Wednesday, 21 August 2013
Just say no
I'm still finding my feet with this blog. There is so much that I have planned. This blog is very much like my life at the moment. It's shifting and changing. It will settle and find its level, I know that.
When I started this, I intended to quickly write about why I am having my change of course. I've been struggling to find the right words. I'm still struggling. It'll come.
However i've been inspired today to start to put fingers to keyboard. I have read some fantastic articles and blogs about the criminal justice system and the proposals that it is anticipated will be introduced to change it. The articles are wonderful. The proposals are not.
First and foremost, I'm a criminal Barrister. I'm not sure it means very much anymore. I had great plans when I started this job. I wanted to make a difference. I wanted to represent people who were perhaps less gobby than me, who didn't have the confidence or the ability to say what they wanted to say in a Court, to represent themselves properly. I detested the idea that a guilty person could walk free because the legal system had failed somehow. Even worse, I felt physically sick at the prospect of an innocent person being convicted of a crime that they didn't commit. Somebody I love dearly came very close to being in that position. I couldn't let that happen to somebody else.
So I naively came into the job with high hopes. It wasn't what I thought it would be. Some days, I think I made a difference. I've represented people with serious mental illnesses and ensured that they were treated properly. I've prosecuted some hideous individuals who have gone to prison. It's been hard though.
One of the most difficult parts of the job has been watching the way that the media report it. I know that few people have sympathy for lawyers. I know that many think we are swimming happily in our bags of money, Scrooge McDuck style. Some lawyers may be. Criminal Barristers are not. I have regularly worked twenty hour days, the majority of which have gone unpaid. I know of no other profession where this would be accepted. However, this is a subject for another day. It's been commented on in any event today.
The second issue which has had me in tears recently are the proposals for changes that this Government and others are intending to make to the profession. I need to think about how best to write about this. I'm not yet ready to do it justice. This blog is merely an overview.
I am not stupid. I appreciate and agree that there are changes which can properly be made. However they need to be fair. There are proposals for fee cuts, budget cuts, limits to who can have legal aid, quality assurance. A quick look on Twitter will show you all the arguments for and against. The lawyers will suffer, of that there can be no doubt. Perhaps those who read this will think "so what". The simple truth however is that those who find themselves, rightly or wrongly, thrust into the legal system will suffer more. That cannot be fair. We all know somebody who has found themselves in a spot of bother. Would you want them represented by somebody who either isn't appropriately trained or motivated solely by financial interests? I know I wouldn't.
The proposals that are likely to be introduced will inevitably lead to unfairness. They are ill thought through. Don't take my word for it. The clever ones think so too.
Training for advocates is a difficult subject to tackle. It has to be right that those who appear in Court are of an appropriate level of ability to be there. Sadly, that is not always the case.
The current proposal is to introduce a system called 'QASA'. The Bar Standards Board have explained what it is here.
There is much that they are not saying. It all sounds lovely from that description doesn't it? That will reassure the public who will be by now regularly seeing horror stories about incompetant advocates. It shouldn't.
As said, I am only skimming the surface in this post. I will gather my thoughts. It will come. However at the moment while I am changing my course, my friends and colleagues are firmly at the coal face. Whilst I fully intend to stay a part of what is happening, I am not presently faced with it each day. They are. One such criminal Barrister, Mr Gardener, has written extensively about what is happening. I urge you to read his blog. He's no fat cat. He's a proper northerner. He has worked tremendously hard. He cares about what he does. He has prosecuted and defended extremely serious cases. He is the man you would want to represent you if you were in trouble. The legal system would suffer if people like him were to say that they had reached the end of their tether. This must not be allowed to happen.
Just don't ever stand in front of him if he's got a cricket ball in his hand...