January 6th 2014 might just go down in history as the day the Criminal Bar decided that enough was enough, metaphorically downed wigs and gowns and took to the streets in their first ever day of action. Much has been written as to the merits of striking, the righteousness of the cause, the risks in professional conduct terms of walking out of court together with the very real concern as to what might happen to unrepresented clients. Time will tell whether the BSB decide to prosecute anyone for misconduct matters or whether individual counsel face the prospect of defending wasted costs applications in the weeks to come. Given the near universal support to the day of action, this would seem to me to be unlikely. Perhaps more pertinent questions are “How did the (half) day of action go down? How was it perceived by the media? Did the Bar make its point? Will more days of action follow?”
To my mind, the day went particularly well. In gale force winds and buckets of rain, barristers congregated outside various court centres, made their protest and let their voices be heard. For too long, members of the criminal bar have had to read or listen to the constant MoJ mantra of ‘we have one of the most expensive legal aid systems in the world’. Today was the day the criminal bar let the MoJ know that such lies will not go unchallenged, that fighting for justice is worth pursuing both inside and out of courts and that solicitors and barristers working together can bring the system to a halt.
I have been asked as to what a half day of action was intended to achieve. The answer to me is clear. It is a foretaste of things to come. A brief example of what might be should the cuts go ahead and the Criminal Justice System become a barren desert of empty courtrooms and insufficient advocates.
That the point was heard is indisputable. The Guardian live reported matters as it happened and the day was reported in all the major media. You can read reports about it in the Independent, the Times, the Standard, the Telegraph,the Guardian and miracle amongst miracles, even the Daily Fail.
It wasn’t simply the print media who covered matters but also on radio and TV. Tony Cross QC started the day with a magnificent debunking of MoJ lies on BBC radio 5 live, John Cooper QC demolished Bob Neil in a radio debate which proved that MoJ figures and lies cannot stand up to any detailed scrutiny. Nigel Lithman QC appeared on Sky as well as the BBC and below you can watch Sarah Forshaw QC demonstrate how reasoned advocacy will trump MoJ spin every time.
Did the Bar make its point? I believe so. Will a half day of action be enough. I doubt it. We are faced with an intransigent opponent who thinks nothing of smearing those who deign to argue against it, or lie in pursuance of promoting their own agenda. One thing is clear though. That barristers and solicitors, unified in a common cause can achieve wonders and maybe, just maybe, should more days of action follow, wonders in the form of a reversal of these cuts can become a reality.