I was called to the Bar in 1981 and, throughout my career, I have worked with some extraordinarily good members of the solicitor profession. Names would be invidious: you will all know who you are.
During these hardened times, as our two professions have been talking to each other again, many have been asking themselves what ever happened to divide us. We value the solicitor profession; you value us; and, most importantly, the public need us desperately. Some commentators have compared us with the coal industry. It is a ridiculous comparison. The demand for coal disappeared as new energy sources came along. The demand for our services is still as acute as ever.
What happened was this: solicitors were forced to sign up to a graduated fee system which did not properly remunerate them for their services, thereby forcing them to seek a slice of the advocacy fee in order to survive. Frankly, the Bar should have fought those changes then as vigorously as we are doing battle with the current proposals. We have all been guilty, in the past, of allowing successive governments to tinker with the professions until we find ourselves in the mess we are in today.
Modern government has no interest in the long term: they crave only the short-term headline. In consequence, our system is so full of holes that it leaks over £150m annually. This happens, in the first place, through the contracting out of support services ? to Capita, Serco, G4S and GEOAmey ? which creates nothing but chaos and waste. In the second place, it occurs through allowing the Crown Prosecution Service to pretend that it represents a saving to the tax payer, in current form, when the reality is that it costs, at the very least, £70m more than ever before.
The government now intends to wipe out the solicitor profession altogether and replace it with corporate providers. It is, apparently, oblivious to the lessons that should have been learnt from the breaking up of the Forensic Service, when the government lost all its best scientists as they proved over-qualified for the new providers. In the same way, the current proposals will devastate some of the very best and most experienced professionals.
The Bar has realised that what hurts the solicitors? profession, always comes back to hurt the Bar ? and, crucially, the public.
The professions cannot be run by corporate providers: there is an automatic conflict between the need for profit and the provision of a high-quality ethical advice.
Quite apart from ? and in addition to ? cutting out the waste, we have suggested three very simple solutions which would enable the government to provide a legal aid budget: (1) an insurance scheme to ensure that the banking industry contributes towards the cost of prosecution and defence in fraud cases; (2) taking the magistrates? court away from the Ministry of Justice and returning it to magistrates, which would give the government £1.5bn annually; and (3) using restrained assets as set off against legal aid.
Mr Grayling now pretends that he needs a £220m cut to legal aid so that the government can support the NHS budget. Such an amount of money would keep the NHS going for less than 24 hours. It is political posturing of the very worst kind.
I think we are all now fed up of our politicians pulling the wool over our eyes for their own aims.
Now the professions have found each other again. Let us work together to re-build a justice system that at one time was the envy of the world.