The post below was originally in the “Save UK Justice” group on Facebook, where it prompted considerable attention and received a lot of praise. Its author is Michael Auty QC, and he has kindly agreed for it to be cross-posted here.
The post is in support of the “yes” camp of barristers supporting “no returns” direct action against the government’s criminal legal aid policy.
I have added a few explanations in [brackets].
By way of background, Simon Myerson QC is a barrister who has been critical of the decision of the Criminal Bar Association to adopt the current “no returns” policy. Michael Auty defends this policy, starting off with politely addressing the difference between them.
I have not yet had the pleasure of meeting Simon Myerson QC but I know I’m going to like him; a lot. We have different views about the action presently being taken but that, for me, is simply part of life’s rich tapestry. I always read what he writes and I consider it with the care it deserves. You see I know that, in any situation, I can rely on every word he says. I don’t need to verify or corroborate what he says; I can take it as if it were Holy Writ brought down from Mount Sinaii. How is it that I am able to do this? I simply know he’s a man of tremendous principle and unvarnished integrity.
He’s not unique in that regard but it has been, and continues to be, the abiding joy of my professional career that I meet and deal with society’s best usually as we battle about what we do with some of society’s worst.
The fundamental reason I was, and remain, in the “yes” camp is that I simply do not trust politicians.
I have nothing against Michael Gove as a person. I’ve met him and he’s very charming and hugely bright. He’s a very good and lifetime friend of Gary Bell QC, an old mate, and, in his days in education, worked closely with John Tomasevic, another mate, who, like Simon, I would trust implicitly in all things.
Not long after I came to the Bar Lord Mackay was made Lord Chancellor. He thought the Bar should be highly paid but we should be fewer in number. We didn’t prosper one iota under him.
In due course we had Derry Irvine, with his gold-plated “dine with me and schmooze your way to the top” dinners. Then we had Charlie Falconer about whom nothing polite can possibly be said.
Willie Bach was among the most disappointing politicians for me. I know him and I liked him at the Bar. Yet he promised us £11,000,000 on prosecution fees if we surrendered them from defending. He lied.
Geoff Hoon, famously christened “Buff” by His Honour Judge John Hopkin (deceased) was even worse.
Don’t even get me started on Grayling because Katrina Harris-Byrne [moderator of the Facebook group] tells me she won’t tolerate profanity.
At every turn I have seen my profession sold down the river by one sorry dishonest, lying politician after another, usually aided by the Chairman of the Bar who, shortly thereafter, crops up as a High Court Judge, the modern day equivalent of 30 pieces of silver.
Divide and rule; divide and conquer has been so successful a tactic at the MoJ, I’m astonished it’s not on their letterhead.
We are not dealing with Michael Gove. He is simply the smiling assassin sent to convince the next High Court Judge that his master, George Osborne, cares.
The photographs of George in the company of ladies of the night and a veritable mountain of Cocaine have been doing the rounds again lately I see. No one bats an eyelid. We expect such behaviour; it no longer has the power to shock. It may explain old George’s disliking of lawyers though. George no doubt fell over laughing when Igor Judge suggested Justice should be ring fenced just as the NHS and Education is. “Over my dead body,” I am virtually certain he will have said.
And yet I am invited to trust Gove. But where is the 40% cut to the MoJ budget coming from; the elephant in the room, as the modern idiom has it?
I was once a solicitor. I was booed on my call night when I was introduced as such. I wondered why I wanted to join a profession that seemed to hate me from the outset. Yet the Bar has changed; I have never known the Criminal Bar more skilled and capable than it is right now. In contrast the JAC seems to have turned most of the Circuit Bench into a monumental laughing stock.
I’ve never met Jonathan Black [President of the London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association and leader of the solicitors in the current crisis] either but I like him too and for many of the same reasons I so admire Simon. He never descends into petulant name calling or abuse; he is a professional. The thought of losing someone like him fills me with dread.
My fear is this. If Two Tier [the new legal aid contractual regime] comes in, what remains in September will be unrecognisable. The Bar will have no purchase, no bargaining chip; the MoJ will declare open season on us and it will be a massacre. Thus, even if I didn’t care a damn about all my solicitor mates, and I do, very much indeed, I’ll have been lulled into a trap waiting to be picked off.
In Nottingham the solicitors are using the income stream from Magistrates’ Court work to keep the more vulnerable firms and the most junior members of the Bar afloat. We work in glorious symbiosis; we help one another rather than kick each other to death the moment the opportunity arises, which is precisely what awaits all of us when Osbourne’s next 40% cut arrives.
Ironically the letter from Richard Atkins QC, someone else I admire enormously, anticipates the MoJ not honouring any promise they might make. What possible basis is that for honourable negotiation?
My position is thus a simple one; I put my faith in the honourable; those of integrity. When Simon Myerson QC is Lord Chancellor I will know I can take every word to the bank. Until then, given what I’ve learnt about politicians during my 52 years (as of next Thursday) of life, I wouldn’t trust one of them so much as an inch.