Thank you to all those who joined us for this year’s AGM on Zoom. For those who were unable to join us I provide a copy of my address within which I look at the year ahead.
I wish to again thank Kerry Hudson for her dedication as President. Her dependable and hard working approach has clearly won influence among our CJS partners and I hope to sustain and further her work.
A President’s inaugural speech is normally a formal occasion and it is my task to follow that tradition while sat in the spare room of my house, hoping my children don’t start screaming and the wifi signal stays strong enough for you to hear and see me.
I hope you in turn do not spend the time wondering if I am wearing jogging bottoms and slippers under the desk, in true Zoom tradition.
I want to start by expressing our gratitude to Kerry for her hard work as President this year. She has shown incredible stamina and strength of character, while attending so many meetings to represent the profession, often a lonely place to be,
Observing her closely as I have, she has been inspirational. I want to illustrate that effort by focussing on one week of her presidency: The 23rd of March, how many of us remember that in date in particular - the first week of lock down.
We recall courts and offices ground to a halt. It was chaotic, no one knew what would happen and at that stage, frankly people were scared for themselves and their loved ones.
I counted that I received well over 1,000 emails during that week,
Which works out at around 1 every other minute of the working day. Kerry, as President sat on several interagency groups with names such as gold command, silver command, the London working group in addition to regular slots such as the practitioners’ group
With these additional comms groups, it is likely she would have received 1 email every minute of the working day.
To have managed that information, to analyse it, to respond to it, to cope with that kind of pressure, representing the Association, her business and her clients; it was an admirable feat.
Kerry you have achieved much this year – Even though we are on Zoom can I invite everyone to raise a glass / mug / or their pet cat and toast a thanks to Kerry.
Next I would like to thank the Committee for giving me this opportunity to represent the Association. I accept this responsibility knowing that I have the support of that committee, one with experience, talent and sound judgement. I will no doubt need your help and support his year, as you have provided so often to my predecessors.
In taking this role I also want to recognise and thank all those at Powell Spencer whose help and patience I will call upon. In particular to Kelvin Mowatt who will ensure our clients will be looked after and to Greg Powell whose experience and insights are invaluable.
In taking on the Presidency I have to follow Kerry’s achievements. As well as Kerry for inspiration I have seen many others who have shown great dedication in the role.
I joined the committee in 2014 when Jon Black took over (for the 1st time). These were dark times. The MOJ had published the first draft of Two Tier justice which would deny defendants the choice over who represented them.
I was taken aback by the industry and dedication of the entire committee. The first two years of my involvement felt like guerrilla warfare, organising, and sniping at that juggernaut of austerity. The challenge we face today is different. It is less of an ideologically driven attempt to destroy the sector and more a threat from persistent neglect and indifference.
So while the tasks at hand may now be different, that level of commitment and passion must remain the same.
The task of ensuring access to justice through the pandemic continues. We are now well into a second wave of infections. Further severe restrictions on our movements have just been re-imposed.
But the police will carry on arresting suspects; the Met did not slow down in the first wave and the courts must hear these cases.
Suspects and defendants still need us. They need our help in interviews, they need us to argue for bail and they depend on us for a fair trial.
The state needs to reminded of our important role and they need to be reminded of their duty of care towards us. The health and wellbeing of our members is of paramount importance. Being described as key workers should not mean being exposed to unnecessary risk.
The police must allow us access to suspects in a way which is both safe and adequate. We must continue to have confidential discussions with our clients but preserve the option of remaining remote through these periods of contagion.
Reminding the state to consider us in their plans has always been a key demand of the Association But it is all the more pressing at a time when the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister launch attacks on the profession. The Prime Minister’s cheerleading remarks, though completely ill-informed, make it hard for people like us to engage with the MOJ and its agencies. It is the “do-gooders” of this Association who donate their time to support the management of an underfunded justice system. It is a bitter irony that this work in turn spares the blushes of those politicians by helping to maintain that system.
It makes it hard for us to continue to volunteer in the face of such hostility, but we don’t do it for them. Our commitment to the rule of law is not party political, no matter what they imply.
Kerry and the committee have fought for many improvements in working conditions and those arguments must continue to be made. There is more the courts and police could do, and we will need to react to changing policies and working arrangements.
I recognise that in reacting to these new ways of working not all our members will agree on the solution. What level of risk is acceptable in practice is often a very personal decision.
We the Committee need to hear from the membership. This year has seen many of you speaking out, whether on our member forum or on social media, to highlight unsafe practice. We read those messages and they guide us. Please continue to share your experiences and ideas, remember that we need to hear all sides of the argument and that healthy debate helps us find the best policy.
The second main theme of the coming year will be the Independent Review into Criminal Legal Aid , otherwise known as CLAR 2, meetings upon which I attend on behalf of the Association with Jon Black and Rakesh Bhasin. This review promises to conclude in 2021 making recommendations to ministers. It is already much delayed and we must hold the Ministry to that promise.
It is an exercise that represents both an opportunity and a threat. We are not naïve and though we will engage, we have seen enough of prior reviews to know there is no guarantee funding will increase. It is remarkable that we are still being forced to make the case for better pay, but that we will do.
The Review sets out its key priorities and expectations for service delivery such Quality, Outcomes, Competition, Efficiency, Diversity, Resilience and Transparency.
We all know, that in a market where the price is fixed and the consumer has a choice of supplier, we are already focussed on competing for work through quality. We know we have diversity and are forced through low pay to be efficient. We all know what the answer is to ensure this can continue: end the attack on levels of pay.
But we can do more to publicise the importance of our work. Increasing our focus on positive public messages can improve our business case. That will be one of my priorities this year. If you have ideas and inspirations for this, please get in touch.
The Review will reorganise the way cases are remunerated, there will be trade-offs that will suit some practice types more than others. With that in mind we will communicate with members as much as we are able and again I urge you to engage with us when that time comes.
During this year the Common Platform will play a greater role in our practice. It will arrive first in Croydon Magistrates’ and Crown Courts early in 2021 and then roll out to the rest of our region. If you haven’t already, please go to the gov.uk website for information on how to register and use this system,
While this new tool should work to reduce administrative burdens, it will inevitably pose short term problems both in terms of design and usage. The Association will be able to argue for changes and we will need members to help us identify problems and solutions.
Our new website
I am excited to announce two new benefits to membership. This year I have worked with Sara on the development of a new website which is not only modern and user-friendly but offers new services.
Members who wish to take agency work can use their member profile to advertise their experience and what locations and types of work they cover.
A new court and police station diary system will enable members to find an agent quickly and will enable advocates to register their presence at a place and time to gain new work.
So if I know I will be attending Willesden on the 5th Nov at 2pm I can select that on the website so that anyone needing last minute cover, for that bail breach matter, can check and see who is already there. This will make enquiries more relevant, more focussed, and more efficient.
Firms and businesses can now advertise job vacancies on a new jobs page.
Applications for renewal of membership and identity cards will now be completed quickly and easily online.
We will provide members with a guide on how to use these new functions and I hope everyone will give them a try.
ID card access to courts
The second benefit, coming in the next few weeks, will be new identity cards for full solicitor members. They will permit search free and fast-tracked entry into courts, while continuing to provide evidence of professional status to police custody staff. On this we have worked with, and received support from the Law Society, and will be able to offer it to any solicitor, regardless of whether they practice in criminal law or not. I am pleased to say it will remain free to members.
Since the pandemic, interest and demand for this court scheme has grown. As an Association we have worked hard to gain access for some time. The criteria for recognition is robust and it has not been an easy exercise. Delays have been caused by Brexit, the general election and the pandemic but we will have a safe and secure system
The incidents at Fishmongers Hall and Croydon custody suite remind us that it is in our interests to get this right. Should the system be infiltrated the consequences would be grave. When applying for identity cards, checks will be made and on occasion that may delay approval, so please bear with us and take comfort that it will be a safe and credible system.
I want to personally thank Sara for her help with both projects and she should take pride in them when they are fully operational later this year. Can I ask you to toast a thanks to her by again lifting your drink or the pet sat on your lap
Can I urge everyone to renew their memberships? The new year began on the 1st November Can you also promote the Association to friends, colleagues and peers and highlight the important work done on their behalf and how we can keep them up-to-date with important news in their region.
That is all I wish to say for now. I have been short on toasts in this speech and so can I instead ask all of you to make a promise:
To join me at next year’s summer party, when the sun will shine on our uncovered faces, stood closely together, our glasses overflowing and we can toast until we are flush and merry.
I now hand over to Dr Courtenay Griffiths QC of 25 Bedford Row, to whom I am grateful for agreeing to speak with us.
This year we have seen the Black Lives Matter movement become prominent in our discourse, building on recent work, such as the Lammy review.
The BBC will soon screen the story of the Mangrove 9, the trial and acquittal of black British activists.
18 years after that trial Dr Griffiths successfully defended one of those Defendants, the owner of the Mangrove restaurant.
He has agreed to speak of this and other experiences he has gathered over 4 decades as one of the most prominent members of the criminal bar.
There can be few better witnesses to speak to us on subjects of disproportionality and the policing of the BAME community in London.