Grayling .v. The Bar – Who’s The Real Winner?

by Ray_North on March 28, 2014

images-3The news filtered through in the form of a rumour followed by an e-mail from the Criminal Bar Association and the Leader of my circuit stating that Chris Grayling had capitulated and postponed the proposed cuts to the Legal Aid budget for criminal barristers until the Summer of 2015.

I was shocked – all the evidence seemed to suggest that the Barrister’s ‘work to rule’ was being comfortably dealt with by the Courts and the feeling was that rather than enjoy some kind of successful outcome, the Bar might be ratcheting up our opposition with an ‘all out strike’ lasting a couple of weeks.

When the Bar went into battle with Chris Grayling, my view was that, sadly, there would only be one winner, and wouldn’t be my learned friends, so, on one level any victory, any postponing of these cuts is to be welcomed and I congratulate the CBA for their work.

But, there are problems with this ‘triumph.’

The victory for the Bar has come at the expense of Criminal Solicitors, who have been given absolutely nothing by Grayling – Criminal Solicitors are, understandably angry with Grayling and with the Bar, and some feel have sold them down the river.

And this is worrying.

It is vital that solicitors and barristers stand shoulder to shoulder in opposition to the continued erosion the Criminal Justice System and Legal Aid. Grayling’s stance means that we are now divided and, as the protectors of this vital public service we are now vulnerable the next time Grayling and his co-horts mount an attack.

Because, mark my words, that’s what he will do – these cuts have not been shelved, they have been postponed until the Summer of 2015, when, there is every chance that Grayling will be a Minister in a Tory government and no one will be able to stop him or whoever is sitting in his ministerial seat from re-instating these cuts with knobs on – because, ultimately, the Tories are intent on doing away with Legal Aid as we know it.

Barristers cannot abandon the struggle to maintain Legal Aid and must strive to re-inforce its importance in the minds of the public at large – barristers and solicitor must continue to work out ways of opposing the cuts that will be proposed and mend any rift that might now exist between the them.

The Criminal Bar Association, must also ensure that it now operates with the support of its members – there is a growing feeling amongst the rank and file barristers at the moment, that those who have been negotiating with the Ministry of Justice on our behalf, have capitulated fairly easily and presented us with the deal as a fait accompli – now, the CBA must ensure that it carries the Bar with it, and the only way it will do this, is if it assures us that this is not the end of the struggle, but merely a re-grouping by both sides in what is an extremely important and ongoing battle.

And, Labour and the Lib-Dems must be lobbied to ensure that both go into the next election with a commitment to maintain Legal Aid and ensure the future of the publically funded bar and firms of solicitors who provide a criminal defence service.

I’m glad that these cuts have been postponed – but, will I be popping open the Brown Ale tonight? No chance – this is only the beginning.

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