While the summer months provided respite for many, the work of the LCCSA has maintained the same level of intensity.
The LCCSA has continued to provide a significant contribution to the campaign against PCT.
I attended Legal Aid Question Time organised by the Bar Council and hosted by Joshua Rozenberg. Lord McNally was asked whether he regretted using the term "hysterical? to describe the response to the consultation paper. He confirmed that he did not and described the current situation as a "wage negotiation with a vested interest?. While indicating the government?s willingness to listen, he mentioned that he had received advice not to buckle.
Organised by the CLSA, we supported and promoted the mass lobbying of Parliament designed to ensure that a parliamentary buzz was created about this issue. I attended twice and had the opportunity to speak to a number of LCCSA members and their MPs, as well as those from other organisations. The highlight of this exercise was when Chris Grayling inadvertently walked into a lobby full of lawyers who stopped him in his tracks. He chose to stand his ground and was duly questioned at length. The LCCSA has successfully co- ordinated contact with MPs in the London area, the majority of whom have now been lobbied.
The Labour Opposition?s Shadow Justice team, under the leadership of Sadiq Khan and Andy Slaughter, alongside Karl Turner, has provided considerable support to our cause. I was invited to briefing meetings with the Labour Front Bench in advance of the parliamentary debate. I went on to attend the debate and it was heartening to hear many of the arguments which we had presented during the lobbying process being articulated by MPs of all political persuasions.
The autumn consultation
I attended the Justice Select Committee hearing, at which Chris Grayling announced a change in policy in respect of client choice and stated there would be a further consultation in the autumn, based on a narrow set of issues.
This should have been seen as a small victory in the campaign but the focus of many was on the timing of the Law Society?s alternative proposal and the key areas of the consolidation of firms into larger units and of breaking the link between duty solicitors and duty slots.
Paul Harris and I have attended practitioner group meetings arranged by the Law Society. As a result of members? concerns, we decided to hold an urgent committee meeting to debate LCCSA policy on issues which have such a fundamental impact on our members. While a carefully drafted survey had previously been used to gauge members? views, a vote on specific issues was felt necessary.
The results of the ballot mirrored the results of the earlier survey, in that a slim majority were in favour of consolidation, with most people preferring this to occur slowly, allowing firms the time and opportunity to restructure.
A substantial majority of those voting were in favour of preserving the link between duty solicitors and duty slots.
Additionally a substantial majority were also in favour of treating London separately because of its unique characteristics.
The LCCSA will support the Law Society?s proposals on consolidation. In relation to the duty solicitor arrangements, the association will oppose breaking the link as currently proposed. There is clearly scope for improving the duty solicitor arrangements particularly in London. Members have indicated that issues such as "selling slots?, "ghosts? and "compliance? should be reviewed. The association will seek to provide an alternative proposal to improve the arrangements without breaking the link. The association has provided a document to the Law Society setting out London?s unique characteristics, which we understand will be forwarded to the MoJ. We shall continue to consult with members and work at committee level on possible alternative proposals that reflect the issues particular to London.
It was a pleasure to be invited to the Legal Aid Lawyer of the Year Award ceremony and witness a number of excellent lawyers being recognised for their superb work, including Rajesh Bhatt, who gave an inspirational speech.
The LCCSA dinner was a wonderful occasion, made all the more special by the razor-sharp wit of Lord Justice Moses, who received a standing ovation for providing his unique take on the government?s proposals.
Plans to "go digital? continue, with exhibitions of software to be used in Crown Courts. As an observer from the defence, I attended a two-day workshop on the design of a "common platform? for the Courts Service and CPS, whose IT systems are to receive considerable investment.