Guest post by Joanna Hardy: Court closures and the cost of losing local justice

I am delighted to host this guest post by Joanna Hardy of Red Lion Chambersarticulating better than I can the appalling legacy of the Ministry of Justice’s continued selling-off of our courts. 

*******************************

The idea of living in the converted entrance hall of Acton Magistrates’ Court would surprise most lawyers. It used to be a sad place. Chewing gum used to cling to the floor, tackily collecting a thousand stories. The waiting-area seats groaned whenever a defendant rose to tell the local Magistrates why he had stolen the bicycle, punched the man or skipped his railway fare. The graffiti in the toilet documented the rights and wrongs of many stories and sub-plots. Defendants, victims and their respective families filed in to see justice being dispensed, case by case, crime by crime.

It was the turnstile of local justice.

Living in a converted Magistrates’ Court is not cheap. In 2017, the going rate was around £1.4 million. “Be the judge of this three-bedroom home” quipped a property article, “sleep in what used to be the grand entrance hall of Acton Magistrates’ Court”. The chewing gum has, presumably, gone and been replaced by a “rooftop terrace and steam room”. It looks happier now.

Acton might be at the start of the alphabet, but she is not alone in her dramatic makeover. Brentford Magistrates’ Court is now a luxury building that retained the cell area for trendy bicycle storage. Old Street Magistrates’ Court is a fancy hotel where you can “have a tipple” in the spot the Kray brothers once stood.

Time and again the sites of local, gritty justice have been transformed into luxe properties with corresponding price tags.

Recent figures reveal half of all Magistrates’ Courts have closed since 2010. Those pursuing local justice are increasingly finding that it is not very local at all. Courts are being consolidated and warehoused into larger centres spread out across the country. Community justice now needs to hitch a ride to the next town.

The benefits of justice being dispensed within a local community are keenly felt by those involved. For better or for worse, defendants can sometimes lead difficult, chaotic lives. Someone who is addicted to alcohol or drugs is unlikely to make a cross-county trip by 09:30am. Someone dependent on state benefits might not prioritise a peak train ticket to their court hearing if they are budgeting to feed their children. Their delays will cost society money. It might cost complainants and witnesses their time and a considerable amount of anxiety. If a defendant does not turn up at all then stretched police resources may be diverted to locate them. The community suffers.

Victims and witnesses might also struggle to make an expensive, time-consuming trip to a far-flung court. Those with childcare or employment responsibilities might not be able to spare an entire day to give evidence for twenty minutes. In some areas, the additional distance may cause witnesses a real discomfort and unease. There have been suggestions that some courts are so poorly served by public transport that witnesses and defendants could end up inappropriately travelling together on the same bus.

The benefits of local justice are clear in the day-to-day running of our courts. In some local cases, police officers still attend bail hearings. Put simply, they know their beat. They know the shortcut alleyway behind the pub, the road that is notorious for teenage car racing, the park where trouble brews. Their local knowledge helps to improve the practical decisions of the courts and to keep society safe.

The neighbourhood officer joins a long list of local benefits. Youth defendants attending a courthouse in their community can go back to school or college after their hearing. That preserves a shred of stability during a chaotic time. Probation officers sometimes know repeat offenders from earlier court orders or programmes. That helps with continuity of services including mental health, drug and alcohol treatment – often being coordinated by a GP down the road. Magistrates themselves are regularly drawn from the immediate geographic area. A community problem emerging at a particular football stadium, pub, school or street then attracts a consistent approach and a local focus.

Our justice system will be immeasurably poorer by the aggressive, short-sighted contraction of our court estate. Local knowledge, neighbourhood agencies and community justice have been gambled for large court centres making rulings from afar. The inevitable delays will waste public money. Complainants and witnesses will be inconvenienced. Police officers will be stretched. Decisions will be made in far-removed buildings distanced (in more ways than one) from the real crime on our streets.

The next time an advertisement surfaces for a luxury converted “Courthouse” building we ought to remember the real value of community justice and how much losing local courts might cost us all.

 

Joanna Hardy is a criminal barrister at Red Lion Chambers.

Don’t let the Jack Shepherd stories on legal aid distract you from the government’s cynical agenda

Jack Shepherd is a coward. A pathetic, mewling quisling of a man. He is also a convicted killer, having been found guilty of gross negligence manslaughter. He caused the death of 24 year-old Charlotte Brown by taking her out on the Thames in his defective speedboat – bought, he boasted, to “pull women” – and, fuelled by alcohol, allowing it to be driven at high speed until it fatefully struck a submerged object and capsized. The breathtaking self-regard displayed by Shepherd in the moments that followed – calling for help for himself alone, not the stricken Charlotte Brown – was matched only by his decision to abscond while on bail, meaning that the trial, conviction and imposition of a 6-year custodial sentence all took place in his absence. The police having not yet located him, Shepherd has not yet served a single day of the 6-year sentence. He is refusing to take a scintilla of responsibility for what he has done; the very least, one might have thought, he could do to begin to atone for the unbearable, irrevocable grief he has inflicted on Charlotte’s family.

In a final twist of the knife, as has been reported over the last two days, while on-the-run – presumably abroad – Shepherd has, through his lawyers, applied for permission to appeal against his conviction and sentence. And the Court of Appeal has granted permission, in relation to conviction at least. As Mr Shepherd qualifies for legal aid, which the Court has now granted for the appeal hearing, it means that, in the words of the Daily Mail, Shepherd can “milk taxpayers for cash while on the run”. MPs and tabloids have since lined up to condemn this state of affairs; a fugitive flipping the finger at justice while still benefitting from the largesse of the country whose laws he brazenly flouts. “If the legal aid rules permit a man on the run, who did not even attend his trial, to receive legal aid…then the rules need to be changed,” declared Lord Garnier QC, a former Solicitor General. Eager to soothe the Mail’s wrath, the Ministry of Justice has “ordered an urgent review” to see what can be done to close this “loophole”.

Jack Shepherd

I can perhaps help. To begin, I’d urge anyone with an interest in this case to read this response by Tuckers Solicitors,the firm instructed by Jack Shepherd, which was published in reply to the Mail’s article. It sets out a few essentials that you may not have gleaned from the breathless reporting. For one, the claim that Tuckers Solicitors received “nearly £100,000” in legal aid to represent Shepherd is untrue – it was less than £30,000, which for a complex 4-week trial involving a homicide and, no doubt, technical expert evidence (experts who are paid out of that gross, VAT-inclusive figure), is not an unusual gross fee. I emphasise “gross” because, as with all legal aid expenditure “gotchas”, the headline figures (where accurate) always represent gross payments, inclusive of VAT, and represent months of work in advance of the trial by numerous legal and medical professionals, as well as the trial itself.

But the Tuckers response also helpfully sets out the duties of defence lawyers in situations where defendants abscond. It is not as uncommon as you may think. The first thing to note is that a defendant failing to attend court on bail does not automatically forfeit his right to legal representation. Sometimes, where a defendant fails to engage entirely with his lawyers and disappears, the solicitors and barrister will have insufficient instructions to act, and so will have to withdraw before the trial. But where a defendant has given instructions as to what his case is, and then refuses to attend court, his solicitors and barrister are under a professional duty to represent his interests as effectively as they can. They can’t simply assume guilt and walk away in disgust at the cowardice of their client – to do so would fly in the face of the role of defence lawyers. We do not judge our clients; that is the court’s job.  In Shepherd’s case, Tuckers had prepared “95%” of the case for trial before Shepherd absconded, and so they, and the instructed barrister, were able to continue to act.

Where a defendant on bail doesn’t attend his trial, the court has two options. It can either adjourn so that he can be arrested and brought to court. Or it can proceed in his absence. All defendants are warned at their first hearing before the Crown Court that this can happen if they fail to attend. There is case law to guide judges on the situations where it will be appropriate to have a trial in absence, but in general terms, deliberately absconding will be viewed as you foregoing your right to attend your trial. The consequences of that are serious: you surrender your right to give evidence in your defence, or to hear any of the evidence against you. And, of course, because failing to surrender to bail is a criminal offence in its own right, you will be arrested and subsequently dealt with for that. This is a key point absent from most of the media commentary – whatever happens in this case, even if Shepherd wins his appeal, he still faces a custodial sentence for fleeing.

But underpinning all of this is the right to a fair trial. The Mail attributes this right, with typical misplaced hostility, to the European Convention on Human Rights, but while the right to a fair trial is indeed guaranteed by the Convention in Article 6, it has been ingrained in English and Welsh law for centuries. It is the foundation of our criminal justice system. It is not a privilege, but a right. And rights are not something that we only give to people we like. Justice is not earned, it is not dependent on a person being “deserving”; the core of our civilisation is the notion that we deal with everybody, however reprehensible, by the same fair standards. Even the most despicable criminals have the right not to be wrongly convicted.

So it is that, even if a defendant flees before his trial – even if he is a repeat offender who has previously committed the most odious crimes against us – the justice system ensures that his right to a fair trial is upheld. It doesn’t simply tell a jury to convict him on the basis that he has done a runner; the usual rules of procedure and evidence, carefully designed over centuries to ensure, as best we can, that the guilty are convicted and the innocent acquitted, still apply.

What then, of appeals? Surely, the question is posed by the reporting, if you flee the country, you shouldn’t be allowed to appeal? Certainly not with taxpayers’ money?

At face value, I agree – this looks like a shocking and baffling state of affairs. But stripping it down to its principles, it makes a little more sense. A key element of the right to a fair trial – to not be wrongly convicted – is a mechanism to appeal where the trial court gets things wrong. This, when you think about it, stands to reason. The right to a fair trial is meaningless if there is no way to enforce it. That is what an appeals system offers – a check on the safety of a conviction. Because even people who are convicted of appalling offences and abscond are still entitled not to be wrongly convicted. And the duties of defence lawyers to ensure that their clients – even horrid clients who have absconded – are not unfairly convicted, still apply.

The right to appeal can mean different things in different jurisdictions. Some countries give an automatic right to a full retrial; others, like England and Wales, impose strict criteria. You firstly have to successfully obtain permission (or “leave”) to appeal against a Crown Court conviction or sentence. This is done by a written application by the lawyers, which sets out the grounds of appeal and argues why the conviction is unsafe. On the legal aid point – the barrister and solicitors do not receive a penny extra for advising on appeal or drafting the application and grounds. It is all done for free. In practical terms, it provides a disincentive to the lawyers to positively advise on appeal unless they really believe it has merit.

For a conviction to be found “unsafe” is a very high threshold. If a High Court judge reading the application considers that you have a good argument that deserves a full hearing before the Court of Appeal, they will grant permission. To put this in context, 90% of all applications for permission to appeal are refused.

Jack Shepherd has been granted permission to appeal against his conviction (but not, contrary to the Mail’s claim on its front page today, his sentence). The reasons are not yet publicly known; Tuckers refer in their statement to “legal errors made during the trial”, but the full picture will become clear when the appeal is heard. However, the numbers alone tell you that, in order for permission to have been granted, there will be merit in these arguments. There is a genuine concern that something at his trial went seriously wrong. This is not some speculative attempt by lawyers to drum up funds by launching spurious appeals; if there was no merit, the application would be in the bin with the other 90% of applications and no legal aid would be authorised at all.

Where permission to appeal is granted – as in this case – the Court of Appeal will issue a representation order (legal aid), usually for a barrister only, to prepare and present the appeal at a full hearing. If the solicitor is required to do work for a criminal appeal, most of the time it is expected that they do it for free. So the implicit suggestion that Tuckers will receive some 5-figure windfall from the appeal is a fantasy. They will in all likelihood receive nothing. The cost to the legal aid budget of this appeal will be minimal – the gross fee for a junior barrister defending an appeal at the Court of Appeal will usually run to a few hundred pounds. For a QC, the rate will be higher.

So if this case isn’t actually about money, what is it about? I’d suggest it’s about two things. Firstly, there’s unarguably a jarring feeling caused by this case. I understand the rage. It is raw and primal and exacerbated by frustration. We can’t get Shepherd – the police have so far proved unable to track him down – but we can lash out at the fallible system which gives rights to people who don’t deserve them; who offend and re-offend and then offend again. But we have to temper these urges with a sober reminder of our first principles: justice is not dependent on good behaviour. Equality before the law does not mean equality for people we like. Absconding to avoid prison is dreadful, pusillanimous behaviour, but it is not the worst we see in the courts. What about those who perjure themselves? Or those who, after being convicted, take revenge against witnesses? Or commit contempt of court by shouting out? Or who breach prison rules by smuggling in contraband? All of these, and many more offences, demonstrate a complete disrespect for the legal system and an arrogant lack of remorse. Do we remove the right of appeal to these people too? Or do we just remove the few hundred quid in legal aid payable to the lawyers, meaning that only absconders with the means to pay privately are able to appeal?

Secondly, this case, and the way it has been presented, fits with a popular narrative about legal aid. It’s for people who don’t deserve it. It’s a gravy train, cash cow or whatever culinary or zoological metaphor the chief sub-editor prefers. And this, again, fails completely to understand why we have legal aid in the first place. Legal aid – modest sums far below market rate paid to lawyers acting for the public – is central to access to justice. If you don’t have legal advice and representation, you can’t meaningfully enforce your legal rights. If the state comes to take your child, or wrongly accuse you of a criminal offence, or if your landlord unlawfully evicts you, or your boss sexually harasses you, you want to be able to assert your rights. If you can afford to pay privately for lawyers, good for you. If you can’t, then, like the NHS, legal aid offers the safety net. Without it, we have a two-tier justice system. Those who can afford to pay represented by lawyers, and you, who can’t, left by yourself standing in court fighting the legal professionals instructed by the state or corporate behemoths. To revert to the health analogy, you’d be left to operate on yourself. This is why legal aid matters.

The problem is that, for successive governments, legal aid has provided a giant political football, to be kicked and slashed at in the name of sport, political distraction and saving a tiny amount of money. The cost of the criminal legal aid budget, following 40% cuts to the criminal justice system, is £850m per year – around 0.1% of total public spending. Yet we are encouraged at every turn to believe it is a extortionate burden, filling the pockets of greedy lawyers (many of whom in reality often work on legal aid cases for hourly rates below minimum wage). It’s a lie.

And the effects of the lie are devastating. In 2012, the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act removed legal aid entirely from swathes of the country’s most vulnerable. The results have been catastrophic. Victims of sexual and domestic violence have been cross-examined by their abusers in family proceedings; penniless victims of rogue landlords and employers have been denied legal representation; people wrongly refused benefits by DWP cock-up have been left destitute and unable to challenge the decisions; and innocent people have been forced to pay privately for criminal defence lawyers and, upon being acquitted, have been unable to claim their costs back, effectively bankrupting them. All of this was predicated on lies told by the Ministry of Justice about our spending on legal aid (“we have the most expensive legal aid system in the world” being the headline whopper), and dutifully trumpeted by the tabloids.

The MoJ promised to publish a full review into the devastating impact of LASPO by the end of 2018. They broke their promise. Six years after implementation, we are still waiting. Within 24 hours of the Mail calling for legal aid to be stripped from unpopular criminals like Jack Shepherd, the Ministry pledged to hold an “urgent review”.

This is the real agenda of this flurry of media reporting. Calculated, cynical and dishonest fearmongering of what legal aid is, how much it costs and what it is for, with a clanging silence when it comes to explaining to confused readers why legal aid exists. If I were equally cynical, I’d suggest that this antagonising of the public against legal aid is a precursor the publication of the overdue LASPO report which will be damning of the damage done to people’s lives, in the hope that public rage will be diverted onto the Jack Shepherds and their lawyers, instead of the real villains in the legal aid scandal – the government.

Without legal aid, the rule of law collapses

The Guardian is currently running a brilliant series on the effect of the legal aid cuts turbo-charged by the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012. Owen Bowcott and Amelia Hill have put together an in-depth investigation drawing on case studies and interviews to demonstrate the dire impact upon access to justice.

One such interview, should you be interested, was with me, and can be found here.

Home Alone 2: Lost In The Live Tweet

Many if not most of you will have already seen this, but I decided to mark Festivus Eve (22nd December) by live-tweeting a festive favourite, Home Alone 2: Lost In New York, and doing my muddled best to analyse it through the lens of English and Welsh criminal law (a lens somewhat fuzzed by a few mulled wines). The first tweet is below; click to be taken to the full thread.

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

From there things got a bit mad, as reporters desperate for copy and merry on leftover Asti from the Christmas party stumbled across the thread and mistook it for something newsworthy. By Christmas Day, the “story” had caught the attention of MailOnline:

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

And some of their greatest below-the-line comments:

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

Then the the Evening Standard got wind.

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

The Metro wasn’t far behind.

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

Yahoo Celebrity News got in on the act.

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

The Sun managed to misunderstand the point entirely:

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

The story hit Ireland:

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

We trended in New Zealand:

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

Somehow Bangladesh found it worth reporting:

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

and even Putin’s propaganda sheet Sputnik News were running the “story”.

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

Perhaps most barking of all, when Home Alone 2 was screened on Channel 4 on Christmas Day, the continuity announcer referenced the live tweet.

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

Overall, the thread has now apparently had over a million impressions on Twitter. I don’t know what this says, either about me or society. But nevertheless, Merry Christmas to you all, and thank you for your support. This has been a memorable one.

GUEST POST: An open letter to the Chair of the Criminal Bar Association

An open letter to the Chair of the Criminal Bar Association in relation to legal aid rates under the Advocates’ Graduated Fee Scheme (AGFS), signed by 193 criminal barristers.

 

Dear Chris,

We write to you and the CBA executive as junior Criminal barristers of 0-12 years’ call, in the wake of the government’s consultation response to Amending the Advocates’ Graduated Fee Scheme (AGFS 11), published on 10 December 2018.

We recognise the unenviable task the CBA executive faces in negotiating with the MoJ, and do not write in an effort to sow discord.  However, what follows is an earnest and unapologetic attempt to convey to you and the CBA leadership the strength and depth of our feeling against AGFS 11, even as amended.

The Monday Message sent on 10 December 2018 described the proposed amendments as “tangible progress”, and sounded a note of optimism that “[w]e are beginning to turn things around”.

Regrettably, we do not share this optimism. We are alsounderwhelmed by the degree of progress.  The fact that it is unprecedented does not of itself render it acceptable or worthy of celebration; following, as it does, over two decades of savage and dangerous cuts to the justice and Legal Aid budgets.

The 1% uplift and implementation of the newest statutory instrument with investment of the “additional” £8 million was simply the fulfilment of a promise; a promise on which the government had sought to renege.  On any view, the government’s reliance on out-of-date figures on which to base its offer of a £15 million “increase” was at best a mistake and at worst a conscious and cynicalmisrepresentation.

We are angry.  We believe that:

1. The current AGFS scheme is not fit for purpose;
2. Dramatic changes need to be made to the structure of how AGFS is paid;
3. There needs to be a significant increase in funding across the board (both defence and CPS funding);
4. A delay of 18 months until renegotiation is unacceptable.

It would be wrong to think that we at the (junior) junior Bar are not equally concerned with the destruction of PPE as those more senior. Its loss in paper-heavy cases represents the dismantling of our future. Moreover, when senior members inevitably begin to choose their cases more shrewdly, those of us lower down will face the unenviable choice of taking on cases we fear are too complex for our call or having gaps in our diaries.  We are seeing many examples of this happening already.

The current structure of payment, whereby guilty plea fees and cracked trial fees do not reflect the work involved in preparing for guilty pleas and ineffective trials (especially in cases that run to several thousandpages and beyond), is also creating a real risk to the quality of representation. The lack of adequate remuneration for work done out of court is greatly exacerbated (especially in the case of junior juniors) by the ubiquitous use of warned lists, with their in-built likelihood that counsel who prepares the case will not in fact do the trial (notwithstanding advices on evidence, conferences, legal arguments, defence statements, etc.). This has already begun to erode that quality of representation, with individuals understandably finding it impossible to justify the preparation time previously allocated to such cases, and to “go the extra mile”, as was previously routine.

The fees report due in 2020 will be redundant by the time it is published. There will either have been the dramatic change in funding that is needed by then or many of us will already have left the profession.  We are haemorrhaging talent. The idea that we don’t yet have a clear enough picture of the effect that AGFS 11 is having, and will continue to have, is laughable.  Whether the government likes it or not, the experiences of individual barristers are telling, and taken together they start to add up to irrefutable evidence.

Junior juniors are voting with their feet. They are either ceasing to conduct Legal Aid work (whether by moving into other areas of practice or going on long-term secondment) or they are leaving the self-employed Bar altogether.

We expect the MoJ to continue to listen and engage with the profession now, not in 2020.  What we want is a coherent and sustainable system of remuneration for work done.  This can and must be achieved without delay, through further negotiation. Plainly, we can only speak on behalf of those who have signed this letter, but for our part, we are in favour of direct action in the New Year, if needed to bring the MoJ back to the table. We acknowledge this will require careful planning and some creativity, with every effort made to protect those who would be financially unable to participate in, for example, a return to ‘no returns’.  We envisage discussions to that end early in the New Year and are cognisant of the need to prompt a meaningful response from government before March (n.b. Brexit).

At the juniors’ meeting on 24th November 2018 the mood was plainly, and strongly, in favour of further industrial action. It may be that the “additional” funding for AGFS11 has placated all of those individuals, and those whose views they conveyed to the meeting. All we ask is that the CBA does not simply assume that this is the case. Certainly, in respect of those who have signed this letter, it is not.

21 December 2018

Sent on behalf of:

1. Natalie Bird, 2 Bedford Row [2015]
2. Sam Shurey, 2 Bedford Row [2015]
3. Emilie Morrison, 2 Harcourt Buildings [2013]
4. Imogen Nelson, 2 Harcourt Buildings [2014]
5. Sam Barker, 2 Harcourt Buildings [2014]
6. Amy Oliver, 2 Harcourt Buildings [2016]
7. Will Martin, 2 Hare Court [2010]
8. Charlotte Watts, 2 Hare Court [2012]
9. Joshua Scouller, 2 King’s Bench Walk [2012]
10. Matilda Robinson-Murphy, 2 Kings Bench Walk[2015]
11. Patrick D.Harte, 3 Temple Gardens [2006]
12. Charles Durrant, 3 Temple Gardens [2006]
13. Jodie-Jane Hitchcock, 3 Temple Gardens [2006]
14. Kate Chidgey, 3 Temple Gardens [2006]
15. Nick Whitehorn, 3 Temple Gardens [2006]
16. Andrew Horsell, 3 Temple Gardens [2009]
17. Carina Clare, 3 Temple Gardens [2012]
18. Will Glover, 3 Temple Gardens [2012]
19. Cameron Scott, 3 Temple Gardens [2012]
20. Nargees Choudhury, 3 Temple Gardens [2013]
21. Ruth Reid, 3 Temple Gardens [2013]
22. Karlia Lykourgou, 3 Temple Gardens [2013]
23. Beverley Da Costa, 3 Temple Gardens [2015]
24. Brad Lawlor, 3 Temple Gardens [2016]
25. Emily Lauchlan, 4 Bream’s Buildings [2012]
26. Ryan Brennan, 4 Bream’s Buildings [2012]
27. Rebecca Bax, 4 Bream’s Buildings [2012]
28. Ylenia Rosso, 4 Bream’s Buildings [2014]
29. Kiran Pourawal, 4 Bream’s Buildings [2014]
30. Syam Soni, 4 Bream’s Buildings [2015]
31. Rebecca Moss, 4 Bream’s Buildings [2016]
32. Christina Josephides, 4 Bream’s Buildings [2016]
33. Michael Cameron-Mowat, 4 Bream’s Buildings[2017]
34. Phoebe Bragg, 5 King’s Bench Walk [2015]
35. Kate Parker, 5 Paper Buildings [2014]
36. John Oliver, 5 St Andrew’s Hill [2008]
37. Dave Williams, 5 St Andrew’s Hill [2009]
38. Karl Masi, 5 St Andrew’s Hill [2011]
39. Alexandra Davey, 5 St Andrew’s Hill [2013]
40. Nick Jones, 5 St Andrew’s Hill [2016]
41. Puneet Grewal, 9 Bedford Row [2010]
42. Charlotte Mitchell-Dunn, 9 Bedford Row [2012]
43. Alex Matthews, 9 Bedford Row [2012]
44. Dréa Becker, 9 Bedford Row [2012]
45. Katie Mustard, 9 Bedford Row [2014]
46. Richard Reynolds, 9 Bedford Row [2014]
47. Leena Lakhani, 9 Bedford Row [2015]
48. Stefan Hyman, 9 Bedford Row [2015]
49. Aqeel Noorali, 9 Gough Square [2017]
50. Helen Dawson, 15 New Bridge Street [2015]
51. Oliver Kavanagh, 15 New Bridge Street [2015]
52. Ellen Wright, 15 New Bridge Street [2017]
53. Tom Lord, 15 Winckley Square [2009]
54. Kimberley Obrusik, 15 Winckley Square [2010]
55. Lucy Wright, 15 Winckley Square [2011]
56. Colette Renton, 15 Winckley Square [2015]
57. Sarah Magill, 15 Winckley Square [2016]
58. Holly Nelson, 15 Winckley Square [2017]
59. Patrick Duffy, 23 Essex Street [2007]
60. Nathan Rasiah, 23 Essex Street [2007]
61. Daniel Lister, 23 Essex Street [2009]
62. Carolina Cabral, 23 Essex Street [2009]
63. Jeremy Rosenberg, 23 Essex Street [2009]
64. Elisabeth Acker, 23 Essex Street [2010]
65. Helena Duong, 23 Essex Street [2010]
66. Victoria Gainza, 23 Essex Street [2010]
67. Rupert Wheeler, 23 Essex Street [2010]
68. Sarah-Kate McIntyre, 23 Essex Street [2011]
69. Alex Mills, 23 Essex Street [2012]
70. Sam Trefgarne, 23 Essex Street [2012]
71. Daniel O’Donoghue, 23 Essex Street [2013]
72. David Dainty, 23 Essex Street [2013]
73. Sasha Queffurus, 23 Essex Street [2014]
74. Robert Smith, 23 Essex Street [2014]
75. Tom White, 23 Essex Street [2015]
76. Kelly Cyples, 23 Essex Street [2016]
77. Josephine Teale, 23 Essex Street [2016]
78. Amelia Clegg, 23 Essex Street [2017]
79. Sushil Kumar, 25 Bedford Row [2009]
80. Henry Dickson, 25 Bedford Row [2012]
81. Laura Collier, 25 Bedford Row [2013]
82. Natasha Lloyd-Owen, 25 Bedford Row [2013]
83. Tom Flavin, 25 Bedford Row [2013]
84. Joy Lewis, 25 Bedford Row [2014]
85. Vida Simpeh, 25 Bedford Row [2014]
86. Nick Murphy, 25 Bedford Row [2015]
87. Suzanne Payne, 30 Park Place [2014]
88. Andrew Kerr, 33 Bedford Row [2006]
89. Dudley Beal, 33 Bedford Row [2014]
90. Stephen Reynolds, 33 Bedford Row [2014]
91. Roxanne Aisthorpe, 36 Bedford Row [2011]
92. Catherine Rose, The 36 Group [2017]
93. Dharmendra Toor, The 36 Group [2010]
94. Nadeem Holland, The 36 Group [2006]
95. Gerwyn Wise, 187 Fleet Street [2010]
96. Edward Duncan Smith, 187 Fleet Street [2011]
97. Daisy Monahan, 187 Fleet Street [2012]
98. Liam Edwards, 187 Fleet Street [2014]
99. Vakas Hussain, 187 Fleet Street [2014]
100. Gavin Capper, 187 Fleet Street [2015]
101. Tom Worden, 187 Fleet Street [2017]
102. Robert Levack, 187 Fleet Street [2017]
103. Sebastian Cox, 187 Fleet Street [2017]
104. Ann Crighton, Ann Crighton Chambers [2015]
105. Becky Owen, Becky Owen Law [2007]
106. Libby Anderson, Charter Chambers [2016]
107. Simon Elliott, Church Court Chambers [2007]
108. Alison Pryor, Church Court Chambers [2008]
109. Richard Mohabir, Church Court Chambers [2009]
110. Colin Witcher, Church Court Chambers [2010]
111. Tomas McGarvey, Church Court Chambers [2010]
112. Chiara Maddocks, Church Court Chambers [2011]
113. Fiona McAddy, Church Court Chambers [2011]
114. Anthony Eskander, Church Court Chambers [2012]
115. Estelle Thornber, Church Court Chambers [2012]
116. Michael Polak, Church Court Chambers [2012]
117. Gregory Wedge, Church Court Chambers [2014]
118. Holly Kilbey, Cornwall Street Barristers [2010]
119. Jeanette Stevenson, Cornwall Street Barristers [2012]
120. Andrew Parker, Cornwall Street Barristers [2016]
121. Georgia Luscombe, Drystone Chambers [2017]
122. Peter Killen, Exchange Chambers [2015]
123. Maya Chopra, Farringdon Chambers [2014]
124. Tom Hoskins, Foundry Chambers [2007]
125. Jonathan Underhill, Foundry Chambers [2008]
126. Merry van Woodenberg, Foundry Chambers [2012]
127. Jessica Tate, Foundry Chambers [2012]
128. Christopher Harper, Foundry Chambers [2013]
129. Sophie Murray, Foundry Chambers [2013]
130. Sophie Stannard, Foundry Chambers [2015]
131. Bethany Condron, Foundry Chambers [2016]
132. Yusuf Solley, Furnival Chambers [2009]
133. Sophie O’Sullivan, Furnival Chambers [2011]
134. Selena Jones, Furnival Chamers [2011]
135. Sam Stockwell, Furnival Chambers [2012]
136. Mandisa Knights, Furnival Chambers [2013]
137. Tulay Hodge, Furnival Chambers [2014]
138. Sadaf Etemadi, Furnival Chambers [2014]
139. Shannon Revel, Furnival Chambers [2014]
140. Chris Waymont, Furnival Chambers [2014]
141. Hannah Burton, Furnival Chambers [2014]
142. Andrew Taylor, Furnival Chambers [2015]
143. Charlotte Bellamy, Furnival Chambers [2017]
144. Shahida Begum, Garden Court Chambers [2008]
145. Meredoc McMinn, Garden Court Chambers [2015]
146. Elizabeth Garcia, Garden Court Chambers [2016]
147. Charlotte Bull, Goldsmith Chambers [2016]
148. Hannah Whelan, KCH Garden Square [2010]
149. Priya Bakshi, KCH Garden Square [2012]
150. Elisabeth Evans, KCH Garden Square [2012]
151. Samuel Coe, KCH Garden Square [2012]
152. Daniel Harman, Kenworthy’s Chambers [2008]
153. Simon Blakebrough, Kenworthy’s Chambers [2011]
154. Robert Lassey, Kenworthy’s Chambers [2016]
155. Sarah Cook, Kenworthy’s Chambers [2016]
156. Michael Shilliday, Lamb Building [2012]
157. Hannah Hurley, Lamb Building [2012]
158. James Hay, Lamb Building [2012]
159. Simon Gurney, Lincoln House Chambers [2006]
160. Lee Hughes, Lincoln House Chambers [2012]
161. Isobel Thomas, Lincoln House Chambers [2012]
162. Marianne Alton, Lincoln House Chambers [2014]
163. Matthew Bolt, Maidstone Chambers [2012]
164. Kate Smith, Maidstone Chambers [2013]
165. Anita Davies, Matrix Chambers [2011]
166. Margaret Morrissey, Morrissey’s Chambers [2015]
167. Katrina Wilson, No.1 High Pavement Chambers[2007]
168. Lucky Thandi, No.1 High Pavement Chambers[2011]
169. Abigail Hill, No.1 High Pavement Chambers[2013]
170. Almas Ben-Aribia, No.1 High Pavement Chambers[2013]
171. Rebecca Coleman, No.1 High Pavement Chambers[2013]
172. Lucy Jones, No.1 High Pavement Chambers [2014]
173. Helen Marley, No.1 High Pavement Chambers[2016]
174. Ramya Nagesh, No.5 [2008]
175. Philip Vollans, No.5 [2015]
176. Thomas Coke-Smith, QEB Hollis Whiteman [2011]
177. Arabella MacDonald, QEB Hollis Whiteman [2012]
178. Eloise Emanuel, QEB Hollis Whiteman [2012]
179. Kathryn Hughes, QEB Hollis Whiteman [2013]
180. Ruth Broadbent, QEB Hollis Whiteman [2016]
181. Kyan Pucks, QEB Hollis Whiteman [2016]
182. Lauren Sales, Red Lion Chambers [2010]
183. Timothy Kiely, Red Lion Chambers [2014]
184. Marcus Harry, St Ives Chambers [2008]
185. Justin Jarmola, St Ives Chambers [2009]
186. Anthony Cartin, St Ives Chambers [2010]
187. William Douglas-Jones, St Ives Chambers [2011]
188. Lucinda Wilmott-Lascelles, St Ives Chambers[2014]
189. Aadhithya Anbahan, St Ives Chambers [2015]
190. Alexander Pritchard-Jones, St Ives Chambers [2015]
191. Gemma Maxwell, St John’s Buildings [2014]
192. Stephanie Wookey, Thomas More Chambers [2010]
193. Genevieve Moss, Thomas More Chambers [2015]

A few thoughts on the “£23m extra” for legal aid

Just a few thoughts about this story on the proposed “£23m increase” in legal aid criminal defence fees, which has been making some headlines. The Ministry of Justice has loudly publicised the agreement struck with the Criminal Bar Association over legal aid rates paid to criminal defence advocates – the story was even towards the top of the Radio 4 news bulletins – so some context may help anyone not fluent in the vacillating politics of the criminal Bar (i.e. normal people).

As an opening disclaimer, nothing that follows is intended as a dig at or slight towards those who have worked exceptionally hard on behalf of the criminal Bar to negotiate with an historically untrustworthy and dishonest Ministry of Justice. They have done their best, and have secured gains. However.

The MoJ’s press release headline is “The government will spend an additional £23 million on fees for criminal defence advocates”. This sounds like a big figure, and the MoJ want the public to think it’s a big figure, legal aid fat cats and all that. So let’s put it in context.

The Advocates Graduated Fee Scheme, which pays defence advocates in legal aid cases, has been cut relentlessly over recent years. As has the overall criminal legal aid budget. As has the overall legal aid budget. As has the overall MoJ budget. Approx 40% across the board.

Criminal legal aid has been cut in real terms by £340m since 2011/12. That has been achieved partially by cutting fees paid to advocates (AGFS), part by cutting fees paid to litigators (solicitors) (LGFS), part by restricting availability of legal aid to those accused of crimes.

To cut a long story of cuts very short, the latest wheeze by the MoJ was to introduce a new scheme of AGFS earlier this year. Its effect was to cut the fees in some complex cases by up to 80% (see this open letter). The Bar took action in April and refused to accept new defence cases under this scheme. This is because already poorly-paid work, particularly for the most junior practitioners, was simply unviable. We’re talking £3-an-hour unviable in some cases. The MoJ insisted the new scheme was “cost neutral”, just moving money around. This was untrue. It was a cut of £9m.

The MoJ persuaded the criminal Bar by a Brexit-like margin (51.5% to 48.5%) to vote to go back to work on the promise of £15m extra  being injected into the scheme by October 2018. The MoJ did not keep its promise. Firstly, the agreement had been that this £15m would be added to the AGFS spend for 2016/17. When it published its proposals, the MoJ disingenuously added the £15m to the figures for 2017/18, which were significantly lower (due to falling caseloads), and this had the effect of only increasing the 2016/17 spend by £8.6m. Secondly, it was not done in time for October as promised. So in November we’re still working on the new (terrible) rates.

There have since been further negotiations between the Bar and the MoJ, in an effort to undo at least some of the damage. The upshot is this “additional £23m”, which in fact simply represents the £15m which we were originally promised. (£23m is the figure you get if you use the 2017/18 figures.) And it’s worth noting that all these figures include VAT at 20%, which we are required to charge and pay to the taxman. So a good sixth of that figure is going straight back to the Treasury.

But in any case, what do these abstract figures mean? Not much. For a start, it’s based on modelling. So the increase only amounts to this figure if the workload in the courts remains broadly the same. It won’t, because fewer cases are being charged and brought to court, to save money. Without seeing the figures in the boxes (the details have not yet been published), it is impossible to properly assess how far this extra money will go, but to give context, the total spend on AGFS in 2016/17 was around £227m. So an added £15m is very small beer. It will probably help smooth some of the roughest edges in the scheme, but doesn’t touch the sides of the cuts over the past decade. Legal aid rates remain artificially low.

Junior criminal barristers will still be covering all-day hearings for senior colleagues and taking home less than £40 for the privilege. We will still have trials that we’ve spent days preparing randomly refixed by the court for dates we can’t do, and will be paid £0. We will still be paid not a penny to read through thousands of pages of disclosure – the vital material that could hold the key to saving an innocent person from years in prison. Our median take-home pay will still be a modest £27k. The most junior will still take home under £8k.

HOWEVER, here’s the point. It’s not actually about us. We choose this career and go into it with our eyes open. There’s a far bigger picture, which we must not lose sight of.

Much as what we get paid matters to us (and to society – you ain’t gonna have much of a lawyer prosecuting your burglar or defending you against a false allegation if they’re billing £5 an hour), it’s a tiny piece of that picture. The whole justice system needs investment.

The justice budget has been cut by 31% – by £2.9 BILLION – since 2010, with a further 9% cut (£800million) to take effect by 2020. The effects are those I, any many others, highlight every day. They are why I wrote the book. The justice system is broken.

The police have no resources to catch criminals. The CPS don’t have resources to prosecute, or to comply with disclosure to protect the innocent. The courts that haven’t been closed are crumbling, leaking wrecks. Victims, witnesses and defendants face chronic delays and errors.

Some defendants are excluded entirely from legal aid, forced to self-represent or pay privately. If acquitted, the government will not pay back their legal fees in full, leaving them destitute.

Prisons are too horrific to put into words, although I try here:

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

So while the MoJ may congratulate itself, make no mistake – this is not a solution. Not even close. £15m for legal aid when you’ve sacrificed £4bn, demolished the court & prison estate and excluded the most vulnerable from accessing justice, is not the end. It’s barely the start.

GUEST POST: An open letter to The Criminal Bar Association, The South Eastern Circuit and The Bar Council

Below is an open letter published by five junior criminal practitioners in relation to the new Advocates Graduated Fee Scheme (AGFS), which for non-lawyers is the scheme for payment of defence advocates in legally aided criminal cases. 

 

19thNovember 2018

 

We write in relation to a case which has just collapsed at the Crown Court sitting at Inner London. We write to express our dismay at the remuneration under the new AGFS scheme and the consequences which will now follow.

This was a five handed Conspiracy to Kidnap and Blackmail case and was listed with a four week estimate, due to commence today (19thNovember 2018). All counsel/advocates were instructed at the outset of this case.

The evidence was voluminous to say the least, with near enough 10,000 pages of used and served evidence and all counsel taking approximately 2 weeks out of court on various days to prepare the case for trial. Much of the evidence consisted of telephone transcripts and translated Spanish telephone evidence along with cell site mapping.

Only last week, the Crown disclosed information relating to the complainants character and that he was now refusing to come to court to give evidence. Indeed, he lost contact with the police officers in the case and switched his mobile phone off. This resulted in the crown applying to adduce his evidence under the hearsay provisions.

All defence counsel prepared skeleton arguments outlining their objections to the Crown’s application. These took several hours to research and prepare. There is no (and it should be highlighted, never has been), provision for payment for written work under the graduated fee regulations; a fact which in itself is utterly unacceptable.

But even more disgraceful are the rates of pay for such a serious case with thousands of pages of evidence and the fact that this trial has now ‘cracked’. With no provision for payment of Pages of Prosecution Evidence served (PPE), the brief fee is now only £1,105 (being a category 13.1 offence). Had the trial been contested, the brief fee would not have been much better (amounting to only £1,300). Both of these derisory figures amount to a reduction in advocates fees of approximately 80% as compared to the AGFS scheme which existed pre April 2018. Moreover, the above cracked trial fee is the total payment for all preparation in this case, is of course gross and so chambers rent, clerks fees and tax will need to be paid from this amount. To add insult to injury, the four week gap in our diaries now looms large.

It is, quite frankly, an absolute scandal that these new AGFS fees were ever agreed and that criminal barristers are now being expected to work for such derisory rates.  Each and every one of us defending in this case is making it clear to you that we will no longer undertake cases which are PPE heavy.

Enough is enough!

 

Mustapha Hakme (9 Bedford Row)

Zarif Khan (Drystone Chambers)

Archangelo Power (2 Bedford Row)

Paul Firmin

Phillip Hill