Happy New Year to you all. I write this report in the busy lead-up to Christmas but, by the time you read it, it will be time for decorations to be packed away and 2014 will have begun in earnest. I do hope you were all able to get some rest before the New Year onslaught.
We now await the Ministry of Justice's response to the second consultation on their proposals for Transforming Legal Aid. At the time of writing, we do not know when this will be: initial indications suggested mid-December but now I understand it will be sometime in January, possibly February.
I have written to Simon Hughes MP to congratulate him on his appointment as a justice minister and to invite him to meet the association's officers in the New Year, to discuss the proposed cuts and the impact these will have on criminal practitioners and access to justice.
On becoming president back in November, I attended the Criminal Bar Association conference with Paul Harris. Paul addressed the room, confirming solicitors' support of the stand taken by barristers and setting out what would be the devastating effects of the proposed cuts on the solicitors' profession and on criminal justice as a whole. His speech was very well received.
I am extremely grateful to Paul for the ongoing support and assistance he provides to me, the committee and the association, despite the fact that his term as president was some years ago (2009/2010). In addition to attending the CBA conference with me, he continues to attend practitioner group meetings and, on behalf of the association, he has met with Chris Grayling and then with senior members of the Law Society, along with other practitioner groups. Following these meetings, Paul played a key role in the instruction of Oxford Economics.
As you will have seen, Oxford Economics has been jointly instructed by the Law Society, LCCSA, CLSA, LAPG and the Big Firms Group to look at how money is spent throughout the criminal justice system and to identify where savings can be made. We expect to be able to publish this report during the first full week of January. It demonstrates that savings are to be found without the need for the proposed cuts.
On 17 December, a Special General Meeting was held at the Law Society; its subject was a no-confidence motion in the society?s president, Nicholas Fluck, and its chief executive, Des Hudson. The motion was carried by 228 votes to 213. I do hope the strength of feeling against the Law Society, which was expressed at the SGM, can now be transferred to the fight against the proposed cuts by the MoJ. On 6 January 2014, there will be a training day for all solicitors in criminal practice to attend. The training will be presented by Raj Chada, partner at Hodge Jones and Allen and Legal Aid Lawyer of the year 2012. It will be at Islington Town Hall at 11.15am, providing solicitors with the opportunity to be together and display unity. It is not too late to book your place through our website.
When members of the criminal Bar decided to attend a series of meetings across the country on the morning of 6 January 2014, solicitors throughout the country met to discuss their similar concerns. Both the LCCSA and the CLSA are united with the Bar in opposing the proposed changes to criminal legal aid, which seriously threaten access to justice for all but the wealthy.
It is, of course, a matter for each individual solicitor to decide whether he or she wishes to attend court on the morning of 6 January. It is possible that the training morning may mean that courts will not be able to sit until 2pm, thus demonstrating what the future holds for the criminal justice system when there will be a shortage of suitable representation. No solicitor will take this action lightly; but I hope that all will give it serious consideration, as what is at stake is of the highest importance.
You will have seen a non-binding protocol, circulated by the LCCSA, to ensure that the training morning gives rise to minimum inconvenience for the courts and for our clients.
The 6 January is likely to be the first of a number of training days, which will take place until our concerns are heard by the MoJ, with whose representatives the LCCSA is always happy to meet.
When the plans for 6 January 2014 were announced, I was quoted in both The Guardian and The Times. Such publicity does not occur without effort: the association continues to instruct our PR agent, Philippa Budgen. Over the course of the campaign and during current events, Philippa's work has paid off well for us - but, of course, it is an expense. In these difficult times, we are asking members to provide further financial support to the association and you will have heard about this from our newly appointed treasurer, Tim Walker. Please be assured we are also looking elsewhere to fundraise but we need your help to continue pressing our case.
When I attended the CBA conference back in November, I was struck by the strength of feeling amongst those present but, more importantly, by the sense of unity. The two branches of the profession are different in many ways and I do understand why solicitors and association members find it harder to unite in quite the same way. But we are engaged in a crucial campaign. We can only win together. At this moment, the cliché is the truth: united we stand; divided we fall.
- Nicola Hill, Kingsley Napley