I am hugely surprised by some of the events of this last week.
To make clear, I am not surprised that Grayling has attempted to defend his stance on banning books being sent into prison. It is entirely consistent with what I have always believed about the man.
I am not surprised that on Tuesday he approached the Circuit Leaders and Head of the CBA to put forward a deal on ending the ongoing dispute with the bar. I do not believe that he was suddenly won over by the logic or force of our arguments, such would be fanciful. Rather, I believe that he was brought to the table by the strength of our opposition. In days of action and with ‘No Returns’, all instigated by the CBA who now seem to be vilified, the bar has proved once and for all that by acting in unity, behind leadership, it has a strength to be reckoned with.
I am not surprised that direct action works. I always believed it would. Those who said that Grayling could never be brought to the table by such action have been proved to be wrong.
I am not even surprised that ‘the deal’ has been treated with such contempt in some quarters or even as a sell out by others. There is no deal which everyone is going to be happy with.
The merits or otherwise of the deal, and my view of the deal is something I shall deal with in another post. I do not propose to go into that here. What I do wish to go into and what I have been surprised about is the tone and actions of some people, which have engendered a toxic environment within which, almost any type of rational debate seems impossible.
Make no mistake about it, the acceptance or rejection of this deal will shape the landscape of our criminal bar for years to come. There is no issue more important, no question more demanding of informed debate. As barristers we should be fuelling this debate. Raising questions, listening to answers, persuading others and still willing to be persuaded ourselves. We should be engaging with the views of our leaders who can bring their wisdom and experience to bear, whilst listening to the pupils or other juniors for their unique perspective. We should also be listening to solicitors for they share our CJS.
What we should not be doing is insulting others, vilifying them. I am ashamed that in social media an atmosphere has pervaded such that anyone who might otherwise wish to speak in favour of the deal must be having second thoughts. Solicitors have publicly stated that in disgust with ‘the bar’ they wont ever instruct counsel again. Solicitors groups speak of withdrawing instructions from counsel. In an entirely predictable response to its customer base, chambers after chambers have placed up notices on their websites which on one reading condemns the deal and in another says ‘This isn’t me, please continue sending me work!’. How can a proper debate take place in such an atmosphere?
I beg you all, please take a step back and pause. The tone of the debate is as important as the debate itself. Let us allow the future of our profession to be determined in an atmosphere of calm, absent from insult, free from abuse. Respect your opposition whilst disagreeing with his viewpoint and above all, help create the atmosphere in which all viewpoints can be heard. Only then will reason triumph. Only then will our future be safe.