21/01/2008

Lacking Support

Tempted though I am to get caught up in Jeremy Paxman’s baggy pants revelations (and don’t you just love the image of Paxman raising his best inquisitorial eyebrow as he questions the occupants of his gym and, of course, the House of Commons as to the adequacy of the tautness of their crotch support), it is another set of briefs lacking sufficient support that must take my attention.

This is, of course, the barristers refusing to sign the LSC contract for Very High Cost Cases for criminal matters. Over on Pupillage and how to get it, Simon Myerson managed a very impressive impression of Emile Zola. His J’Accuse represents not only a thorough demolition of the details of the contract but the LSC’s approach to getting barristers to sign. Simon’s dramatic figures in the post – earnings of just £500 per week during a trial – were only very slightly undermined by his back of the envelope calculation that preparation for a trial could involve pay of £27,000 for a six week period (this for a QC, of course) mentioned in his continued denunciation of the LSC on Charon QC’s weekend review  podcast (Simon Myerson’s portion is separately here, thanks Charon).

Simon made absolutely clear that he wasn’t telling or advising anyone else not to sign. Why? because the LSC has effectively threatened barristers. Anyone who might seem to be conspiring, or organising into a cabal whose dark, secret and sinister powers are everywhere at work but nowhere to be seen, is threatened with civil and criminal prosecution under competition law.

Given the utter lack of evidence for the existence of this shadowy cell of refuseniks, another criminal barrister, Hugo Charlton, has called for the prosecution for attempted blackmail of the hapless LSC official involved. Richard Collins, for it is he, wrote to the bar council last Thursday to suggest that ‘some intervening event’ must be behind the lack of barristers signing up, given that they had allowed solicitors to put them forward. Richard, I doubt it is a conspiracy, more that the briefs had actually sat down and looked at the detail for the first time. They are, or at least were, busy people, you know.

This utter madness follows hot on the heels of the disastrous introduction of the directing of all requests for solicitors from those held in police stations through the LSC’s own ‘call a rep’ call centre. This resulted in chaos because of ‘unanticipated demand’, said the LSC. Spare me. Surely it was somebody’s job to actually assess demand, including maximum levels? I doubt that it was a particularly exceptional Friday night, somehow. But then that would require a level of competence that we know, from weary experience, is far beyond the LSC. What Price Justice

Add in the ‘if you won’t play by my rules, I’m taking my ball home’ approach to the termination of the unified civil contract and the prospect of further legal action [PDF] by the Law Society on the continued imposition of the fixed fee regime under that contract, and one has to think that the LSC’s chickens are beginning to come home to roost.

Giles Peaker is a solicitor and partner in the Housing and Public Law team at Anthony Gold Solicitors in South London. You can find him on Linkedin and on Twitter. Known as NL round these parts.

6 Comments

  1. Charon

    An extraordinary business…
    Does the government think they can get away with it?

    Reply
  2. lawminx

    …. I think the whole sorry affair is absolutely bloody ludicrous, a frankly cockamamie scheme dreamed up by an accountant who used to work at Woolworths that determines to put the Criminal Bar on the ropes ( no one will want to work under such a DRACONIAN scheme) and force the hapless, who have fallen foul of the Criminal Justice System, to sell everything they own in order to have even the slightest chance of obtaining just a little bit of justice through the employ of competant counsel; the matter in its entirety really makes my blood BOIL…..

    Reply
  3. contact

    It is not just the criminal bar, Minx, they’re out to get all of us legal aid types.

    Reply
  4. lawminx

    Indeed, NL , the voracious SWINE that they are! How VERY dare they!!!!!
    Seriously though, the whole issue is deeply troubling; I hope that the Judges will swing their not inconsiderable weight behind any refusal of the masses to sign such a rubbish contract.
    Access to Justice, my eye…….

    Reply
  5. Charlie

    Dear NL,

    I realise it doesn’t comapre to the plight of many members of your profession, but please spare a though for us powerless LSC employees. We are told to lie to suppliers regularly, and when this is greeted with understandable anger we are given no support from our management or the policy makers. Maybe if we could even contact them that would help, but they change their roles and department titles so often it’s usually hard to track them down. Many of us are thoroughly ashamed of how the organisation has conducted itself recently, and if we were allowed voices of our own we would be fully supporting the Law Society’s JR and encouraging the barristers not to sign anything.

    Reply
  6. contact

    Charlie,

    Firstly, welcome to Nearly Legal. Secondly, I don’t think any of us on the supplier side blames the poor front line LSC staff. I have tried, throughout my frequent rants here, to distinguish between piss poor management and policy and the poor sods who have to deliver the results. Having said that, I’m sure there have been odd occasions on the phone when the frustration is just too much. For that, I apologise – to the recipient, but not for the content.

    Nothing of what you say surprises me, although the revelation that you are regularly told to lie to suppliers is a bit of a shocker. Any, suitably anonymised/compounded examples of when, how and why?

    I suspect that LSC people would be surprised how many of us would actually be very interested in helping to work out an effective, efficient and cheaper system. We don’t want to be forced into an antagonistic position either. But there we are, and the loss of trust is pretty close to irreparable, if not already past that point.

    For the meantime, believe me, you do have my sympathy.

    Reply

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