Archive for November 17th, 2009

Time for a bonfire of the vanities?….

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Catherine Baksi, writing in The Law Society Gazette reports:

“The public wants direct access to barristers in crime, family and immigration work and is ‘dissatisfied with paying two lawyers for one job’, a panel of leading barristers claimed this week. Kevin Leigh, barrister at No5 Chambers in London, said: ‘It’s about giving proper choice to the market and increasing access to justice at a reasonable cost.”

Given the changing legal landscape, given the decline (possibly, temporary) in demand for legal services, given the severe reduction of the legal aid budget, it is entirely reasonable for the ‘public’ to take this stance and absolutely right that leading members of the Bar are taking the view that direct access to barristers is to be encouraged.  It may require some specialist training for those barristers who have been used to the support services provided by solicitors (if applicable) but it is certainly feasible if senior barristers think it is.

Baksi notes ” Since 2004 the public has been able to bypass solicitors and instruct barristers directly in most areas of civil work, but not in most criminal and family work and all immigration work. Following a consultation last year, the Bar Standards Board approved the extension of the scheme to these areas. The change awaits sign off from the Legal Services Board.”

I rather liked this quote from Mark Ellison QC : “…public access was an opportunity for barristers to take control of their fees and stop ‘being the trolley dollies of solicitors’.”

Also in the Law Society Gazette this week… Dominic Grieve QC tells the Bar Council Conference thatThe country is facing ‘the biggest crisis in access to justice since the second world war’.

Grieve is right… not that he is going to magic up the money if the Tories form the next government and he becomes Minister of Justice, Lord Chancellor or Attorney-General – or, indeed, all three.  Anything is, of course, possible.  Who would have thought that a new Supreme Court could have been conjured up according to some on the back of a fag packet during a late night whisky between Tony Blair and Charlie Falconer?

Dominic Grieve is reported as opining, possibly even with appropriate solemnity,   “…there was insufficient money to fund the system, but said the idea of getting more money from the Treasury was a ‘fantasy’.”

He said other sources of funding, such as a contingent legal aid fund, legal expenses insurance and using the interest generated from pooling client money, should be explored. At least we know where the lie of the land is should the Tories gain power.

The legal press continues to note the nose diving profits of law firms, the difficulties faced by middle-tier firms and expresses surprise that law schools are rolling in quids because demand to go into a profession of declining opportunity is so high. Mad, really… but there we are. Students must make their own choices but, certainly,  cannot plead that they weren’t warned. There will be tears before bedtime, inevitably, for some students when they graduate and find that there is no room at the Inn or, indeed, at a law firm.

If you would like to hear an experienced Family Law solicitor who is also a Law Society Council member explain just how bad access to justice is – then, please, listen to my podcast with Christina Blacklaws. Christina knows what she is talking about – she experiences the crisis every working day.  It IS serious.

Listen to the podcast.

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The Daily Mail noted last December – Officials in Jack Straw’s private office are used to seeing him in tights, or finding him on the floor of the gents struggling to get the sheer silk over his knees without a snag.

The Daily Mail was referring to Straw, qua Lord Chancellor,  dressing up for the annual bit of hocus pocus where The Lord Chancellor presents The Queen with  a speech laying out the government plans for the next session. The Mail noted: “In a Labour Party packed with republicans, Mr Straw takes a perverse pleasure in pointing out that he was happy to walk backwards down the steps of the throne after presenting Her Majesty with the words for the Queen’s Speech on Wednesday.”

No doubt, Straw plans to do a bit of Health & Safety legislation offending walking backwards again today when the same ritual will take place. For my part, as a republican, I would prefer to get rid of all the pageantry relating to government and reserve it for Coronations and other non-political events… but there again, I would prefer to have no more Coronations. That being said, I am a fairly laid back republican… a libertarian republican….  and if the monarchy and all the pageantry and pomp and circumstance gives pleasure to the majority, I  am quite happy to go along with it.  It is all pretty harmless stuff;  a remembrance to a once glorious or  inglorious past, depending on your world view.

I am not so keen, however, on all this flummery in relation to government and I find it ludicrous that our representatives should kneel to the Monarch however meaningless the ritual is in the modern era. This is because I rather like the republican ideal – that ‘all people are born equal’ – an ideal, I accept, more observed in the breaking but, nevertheless, an ideal.

At least Nick Clegg, leader of Britain’s third largest party [ Lib-Dems 🙂 ]  has the right idea.  He has described it as a waste of time and money.

The Independent takes time away from warning us about Polar bears being left stranded on icebergs to discuss the issue: The Big Question: What is the Queen’s Speech, and does it serve any real purpose?

And since I am in such a ‘tolerant’ mood today, what better way of telling you about Joel Rosenberg’s excellent Blawg Review #28 which was published yesterday. (Celebrating International Tolerance Day)

“We tend to idealize tolerance, then wonder why we find ourselves infested with losers and nut cases. — Patrick Nielsen Hayden

“I have seen gross intolerance shown in support of tolerance.” — Coleridge

Joel Rosenberg isn’t a lawyer.  He is a writer and firearms instructor.  He has even described himself as a Jew with a Gun.  His Twitter bio…. “Writer, firearms trainer, smartass — you know: the usual. I exchange tweets with Joel on Twitter- he knows what he is on about and his Blawg review is a good read… not surprisingly.

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