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JusticeWatch: Know your place

Know your place
Michael Gove might have been unceremoniously dumped having received his post-Brexit political comeuppance but he hasn’t gone away.

In his Longford lecture this week, the former justice minister once again revealed his love of the Bar – and seeming indifference to solicitors (see here). Gove was making the case for representation in serious court cases to be restricted to his friends at the Bar. He was blaming their problems on greedy defence firms keeping advocacy in-house and ‘pocketing’ both fees as well as what he rather euphemistically called ‘changes made to the operation of legal aid’.

‘There are, of course, some very fine solicitor advocates,’ Gove said, implying: ‘yeah, but not many’.

In response, Will Richmond-Coggan, the chairman of the Solicitors’ Association of Higher Court Advocates, ‘lambasted the bar’ – according to the Times’ brief newsletter – for ‘protectionist tactics’ and ‘unsubstantiated whispering campaigns’ to their ‘powerful friends’ in government.

Richmond-Coggan didn’t pull any punches. It was no surprise that the Bar ‘and their mouthpieces in government’ would seek to ‘harken back to an age where upstart solicitors knew their place’ and existed ‘purely to ferry a steady stream of golden guineas into the hands of the barristers’ clerks – barristers’ hands being too rarefied to be sullied with anything so vulgar as money’.

And whatever happened to Gary Bell QC? We reported on the appointment of the self-styled Animal QC to chair Gove’s advisory council set up after he pledged to  scrap the criminal legal aid contracting regime.

Bell famously boasted of being ‘mates’ with the ex minister (‘Bonkers, but very clever’). It’s worth recalling Animal’s interview in which he made clear his regard for solicitor advocates. ‘If there are any solicitors that read this who employ high court advocates, they can fuck off,’ he told Catherine Baksi.

Judg(e)ment day
Meanwhile two former lord chancellors spoke out to defend the role of judges in the wake of the press attacks on the judiciary in the Article 50 case. Lord Irvine of Lairg and Lord Mackay of Clashfern wrote the Mail it was ‘vitally important the judiciary, a crucial institution in the maintenance of the rule of law, should not be undermined’ in the minds of the public.

But the legal twitterati went into meltdown by the distinguished pair’s assertion that most Daily Mail readers ‘will not have read the judgement’.

Incidentally, should anyone want to hire a former Lord Chancellor as an after dinner speaker – for example, the Criminal Bar Association – then according to the Daily Mail it’s £50,000.

Why would an eagle attack a drone anyway?
It has been a torrid time in our prisons – a full blown riot at HMP Bedford and two inmates went over the wall at Pentonville the following day deploying diamond-tipped cutting equipment to cut through the bars of their cells and left mannequins in their beds to fool overstretched prisoner officers.

We are lucky to have Liz Truss on the case and that she is so ably supported by Sam Gyimah. The justice minister told parliament he was looking at recruiting eagles in the attempt to intercept unlawful drones carrying in drugs and illicit contraband– apparently the Dutch police have invested in four eagle chicks and are expected to begin training next summer. Criminal justice expert Bill Oddie was bemused. ‘Why on earth would an eagle attack a drone anyway?’ he asked the Mail.

In the dock
Phil Shiner is to face a public hearing at the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal in what the Mail called ‘a victory for open justice’. Or as the Sun put it: ‘SHAMED “tank-chaser”’ Phil Shiner has dropped his demand for a secret hearing into allegations he smeared British troops.’ ‘This is fantastic news,’ Col Richard Kemp, Britain’s ex-commander in Afghanistan told the Sun. ‘It is vital the truth comes out after so many smears and lies. He has put so many in the dock, it is now his turn.’

Meanwhile Andrew Williams – author of A Very British Killing, The Death of Baha Mousa – reminded readers of the Justice Gap and openDemocracy of how the Government and a willing media had denied, dismissed and derided allegations of abuse by British soldiers in Iraq.

Read our profile of Shiner by Fiona Bawdon here.

Minimum wage lawyers
The Law Society has recommended a 3.1% rise in the minimum salary for trainee solicitors in London to £20,913, and a 2% rise outside the capital to £18,547. A mandatory minimum for trainees of £18,590 in London and £16,650 outside was scrapped by the Solicitors Regulation Authority in 2014. But Chancery Lane continues to make an annual recommendation ‘as a matter of good practice’, reported the Gazette.

With the removal of the mandatory minimum, firms must pay trainees no more than the national minimum wage – £6.95 an hour which ‘equates to a gross annual salary of £12,649’.

Lammy review
Black men were more than three times more likely to be arrested than white men in 2014, reported the BBC. According to the interim report into race and the criminal justice system by the Labour MP David Lammy, racial disparities were throughout the justice system. ‘Twice as many black women were jailed for drug offences in 2014, comparative to the rate of white women, while young black males were more than 10 times more likely than young white males to be arrested for robbery,’ it said. Men from BAME backgrounds were more than 16% more likely than white men to be remanded in custody.

‘If judges are being told that black young boys are all in gangs, that can be aggravating and lead to a prison sentence,’ Lammy told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. ‘If pre-conviction reports are not being done well, are being hurried over 20 minutes and the probation officer has not got a relationship with black and brown people, that also can lead to a longer prison sentence.’

 

 

About Jon Robins

Jon is a journalist and has written about the law and justice for the national papers and specialist press for more than 15 years. Jon is a visiting journalism lecturer at Winchester University, a visiting senior fellow in access to justice at the University of Lincoln and patron of Hackney Community Law Centre. He has won the Bar Council’s legal reporter of the year award twice (2015 and 2005). Jon is editor and co-founder of LegalVoice

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