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MTQC Speech at the LCCSA Dinner: 13/11/2017

PUBLISHED November 15, 2017

Michael Turner QC. Speech for the LCCSA Dinner: 13/11/2017
Mr President: Ladies and Gentlemen, I better throw in Lords and Ladies in case some have crept in un-noticed.
The LCCSA is in a unique position, in that it has an out going and incoming president who is one and the same person. Normally it would fall on the incoming president to thank the outgoing for all his sterling efforts during his tenure in office. Greg can hardly perform that function and so it falls to me to do so. I think I can do no better than to use Greg’s own words to sum up his performance of his last period in presidency
“ I was bloody brilliant”
Everyone whose knows Greg will know that I have just made that up, because Greg is so self effacing he would never say any such thing. However, he was or you would not be having him again and again and again.
If I may so you are bloody lucky to have in Greg a man to lead you for so long. When he told me he was standing again I told him he was mad and maybe the fact that he stands here as your president once again proves that he is. Mad or not I think you will all agree he is the best man for the job.
Raise your glasses to Greg Powell. Huge applause.
I would also like to congratulate, if that is the word, the recently married Bill Waddington for being foolish enough to land himself with the job of CCLSA president a post he has also carried in the past with enormous distinction. He is probably heading for a divorce.
It is a shame that neither Angela Raffety QC nor Chris Henley, chair and vice-chair of the CBA can be here tonight which I know they would have wished to have been. Which is why I have been taken out of month balls to address you tonight. Whether, my vision is theirs has yet to be seen but I sincerely hope it is.
Traditionally, this speech from the Bar is the comic’s turn. Which normally starts with a story of the barristers first brief at Highbury Corner Magistrates Court appearing before the stipendiary magistrate Mr Higgin Bottom or some such.
If you were looking forward to such an address from me you will not get it. These are hardened times for the legal profession and the system of justice in the country and there is little time for frivolity.
Our sister profession is facing the first of a series of potential blows the first coming in December which is reducing the page count for serious cases down from 10,000 to 6,000 pages. For a number of solicitors this will mean the closure or merger of their practices.
What the public do not recognise, indeed I think many members of the Bar do not recognise, is that solicitors have to be paid reasonably well for the higher cost cases in order to subsidise the work at the lower end of the scale, which is simply uneconomic or attracts no fee at all. Unless solicitors have the ability to subsidise the police station and magistrates work in this way it will cease altogether and the only losers will the users of the Court system and as importantly the system of justice in this Country, which so many of us hold so dear to our hearts.
This is just the first of the cuts coming your way as Greg has set out. The Bar has it’s own, which some solicitor’s appear to think will not hit the Bar at all, and that is the AGFS system. This is not this case, it is designed to help the high earners at the Bar whilst killing the juniors and in my view is entirely unacceptable although the Bar Council appears very keen on it.
However, this should not be a completion between the professions as to which is going to do less badly out of any particular round of cuts. Our system of justice is reliant on both arms of the profession and if one suffers we should recognise we all suffer.
As many of you know it was very much my dream as Chair of the CBA to unite our professions when it came to negotiating with the Government. Our paymasters our very good at pulling us apart on the divide and rule principle and boy are we suckers for it. We get so far down the road when one side or the other does the dirty on the other. Memories are short, and therefore the party who has been most recently abused fails to remember the times it was the other way round. This is the self-perpetuating cat fight that the Government encourages.
Imagine where we would be now if when the original page count system was introduced the Bar had turned round to Government and said, well we think it works for us but it clearly does not work for our sister profession and unless you come to a proper and just settlement with them you do not come to one with us.
Both sides have tried cutting each other out of the equation, which has not worked well. The Bar with direct access and as soon as any of us get on that course we realise why we became barristers and not solicitors. Frankly, we would not be any good at it and should not pretend to be. The solicitor’s profession for their part, have tried in house advocates wth limited success and their has been talk of a portal system for barristers to access certain solicitor’s work, which was no more that a referral fee avoidance scheme.
The reality is that we both need each other. The Bar needs to realise who it is that provides them with their work in the first place and solicitor’s I believe do recognise that the Bar provides the best and most cost effective service for it’s client’s.
This and every other Government thrives off the principle of divide and rule to defeat any sort of industrial action. We have proved what happens when we act as a united force. The no returns policy was without question the most effective action we have taken.
The last time Greg invited me to speak at one of his meetings there was a solicitor in the audience who said “ the Bar Council is prepared to eat it’s babies” referring to the AGFS system, we must go it alone. On the other side of the coin there was a member of the Bar, not a member of the CBA committee I hasten to add, who said to me apropos of joining forces with our sister profession, we should just sit back and wait and see what they ( the solicitors) are going to do. There are problems with both approaches which stem from either ignorance or a severe lack of judgement.
Most of you recognise the difficulties of you being able to take industrial action. You are governed by a contract and any such action will put you in breach of that contract which in turn threatens your firm with the withdrawal of it. The upshot is, is that our sister profession need the help of the Bar, who are not under such constraints to spearhead any industrial action.
The problem with the wait and see policy, is that we know what is coming, it is reminiscence of the Neville Chamberlin approach. If we the Bar wait and see what the solicitor’s profession is going to do, it will be to late because we know they can in fact do very little, when it comes to turning back the Government cuts.
It is precisely why we should be working together, we should be presenting Government with a joint negotiating line. You settle with both arms of the profession, in the interest of justice or not at all.
And while were are doing this we should take an interest in the fights of our fellow workers in the public sector, it is only in this way that they will offer us support.
The was a much wiser man than me, the Great Martin Luther King, who said,
“ In the end we will not remember the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends”
My time is over, but I still have a dream that the younger generation will choose to work together for the greater good to stop the disintegration, of what I believe is one of the great pillars of our democracy.
I live in hope.
1 Michael Turner QC is at Garden Court Chambers
2 The Speech was delivered at the LCCSA AGM/Dinner on 13/11/17