I should be gloriously happy. My book has been beautifully serialised in the Daily Mail for four days and will be published on the 17th March. And amazingly it’s creeping up the bestseller charts. But never before have I felt so utterly depressed and miserable. The profession that I adore, the legal system that I revere and the job that I view as the best in the world are being thrown onto the scrapheap of ignominy by a callous, ruthless and dangerously ambitious politician.
Chris Grayling has achieved what many had thought was impossible. He has brought his former profession of public relations into disrepute. And when you look at some of the flim flam merchants, snake oil salesmen, hucksters, greasers and chancers in that tank of sharks, that is a mean feat.
You expect PR guys to be a little smooth and perhaps teensy bit sharp. But it is against even their code of conduct to lie cheat and steal. We even expect politicians to play a little fast and loose with the truth but we are genuinely shocked when they are caught out selling the public more pork pies than Sainsbury.
Let me deal with the lies.
Grayling has consistently told both the press and more seriously, the Commons that the criminal legal aid budget is out of control. Yet he knows that it has been radically reduced since 2008. From £1.2bn to just over £800 million today.
Grayling has told the press and the Commons that barristers are fat cats slurping the taxpayers cream. Yet he knows that our fees have been reduced by over 40% before the new tranche of cuts. My income has been cut by half.
Grayling has told the press and the Commons that the VHCC fees are too high and have to be cut by 30%. Yet he knows the amount spent on the most complicated and costly cases has been falling over the last few years.
Grayling has told the press and the Commons that we have the most expensive criminal legal aid system in Europe. Yet he knows that we are ranked at number ten out of fourteen.
Now let me deal with the cheating. A few years ago we took a cut in fees so that we could be paid within 28 days. The fees were assessed and paid by the Crown Court with the administration costs coming out of the general running of the court. All this has been abandoned and a whole new raft of administration has been created to process and pay our fees. They are incompetent and have an incentive to delay payment which is an average of about 12 weeks. I have been working hard but not been paid a penny since the end of November. The Legal Aid Authority will use any excuse to delay payment. One friend was cut back by £1.50 so the whole process had to start all over again. Another 12 weeks wait for work done. How on earth are we expected to live?
Now let me deal with the stealing. It is the theft of the liberty of the individual and the trashing of our criminal justice system. If these reforms go ahead there will be just 556 firms of high street solicitors left. A further 17.5% cut (worked out to nearer 24%) will throw most of them to the wall. In their place will be cut price corporate blood suckers offering a cheap, inexperienced service for the most serious of cases. Worse, Grayling has offered a financial incentive to lawyers to persuade their clients to plead guilty. A disgrace and a travesty. So when the likes of G4s, Eddie Stobbard, the Co-op get their hands on the criminal justice system what will happen when the young wet behind the ears kid has a list of 5 clients to advise? He will be paid the same for a guilty plea as a 3 day trial what do you really think he will be encouraged to do? The Court of Appeal will be clogged with claims of injustice.
In short the criminal justice system is being dismantled before our eyes with the most vulnerable in our society who will suffer the most. But who will want to come to the Bar when only those with wealthy parents will be able to afford to? Some at the junior end are making do on £12k gross. All those qualifications and all that debt to be paid the same as someone flipping burgers.
What really confuses me is why is Grayling doing this when everyone from the President of the Supreme Court to the Attorney General have warned him that this is a disaster? He won’t even consult. The legal profession have put forward alternatives which would save him the the £220m he needs. At every meeting we are told that it is all set in stone.
At first I thought Grayling was doing this out of a mixture of stupidity and ambition. Now I am not so sure. To go down in history as the man who trashed the British justice system is hardly going improve his chances of leading the Conservative Party.
But the other day I got a clue. I was having a drink with an eminent psychiatrist. I asked him what the difference between a psychopath and a sociopath was. He explained that the latter had boundaries and tended to be achievers with qualifications and status. He gave an example of some consultant surgeons. Then he started talking about politicians. He told me of one particular subject he had been studying with interest. ‘Pure text book. What gives it away is the fluency of repetitive lying’.
I asked who it was.
‘Oh, some fellow called Chris Grayling. Ever heard of him?’
I bought the old boy a drink.
On Friday we went on strike. In the next few weeks we will do everything in our power within the law to stop these dreadful proposals. Too much is at stake. Grayling may be the unspeakable but we are the uneatable.