Categorized | Legal Aid

“Defendants aren’t too thick to pick, contrary to the beliefs of the minister of injustice”

“Defendants aren’t too thick to pick, contrary to the beliefs of the minister of injustice”

The Friends Meeting House in London was a heartening place to be on Wednesday, in the midst of the war that has erupted around price competitive tendering and this comment on the ‘minister of injustice’ by Sir Anthony Hooper QC was one of many well-crafted, quotable reasons as to just how wrong Grayling is with his plans and assumptions.

It was a fillip to the weary of heart and the foot soldiers with more miles to walk in defence of legal aid. It was also an advert for the depth of exceptional advocacy within the criminal defence profession, a reminder of one of the many things that could be lost if Grayling gets his way unchanged.

Robin Murray is a great party starter and gave the crowd exactly what they wanted to hear.
He called the consultation a declaration of war and stated how impressed the solicitors were at the bars’ repudiation of Graylings “crude attempt” at divide and conquer.

And he highlighted one of the big points of the day: Grayling’s contempt for the public with his comment about people not being great connoisseurs of legal skills. “He means too thick to pick” proclaimed Murray, quite rightly pointing out the largest of a growing number of PR gaffes by the justice minister.

Murray’s closing peroration was to the point: “We didn’t ask for this battle, he did. And we’ll make him sorry he came this way. Let’s show him how defence lawyers fight.”

Next up was Richard Atkinson. Tasked with the unenviable job of setting-out the main provisions of the Transformation of Justice paper, he kept it manageable, pointing out that it constituted the “longest death threat in history”. Echoing Robin Murray’s point, he pointed out that most clients will prefer their own judgement on choosing their lawyer to that of the state, especially when it’s the state prosecuting them.

Bill Waddington was rightly enraged by Grayling’s attempt to dumb the profession down by calling it an industry. “This is how we work efficiently and economically with quality in a system that is inefficient, uneconomic and low in quality and which would collapse if we didn’t do this”.

And then came Nigel Lithman QC to remind us of the utterly brilliant job Grayling has done at uniting the two professions like never before. “We came into this profession to serve the public and not line our pockets. …….. 8 weeks to respond to our destruction? How more clearly could they telegraph their contempt?”

Politicians have been slow in their support for Legal Aid but Andy Slaughter, Shadow Justice Minister was there to question Grayling’s “Evidence free policy making”. He told the audience that this was “not acceptable to the profession or to the public …and won’t be acceptable to a future Labour government.” We will hold him to that then.

The star performance of the day was clearly Sir Anthony Hooper QC, who received a standing ovation for his finely judged observations on the destruction PCT would create throughout the criminal justice system. His opening comments rounded on the “complete scandal” of Grayling thinking that changes of this kind relating to client choice can be done by secondary legislation. He then went on to concentrate on the two biggest defects within the proposals: the lack of choice and the problem of conflict. He also made it very clear that once standards dropped amongst practitioners and advocates, this would impact heavily on the independence and quality of the judiciary.

Des Hudson of the Law Society had a difficult act to follow, yet he did it with great style and traversed some difficult, important messages.

He condemned as a “matter of shame that a country like us is supporting this insidious, grubby manoeuvring.” He went on to say that it is the Law Society’s view that proposals relating to client choice are unlawful and will require primary legislation whilst sounding a note of caution about what “comes the morning after too” – in other words, what happens after this version of PCT is thrown out? It is increasingly clear from Grayling’s pronouncements that it may not simply be a binary choice between PCT and the status quo and we must all start thinking now about what the actual choices will be as none of them will be pretty.

And that is the real point to emerge from all of the great and hard work being done in the name of justice at the moment. We have to be prepared for the long haul and not see this as a single, anti-PCT issue otherwise we will lose the ground that is finally being made to save legal aid.

This post was written by:

- who has written 11 posts on Upper Case – The Anya Legal Journal.

Founding designer of iLaw products. Practiced criminal defence work for the majority of her legal career, dual-handing duty and crown court work with being a franchising manager. Worked for DMH Stallard, Griffith Smith, Bosley & Co and Tuckers Solicitors. Her unique career path has also taken her deep into online retail and Christina is an expert at working with business owners and partners to develop new or better ways of enabling law firms to survive and thrive in the ever changing legal environment.

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