Dear Francis

Thank you for the kind things you have said about me at the start of your open letter.  I am glad to accept the opportunity you have given me to answer your questions and explain my position more clearly.

Meetings with the MoJ jointly with the CLSA/LCCSA

If it was bad enough that the infamous Grayling ‘deal’ left our solicitor colleagues high and dry when they were key to the success of both the days of action and the no returns policy, then the bear-baiting that Tony Cross QC has consistently indulged in ever since his first Monday Message was unforgivable.    If I get elected Vice-Chair I will do all in my power to ensure that there are urgent talks with not only the CLSA and LCCSA but also if possible with the BFG.

At the time I wrote my manifesto I had not thought there would be any chance of including the BFG but as it turns out the current plans for dual contracts appear to be so unacceptable even to firms in the BFG that I am very happy to try to include them if at all possible.  I did in fact make this suggestion in a blog only yesterday but given the short time I am not surprised you had not seen it.

I don’t know exactly what the CBA and solicitors would be able to agree on but I want to try to find out whether we can set out an agreed agenda to put to government.  If that turns out to be impossible then so be it but I doubt that would be the case and in any event at least we should try.   Whatever else we may differ on at least we should be able to agree that we need the profession to be united.

You will note that in my manifesto i actually suggested that joint meetings of the CBA and solicitors with the MoJ should take place “save in exceptional circumstances”.  This is because I recognise that there may be occasions when an issue arises that only affects the criminal Bar or only affects the solicitors, in which cases either side could meet with the MoJ alone.  But you know as well as I do that the government exploit our disunity all the time.  Surely one lesson we should have learned from the ‘deal’ is that we never let the government do that to us again.   If we can agree a programme with the solicitors, we should meet the MoJ together so each side of the profession can see what is on offer.  That way we all know what is going on and we don’t give the government that opportunity to play us off against each other.

Maximum transparency and full communication with the membership.’

I have in mind in particular that we must avoid the shocking situation at the time of the ‘deal’ where our leaders actually thought they could agree the terms of the ‘deal’ without the say-so of the membership.   You will recall that it was only after a couple of days when a considerable number of members of the CBA expressed they shock and dismay at the terms of the deal and demanded a ballot, that one was belatedly agreed.   The CBA Executive was given a democratic mandate for direct action at the conference in Lincoln’s Inn in November 2013 in pursuit of our demands.  They should not have thought they had authority to agree to end the action without again seeking the views of the members.

And before anyone says “oh but they did hold a ballot” I would remind them that a ballot held once the decision to call off the action had already been announced was only going to end in one way and was never going to reflect the views the members might have expressed if they had been asked before that decision was made on their behalf.  The next time we find ourselves presented with terms by the MoJ it should be the members who decide whether the terms offered are acceptable not the leadership.

‘An immediate increase in advocates’s fees and withdrawal of both 8.75% cuts for solicitors.’

I am afraid I don’t know where you stand on the austerity programme of the government but I have been making clear my view since at least my first response to the so-called consultation process in May 2013.  I don’t accept the case for austerity.  It wasn’t the disabled or those on housing benefit who brought the banking system to the brink of collapse.  There is no economic justification for the all out assault on the welfare state of which legal aid is a part that we have been witnessing since the coalition government came to power.  It is simply an ideological attack by a government which has seized a once in a lifetime opportunity to shrink the size of the state by undermining the welfare state.  This is a government of the rich for the rich and as we have seen all over the world in recent times the rich don’t like paying their taxes for services primarily used by those on lower incomes.

This government let their rich non-dom friends fleece us for billions unpaid taxes. They let giant companies that make billions from sales in this country take their money elsewhere to avoid paying their taxes.   And they have just cut the rate of corporation tax paid – you’ve guessed it – by their already rich mates.   So don’t try to make me feel bad about demanding a pay-rise for junior barristers because there are other deserving groups like nurses or cleaners.  The money is there.  It’s a matter of political will and choice as to how it is spent.

I am not interested in arguments about which group of workers most deserves a pay rise.  In this world we all have to fight for what we get.   If the nurses or police officers want to join forces with the Bar and solicitors in demanding a pay award then that would be great.  The fact remains that apart from Carter which only looked like a pay increase because the overall amount of money paid was re-arranged none of us can remember a real pay increase since grad fees were introduced 20 years ago.

Juniors are suffering from ever depressed levels of fees that have become unacceptable.  They were unacceptable when we agreed to action in 2013.  They are even more unacceptable now having suffered a further 18 months of erosion of their value.  Whilst the leadership congratulate themselves for preventing further cuts to fees the juniors at least are crying out for action to be taken to increase fee levels.  I am listening to them even if you are not.  The juniors need an increase and they need it now.  I have been told that the review of the grad fee scheme is at ‘an advanced stage’ whatever that means.  Unless the scheme offers genuine increases in pay I believe it will not be acceptable to the membership.  If the government are planning pay rises they can show their good faith by making a down payment on what is to come.

As for our solicitor colleagues, in my view they are entitled to demand the scrapping not just of the latest 8.75% cut but the first instalment, also 8.75%, that was imposed on them in the immediate aftermath of the sell-out that the ‘deal’ represented to them.  But the precise figures can be part of the discussion I hope we will be having with the solicitors very soon.

And finally…

As someone else had already pointed out, isn’t it interesting to see the senior members of the CBA, mostly silks and the Circuit Leaders, all silks trooping into the lobby to vote “No’ to taking action in support of solicitors and indeed for our own futures also.  Most of the juniors who write in seem to be voting ‘Yes’.  So I rest my case as far as out of touch silks are concerned.

I believe the juniors want action and they want it urgently before we get swept away by the fall-out from dual contracts.  I have no idea whether they will vote for me in sufficient numbers for me to win the election, maybe they won’t.  But at least I have given them a choice.  Now its up to them to say which way they wish to go.

Yours ever

Mark

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