Happy New Year to all

The Winter break has allowed some time for reflection on progress made over the last 12 months for those working within the Criminal Justice System.

2018 was the year when we set about auditing the broken justice system, which was vital to enable the repairs to start.  The Secret Barrister made the public and politicians aware that the law really was broken.  For our part, we launched the Charter for Justice setting out the minimum requirements for a working justice system.  We need to continue to push on these issues.

The message appears to be getting through and in fairness to the MOJ, HMCTS and The Attorney General’s office,they :

  • Dropped plans for flexible sitting hours in criminal courts
  • Acknowledged that the privatisation of probation had failed
  • Started to review, address and acknowledge the disclosure failings that that either caused or risked miscarriages of justice
  • Introduced a pilot to enable professional court users faster access into courts
  • Began to take seriously the concern over the neglected court estate which has suffered years of under funding

It is only through campaigning and drawing these issues to the attention of the public that we can make our system one that is fair and workable.

There is still much to do: far too many magistrates are granting prosecutors adjournments when it is not truly in the interests of justice to do so and refusing defendants adjournments which should be granted; too many young people are being routinely remanded into custody; far too many people are under investigation for far too long; and too few are receiving the access to legal advice and assistance that they need.

2019 marks the 70th anniversary of Legal Aid.  We anticipate a significant review/consultation as to how our own publicly funded work is remunerated.  Last year the Government failed in its misguided attempt to introduce a further cut by capping the page count and our thanks have to go to the Law Society for mounting a successful judicial review. The review of the Advocates Graduated Fee scheme has been controversial for many reasons, including a complaint by some that there is a now a considerable disparity in terms of the payments received by litigators and advocates.  It is often conveniently ignored that the payment for litigators is not received by self-employed individuals but has to include running costs of a firm which can amount to tens of thousands of pounds per month.  It is also an unfair complaint as we did not negotiate the scheme.

Just before the Christmas break, the Legal Aid minister Lucy Frazer announced a review of criminal legal aid funding to commence at the start of 2019.  Having, as an Association, not previously been invited to meet with her, we wrote to her in the following terms.

We know that there is to be a review and we want to be round that table, but not in circumstances where we are representing the members’ interests without knowing what it is that you would like us to advocate for. We all agree that we need an increase in rates, that the current hourly rates are unacceptable having been subject to successive visible cuts and the invisible cut of no rise to counter the effects of inflation, and that both advocates and litigators need to be paid for considering unused material.

However, we need to explore whether the status quo is viable and, if so, are we in danger of falling into a trap whereby page count proxies are rapidly decreased as a result of changes in CPS policy and larger more profitable cases become loss makers rather than the vital part of the ‘basket of cases’ the MOJ initially accepted was necessary to ensure sustainability.

We need to have a discussion and consensus about whether there are other factors that ought to be considered as opposed to page count, so that those cases that are currently being turned away by many firms become viable given the unique and complex nature of the cases and clients currently deemed within the current system as low category.

I am referring to the burglary and harassment cases that carry significant sentences and involve clients in custody with considerable demands on our time and appeals from the Magistrates Court to the Crown Court. We need to find a way of obtaining feedback from our members before we are invited by the MOJ to enter any form of discussion so that we have some form of mandate in case, once again, the terms of engagement with Government demand  non publication of discussions.

The LCCSA’s campaigning to bring these issues to the forefront involves expenditure , and we have previously employed, and will continue to employ, a media consultant to assist us in our efforts. This does cost members money but we feel it is worth it. It is important that our membership continues to increase to continue to enable this work and maintain the momentum.

 

Executive officer

 The committee who give up their time to work for the profession are of the view that given the likely tasks ahead this year, the Association needs to once again employ an executive officer whose role it will be to negotiate on our behalf. Below is the job specification and description. Please circulate to anyone who may be interested.

 

Applicants should send a covering letter and CV to admin@lccsa.org.uk

The deadline for applications is 31st January 2018.

We intend to interview short-listed applicants during the week beginning 11th February.

 

Executive Officer – job description (Part Time)

The LCCSA are seeking an executive officer to assist the association committee meet its commitment to attend numerous engagements on behalf of the membership.

The ideal candidate will be a solicitor with over ten years’ experience in criminal practice with a working knowledge of the legal aid fee system for crime contracting, LGFS and AGFS schemes.

It is worth noting that applications are welcome from those currently employed, the previous post having been held by senior partners. Freelancers and retired professionals are also welcome.

 

Job description

  • To report to the officers of the committee in writing and by attending our 10 monthly meetings in central London on the second Monday of every month from December to July and September to October. These meetings usually take place between 6:30pm and 8:30pm with occasional variation.
  • To facilitate and support the functions of officers and committee members while they balance it with their responsibilities in practice.
  • To attend meetings of the Crime Contract Consultative Group.
  • To attend meetings of the Law Society Practitioners’ Group.
  • To attend meetings with the MOJ in relation to legal aid and contract consultations and lead negotiations based on the views of the membership.
  • To assist in the drafting of representations and consultation responses on behalf of the association
  • To liaise with committee members attending key engagement groups such as: BCM, CPR, CPS liaison and to attend as and when required.
  • To liaise with and provide direction to the LCCSA Administrator where required.

Pay £15,000 p/a pro rata

While the remuneration is not based on hours worked it is anticipated the role will demand around 8 hours per week on average.  There are likely to be spikes in demand when initiatives are launched by statutory bodies and fallow periods.

The officer is not expected to support our Law Reform and Training functions of the Association.  While they are not responsible for the tasks performed by the Media Officer they would be expected to draft material for the website and The London Advocate where appropriate.

We are an equal opportunities employer, which means that we are committed to providing equality of opportunity in employment to all persons.

Regards

Jonathan Black

President LCCSA

 

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