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Archive for January, 2014

Monday 6th of January was a momentous day for the British legal system. For the first time in the history of their profession, barristers staged a strike in protest over proposed cuts to the legal aid bill.

Hundreds of trial lawyers, dressed head to toe in their traditional garb – black gowns, grey wigs, white bow ties – took part in vocal demonstrations outside the Old Bailey with the aim of convincing the justice secretary, Chris Grayling, to reconsider the planned reductions.

The Ministry of Justice claims that the cuts will slash £220 million from government spending, but the 30% reduction is just another in a long line that has seen legal aid fees budget for criminal cases decrease by 40% since 1997. Many law firms around the country, including Manchester-based criminal law solicitors Maguires Solicitors, rely on Legal Aid funding from the government to carry out cases where the financial situation restricts them from paying the costs.

There are legitimate fears among legal professionals that the new proposals will result in a lower quality of legal representation, more miscarriages of justice and fewer convictions. Nigel Lithman QC, Chairman of the Criminal Bar Association, feels that barristers are being unfairly singled out and that many will leave the profession if the cuts are implemented: “Why not publish the incomes of top surgeons?” Lithman asked. “Why not show the politicians who have incomes from property? We are being singled out. Why such contempt for the criminal bar?”

Lithman’s comments are a reaction to the MoJ’s attempt to paint criminal lawyers as wildly overpaid, a claim that they say is greatly exaggerated. Official figures show that 1,200 barristers (of the some 15,500 the Bar Council say practise in England and Wales) earned a minimum of £100,000 each from criminal legal aid. But barristers counter that after all their expenses are taken into account, including chamber fees and pension provision, they are left with £50,000 in taxable income.

The median income for barristers was shown to be £56,000 but Lithman  explains that this doesn’t show the real picture: “Some barristers are earning as little as £13,000 a year. We are seeing more and more bankruptcies in the junior bar. Many are earning less than £25,000 a year.”

However, the MoJ still contend that the current system is too generous. A spokesperson for the department said: “At around £2bn a year we have one of the most expensive legal aid systems in the world, and it would remain very generous even after reform.”Latest figures show more than 1,200 barristers judged to be working full-time on taxpayer-funded criminal work received £100,000 each in fee income last year, with six barristers receiving more than £500,000 each.

“We entirely agree lawyers should be paid fairly for their work, and believe our proposals do just that. We also agree legal aid is a vital part of our justice system – that’s why we have to find efficiencies to ensure it remains sustainable and available to those most in need of a lawyer. Agencies involved in the criminal justice system will take steps to minimise any upset court disruption could cause for victims and witnesses involved in trials.”

As well as cuts, the MoJ’s Transforming Legal Aid consultation comes with a whole host of propositions, the most radical of which include:

– Prisoners who challenge their treatment in jail will no longer be entitled to legal aid.

– Judicial reviews will become more difficult. Those cases deemed to have a less than 50% chance of success will no longer be funded through legal aid (making it harder to hold the government accountable for unlawful actions).

– A residency test will exclude those with “little or no connection to this country” from receiving support for civil legal actions in England and Wales. The Catholic church has condemned it as harmful to recently arrived victims of human trafficking and domestic abuse.

– A financial eligibility threshold will prevent those with a disposable household income of £37,500 or more from receiving legal aid in the crown court.

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And where would we be without our Police ?

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I did like this library!  Is it the real thing?

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HT to @beaubodor who made the original comment some two years ago… see: http://muckrack.com/archiebland/statuses/182578163589726208

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Motorists face 60mph speed limit on motorways

Interestingly, not to save lives from driving and reduce claims for road traffic accidents – but from pollution.  The plan is to reduce the speed limit to 60mph on some roads. The Telegraph 

Remembering 1914

With Lord Kitchener appearing on a £2 coin – an example of rather poor taste in the view of many – the remembrance of The Great War will bring much comment and analysis.

Neil Schofield writes: 

“Part of the point of commemorating the hundredth anniversary of a war is the certainty that nobody who served in it will still be alive.  It is the point at which, definitively, that war has passed from direct into reported experience; history that can be turned into mythology, without the inconvenience of spontaneous testimony from those who were there, and might have something different to offer on the subject….”

Witness protection – why Nigella Lawson is not a victim of the criminal justice system

Felicity Gerry writing in Legal Week makes some robust and good points about the Grillo sisters case.

Nigella Lawson is a victim of domestic violence, but she is not a victim of the criminal justice system.

Much has been said about the treatment of Ms Lawson as a witness in the fraud trial of her former personal assistants, Francesco and Elisabetta Grillo; an experience she has described as “deeply disturbing”. There have even been calls for greater protection of witnesses as a result.

This comes at a time when former chief prosecutor Sir Keir Starmer QC has announced that he will lead areview into the treatment of victims in the criminal justice system.

No review of the treatment of witnesses will stop them from being accused of lying or being inaccurate when that is the defence case; that is the purpose of a trial. To put this into perspective, if you were accused of stealing from your employer, then you would naturally expect your accuser to be questioned robustly.

At last, a law to stop almost anyone from doing almost anything

George Monbiot in The Guardian writes: “Protesters, buskers, preachers, the young: all could end up with ‘ipnas’. Of course, if you’re rich, you have nothing to fear”
Back later…

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It may give The Twitterati some transient pleasure to mock one of the finest gentlemen to have ever graced the House of Commons benches by referring to him as a ‘Crime Scene in Progress’  – I talk of no other than Lord Chancellor Grayling, a man of vision who made his long walk to freedom  from obscurity to hold one of the highest offices of state in the land: Lord Chancellor –  the first non-lawyer to serve as Lord Chancellor since the Earl of Shaftesbury in 1672-3.  It did not end well for The Earl of Shaftesbury, it has to be said – although charges of High Treason were dropped and Shaftesbury fled to Amsterdam,  fell ill, and soon died.  But, be that as it may.

And as for those of you with a predilection for trawling through Wikipedia for amusing nonsense on Chris Grayling and other fellow Conservative MPs to find this sort of thing…..shame on you!

Between 2001 and 2009,[8] Grayling claimed expenses for his flat in Pimlico, close to the Houses of Parliament, despite having a constituency home no further than 17 miles away[9] and owning two buy to let properties in Wimbledon.[10] Grayling says he uses the flat when “working very late” because he needs to “work very erratic and late hours most days when the House of Commons is sitting.”[11]

During the Parliamentary expenses scandalThe Daily Telegraph reported that Grayling refitted and redecorated the flat in 2005 costing over £5,000.[9] Grayling said that both the water and electrical systems failed “leaving the place needing a major overhaul”.[10]

Grayling’s expenses issue was seen as embarrassing for the Conservative Party as he had previously criticised Labour ministers for being implicated in sleaze scandals.[12]

There is more to heaven and earth Horatio than was dreamt of in Wikipedia…. and on that note, I bid you good day. Although I am partial to the Australian greeting…”Gooday mate, how’s it hanging?” when unable to avoid socialists in the house.

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