Swiftly followed by an invite to appear on the Jason Mohammad programme on BBC Wales at lunchtime to debate the announcement with Nick Grealy, Director of ‘No Hot Air’ (http://www.nohotair.co.uk/).
You can get the programme for the next week on the BBC website: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b03qkf4j. My bit starts around 2 hours and 5 mins into the programme – although if you start it at 2 hours you get to groove to Prince (Kiss) before we come on (which is exactly what I was doing in the studio before Steffan introduced me!).
Over the past few years I have spent some time helping to support Asylum Seekers and Refugees. When people seeking asylum, even those with compelling cases, are refused and run out of “legal” options, when the whole world seems to combine against them and brand them as liars and cheats, it is more often than not a Barrister who steps in to save the day – sometimes paid through Legal Aid, but generally working pro bono (i.e. for nothing).
So I know how important access to good quality legal advice and representation is for the needy, the weak and the poor. That’s why I spent part of my morning standing with a group of lawyers outside the Crown Court in Swansea as part of the first national lawyers strike in UK history.
As a “professional” protestor, I have to say it was one of the strangest protests I’ve ever been on. There were no banners, no placards and no chanting. Just a group of well dressed people standing around being very polite. But that shouldn’t detract from the very important message they had to deliver – a message that has relevance to each and every one of us.
This is what they had to say:
Today is a momentous day. Barristers and Solicitors across England and Wales who care about justice are refusing to attend Court for the first time in history.
Our system of justice is the envy of the world but gradually over time it has become starved of resources. Those who practice in Crime are treated with contempt by the UK Government. Now the very future of our criminal justice system is in jeopardy by the imposition of savage cuts to funding.
We became Barristers because we believe in justice. Our system exists to ensure that the guilty are punished and that the innocent are acquitted. This can only be achieved by ensuring that the system is properly funded and that the brightest and the best are prepared to undertake publicly funded work. The Attorney General himself acknowledges that fees are already so low that talent is leaving the Criminal Bar and that fewer are coming forward to replace them.
The Chairman of the CBA, Nigel Lithman QC, has repeatedly warned the UK Government that the cuts pose the most serious threat to the British legal system in over 400 years. He does not stand alone. Respected Judges and lawyers the length and breadth of the land have issued similar warnings. They have been ignored.
Now Lord Faulks QC, new Minister of State for the Ministry of Justice in the House of Lords, supports us. We quote directly;
“It is beyond argument that criminal barristers are, for the most part, very moderately paid … There is no doubt that the criminal Bar is a profession in crisis” and “I fear that the fat has been so far removed from the carcass of criminal legal aid that these further cuts really threaten our justice system”.
We have repeatedly warned the UK Government about their proposed course and its consequences. They know that already barristers and their solicitor colleagues who practice in Crime and who protect our liberty do not earn the mythical sums that the UK Government speak of. Their own figures released on the 2nd of January 2014 confirm what we have been telling them for years.
We wish to bring to public attention that which is being done in your name. We the Bar of England and Wales will not sit idly by and watch its destruction. We will do what we have been trained to do: fight for justice; our fight now is to save Justice for this generation and generations to follow.