Matthias, Son of Deuteronomy of Gath, has voted YES!

There are three realistic options of what the future holds for us:

  1. The doomsayers believe we are all screwed no matter what. By Xmas the fat lady will have sung. The independent Criminal Bar will be dead. The contracts will be up and running and everything, bar the leavings, will be in house.

OR that is wrong and the following two alternatives obtain:

  1. That doom scenario will obtain unless we derail the MoJ now. Unless we bring the system to a halt and wring concessions, unless we assist the Solicitors to survive, by kicking the MoJ in their Crown Prerogative Jewels, by derailing the system so Dual Contracting is shelved, defeated whatever, then we are doomed. But there is a chance of altering that outcome.

or

  1. That doom scenario will occur to the solicitors alone – dual contract is inevitable; solicitors 8+% cuts are here to stay. We are best placed to ignore their pain, imagine it does not affect us, to ignore that their only route to survival is curl up in a foetal ball, draw in on themselves and do virtually all the work themselves. To believe that we can ignore that, that we can survive that, that we can ally and align ourselves with our new best mate, Michael Gove and the MoJ – because we can think of them as a friendly mother figure with only our best interests at heart.

In that scenario – the solicitors implode, become a rump with the BFG and other contract holders triumphantly holding the field, but we will have all sorts of improvements, regulations etc to protect us, because Gove and the MoJ appreciate “quality” and “Independence”.

So what to do…. What are the down sides to action or inaction in each scenario?

As Matthias Son of Deuteronomy of Gath was warned – for the Blasphemy of saying “Jehovah” you will be stoned to death…. So be quiet because anything else you say will only make it worse for yourself. “Worse, how could it be any worse? Jehovah, Jehovah, Jehovah”.

So if i) if we’re all f**ked, then what harm can it do? How can we possibly make it worse for ourselves?

We can’t! But possibly just possibly we could change i) into ii) – if we have a chance of altering our futures, if we can muster action, if we can once more unite to demonstrate how invaluable we are to the proper operation of the CJS – how can we choose inaction? How can we choose disunity? How can we go quietly into the night?

The only reason for inaction, for voting NO, for taking no action, is if you realistically believe that negotiations with the MoJ will bear real and actual, as opposed to illusory, fruit.

What do the NO-sayers claim that we can hope to achieve from inaction? Keeping Gove and MoJ onside? For what? Does anyone actually believe what they say? Do we believe his wonderful weasel-words in his various speeches? If he is so in love with us, then why do we not receive an increase in fees – it won’t happen. The best we can hope for is the long-term avoidance of a further rate reduction.

So engagement apparently can claim as its success the avoidance of a further 8.5% cut. Do you really believe that is a reward for quality? A reassurance of recognition of our worth? I’d venture to suggest that would be naïve. It is nothing more than a delaying mechanism to keep us quiet, to keep us away from helping the solicitors in their battle.

The only movement we have ever wrung from the MoJ has not come from engagement it has come from action. Over how many years have we been shafted, rolled over and shafted once more? Only when we instituted “No Returns” (or “engaged” in them per Fenhalls) did the MoJ come to the table. Only then did they shelve cuts. Only then did they even pretend to listen.

We were so gobsmacked that we had got an inch, we immediately stuck, and struck the deal, and didn’t even try to get a foot, let alone a yard or heaven forfend a mile. Some agreed with it, many did not. It was a tad fait acccompli when presented to the Membership, but nonetheless the majority did take the deal – they bit the MoJ’s hand off in reality.

That deal is now over. It was never part of the deal that it last ad infinitum. It was to consider Leveson, Rivlin, Jeffrey. It was to take us to now. To consult.  The MoJ has apparently done that and they have agreed that we are worth at least what we are paid now. We have convinced them not to cut the further 8+% from our fees – or rather they have strategized that it is politically expedient, in the long term, to take the hit in the short term, because they know they will make more substantial savings when Dual Contracts roll out and we’re gone.

Now, however, the MoJ is engaged in a course of conduct that is aimed primarily at the Solicitors, in the front line, but do not be fooled, we will be next. If the solicitors fold under the pressure, under the wholly unviable financials, what do you imagine will happen next? The MoJ will pack up their tents, job well done? No they will carry on and flatten us too. Why wouldn’t they? Because they value the CJS? Because they want good (rather than acceptable) quality representation for criminals?

They don’t give two tinkers about us, about representation quality, about our clients. All they care about is their ideology, saving money to please Gideot and his Treasury. That’s it. That IS the bottom line. It’s about the bottom line.

My view, for what it’s worth, is that inaction, a No vote, will seal our fate. Gove will laugh all the way to the bank. We may be all smiles, all backslaps, all rhubarb rubbing for a month, two months, three months…. Come December, come January, the Solicitors, our colleagues, our Professional Clients, will be not just decimated, that’s only 1 in 10 gone, they will be carved apart, 6 or 7 out of 10 gone.

Don’t be fooled by those who say that voting Yes will only make it worse – remember Matthias son of Deuteronomy of Gath – worse? How can it be worse?

The Solicitors will be gone. We’ll be next. What are you going to do about it?

The Solicitors will be gone. We’ll be next. What are you going to do about it?

Solicitors will be gone. We’ll be next. What are you going to do about it?

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About utterbarrister

Long-suffering, hard-working barrister in Criminal Practice at Chambers of John Coffey QC, 3 Temple Gardens, London
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