The Criminal Bar Association (CBA) and the Bar Council hung the junior bar and solicitors out to dry, says Manchester silk
A leading criminal law silk has unleashed an emotional attack on the bar’s leadership — describing it as “treacherous and unworthy of trust” — for allegedly selling out junior barristers and solicitors in a legal aid rate deal struck earlier this year with ministers.
Writing on his blog earlier this week, Mark George QC of Manchester chambers Garden Court North lashed out the leaders of both the Criminal Bar Association and the Bar Council.
He slammed them for agreeing a deal that saw the Ministry of Justice hold back on cutting rates for Crown Court advocacy, while slashing fees for lower courts and police station work. The deal in effect favoured QCs and some very senior juniors, while junior barristers and solicitors faced swingeing legal aid fee cuts. “I completely understand the fury and anger of all those solicitors who think the bar sold them out,” wrote George (pictured above), continuing:
“We did, and I am sorry the leadership of my side of the profession let you down so badly when I thought we finally had a leadership who understood the need to fight together and win together. Many of you I know feel that now it is everyone for themselves. The bar has shown itself to be treacherous and unworthy of trust. Unity has no chance now.”
George praised joint efforts earlier in the year, when barrister and solicitor groups stood together against the cuts. Lawyers staged a series of quasi-strikes and implemented a “no-returns” policy in relation to briefs that had a series impact on the running of the criminal courts.
“The days of action and the ‘no returns’ policy could not have been carried out by the bar without the full and enthusiastic support of criminal solicitors,” wrote George. “It was they who amongst other things had to smooth the feathers of clients no doubt angry that their ‘brief’ had not turned up and consequently their case could not be dealt with as they had expected. If solicitors had not supported the bar the action simply could not have taken place.”
Crime specialist solicitors have also been highly critical of their own representative body, the Law Society, for what they viewed as rolling over passively in the face of the government’s slash and burn approach to legal aid rates.
In his blog, George went on specifically to attack Tony Cross QC of Manchester’s Lincoln House Chambers, who is the new CBA chairman. In an early chairman’s message, Cross was harshly critical of the abilities of High Court solicitor-advocates.
“Tony represents the criminal bar but this approach was unfortunate and ill judged to say the least,” wrote George. “Fortunately many barristers appreciate that the realities of life mean solicitor-advocates are here to stay.”
In general, George painted a bleak picture for the criminal legal aid fraternity, with his thoughts summed up in this dystopian vison:
“The livelihoods of many solicitors and their staff are at direct risk. Our clients face a future of minimum standards representation by demotivated half-qualified legal operatives. And the criminal Bar faces extinction.”