That nightmare is over. It was a gigantic struggle. I did not imagine when I became involved in the politics of legal aid what a nearly all-consuming struggle it would be. It started to move into a whole new dimension when the government first tried to destroy client choice. As chairman of the well attended ‘Justice for Sale’ meeting I concluded my speech with these words: ‘Mr Grayling brought this battle to us despite our offers to engage in money saving reform. Well, we will have to make him sorry he came at us in this way. He picked on the wrong decent body of men and women. Let us show him how defence lawyers fight shall we?’
Well the Criminal Law Solicitors Association (CLSA) and London Criminal Court Solicitors Association (LCCSA) did show them how defence lawyers fight as we kept the flame of resistance alive until this welcome but predictable outcome. We held more rallies; we submitted response after response, we organised response hubs and surveys of the profession and individually engaged in protocols.
We engaged a PR firm. We lobbied MPs, litigated and brought judicial reviews and appeals. I was present when our then CLSA chairman Bill Waddington predicted to the Lord Chancellor ‘a tsunami of litigation’ should Two Tier proceed. That and all our predictions were proved correct. More recently and behind the scenes we have, through the skill of our CLSA committee and our star chair Zoe Gascoyne in particular, discretely and without succumbing to social media demands for bellicose shouting and threats been engaging with the MoJ.
When I think of the appalling personal and financial stress and expense caused to all firms and supporting counsel at times it is quite amazing that any of us are still standing. How will these issues be addressed by the MoJ? They should be.
I do give full credit to the new Lord Chancellor Mr Gove for listening and promising further engagement with the profession. I have no doubt with the associations enhanced reputations that we shall succeed under our present leadership in reaching a more rational approach to reform not only of legal aid but also of the criminal justice system.
There are many problems such as falling volumes of work for the numbers of practitioners doing it, the structure of the duty schemes and their quality – ghost duty lawyers, the maintenance of standards in professional conduct by the profession removing those who poach and the challenges of IT. I know there will be many questions as to how the CLSA will address these matters in the future and we will be ready to answer these soon enough.
But for today let’s be happy that the further cut is on hold and an unworkable scheme has been put to the sword. Lastly an immense debt is owed to the CLSA/LCCSA high command Bill Waddington, Jon Black, Paul Harris, Nicola Hill and Zoe Gascoyne. I know. I was there. I have seen their personal sacrifice and honourable struggle at first hand.
Robin is a member of Robin Murray and Co and former vice chair of the Criminal Law Solicitors Association. He was a joint winner of the 2015 Legal Aid Lawyer of the Year Award for fighting the legal aid cuts