QC’s devastating response to CPS barrister threat made public as tensions rise ahead of Friday’s strike

Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) warning that barristers who strike will lose work elicits memorable letter from 9-12 Bell Yard head Mukul Chawla QC.

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On Friday afternoon the political editor of the Guardian, Patrick Wintour, tweeted news of a CPS threat to barristers who strike this week.

Wintour elaborated on his tweet in a follow-up article, which provided details of a letter written by the Chief Crown Prosecutor for London, Baljit Ubhey, to heads of chambers on Thursday instructing them that barristers may lose work if they participate in the legal aid protest this Friday 7 March.

Ubhey’s letter — which can be read in full here — asked the chambers bosses to confirm in writing by the end of the day on Friday last week that barristers in their sets who are listed to prosecute cases on 7 March will do so.

It continues, not-a-little menacingly:

“If barristers decide not to honour their professional commitments in respect of CPS instructions then their own actions could cause a detrimental impact on the positive relationship that we have hitherto enjoyed.”

Mukul-ChawlaYesterday head of 9-12 Bell Yard Mukul Chawla QC (pictured) made public his response to the CPS, stating that he was in “no position to dictate what individual members [of his chambers] should or should not do”, and writing of a level of anger at the Bar “that I have never before experienced in my 31 years of prosecuting and defending in criminal cases”.

Chawla’s response — re-published in full below — also lays bare the stark reality of life as a criminal barrister and the depressing future that lies ahead for the criminal Bar:

“You must know that the continued cuts to Legal Aid have already had a devastating effect on members of the criminal Bar. The Ministry of Justice’s own figures, properly viewed, showed that the average taxable income for members of the publicly funded criminal Bar is in the order of some £27,000 to £37,000. There is, of course, no paid holiday entitlement, no pension provision or any other benefits which employees in government or other service enjoy. Now that the Ministry has seen fit to make further cuts in the teeth of virtually unanimous representations to the contrary, including the extraordinarily dignified yet scathing representations of Treasury Counsel at the Central Criminal Court, it is wholly unsurprising that the criminal Bar, has said ‘enough is enough’.

“From your perspective, you will already know that the effect of the cuts is that the best and the brightest will simply leave the criminal Bar, trials will become longer and longer as less qualified and able people seek to conduct difficult and sensitive cases and many will simply become unmanageable. The costs of such cases will therefore increase exponentially and, far from producing savings, the cost to the public purse will spiral out of control. If the best and the brightest will not come to practise at the criminal Bar (a fact that the Attorney General expressly conceded at the Bar Conference in November 2013) who will be capable of being the skilled prosecutors of tomorrow?”

5KBW, which is co-headed by South Eastern Circuit leader Sarah Forshaw QC, has also made public its response to the CPS. It states: “In this set…there is unanimity of opposition to these changes.” The letter can be read here.

Mukul Chawla QC’s response to the CPS in full.

Chawla CPS Letter

9 Comments

Mr Jones

Really the only thing left for the profession is an all out strike. A full one, not half a day here and there.

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Sodslaw

Well-written and persuasive – the kind of advocacy which is going to disappear from the criminal bar

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Sandman

I highly doubt a strike itself would achieve much – and it’s probably not tactically sensible to take unfocused action regardless of who is instructing. There is a fairly simple solution though…

Criminal barristers should investigate whether it would be lawful to collectively set their own minimum rates, and refuse to accept work which is offered below those rates. The legal aid committee would have to either raise rates, or allow people to go undefended / pay for their own defence.

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It’s completely pointless appealing to the heads of crime barrister chambers because the barristers will decide on their own course of action.

The only point I can see in the CPS doing this is to try and make those intending to strike the bad guys in an attempt to cloud the issue.

Mr Chawla’s letter is a well written, considered response to a very, very tenuous threat. I always think of strike action as a last resort, but if the Government is lowering itself to subversive tactics to force barristers to go to court then we may well be beyond the point of no return.

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