I was walking my dog just outside a little Kentish village at the weekend when I crossed the main road, rounded a bend and came upon the decaying remains of the old colliery. Red brick and brown rusting steal resting amongst the tall weeds like the skeletal carcass of a once great beast. It occurred to me that not that long ago and certainly within the memory of a great many in this profession, the miners who worked that pit had suddenly realised that something so important to them and the community was being ripped away for reasons of ideology hidden by the veil of cost and progress. I wonder how those that are still with us feel now when contracts for brand new coal fired power stations are awarded to overseas investors by the same party who thirty years before told them that coal was dead? Do they realise that they simply left it too late to strike back? Did they believe that it could not happen because the country could not do without the black gold and those that were charged with its production? I do not know. But I can see the parallels with what the Coalition are doing to the justice system.
When I started writing, the “response” had not materialised but sadly now it is upon us with all its poisoned implication for the slow suffocating death of both arms of the profession. The cuts come in two sets of proposals. Those for the Bar appear to run at 6% while solicitors firms will have to cope with 17.5% in the long term (assuming you get a contract) and just over 8% now. In my view you do not really have to look any further than these numbers. With regional firms running at 6% profit and urban firms at approximately 10%, one can see that the end appears nigh for many. The Bar of course will be driven out because those firms that survive will need to keep the AGF in house. In short our fate is now by design completely intertwined.
So to return my thoughts I had whilst on my walk. It occurs to me that we are the miners. We need to take action and it must be drastic. I can see no point in a day of protest. Cases are politely relisted and all we achieve is a victory for the MoJ who will say that the courts kept going without us etc etc. Let me be frank; the public do not care for us. The public will care though if we refuse to prosecute the criminals. If a Defendant whilst on bail awaiting his delayed trial for want of a prosecutor, commits and even worse offence, the government will have hell to pay. If the Bar are willing to take that stand then solicitors should refuse to provide assistance under the duty scheme. No representation at the police station or court. We know that is a material breach of the contract but if we all do it what are they going to do? Plus two thirds of us won’t have a contract soon in any event.
The Justice Secretary has played his hand. He has placed all his chips on the table and is gambling that we will not unite and that we not militant enough to cause him long term problems. We are lawyers. We practice law in an adversarial system. It’s what we do. We fight fearlessly for our clients. We should stand now, as lawyers before us have done across so many other jurisdictions and through countless years to protect justice from the state. If we do not do so then we and the system clearly could not have been worth saving.