This is my final report as the association?s president.
When I took over the post, the year looked heavy with the threat of the introduction of competitive tendering. Although this particular battle has been postponed and the burden of fighting it bequeathed to my successors, I?ve nevertheless been amazed at the volume and pace of the association?s commitments as a representative body. Fulfilling them simply would not be possible without the hard work and dedication of its committee; and I would like to thank personally Akhtar Ahmad, Nicola Hill, Jonathan Black, Melanie Stooks, Anil Rajani and Tony Meisels for all the time and effort they have put in this year.
Special thanks are also due to Sandra Dawson, the association?s tireless administrator, and to Gwyn Morgan, the commissioning editor and sub-editor of this fine publication, The London Advocate.
So, what, if any, is the big news?
MOJ fails to heed warnings
It was recently revealed that senior procurement officials at the Ministry of Justice did not read a consultant?s report warning of the risks in a £42m contract to provide courtroom interpreters. I feel confident that this came as no surprise to our members - and certainly not to committee member Rebecca Niblock, who has invested many hours to highlight the deficiencies of the deal.
The G4S debacle during the Olympics will not easily be forgotten either, and it seems clearer than ever that making written submissions on matters which affect criminal justice is not enough: these have to be followed up by a sustained campaign of lobbying and press briefings so that the issues -are clearly flagged up on the political agenda - and remain there. This will be vital when we revisit the issues concerning competitive tendering.
I am sure readers will welcome the news that the Law Society has postponed plans to reaccredit criminal law solicitors every five years. Note the word "postponed?; this is something that will feature again in future.
Quality assurance scheme for advocates (QASA)
The Criminal Bar Association?s chair, Michael Turner, has called for solicitors and barristers in criminal practice to stand "shoulder to shoulder? to oppose further fee cuts or risk "virtual extinction?. This is welcome support for the message I was keen to promote at our annual dinner. At first blush, the Bar?s opposition to QASA looks like a step in the right direction (readers will remember that the Bar was originally in favour of the scheme), but the CBA?s and the Bar Council?s continued opposition to the creation of "plea-only? advocates (or more accurately, the reasoning they deploy) threatens to derail this.
To assert that the only lawyers who are capable of providing proper advice on plea are trial advocates is to completely ignore (and deride) the work that solicitors undertake at police stations and magistrates? courts, day in and day out. In its paper, the CBA says that "such advice has always been subject to the independent scrutiny of [barristers in independent practice] instructed to conduct the case?; but the reality is that, as the criminal justice system moves closer to an inquisitorial, civil law model, the "tipping point? shifts ever further towards the decisions made by litigators at the police station.
The CBA?s paper also refers to the Mori research commissioned by the Bar Standards Board in 2007. I couldn?t help but notice that it neatly sidestepped the fact that 28% of the prisoners questioned considered the court performance of their barrister to have been either "poor? or "terrible?.
Solicitors deserve the respect of all professionals in the criminal justice system. Paying lip service will not do and much work is required to repair the fractures that are so blatantly apparent.
The piloting of "dozens? of flexible courts is now underway, and Justice minister Damian Green has made it clear that he hopes that the fast-track procedures used to deal with offences committed during the Olympics can be deployed in a wider context. Whilst these procedures were widely trumpeted as a success, is it me or does anyone else think that the 80 cases to which they were applied is hardly the basis upon which to settle policy?
The business case for making capital available to defence solicitors for the required investment in technology remains locked in the minister?s red briefcase; and no-one can tell me when he is going to look at it. Over the next few months, I hope to publish articles on what practitioners need to do to (a) make themselves ready for working digitally and (b) make themselves compliant with the Data Protection Act.
This year?s European conference in Malaga was a huge success, due in no small part to Sandra?s legendary organisational skills and also the excellent presentations by Tony Edwards and Jeffrey Smele. The weekend was sponsored by DPS Software, and I?m not sure what I enjoyed most - their hospitality on the Saturday night or their informative presentation, on the Sunday, on IT, Criminal Justice and the Future.
If you didn?t come this year, why not come next? You are guaranteed to (a) make new friends and professional contacts, (b) learn something about criminal law and procedure and (c) warm the cockles of the president?s heart!
This association depends on its members for its mandate to represent criminal law solicitors. We want to increase our reach, and this will be one of the key drivers for my successor, Akhtar Ahmad, who will shortly be announcing some changes to the membership package, including discounted rates for multiple members from the same firm.
I know the association is in good hands and I hope that all firms - large or small, and independent self-employed practitioners - will support Akhtar by joining us and helping our contribution to making a better, more just criminal justice system.