I Thank Ed mill who inspired me to use notes for this speech.
I actually dreamt several weeks ago that this moment has arrived and I still hadn’t written a speech - I had To turn to Nicola and borrow a couple of sheets of A4 to scribble away during dinner.
Talking of dreams , I have often felt this year like Toto accompanying Dorothy along the yellow brick road to MOJ , along the way we were joined by Robin Murray a tin man with a heart , the scarecrow in Paul Harris with a brain, and of course the lion like bravery of Bill Waddington . We, along with many others I will mention pulled the curtain away to reveal not a wizard in Petty France, but a politician, surrounded by flying advisers, who when confronted by lawyers with brains, heart and bravery, along with an annoying dog, had his ideological agenda exposed.
It's very fashionable to knock Chris Grayling; it's very fashionable to dismiss him for being the first Lord Chancellor not to be a lawyer - Which might well be the case but let's be careful not to fall into to me same school of elitist thought which says that Solicitors should not appear in the Crown Court or play for the first 11 ;
I am delighted to look around this room and see amongst our number, some who have witnessed 30 or 40 years of change.
We as a profession are accused of being dinosaurs, fat cat dinosaurs if ever they existed, but we have adapted to much change, and will continue to embrace any change for the better.
When I started 20 years ago we would send a non qualified person to a local police station, normally round the corner from the office, they would bill at a reasonable hourly rate and act in a supportive role for a client who could make no comment at will.
With inferences came accreditation, rightly so given what was at stake, and because the stakes were accepted to be so high remuneration was reasonable.
A client charged would go to a local magistrates’ court near the office, could elect their trial and not be expected to formally enter a plea until they knew the case against them. If the CPS inefficiencies prevented them from serving their papers within timescales, the case may be dismissed. We could challenge the evidence at committal before it went to the crown court and be paid fairly for preventing public expense further down the line.
There has since been a continuing obsession with rebalancing the scales of justice, which politicians have constantly said to be firmly balanced in favour of defendants. Day in day out prosecutors are routinely breaching the Criminal Procedure Rules that were introduced to enable a fairer and more efficient justice system, yet it is astonishing the latitude that they are routinely given in many courts by late applications whether to admit hearsay, to serve evidence or use screens .
When I first started we would instruct counsel in The Crown Court because we had enough to do working the files properly at hourly rates.
Fixed fees are in some cases so derisory that it is difficult to complete a thorough job, but at the same time we are threatened by regulatory intervention if we don’t do so to certain standards. I billed a case that was a cracked trial last week, the fee was £259, barely covering the cost of the file opening process, let alone a prison visit or clerk to attend the advocate.
Solicitors cannot be expected to be just litigators anymore, and there needs to be an understanding that we are not appearing in The Crown Court just for the sake of cutting out the Bar, but because we need to, we want to and we are capable of doing so.
Of course there are inadequate HCAs by which we all mean both solicitors and barristers , I have sufficient self awareness to acknowledge I haven't always crowned myself in glory, but we shan't pander to elitist notions that we are not able to bat for the first 11, or the ideas emanating from the Rivlin Review that we must certify that clients have been notified that they could use a real barrister instead of the imposters that call themselves Solicitor advocates; or even any attempts in the wake of the QASA defeat to campaign for the curbing of the plea only advocate scheme.
Our association prides itself on positive responses to adversity, and it is for that reason that as an organisation, Julian and I, with Diana as training officer, are keen to ensure we can provide a comprehensive advocacy training program to our members. Critics of solicitor advocacy will either be silenced by our actions or be prepared to include us in any debate. But let's avoid cheap shots aimed at solicitor advocates when the reality is the challenges facing access to justice lie elsewhere , and the recent conciliatory overtures in today's MM is a start .
Change has continued at pace marshalled by the Emporer and his new clothes - sorry I don't live in the world of children's stories - but it's a fine analogy for A Lord Chancellor who doesn't want to hear anyone who points out to him that his policies leave our justice system exposed . This is a Lord chancellor that wants to use change not as a force for good but to return us back to Pre Victorian values
Far be it for me to brag about my Bailey practice , but on a display I was reading last week at The Central Criminal Court I read the following description of Newgate life 200 years ago:
"The Newgate Gaol keeper ran the prison as a commercial enterprise . He profited by selling goods to prisoners. Wealthy prisoners paid more to rent better rooms and eat well. Poor convicts fell on the mercy of their relatives, charitable donations or were permitted to beg outside prison”
Back then justice really was for sale and that is where we are heading now.
Our own advocacy skills are beyond dismissing Grayling simply because he is the first non lawyer in 400 years to take the post.
We have proven we can use our skills as lawyers to tell him when he is wrong and to object to any proposals that may lead to the wholesale commercialisation of the justice system.
He was brought in not because of his knowledge of the legal system but to marshal cuts and privatisation .
And I have tried hard to avoid personalising this speech but it is hard not to get personal about a man :
This is why LCCSA refused to be brought off with an empty promise that they would delay dual contracts if we abandon JR. And unlike other organisations, we won't be scared to speak out for fear of losing our negotiating position – it was famously said somewhere “do right fear no one " .
How he is in office is anyone's guess - you might like to think he has a stash of photos of David and George in their Bullingdon days running through the cloisters of Oxford in a state of undress, I couldn't possibly comment .
In February he intends to showcase the justice system at The Global Law Summit. Mr Grayling has dressed up a legal business fair as a celebration of 800 years of the Magna Carta . At over £1000 per delegate the event includes speakers such as:
And with no sense of irony - Chris Grayling Lord Chancellor is addressing a summit to celebrate a charter that includes a clause :
"We will not make men justices, constables, sheriffs, or bailiffs unless they are such as know the law of the realm, and are minded to observe it rightly."
I Apologise, I did say I wouldn't criticise him for his lack of legal training.
We intend along with the Justice Alliance to make a lot of noise and draw attention to the disgraceful fact that this event ignores the painful destruction of our justice system by one of its own keynote speakers.
This is one of Two major events this year in which we need to put access to justices at top of the agenda - the other being the General election on May 7th.
Whilst labour have now committed to say they can't reverse the cuts - this issue needs to be on the agenda. We need to ensure politicians understand the real impact of the erosion of legal aid on their constituents who see representation by solicitors as less remote than that provided by their parliamentary representatives . Every constituency should be holding "legal aid or justice hustings "
I am proud to be part of an association that took The MoJ on in the only way we could at a time when we were abandoned by those we thought were there to support us and it is imperative that others who benefit from the work of the association join the membership to ensure we can continue this work in years to come.
Lawyers should and must work together to protect the justice system and this year we need to address the un- lawyerly practices that takes place as work becomes tighter, competition increases and firms find themselves stooping to new levels to obtains cases.
We need a consensus that it is not acceptable to scramble for cases, to use fixers, to make unsolicited visits to clients of other firms , to lie about the role of the duty solicitor or even impersonate the duty solicitor. Firms have grown using these tactics at the expense of others who have closed down as a result. We need to show firms that this helps no one it just speeds up the race to the bottom.
The MoJ exploit the perceived oversupply and this scramble, by seeing the goodwill of firms extended to the point that they are cutting their losses by doing more and more work for free to keep the client base. The fee structures exploit this desperation and the willingness for us all to participate in loss leaders, be it a weekend spent in police station on a murder for little over £200 only to find our representation has been so effective to lead to no charges, or the crown court fixed fee which barely covers file storage costs; yet we are criticised for not sending clerks and relying on counsel to assist with the preparation of a case.
And let's just be clear about one further thing, fee sharing may happen for advocacy services , but is not as widespread as believed and exists amongst both sides of the professions.
This task ahead cannot be achieved without the team we have , we don't have a first 11, but in our committee we have a squad with strength and depth. We saw that many times over the last year .
I enjoyed a post interview pint with our advocate editor Gwyn Morgan who led me into a pub game, whereby she likened the LCCSA committee to a football team.
I'd like to share her thoughts building from the back:
Our finances are in a safe pair of hands with Tim Walker in goal
And solid at the back we have our Vidic and Ferdinand Tony Miesels and Diana Payne
Supported by Rakesh Bashin and Greg Foxsmith as wing backs , both ready to bring the ball up and get back down the pitch to help
In the centre the pitch we benefit from the creativity and experience of Steve Bird working alongside our immediate past president Nicola Hill as the box to box midfielder , capable of scoring some great goals .
We are fortunate enough to have options on the bench if we need to protect the defence with Mel Stooks coming on to help defend our lead .
On the flanks we benefit from the energy of Ali Parker and Jenny Wiltshire .
I promise that I didn't as much as raise smile when Gwynn suggested putting Paul Harris in the hole with his influential attacking play; and it was decided to go for glamour with the number 9 shirt - My Vice President attack dog Julian Hayes, always dangerous in the box ,
"So where does that leave me ?" I asked , "oh you can be the "super sub " in hour of need like Goetze on the bench" . At least that enables me to spend the first half tweeting .
Alongside me on the bench we have options with Zaki, Sandra, Rhona , Jon, lucinda , Mark, Ed and Gavin all of whom add strength in depth .
Malcolm and Raymond are track suited player coaches who can come on in the hope that experience can lead to a late goal and of course we have Sandra without whose patience management skills , none of this would happen.
Bill - I am delighted to be able to continue the ever developing friendship with the CLSA, I'm originally from Harrogate , as is Sandra, Julian from Wearside, Greg from Plymouth , Lucinda from Wales , Mel from Blackburn and Malcolm from Bradford , The LCCSA is more provincial than the CLSA !
When Nicola asked me to be Junior Vice President two years ago -my reaction was "it's a bit of a poisoned chalice" She curtly remonstrated me "Thank you I'm honoured is what you are supposed to say "- so I did . And of course I am.
At that time Grayling had just become Lord Chancellor - we knew a bombshell was on the horizon but never imagined the campaign we have fought would run through three presidencies of the association.
thought i might be lucky.
However we all sit here with baited breath awaiting their next move.
What is more daunting is following in the footsteps of Nicola's incredible and dynamic leadership. A non legal aid lawyer whose dedication to this fight has shown that she cares more than many who of those rely on public funded work for their livelihood.
We considered asking Russell Brand to speak tonight but we're concerned he might be interrupted at the end of every sentence by Dave Rowntree shouting -Parklife
When I asked Sandra to suggest a guest speaker, a solicitor friendly Judge , she didn't just find one , but 6 others and and I found the 8th .
We are delighted to welcome eminent guests from Snaresbrook, and thank you all for supporting a profession under great deal of pressure we have experienced recently. HHJ Kennedy was a solicitor at whiskers, not a fat cat firm, and many will remember him as a stipe at Thames . When the list caller would tell us that mr kennedy was sitting , we knew the day would get better, and not simply because her answer wasn't Jackie Comyns.