a trial, for example, without the attendance of counsel, they will be abandoning their principles from practice, and from the long traditions of the Bench as well. They will be ignoring the ECHR and HRA. I would be sanguine of any appeal were a judge to proceed where it is counsel who “fails to attend” rather than the defendant. What judge (apart from the few outliers, and we won’t name names here) would continue a trial in those circumstances?

Sorry Nigel. I have every respect for you, and value your opinions, and you measured and considered opinions. But I simply cannot agree with you.

The Profession we both love is at stake. The MoJ have no love for our profession, no respect for it, and do not value its contribution to the Criminal Justice System. Saying that, the MoJ have no love for the CJS, no respect for it and do not value it. They hold the cards, they have the purse strings, they will deal from the bottom of the deck without compunction.

We have one lever to pull, one button to push. That the only button left to us is nuclear is not of our making.

But without the courage to pull the lever, to push the button, the system will be dismantled, the oppressed will be without a champion and justice will dwindle and disappear – a preserve of the wealthy and connected.

I will not be, what I would venture to term, complicit in that.

I am sorry for the length of what was meant to be a short reply but it is from the heart and what I would call my soul.

Wishing you and all our colleagues the best as always





About utterbarrister

Long-suffering, hard-working barrister in Criminal Practice at Chambers of John Coffey QC, 3 Temple Gardens, London
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4 Responses to Can the Bar afford NOT to strike?

  1. Pingback: Can the Bar afford NOT to strike? | utterbarrister

  2. I too respect Nigel’s view, but disagree with it. Unfortunately, we are dealing with a Lord Chancellor who is the personification of the result merchant. He cares nothing for the sort of decency that Nigel displays, but is interested only in whether Nigel (and the rest of us) are willing – for whatever reason – decency, not wishing to abandon a client, whatever – to do the work more cheaply than now. It is precisely because we have, as a profession, been ‘decent’ in the past, relying upon receiving ‘decent’ treatment in return, that we are where we are, with a Lord Chancellor who has no qualms at exploiting that decency (or as he sees it, weakness). The problem is, in a nutshell, that we are, as lawyers, accustomed to receiving decisions made by rational human beings who have no agendum, and make reasoned judgments based upon evidence and argument: I refer, of course, to judges. Grayling is not a judge, but a politician, and it is a serious error to attempt to deal with him as if he were a judge. I learned a harsh lesson whilst still at school. Give a bully your dinner money on a Monday, you will find that he comes back for more every day until you punch him on the nose and tell him you are not giving any more. It’s the history of relations between the Bar and government over the past six years or so (since Carter). If we let Grayling cut our fees now, the next thing will be the CPS cutting their fees to match, and the year after that is an election year, when Gideon will be looking for spending cuts to fund tax cuts. Regrettably, Nigel, we have reached a position where we can’t afford to go on strike, but we can’t afford not to.

    Ian West, Fountain Chambers, Middlesbrough.

  3. Dan Bunting says:

    Well said Tim. I have nothing but respect for Nigel, but I think matters have got so back that we now have no choice. I agree with your analysis.

    It is hard to take pleas to professionalism seriously when the MoJ (an increasingly the courts) treat us like children.

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

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