I have been particularly militant over the years about how the Ministry of Justice has let the Criminal Justice System fall apart by wilful neglect and how they have treated the criminal bar with utter contempt. It is not at all surprising that our fees have fallen by at least 28%, but in reality over the years by about 48%. We took to the streets in protest at Chris Graylings’s attempted destruction of our great profession. And now we have taken to the streets and industrial action over the intransigence of Raab who would not even meet with the the CBA. We faced an existential crisis. The criminal bar was no longer an attractive career for the talented young. They were leaving us in droves and for the first time in many years of sifting through pupillage applications I noticed a marked lack of enthusiasm for those wanting to specialise in crime. We were dying.
So we were left with no choice but to ramp up our industrial and bring the courts to a standstill. For a profession that deeply cares about the most vulnerable in society this was a very tough decision for all of us. Jo Sidhu KC was a charismatic focal point for our cause with the baton being passed to Kirsty Brimelow KC and her CBA team of negotiators.
Suddenly things changed on the appointment of Brandon Lewis as Lord Chancellor. A line of communication was set up between him officials and Kirsty. Tough negotiations started in earnest and a number of offers were rejected by our negotiators.
And now we have an offer which I firmly believe we should vote in favour of and get back to work.
I am not going to go though the fine detail of what is proposed as there are comprehensive briefing documents which I urge everyone to scrutinise. What I want to do is starkly tell those who are vehemently against the offer the political realities. At the moment the public are with us. Our case has been clearly put and it has struck a chord. Even the Times newspaper supported us. We have been offered a 15% increase back dated to cover most of the backlog cases. We have been offered an additional brief fee for Section 28 hearings, new funding for special and wasted preparation including written work and reviewing digital and video evidence. We will finally be paid for preparation of warned list trials.
I know that many feel that the hourly rate is too low, but it hasn’t been set in stone. It will be decided by the new Criminal Legal Aid Advisory Board in which the profession will have a major role to improve pay rates and conditions leading to more secure future. And finally, the unpopular, unworkable and insane Extending Operating Hours has been binned.
There are those who are saying that we should have been given everything that we have asked for. That the spike in inflation should be included. I have every sympathy for these views but let’s think this through. We are in a economic crisis, an energy emergency and people may have a choice between eating or heating this winter. Take into account also an increase in interest rates which will lead to massive hikes in mortgages. And finally remember that midwives are being offered a 1% pay rise.
Now we have just heard that in the next spending round departments are going to have to cut between £18 to £30 billion and it looks likely that benefits will not rise in line with inflation.
So what are the optics of us turning down an offer of 15% plus other payments to end the strike? The answer is terrible. We would lose the moral high ground. And for those who say that being even tougher will result in more money? It is as delusional as Trussonomics. In short we will be stuffed, with all the hard earned gains squandered.
The hard truth is that negotiation needs compromises from both sides. Nobody gets everything that they have asked for.
I am no spokesperson for the government nor the profession, yet I am firmly of the view that we would be very foolish to vote this offer down. There is now a framework for investing in the future. But one final warning. This is a government that is falling apart and there is no sight of a general election for two years. We could find ourselves with a different Lord Chancellor with very different views about the Bar. We don’t want another Grayling or a Raab.