I was just scrolling though the Mail online to get my daily fix of my chum the splendid Quentin Letts, when I noticed my bewigged face staring back at me. It was when I went on strike last year. Never adverse to see my picture in the newspapers I thought it would be a good idea to read the piece written by Max Hastings. I really wish I hadn’t as it is a depressing rant about how the police, the judiciary, the church and lawyers are all dinosaurs and holding this great nation back.
I had always thought that Max was rather a good journalist. But clearly standards are abandoned when it comes to cash payment for column. I can imagine one of Dacre’s flunkeys ringing the old boy up and offering a couple of grand for a thousand words slagging off the usual suspects. Since Leveson, Dacre has had an obsession with the greed and wickedness of my tribe so I wasn’t expecting to be thrown a bouquet. But (now this sounds rather naive), it would be nice if Max had done a little research rather than reaching for the nearest MOJ press release. ‘No lawyer seems ready to accept responsibility for the soaring costs of litigation’. Oh, really? Silly me. I’d forgotten that my fees have been cut by forty five percent over the last few years, that many silks are going bankrupt and the junior end of the bar would earn more flipping burgers. Then Max helpfully tells us that the legal aid bill is twenty percent higher here than in the rest of Europe. Oh, really? Silly me. I’d forgotten that we come twelfth out of fourteen in the European tables and that the budget has fallen by about a third.
And then we get the ‘highly profitable’ human rights industry. Sadly, it seems to have passed the criminal bar by. I am not going to spend time pointing out the bloody obvious, but the President of the Supreme Court has made it perfectly clear that they are not bound by judgements from Strasbourg. Parliament just has to ‘take account of them’. So by pulling out of the Convention (which can’t apply to Northern Ireland or Scotland and perhaps Wales) we give the power to enforce human rights to the Luxembourg court. Far, far worse than the present position. It is all alarmingly bonkers and not thought through. Poor old Gove is going to have some sleepless nights over this. If the government does have a crack at it it is unlikely to win a majority.If you want to read an excellent demolition of Dan Hannan’s case for pulling out of the Covention have a look at @barristerblog.
But a word from one of Max’s dinosaurs. It is not crying wolf to say that the justice system is about to collapse. The CPS is so overworked, underfunded and understaffed that it is unable to devote the time to the proper preparation of cases at the Crown Court. Last week I was prosecuting a serious matter at the old Bailey. No brief arrived. No file arrived. I wasn’t flying by the seat of my pants, I was flying totally blind. I had to conduct the trial by borrowing the judge’s papers. And they were inadequate. Was justice properly served? You must be joking.
Yesterday I had to offer no evidence where a mentally damaged young man was allegedly being tortured and beaten by his brother. Crucial medical evidence couldn’t be obtained. There was just not the time or the staff to do it. Is this justice? Is this protecting the public? Like hell it is. And these are not isolated incidents. Walk into any robing room and you will hear the same story, over and over again. Speak to any circuit judge and they will share their total frustration at the hopelessness of it all. If the public were told the truth about what is really happening in our courts there would be an outcry. And rather than be revered, our legal system would be the laughing stock of the civilised world. In 2012 forty five homicide trials failed because the CPS provided insufficient or no evidence after a not guilty plea. God knows what the figure would be last year.The poor guys just can’t cope
Like many barristers I really love my job. If I won the lottery I wouldn’t retire. Not only has it become an expensive pastime it is a tragedy to see the system on the brink of total collapse. Can I honestly put my hand on my heart and claim that the Overriding Objective is being fulfilled? Of course not. Oh, Max you might like to know what the Overriding Objective is. ‘Acquitting the innocent and convicting the guilty’. Unfortunately the Mail won’t pay you to write about it.