Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Advocacy, please

The Criminal Bar, and in particular, the CBA, have ramped up their campaign against the cuts to legal aid and to legal services in general. Have a look here for the CBS's take on it all.

I agree that the cuts to legal services will be damaging - to the service of justice, to the whole system and to the general public. I'm not sure, however, that the message is being put across in the best way. Of course I understand that for criminal barristers, this is their livelihood - I really do. The sad truth is, however, that the general public do not care if a barrister is hard up. They don't care that barrister stacked up tens of thousands of pounds in debt becoming a barrister. What they will care about is the reduction in justice - and the possibility that their trial, should that ever happen, might just be less fair than it should be.

The public's perception of the justice system is that it is the best in the world and that it's participants - the lawyers - are very well paid. They can't tell the difference between a solicitor and a barrister and wouldn't really care if they could. All that matters to anyone caught up in the system is that their case is handled fairly.

That is what we should be shouting about - the reduction to justice. At first hearing it is possible that BVT and OCOF sound as if they should be good ideas but  - it will be lowest cost tendering, I think we all know that. Cost and quality are not mutually exclusive - but in most cases the cheapest system is not the best. This particularly applies to criminal justice.

Yes of course a case could be prosecuted by some junior in-house advocate from the CPS -  but it is wrong that I might get off in these circumstance because I can afford some hot-shot barrister who runs rings around the over-worked and harassed CPS. It is just as wrong to look at this imbalance and suggest, as I believe the MoJ has, that if, for example, the CPS do not instruct a Silk then the defence will be banned from doing so. This is one of the stupidest ideas I've heard in a long time (and so I hope it's not true).

I don't understand the government's position. In many fields they say that an open market is the way forward - and then in the criminal justice field they seek to control and compress the market.

The changes suggested are wrong and the CBA's campaign to oppose QASA thereby denying the MoJ the chance to implement BVT and OCOF is, I think, a good one.

Make the point, please, that these actions are being taken not to protect an overpaid criminal barrister (who probably no longer exist) but to protect justice for all. This is a good fight to have so its very important that the PR message is the right one.


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