Secret E-Diary - March 2013

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The Calm Before The Storm

Despite initial skirmishes, the phoney war between the publicly funded Bar and the Ministry of “Justice” continues while we wait for the real conflict to begin. Is the Public Defender scheme the plan B of which my mandarin friend warned me or is it yet another smokescreen to cover even more awful shenanigans deep in the Whitehall bunker? Andrew, our Senior Clerk, who hides a twitchy personality under a mask of assurance and confidence, came upstairs for our weekly Headmaster’s chat. It had long ago ceased to be enjoyable and now is simply a list of actual, putative, impending or imaginary crises.

 

 


“Cash flow?” “Poor, sir.” “Fee levels?” “Not holding up so well, sir.” “Bad debtors?” “Members or clients, sir?” “Either.” “Both bad, sir. Some members are falling behind.” “Does it go far up Chambers?” “Well, you’re a bit behind, sir.” I had forgotten that - what a silly topic to raise! “Troops happy?” “Lot of disaffection, sir.” “All well in the engine room?” The smile is not reciprocated. “We’ll lose the good junior clerks if we don’t pay the going rate, sir.” And so on. Then a faint glimmer of light appeared in Andrew’s eyes: “I was just wondering if you might like to recommend the Public Defender Service to one or two members.”

This was certainly an idea. Plan B (or Pretend Plan B) is to entice self-employed practitioners away from private practice into what I can only suppose is designed to be the mirror image of the Crown Prosecution Service. Governments like symmetry and one can immediately see the advantage of some opposing force matching the skill levels of the CPS. To achieve this, the Government, whilst saying all these savage cuts are needed, proposes salaries at the top end which, when all the extras that self-employed people do not receive such as pensions, sick-leave and holiday pay are taken into account, is precisely the kind of sum that the self-same Government says is far too much to pay the top criminal barristers currently.

I hope no-one comes to sell the Lord Chancellor a new suit. Because once woven and fitted to the delight and admiration of the courtiers and the crowd sent to witness it and the little boy
says to his mother “But Ma! The Lord Chancellor isn’t wearing any clothes”, the courtiers and the Lord Chancellor will still believe that he is fully attired

I have a horrible feeling that those people have been talking to the Ministry of Justice again – the ones that persuade ministers to have expensive computer systems or centralised interpreters. I might almost feel sorry for the Lord Chancellor. When these salesmen roll up later at their local hostelry they must keep fellow customers doubled up in stitches as they tell their wide-eyed audience how they have pulled off another one.

I hope no-one comes to sell the Lord Chancellor a new suit. Because once woven and fitted to the delight and admiration of the courtiers and the crowd sent to witness it, and when the little boy in the crowd says to his mother “But Ma! The Lord Chancellor isn’t wearing any clothes”, the courtiers and the Lord Chancellor will still believe that he is fully attired. They have to: just think of the cost…

Then I wondered if we might shed a few of the less easily clerked to the Public Defender Service. The trouble is that the ones they would take, like my old friend Paddy Corkhill, who often has a dry throat, or Hetty Briar-Pitt, who would be able to use her flexi working hours to look after her beloved horses, would be sorely missed. The ones we would be happy to lose, like the egregious Twist brothers, would never go. Plus this: if this great scheme fails, then, for the first time since I joined the Bar, I do not think the profession will welcome the newly redundant learned friends back like the prodigal sons - in the way all those Honourable Members, who, having shafted us in the House of Commons, lacked any shame about returning when the electors sensibly gave them the order of the boot. One thing is certain: the MOJ will not continue supporting them out of the goodness of its black heart. I only hope the lucky contestants have read the small print.

I looked up, realising that Andrew was still in the room. “Is the game up for us, sir?” I pulled my thoughts together. “It might be Andrew – unless enough people notice the Lord Chancellor is naked.” Then I realised that I had not mentioned my previous train of thought about the Emperor’s New Clothes out loud. Andrew clearly thought I was succumbing to the pressure. “Don’t worry yourself over all this, sir. If anyone’s entitled not to pay his Chamber’s Rent on time, it’s you.”

William Byfield Gutteridge Chambers

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