#SAVEUKJUSTICE – A few observations…some sardonic

The #SAVEUKJUSTICE demonstration outside the Ministry of Justice yesterday was well attended.  Coverage of the event has been extensive and well dealt with in the law blogs

A few observations….

The unified stance taken by the Bar and Law Society has been a remarkable feature of the campaign.  Leading lights from the legal profession have given time and thought to putting the message across through blogs and on twitter. Many bloggers have written on the subject.  Patrick Torsney has a comprehensive listing of blogs written by lawyers and others from the legal blogging community. 

Unfortunately, the extensive use of the #SAVEUKJUSTICE hashtag on Twitter served to irritate some, including lawyers, and the PR was almost certainly not sufficiently directed to the issue of fairness – at times, the message seemed to focus on how little the lawyers were being paid which is not a message likely to receive sympathy from some members of the public.

The petition, as of today, stands at a remarkable 79,000. But there are many thousands more lawyers – so it should have been relatively straightforward to get the 100,000 signatures needed to persuade Parliament to debate The Lord Chancellor’s plans? On the assumption that many thousands of signatories to the petition would have come from non-lawyer members of the public through publicity being generated by lawyers on Twitter – and, importantly, Stephen Fry, Bianca Jagger and other ‘celebrities’ who punted the petition actively, pleasingly – it must follow that a good 40,000+ lawyers did not sign the petition.

I have spoken to  quite a few commercial and City lawyers recently.   Some said, predictably, that they were not really aware of the issues and did not use twitter. A couple took a more hostile line and felt that the message of the criminal lawyers was wrong and too oriented to their own jobs and not the interests of the public.  Others have said – and I agree with this latter stance – the message could have been addressed more to the needs of the people and the importance of preserving the Rule of Law rather than ‘profession oriented’.  The message was not clear enough, they argued:  There was a ‘whiff of’ loss of law jobs with the reduction from 1600 to 400 firms which may have  given the impression that this reduction was more important than justice itself.

Certainly, I saw quite a few tweets along the lines of ‘Lawyers have been keeping access to justice exclusive with high fees for years’ 

I am not a practitioner.  I am a mildy reclusive observer.  But I do believe that the criminal barristers and solicitors are right.  The Rule of Law will be compromised by Grayling’s reforms and I do believe that these criminal lawyers, the majority of whom do not get that well paid – less than £50k a year I have seen quoted – are regarding the profession as vocational rather than commercial.

The City and large commercial law firms turn over billions.  Their lawyers are well paid – very well paid.  A newly qualified lawyer at a ‘Magic Circle’ firm starts at £63,000+. So what?  They run commercial businesses.  Their clients are men and women of commerce, large corporations, banks, in a global legal market.  A cynic might observe – and I am a cynic at times – that commercial and City lawyers are more interested in the ‘Certainty of Law’ rather than the Rule of Law.  I once heard a senior commercial lawyer say that “Contract law is not about ‘Justice’.  We want certainty so that we can advise clients to avoid  well established  legal pitfalls and operate at the lawful edge of the legal envelope.”

I also heard  words to the effect “Any bloody idiot can tell a client what they cannot do . We don’t want bloody idiots.  We want good lawyers who can tell the client what they can do within the law as it is set down by Parliament. “

The City / Commercial firm practice is a different world – but it is not a world paid for by taxpayers. Of course, the City and commercial firms benefit from the reputation of our legal system and ‘Rule of Law’.  As a friend of mine @taxbod observed bluntly on twitter only t’other night  - “But yet, any of those civil/commercial flog the British justice system when whoring to Russian chavs etc.” Sometimes… blunt… is good.

Legal Aid is paid for by tax payers, most legal aid lawyers are not well paid.  A legal system where people are not given a fair hearing – because they cannot afford lawyers, civil and criminal – is not a fair legal system

That being said – congratulations to all – lawyers and non-lawyers alike – for a good campaign.  The Ministry of Justice seems to have won the mainstream media PR war with their coverage in The Daily Mail yesterday:

£15m for just one firm on legal aid gravy train Scale of taxpayers’ bill revealed as Coalition vows to save £200m

  •  Ministry of Justice released a breakdown of payments to lawyers

  • Justice Secretary Chris Grayling says system is ‘not sustainable’

  • Demonstrators waved placards reading ‘justice is not for sale’

But the campaign is not over.  Surely it is not beyond the realms of possibility to get over 100,000 signatures?  Even if lawyers have to get on the phone to non-criminal law lawyers?

And lawyer or non-lawyer, if you would like to sign the petition – you may do so here

And… you can keep up to date with developments by following @TheCriminalBar on twitter

A selection of links:

The Criminal Bar Association:  Do read the Monday Message 03.06.13 – some real gems in there.

Obiter J : Some responses to MoJ consultation on Transforming legal aid

Legal Cheek: LAWYERS PROVE THEY CAN PULL OFF A DEMO – AS BRITAIN DISCUSSES #PUBLICW*NKINGONYOUTUBE
The Legal Cheek post includes some marvellous pictures and recordings of speeches by Carl Gardner, author of the Head of Legal Blog.

Head of Legal:  Geoffrey Robertson QC: there is a hidden agenda

Head of Legal:  Michael Fordham QC: the avocado of justice

Michael Fordham QC was I think the star of today’s “Saving Justice” demo outside the Ministry of Justice. His speech was both angry and funny – he called the Ministry of Justice “wankers”. And his avocado of justice, odd as it sounds, went down a storm with his audience.

The Bar Council: Bar Council responds to Legal Aid consultation

Circuit Judges: Critique of the proposals from the Judiciary

 The Law Society: Law Society responds to legal aid consultation

Storify of the SaveUKJustice demonstration 4th June 2013

And…as Legal Cheek noted:  AS MOJ CONSULTATION ON LEGAL AID CLOSES, THE UK CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM IS PLACED ON EBAY

9 thoughts on “#SAVEUKJUSTICE – A few observations…some sardonic

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  3. i think that quite a few people laughed at what I said the other day, because of what I wrote and the way I wrote it. But when we can’t get 100,000 signatures to coerce our Government into doing the democratic thing, then the plot has surely been lost, by all. I should have thought that all lawyers would have signed it, along with at least a million of the public. But then much of ‘Joe Public’ is more interested in the cricket scores or Wayne Rooney’s latest escapade than what their Government is up to, behind their back. And until they are faced with the reality themselves, they won’t complain! In the same context it would seem that the law firms of this country have also done too little and left it too late to be able to stop what the Ministry of Justice wants to do.

    When both parties have suffered enough then perhaps they’ll stop thinking about the cricket and salaries and start thinking about justice…………….And our Law firms still think we have the best justice system in the World?

    UK justice is only for the Rich and Famous………..The rest of us simply don’t count!

    A good try yesterday, maybe!………..But half-hearted and still too little too late!

    Disappointed…………

    • Thanks for that! I was beginning to think that nobody else was listening. I’ve heard many lawyers say that we have the best legal system in the World, but do they really believe it? God help the rest of the World if that’s the case, but if it really is the best in the World would we be having to fight for justice this way? (I.e. Those who are actually bothering to try to fight for justice.)
      You’ve probably seen a few of my little rants online……..They’re straight and to the point and not very witty or clever, but they are based on what I’ve experienced of the law so far.

      I feel that ordinary men have no chance in this country, because the law is full of deadlines……For example, an ordinary person has 12 months to launch a complaint to the IPCC about the misconduct of the Police. (Why should the Police be any different from the rest of us, where misconduct or breach of the law is concerned?)
      A complaint to the Legal Ombudsman has to be lodged within 6 months or it will be shelved. (Why?)

      A complaint of Torture to the European Court of Human Rights has to be launched within 6 years of the incident or it does not count………How can the Law be so critical of the timescale when it’s the substance of the breach that counts and not the time taken to gather evidence, or the size of font used in the letter of complaint.

      It seems that the law is more interested in the small print than in the reason that the law was made in the first place….I.e. To protect people!

      When the law is written for the sake of writing a law it makes the law almost worthless. And it becomes like a gaming competition that says, “You can win the prize if you complete the form by the specified date and write it just the way we say!”

      Like these gaming competitions it seems that the timescale and format are more important in law than the law itself. (Or the reason that the law was made in the first place.)

      Do you see what I mean?……The Timescale means that people with lawyers acting on their behalf can breach the law, and get away with it…….They can just pull out the hidden rule of law that says that there’s a timescale involved and they can win by default. And an appeal is often quoshed by an unseen judge.

      The ordinary man in the street cannot afford to pay a lawyer to find out if he has a case, or to ask a lawyer if he still has time to make a case, after he finds out that he has a case……..

      It all costs a lot of money for this sort of thing but the justice is seldom obtained because we have this system. Furthermore it’s the legal profession who cost the money and they usually get paid whether the win or lose.

      (In cases of “no win no fee” the lawyers refuse to take a case if they think they can’t win it. Whether it’s because they’re going against a big commercial enterprise or a Government office, both of whom have strong legal teams in place. Understandably they do this because they know they won’t get paid.)

      Think about how many times you’ve heard the BBC news reader say, “And so and so has been fighting to get their case heard for 6 years, at a cost of £X thousand to the public.”
      And these are just a few of the cases that actually get through.

      Why should people have to fight for 6 years or even 1 year to get their complaints heard and dealt with?

      And yet the Crown Prosecution Services have unlimited public funding to supply warrants and arrest and charge anyone they want, if they think they have the slightest chance of winning. Why can’t the public harness some of this power to bring actions against the Police Force and the Government, if the CPS is unbiased and feels that it’s always acting in the Public Interest?

      Unless I’m greatly mistaken I heard on this morning’s BBC Radio 2 news that in one month’s time the ordinary public will have more power to coerce the C.P.S. into dealing with their matters, instead of the CPS powers always being used for the Government. (As seems to be the case.)

      Is this true?……..And, if this is the case how can we (Joe Public), get the CPS to instigate investigations into Government (Home Office), and Police
      misdeeds, and without a deadline or cut-off time?

      I.e. How will the system work?

      I appear to have strayed a bit from the main subject here, but it’s all part and parcel of the laws we have in this country, which has been unfair for the common man. (Loss of Legal Aid will put us back in the Middle ages again.)

      Please let me know your thoughts on the subject.

      Best regards,

      Malcolm Samuel.

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  5. I am seriously tempted to reblog this on my Lay Save UK Justice Supporters Blog. You make some excellent points which deserve a wider audience.

  6. Pingback: Well…I spliced the main brace last night and ended up three sheets to the wind. | Charon QC

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