The Monday Message for 6th July revealed that 1385 members of the CBA voted in the ballot that wasn’t a ballot because it was just a survey on direct action over dual contracts. The now fabled 96% therefore amounted to 1329 members.   By all accounts that’s about one-third of the total membership in favour of direct action.

I suspect may of you who voted in favour of direct action were pretty angry when you discovered that you had not voted to take action but merely to give the leadership an idea of how militant we might be if pushed.  Especially given that the ‘survey’ had been accompanied by references to support from the solicitors for a return to “no returns”, the need for “the strongest possible mandate” and about being determined to take “decisive action to save our CJS”.  Its well worth re-reading the MM for 5th May which you can do here

Since then of course you have been given another opportunity to vote for direct action, this time over the latest 8.75% cut to solicitors fees.  And this one really is a ballot not a survey. Honest!  I hope that you have already voted for direct action.   Better still I hope your chambers, like mine and a number of others in Manchester and elsewhere around the country has already gone back to “no returns” as a concrete way of showing our support for the solicitor’s own action.

My purpose now however is to encourage all those who do think we need to be taking direct action to also make sure you vote in the election for Vice-Chair of the CBA which runs until Tuesday at 4pm.  If all those 1329 members who voted in the survey now vote for me in the election for V-C there must be a pretty good chance I could win. That is the best way to ensure that if the ballot does support direct action that the Executive of the CBA doesn’t try to ignore this vote and does take the action you have voted for.

If you vote for me I am determined to push for immediate talks with representatives of the CLSA and the LCCSA and possibly even the BFG (it’s got to be worth asking) in an attempt to see if we can agree a common set of demands around which we can unite and present to the MoJ.   That’s the sort of engagement I am fully supportive of. Hardly anyone seems happy with dual contracts, even amongst the BFG.  Everyone knows this will have a massive impact on access to justice for our clients.   It also threatens many who currently work in solicitor’s firms with redundancy.  Solicitors are taking action against a second 8.75% cut in their fees in the last 15 months and the Bar has suffered cuts to grad fees and VHCCs for so long no one can actually remember the last time we got an actual pay increase.

The current system is unsustainable and dual contracts makes a complete mockery of government claims that is wishes to put the profession on a sustainable footing for the future. To those who say that we remain bound by the terms of the “deal” in March 2014, I say No we don’t.  Things have moved on since then.  We now face new challenges and dangers to the Bar and we have to act and act now.  The idea that when we voted in the ballot after the deal in March last year that we were forgoing a return to direct action at any point in the future is nonsense that involves wishful thinking as well as re-writing history.

Another reason you should vote for me is that I want to see what can be done to change the way the CBA Executive is run.   The committee needs to be far more democratic and it needs to reflect the views of its members much more clearly.  Currently only about 1 in 4 of the Executive are elected.  The rest are appointed.  The six Circuits get to appoint 18 members between them.   Since these members are appointed by their Circuit Leader this gives the CLs an undue degree of influence over the decisions of the committee to which they are not elected either.  I am all in favour of having representatives from the Circuits on the Executive but they should be elected by their colleagues on Circuit, not appointed by the CL.

And why is it that the only members who can stand for office as V-C and then Chair are silks?   Why can’t we have a leader of the CBA who is not a silk?   Like many others I am sure, I regularly hear complaints to the effect that the CBA doesn’t really represent the junior Bar and that silks are out of touch with life on the shop floor.  If that is correct then it comes in part at least from a failure to communicate properly with the members. But is also reflects the reality that life for silks is not the same as it is for the juniors.  It isn’t the silks who find themselves constantly going to court for a hearing for which they will not get paid.   Invariably it is the juniors, not the silks, who also have to do the myriad other tasks judges expect them to perform but for which there is no fee payable.   The attitude of the CBA might be very different if instead of a silk at the helm we had a junior.

And to those who would scoff at this idea and say how could a junior do the job, they wouldn’t have the experience or gravitas required, I say they would often have a much better idea of what the real issues concerning the criminal Bar were and their everyday experience on the shop floor would make them ideal candidates to lead the organisation.

This election is quite unlike many in the past.  Often in the past there has been little or nothing to choose between the candidates on offer.  This time that could not be further from the truth.  You will have read our manifestos and the differences are apparent.  There will, no doubt, be many members who have given up hope of ever getting the CBA to properly reflect their views.  After the ‘deal’ last year I expect levels of apathy have risen.

But don’t forget the 96%.  1329 is a lot of members.  If you are one of them and you want to be properly represented then please vote for me.  If you know someone who is hacked off with the CBA and the way it operates and really can’t be bothered anymore tell them this vote as well as the vote on direct action does matter.  Its too important not to vote.

You can be sure that over this weekend the current leadership, none of whom seem to favour direct action at the moment, and none of whom would welcome me as Vice-Chair will be pulling out all the stops to make sure I do not get elected.  But the maths is simple.  If the 1329 all vote for me you can be pretty sure of getting a V-C who really will represent your views.   With that thought in mind please make sure you vote.

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