The piece below is re-blogged with the permission of the Criminal Bar Association. It is important that the government listens and upholds the Rule of Law….
We received this yesterday, 11th June, before the Justice Select Committee hearing, and before Lord McNally’s “hysterical” outburst on Law in Action, in an admirable interview by @joshuarozenberg.
Then this morning, Quentin Letts in the Daily Mail attacks the “ashtray” voice of Michael Turner QC, and the “Biker” Lucy Scott Moncrieff whilst railing about legal aid lawyers in sharp suits on £200 per hour.
Who knows how far into the public arena this blog reaches? This post is certainly not one likely to feature in the Mail, as they do not have the wit or the guts to publish anything that offends against their slavish toadying to the likes of Grayling and his ilk.
If you sense anger in this introduction you are right. Far too much of what appears below strikes personal chords with your editor, as indeed it will with the vast majority of those practitioners who remain.
You will not find it easy reading. it is a courageous and heartfelt account of someone of whom the Bar, AND THE PUBLIC WE SERVE should be proud. I certainly am.
It’s not about the money, it’s about the loss of the finest, (and NOT the most expensive) Justice System in the world. lose the dedicated practitioners and you lose everything upon which it depends.
It brings nothing but shame on the heads of the likes of Grayling, McNally, Bob Neill and others.
Please read it to the end. It is entirely unedited. Some of the words I might not have chosen but it is not my business to do so in this case.
Then sign the petition in the unlikely event that you have not done so already.
And spread it around!
“When I was 14, I was an overweight, short loser who spent his weekends performing amateur dramatics.
I hated my time at school because I was unpopular and because I had a complete mental block when it came to any mathematical or scientific.
One week, my school organised a mock court case and a number of us were assigned various roles. I was asked to be a barrister and to argue a particular case.
A relative of mine was a barrister. On the night before the “case”, he helped me put together my argument – we spent the evening in his study looking at practitioner text books and case law – and the next morning I stood up and delivered my first set of submissions. I won.
In fact, I didn’t just win – I wiped the floor with my opponents. One by one, they stood up and said that they had nothing to say in response to me. I had found something that I enjoyed and that I appeared to be good at (albeit with a lot of help from a secret source). I knew that I wanted to be a barrister.
Throughout the following years of A-levels and a university degree, I set about taking various mini-pupillages in different areas of law and in different cities. I saw every type of work from large scale enquiries to a slip and trip case involving a supermarket floor but it was very quickly apparent that there was only one subject for me – crime.
It was so exciting. On my first day of my first criminal mini-pupillage, I went down into the cells of a Crown Court to meet a notorious gangster charged with an attempted murder in a nightclub with a shotgun. The barrister told me that I should sit closest to the door in case “it kicked off”. This was – perhaps – the single most exciting thing that I had ever heard. I loved everything else that I saw in the Crown Court and I knew that this was what I wanted to do with my life. I could not think of anything better in the world than to stand up and address a jury on behalf of a defendant charged with a criminal offence.
I took my degree at a very good red brick university. The vast majority of my fellow law students had their hearts set on a training contract with a magic circle firm of solicitors in the City. They thought that anything else was a failure but I couldn’t think of anything worse. I knew that I would not earn a fortune but I knew what I wanted and I was proud to say that I wanted to practise criminal law in “the provinces”. I remember, in my first year at university, one girl sitting on my bed in my halls of residence and telling me that I was “mad” to throw away the chance to try and get a training contract with a big firm (in fact she was so unimpressed that this remained the full extent of anything that happened with her on my bed).
That conversation took place 14 years ago.
If, during that conversation in 1999, I had been able to see my diary of professional bookings for 2013 I would have been confident that I had made the right choice. This is an anonymous post so I have no need to exaggerate the work that I do. My diary for the fortnight in which I write will give you a decent idea. I am doing the following cases:
- A complicated proceeds of crime case;
- A large scale fraud involving international businesses;
- Two large multi-handed Class A drug conspiracies involving thousands of pages of evidence;
- Two cases involving allegations of historic sexual abuse and rape
One of the above is for trial and the others are being heard for sentence or legal argument. Scattered around them are various other conferences and court hearings for everything from burglary to Section 18 assault.
This is not the greatest criminal practice in the world but it isn’t bad for somebody of my call and it compares favourably to most people around town.
This sort of work goes has consequences. I work all the time. A typical day for me starts at 6:00am when I get up to fit in an hour’s worth of work before my little toddler wakes up and demands a thousand different things at once. I am often too busy working to be able to see him.
I will then spend the day at court – an incredibly draining experience if you are involved in a serious trial in the Crown Court – before coming home. If I make it home to see my wife and child, I am usually so tired that I am grumpy and of little assistance to either of them. Once the little man is in bed, I rarely make it past 8:30pm before falling asleep on the sofa. At about 9:30pm, I then go back upstairs to my study and work until the small hours – I usually have 4 – 5 hours sleep but I often have less.
I used to wear all of the hard work as a badge of pride. I did a job which was respected and – I don’t mind admitting it – was well paid. I wasn’t paid mega-bucks and I didn’t have an extravagant lifestyle but I was paid enough that I felt that it was worth putting in the hours that I did.
I was so happy in my work that I couldn’t wait to tell people about it – I would bore people to death with stories of cases that I had been involved in. I would relish the chance to go out with the rest of the criminal team for a meal to swap anecdotes and tell war stories. In my first few years at the bar, I really did feel that I was living my dream.
That all seems very far away now.
Governments of all colours have shown an utter contempt for the criminal justice system. With one hand they have significantly increased the workload going through the system whilst on the other hand they have slashed the resources available. The sad fact is that both crown and magistrates courts are now badly run shambles where undervalued people (barristers; court staff; solicitors; judges; interpreters) grope their way through a bewildering series of reforms whilst not being given the resources to deal with things properly.
For my own part (and this is why this is an anonymous post) I am broke.
I cannot afford to pay my mortgage; I cannot afford to put petrol in my car; I cannot afford to pay my tax bills.
In the past 6 weeks I have received such a pathetic sum into my personal bank account that we are only able to cover (some of) the bills because my wife has a regular income. I have only been able to buy food for my family in the past month by spending the paltry sum that I had put aside to meet my tax bill. It is all gone now.
When I hear newspapers and politicians discuss “fat cat lawyers” who “feather their nests with legal aid” I can only laugh – I genuinely do not know how I am going to get to Court tomorrow morning and I do not know when I will next be paid.
The stress of the job; the sleepless nights and my financial situation have taken their toll. I now suffer from depression.
Some days I can’t get out of bed and go to my son if he is crying. Some days I lie on the kitchen floor and sob for no reason. Some days I shout at my wife because I feel as though my chest is going to explode and I have to find some sort of release. Some days I think about killing myself.
A few months ago I left Court, got changed out of my robes and – before I made it to my car – had a panic attack in the middle of the street. I got home and just fell asleep in the middle of the bedroom floor before waking up shaking and crying.
I know that I am not alone. The sad fact is that financial hardship and anxiety are a common experience for many members of the criminal legal profession. I have never known the mood of the bar and solicitors to be so low and this is all before Chris Grayling introduces his cuts and his devastating, evil reforms.
I’ve had enough.
I am quitting the criminal bar and finding something else to do – something which will pay the bills and give me some peace. I am not going to wait for another 20% cut in my fees. I am not going to wait to see just how bad it gets in court when Eddie Stobart is representing defendants. I am off.
I should imagine that I am precisely the sort of person that the government would quite like to remain at the bar. I am trusted by the CPS to prosecute serious crime – I have helped to convict murderers; rapists and drug dealers. There is a decent chance that I might have made it on to the bench one day to help run the courts. Perhaps I wouldn’t but I imagine that I am a better prospect than whoever G4S will find to conduct their cases for them.
I am not entirely sure what the purpose of this post is. I suppose that I just wanted to get this off my chest and know that somebody would hear it. Others have written persuasively and powerfully in the debate over Grayling’s reforms and I make no attempt at careful, considered argument – I just wanted to know that somebody had said how things really are.
Sign the petition: http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/48628
P.S. The girl on my bed is now filthy rich and splits her time between Dubai and a very large house in the home counties. I imagine that she does not write blogs about me