The assault on Jack Grealish – is 14 weeks’ imprisonment the right sentence?

I fired off a quick thread last night offering my rough take on yesterday’s conviction and sentence of Paul Mitchell, the Birmingham City supporter who ran onto the pitch during Sunday’s match between Birmingham and Aston Villa and assaulted Villa footballer Jack Grealish. Below are my provisional thoughts.

What were the charges?

Paul Mitchell was charged with battery, contrary to s39 Criminal Justice Act 1988. He was also charged with an offence of encroaching onto a football pitch (presumably s4 Football Offences Act 1991). He pleaded guilty to both offences at his first appearance today before Birmingham Magistrates’ Court, the offences having been committed yesterday. A good live account of today’s court proceedings can be found here.

Why was the case dealt with so quickly?

Many people have remarked on how quickly this case was processed – barely 24 hours between offence and sentence. But this is not unusual where a defendant is arrested, charged with a summary offence (one that can only be tried at the magistrates’ court) and refused police bail. The police have the power to charge this type of battery without needing the Crown Prosecution Service to authorise the charge (see the Director’s Guidance on Charging), so the process is quicker. A defendant charged and kept in police custody will be produced at the magistrates’ court the next day. If a defendant pleads guilty, the court will usually require a Pre-Sentence Report to be prepared by the Probation Service, to make recommendations as to how best deal with the offender. It’s now common for this to be done the same day. Given that the offence was captured from multiple angles by high-definition television cameras, there was little choice but to plead guilty.

What about the sentence? How did the court arrive at 14 weeks? 

Mr Mitchell received 14 weeks’ imprisonment, as well as a 10-year football banning order. He was ordered to pay £100 in compensation to Mr Grealish, £135 in prosecution costs and a mandatory £150 Victim Surcharge.

When assessing sentence, the magistrates are required to follow the Sentencing Guideline for Assault. Here it is:

The maximum sentence for battery is 6 months’ imprisonment. (If injury had been caused, it would likely be charged as causing actual bodily harm, which carries a maximum sentence of 5 years). The maximum sentence for going onto the playing area is a fine.

A defendant who pleads guilty at the earliest opportunity – i.e. at his first appearance – is entitled to one third off his sentence. That applies to all defendants, even where, as in this case, the evidence is overwhelming.

This means that the maximum sentence the magistrates could have passed was 17 weeks.

14 weeks is therefore almost as high as they could go.

Looking at the Guidelines, in order to reach this sentence, the magistrates must have put this case in Category 1. This requires a finding of “Greater Harm” and “Higher Culpability”. On its face, it’s not easy to see how they did this (and without full sentencing remarks, we are somewhat in the dark).

There was no injury, and it was a single blow (rather than a sustained or repeated attack), so the only possible feature of Greater Harm was the particular vulnerability of the victim. It might be argued that as a man going about his job surrounded by tens of thousands of excitable spectators and relatively limited security, Mr Grealish qualifies as particularly vulnerable, although it’s a bit of a stretch.

Similarly, the features of “Higher Culpability” don’t immediately recommend themselves. Arguably there was an intention to cause greater harm than was in fact caused, but a single blow without a weapon makes this a tricky argument. Significant premeditation? Doesn’t look like it, unless Mitchell had told others in advance of his plans. Again, we may be left trying to characterise Mr Grealish as vulnerable to get this box ticked.

As for the other aggravating and mitigating features, there hasn’t been a lot of detail provided. The location and timing of the offence are aggravating features (the victim’s place of work in front of a national audience). We don’t know what the Pre-Sentence Report said about Mr Mitchell’s personal circumstances. We know that he had previous convictions for non-violent offences, but it’s not clear what they were and how relevant they were (whether, for example, they related to football). We know that his solicitor expressed remorse on his behalf, and that Mr Mitchell was a father of one with a second child on the way. How these were all balanced is unclear without knowing the magistrates’ full reasons.

I’m loath to draw any firm conclusions without knowing the magistrates’ reasoning, but on its face, it looks as if there would have had to be a fair bit of creative interpretation to get Mr Mitchell into Category 1 and towards the top end.

There is an alternative explanation. The magistrates made clear the need for deterrent sentencing for this kind of offence, and it may be that they held that, even though the offence would ordinarily fall within Category 2 or 3, the circumstances were such that it was in the interests of justice to move outside the category range on the Guideline and into Category 1. This, I’d guess, would be how they would justify the sentence.

The potential for widespread public disorder, as others have pointed out, may well have been a factor which the court treated as seriously aggravating. Context is everything. Those saying “he wouldn’t have got this for a punch in the street” miss the point. This wasn’t the street. It was a deliberate assault involving trespass onto a playing area, calculated to hurt and humiliate a man lawfully going about his job in front of a stadium of thousands and a television audience of millions. I have little doubt that Mr Mitchell has been treated particularly severely because this was a high profile assault; but he deliberately chose to make it high profile. He selected the location and the occasion. Those are aggravating features.

As ever, this whole exercise involves a fair bit of guesswork, because our justice system still struggles to do basic things such as providing a copy of the sentencing remarks in cases of enormous public interest. But that’s my rough take. A stiff sentence, but probably justifiable.

 

How does this compare to other cases of football spectator violence?

It is difficult and somewhat artificial to compare sentences, but one I’ll mention (because I’ve commented on it before) is the racially aggravated assault on Raheem Sterling. While  taking place outside the training ground rather than on the football pitch, this offence involved a much more serious assault, with repeated kicking (characterised by the Guidelines as using a weapon) which caused bruising, and the use of racist language. The offender was sentenced to 16 weeks’ imprisonment (the maximum sentence for racially aggravated battery is 2 years). I wrote at the time that I thought this sentence, based on the reported facts, was lenient, and this case arguably casts it into even starker relief.

We need to take a long, hard look at whether trial by jury is working

I have today written a piece for the i newspaper on the jury system, after the excellent series published this week on life as a juror, The Trial: Secrets of Jury Service. My thoughts can be found here.

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. 

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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.

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.

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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:

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

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Then the the Evening Standard got wind.

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The Metro wasn’t far behind.

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Yahoo Celebrity News got in on the act.

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The Sun managed to misunderstand the point entirely:

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The story hit Ireland:

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We trended in New Zealand:

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Somehow Bangladesh found it worth reporting:

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

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

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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:

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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.