I haven’t blogged for the last couple of months as there has hardly been a day when I haven’t worked for at least thirteen hours or a weekend where I have had much, if any, free time. Like most practitioners at the criminal bar I am physically and mentally exhausted. Not enough courts, judges or barristers. And a backlog of about 60,000 Crown Court cases. This means that there will be at least 60,000 defendants and complainants who will be denied closure for sometimes as long as two years. Many will still be in custody.
For years I have been banging on and on about how the justice system is broken. How it operates purely on goodwill. Well, my goodwill and the overwhelming majority of criminal practitioners will come to an end in on 11 April. We will be taking industrial action. We are fed up by being taken for fools by the MOJ. By being patronised and generally treated like shit. We have negotiated in good faith and our reward is to wipe the spit from our faces. The right wing press will parrot the government line that we are in the middle of a cost of living crisis and that barristers will have to take a hit like everyone else. The press will say that we are overpaid.
What they won’t tell you that we haven’t had a pay increase for twenty five years. That our incomes have been cut by nearly 50%. That by 2019/20 the number of criminal barristers specialising in crime had plummeted to less than 2,300. And that the graph points downwards. For the first time in many years of sifting through applications for pupillage there is less enthusiasm for practising crime. Ask any set and they will tell you the same sorry story that members are moving into other areas of practice where they can make a living and have a sensible work life balance. The profession is dying and industrial action is the only way to save it from extinction.
The Bellamy report, an independent review into our fees and working conditions published on 15th December last year, noted a decline in real terms in gross incomes which was ‘not generous by comparison with other public sector emoluments’. It made sensible recommendations which have mostly been ignored by government. The ‘minimum necessary’ recommendation was for a 15% fees increase. The review made it clear that this should ‘not be an opening bid’. The government opted for 6.3% to 7.2%. A pay review body? Forget about it. Unlike the public sector we don’t have pensions, holiday pay or remunerated sick leave.
The weird thing is that the MOJ saved £240m from COVID. But lost £248m on crap IT most of which we warned was crap.it’s the way this ghastly department has been run.
But what is happening at MOJ is a metaphor for how this government operates. Number 10 is still dysfunctional. That diminishing band of Boris cheer leaders have been smearing Rishi Sunak and claiming that Partygate is nothing but fluff. The Sunak smears are particularly worrying. On the one hand we have a chancellor who was imaginative in taking the heat out of COVID and keeping the economy from tanking yet knowing that it has to be paid for and realising that the days of cheap borrowing are fast coming to an end. But Sunak is a potential threat to Johnstone and therefore has to be destroyed.
Backbenchers share the Prime Minister’s obsession with cutting income tax in a way pagan worship stone idols of no existent gods. Quite insane when overall tax will be rising to levels that we would be accusing Labour of gross fiscal irresponsibility if they proposed it. Inflation, which ravaged the economy in the sixties seventies and eighties is back with a roar and is by no means transitory. Watch out for interest rates too. They are on the rise. And yet we have have a Prime Minister who thinks that the only way to deal with a problem is to chuck cash at it. How Wilsonian. I wonder if our age old problem of low productivity has ever fleetingly crossed his mind.
The cost of living crisis which will plunge decent working families into poverty unknown since the 1950s, a lack of strategy on just about everything and Boris Johnson who just makes it up as he goes along. He doesn’t even seem to have the courage to sack the worst Home Secretary in living memory.
Maybe the horror of Ukraine has saved his political skin in the short term. Sadly, I have reached the stage where I don’t really care. Any party that doesn’t have the courage to at least try to save itself from oblivion doesn’t deserve to stay in government.