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.
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.