THE IMPORTANCE OF UNITY
Much has been said about the unity of the solicitors and the bar in opposing the Ministry of Justice proposals on legal aid. This has been referred to as perhaps Grayling's greatest and only achievement in this entire debacle.
Since the launch of the consultation there have been a number of significant events which have formed the basis of this unity.
Without mentioning them all, those that particularly stand out are:
1) Grayling's meeting with representatives of the South Eastern circuit where he tried to suggest he had protected them and sought their support in dealing with solicitors. This badly backfired as they saw through it and minutes of the meeting spread all over the internet.
2) The LCCSA demo on 22nd May supported by the bar and many other stakeholders and charities in the criminal justice system
3) The CLSA meeting at Friends House on 22nd May uniting all of us and installing a commitment to oppose tendering and cuts.
4) The well attended demo at the MOJ on 4th June supported by solicitors and the bar.
What now? Grayling must surely recognise that his proposals are dangerous and will have the opposite effect of what he seeks to achieve. Much of the press coverage is sympathetic, the Justice committee are hearing evidence on the proposals and much more campaigning is planned.
The above success is predicated on unity. If we maintain it we can influence a better criminal justice system. It is not just about maintaining unity with the bar it is maintaining unity amongst us.
This is not about one group or another trying to steal a commercial opportunity on another, the proposals are bad for our justice system; they remove choice, quality and affect access to justice. Society and individuals will suffer. We have something we can properly stand up for.
Additionally but perhaps less importantly, finally the true role and contribution of legal aid lawyers (barristers and solicitors) are in the spotlight. The truth about what we do, how we are paid is being examined by society in a way we have not experienced. The myth of fat cat lawyers is being exposed in Criminal work.
By remaining united, that is solicitors themselves and all firms and the bar, we can properly define our role and value going forward and protect an independent and fair justice system. So say no to Price Competitive Tendering, and let's use all our efforts to persuade the MOJ to remove these flawed proposals and engage with us to improve efficiency and make further savings. If we lose unity we will lose altogether and those who may think they have won may face a bigger battle in a few years time