Haldane Society Statement on AGFS Cuts

The Haldane Society has for years been at the forefront of calls to protect the justice system from government cuts, and for meaningful investment to restore and expand services that were available before the start of conservative austerity politics.  We have consistently supported the Criminal Bar Association's action demanding a real terms increase in funding for the AGFS, and improvements in funding throughout the justice system.

The Criminal Bar Association is now consulting (including through a Heads of Chambers meeting being convened today) on ending the strike in the criminal courts.  The Haldane Society is strongly opposed to this course of action for the following reasons:

  • The government's proposals are for a small immediate increase in funding in the AGFS for some practitioners.  However, this does little other than replace funding that was cut in the post-1 April 2018 scheme, and is a drop in the ocean.
  • The government then propose a 1% increase in funding next year.  RPI is currently at 2.2%: as such, a 1% increase is a real terms cut of approximately 1.2%.
  • After the first year, the government does not envisage any further increases, or index linking to the AGFS. This means year on year real terms cuts will continue.  No other sector of the economy would tolerate this.
  • The government proposes to continue cuts in other areas of the justice system.  They also propose no new funding for the justice system as a whole.
  • Finally, the government expects criminal advocates to work under the reduced fees of the post-1 April 2018 scheme until November.

The reality is that the proposals to be put to CBA members amount to accepting cuts, and giving up on a strike which has seen unprecedented unity.  We have the advantage now.  There is no conceivable reason why we should throw that advantage away.

The Haldane Society backs those chambers who will continue and escalate the present action, implementing no returns immediately, and calling for:

  • An immediate real terms increase in fees, not just restoration of fees already cut.
  • Index linking of future fees.
  • Restoration of funding for solicitors in the LGFS.
  • Investment throughout the justice system, particularly in court infrastructure.
  • Meaningful improvements in work-life balance, in particular the abolition of warned lists and the abandoment of court closures and longer sitting hours.

We look forward to the continuation of the current no returns policy, rather than its suspension, and to the calling of whole strike days.  Only such a policy can deliver victory, rather than defeat dressed up as success.

Tell the Scottish Justice Minister: don't allow the Legal Aid Board to be swayed by politics

On 14 September 2017 the Court of Session in Edinburgh agreed that permission should be granted for a judicial review in the case of Tilly Gifford v 1) UK Government and 2) Scottish Government.

The full hearing, potentially due later this year, is to determine whether the UK Government acted unlawfully in refusing to extend the terms of reference of the Undercover Policing Inquiry (UCPI) north of the border, and as you are no doubt aware it simultaneously challenges the decision of the Scottish Government to refuse to set up an undercover public inquiry of its own.

Scandalously the Scottish Legal Aid Board (SLAB) have refused legal aid again. Initially they refused legal aid, during the pre-permission stage because they claimed the case ‘did not have merits.’ The Court of Session then granted permission to proceed to a full Judicial Review (therefore accepting the merits of the case), now SLAB have moved the goal posts – they now claim that legal aid cannot be granted because the case must have a ‘good probability’ of success – this is a misapplication of the test, and raises the prospect that SLAB have been placed under political pressure to refuse legal aid.

The Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers believe not only should this Inquiry be extended to Scotland, but that this seeming politically motivated decision needs to be challenged.

Please use this e-mail form to make your complaint; fill in your name and email address, then copy the subject line and body of the email below into the relevant boxes.  You can tailor the email as you like.

UPDATE: THIS FORM HAS BEEN REMOVED AS THE CAMPAIGN HAS NOW CLOSED.

Please copy the text below into the subject box:

Legal Aid, Judicial Review, and the need for a Scottish Public Inquiry

Please copy the text below into the message box, and click submit:

Dear Mr. Matheson,

On the 14th September 2017 the Court of Session in Edinburgh agreed that permission should be granted for a judicial review in the case of Tilly Gifford v 1) UK Government and 2) Scottish Government.

The full hearing, potentially due later this year, is to determine whether the UK Government acted unlawfully in refusing to extend the terms of reference of the Undercover Policing Inquiry (UCPI) north of the border. As you are no doubt aware, the hearing will also consider the legality of the Scottish Government’s decision to refuse to set up an undercover public inquiry of its own.

Undercover Policing Inquiry (UCPI)

You will be aware that in March 2015, Theresa May, the then-Home Secretary, announced her intention to set up a public inquiry into undercover policing. That announcement followed major concerns that officers – as early as 1968 – had spied on political campaigners and had stolen the identities of dead children to create false identities. The officers of the ‘National Public Order Intelligence Unit (NPOIU) and the Metropolitan Police’s ‘Special Demonstration Squad’ (SDS), had deceived women into forming long-term intimate relationships and had fathered children, they had befriended grieving families seeking justice – including the parents of Stephen Lawrence - spied on trade unionists and acted as agents provocateur.

It is now widely acknowledged that during the G8 Summit at Gleneagles in 2005, the Metropolitan Police sent numerous undercover officers into Scotland to spy on activists. Amongst them was Mark Kennedy who had between 2003 and 2010 infiltrated numerous campaign groups and had formed intimate relationships with women. These relationships were furthered with a considerable number of visits to Scotland. Undercover officer Carlo ‘Neri’ targeted a woman known publicly as ‘Andrea’, and had been welcomed into her Scottish family.

The Metropolitan Police have conceded that ‘relationships like these should never have happened. They were wrong and were a gross violation of personal dignity and integrity… these relationships were a violation of the women’s human rights, an abuse of police power and caused significant trauma’.

As you are aware, Tilly Gifford, a social justice campaigner based in Scotland, is bringing the Judicial Review. She was also targeted. In 2009 officers had attempted to recruit her as an informant. In return for cash Ms Gifford was asked to spy on her friends, betray her beliefs and the communities in Scotland she had been campaigning and supporting. She was threatened with prison if she did not co-operate. Ms Gifford recorded these exchanges and they later appeared in ‘the Guardian’ newspaper. The identities of those undercover officers have never been established, and it remains unclear who or why a decision was made to target Ms Gifford.

As is the case for many activists who may have been spied upon in Scotland, the answers to these questions fall outside the remit of the UCPI because it is limited to England and Wales.

Legal Aid, the Scottish Legal Aid Board (SLAB) and Independence.

SLAB initially rejected a claim for legal aid claiming the case had ‘no merits.’ After the decision of the Court of Session to accept that the case should proceed to a full Judicial Review hearing, SLAB claimed that the case must show a ‘good probability’ of success. As I am sure you are aware this is the wrong applied test. The case requires a ‘probability’ of success.

This decision appears to be running counter to access to justice. This case raises important administrative, constitutional and human rights issues. It is essential – as understood by the European Court of Human Rights – that in matters of state surveillance, which is a breach of human rights – that the state is held to account. The decision of SLAB is preventing this from taking place.

In light of the above, I call on you to:

  1. Conduct an investigation into the decision of the SLAB to refuse to grant Legal Aid;

  2. Prioritise the issues raised in this letter within the Scottish Government; and

  3. To submit a motion recommending that the Justice Committee / Parliament formally recognise the importance and sensitivity of the concerns raised in this letter in respect of possible undercover policing operations in Scotland, and crucially, the need for the SLAB to grant legal aid in order for the courts to adequately investigate and address these issues.

Without legal aid Ms Gifford will be unable to access justice, and she along with many others who were subjected to this treatment, and the wider public, will be unable to know the truth about undercover political policing that has taken place in Scotland.

Yours sincerely,

AGFS Consultation Response

The Ministry of Justice is consulting on proposed changes to the Advocates Graduated Fee Scheme, which pays barristers and solicitor-advocates to conduct legal aid work in the Crown Court.

The Haldane Society has provided a detailed response to the consultation.  We oppose the proposed scheme which we believe, despite the Ministry of Justice's claim, represents a significant cut to fees.

Download our response here, or read it below.

Labour Legal Aid Review

The Labour Party is currently undertaking the Bach Review into legal aid.  The submission below was prepared by the Haldane Society in response to a request for submissions.

The submission advocates for the restoration of the areas of the funding affected by years of cuts, notes the terrible impact on individuals of the removal of legal aid, and highlights the position of those at the junior end of the profession who are no longer able to make ends meet because of the cuts.

Click here to download the submission.



Industrial Action: Monitoring the Effects

The Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers has campaigned for years for direct action by the profession to defend access to justice.  Direct action is currently ongoing amongst criminal law solicitors and barristers. 

It is essential that we learn the impact of the action.  Alongside grassroots campaigns and other professional bodies, the Criminal Bar Association is playing a role in organising the action.  They have set up a monitoring system to establish the impact that action is having so far.  This is set out below.

No Returns

If you returned a case due to a diary clash, we would invite you to try and follow it up, where possible, to see what became of it. Please send the information using the following form:

https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/CBANORETURNS2015

If you have accepted a return on the 27th July or beyond, equally we would invite you to fill out the form so the action can be monitored properly . The information collected will be used simply to monitor the action and not to single people out who have chosen not to participate by accepting returns.

No legal aid order

If you are in the Crown Court and witness a defendant appearing who is not in receipt of legal aid, through the solicitors action, we would invite you to fill out the following form:

https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/MonitoringOrders

Equally, if you are instructed in a post 1 July matter which does have a legal aid order in place, please use the same form. Again, this information is not being collected to stigmatise those who are accepting new work, but rathe to monitor just how many representation orders are being applied for.

Criminal Bar Association ballot on direct action

We have this afternoon sent the following message to members.

Since the Justice Secretary, Michael Gove, announced his intention to press ahead with dual contracts and a further cut to fees of 8.75% (totalling 17.5% cuts in a year) meetings have been convened around England and Wales calling for a boycott of work at the new rates and a return to "no returns".

Following a meeting of lawyers in Liverpool on 25 June 2015 at which it was resolved to continue to fight the cuts, a wave of further meetings in cities including Birmingham, Bristol, Leicester, and Manchester has seen overwhelming support for refusing work at reduced rates until Gove reverses the cut. Members of the executive committee were present at one meeting in London packed with over 150 practitioners - where around 28 sets of chambers were represented - who overwhelmingly supported motions for direct action.

We believe that this momentum must be seized and that direct action should resume as soon as practicable. Unfortunately, the Criminal Bar Association refuses to heed its members. In May 96% of those who voted in a CBA ballot backed direct action. The CBA now wants to ballot its members again, with a question which presents the action already underway as only involving solicitors.

We urge you to vote "yes" in the CBA's ballot on industrial action. It is not the question we would have posed. It does not seek to oppose dual contracts. From criticising solicitors only a week ago for not acting, the CBA now seeks to frame the action as only the concern of solicitors. The CBA again is falling prey to the Ministry of Justice tactics of divide and rule. We believe in unity of purpose and unity of action. This is not solely the Bar's fight or solely the solicitors' fight; it is a fight against the Government and most importantly to protect legal aid. We must remember that above all.

We have supported direct action since these plans were announced in 2013. We support it now. No returns was devastatingly effective when initiated last year.  It brought the professions together and instilled confidence that we had something in our hands which meant we could negotiate seriously with Government.

You can vote in the CBA ballot HERE

If you are a criminal barrister who is not yet a member of the CBA you can join here.

The ballot closes on 14 July.  The next day, 15 July, is the CBA AGM. All CBA members can attend and we also invite you to go along in numbers for what may be our most crucial meeting yet.

Outside of the CBA, we must continue to organise together throughout the country. Only with local action and national co-ordination can we be properly prepared to win this struggle.

LCCSA & CSLA meeting on direct action

When the coalition government published its Transforming Legal Aid green paper in 2013 the Haldane Society was among the first to call for lawyers to take united direct action to stop the plans. More than that, we argued for a broad-based campaign bringing together lawyers, charities, trade unions, activists and the public. We worked closely with the Justice Alliance which continues to do so much to ally people and groups who care about and need legal aid. We saw the paper for what it was: a deliberate and targeted assault on a vital pillar of the welfare state.

Last year the professions achieved the previously unthinkable and organised successful days of action and a policy of no returns. We should have confidence that it can succeed once more. We opposed the deal and we condemn the Criminal Bar Association’s recent backsliding in the face of an incontrovertible mandate for further direct action. Yet we remain of the view that its role in negotiating with the Government is key. But only in unison with solicitors.

Therefore we welcome the convening of a meeting by the Criminal Law Solicitors Association and London Criminal Courts Solicitors Association on Monday 29 June at Garden Court Chambers whose aim is to forge a common defence against these cuts. We urge all criminal law professionals to attend and to unite in our opposition to the damaging cuts and the dual contract scheme. 

Criminal Bar Association Ballot on Direct Action

All CBA members should have received the CBA Chairman's Message last week from Tony Cross QC. 

In this incredibly important email, the CBA Executive agrees that we are now in a "watershed moment". The damage of the new Duty Provider Scheme (the "two-tier contracts" issue) is outlined, a policy which endangers access to representation, the quality within the solicitor branch of the profession, and ultimately the independent criminal Bar by reducing the number of duty contracts from 1600 to no more than 527. 

It therefore asks its membership the following "yes or no" question:

"Would you support action, 'No returns' and 'Days of Action' if the new government decides to proceed with the Duty Provider Scheme, reducing the number of solicitor providers by at least two thirds?"

This is a question referring to the actions of the Bar and does not refer to collective action with solicitors. However, this is not merely an issue which only affects solicitors. We remind independent criminal barristers of their unique position within the criminal justice system, which made the "no returns" action so successful. The CLSA and the LCCSA will support criminal barristers in this action. 

For any of you with doubts left as to whether this is a fight only for solicitors, even the CBA has stated that the two-tiered scheme will "destroy the quality of legal representation within the Criminal Justice System", that  "[t]he most able and committed young lawyers will have no future, and the independent bar will collapse."

We know that the UK is going to be hit hard by the next 5 years of a Tory government and that justice will be hit just as hard with Michael Gove as the new Lord Chancellor. Now is the time to rally and to take direct action to save legal aid. Return to No Returns! Save Legal Aid. If not you, who? If not now, when?

We urge all of our Haldane members who are also members of the CBA to vote YES HERE(We remind you that only CBA members can vote.)

The closing deadline to vote is 5.00pm Tuesday 19 May 2015. Please vote early so you do not forget!

If you are a practising criminal barrister at the Bar of England and Wales and you wish to join the CBA in order to vote in this consultation survey, please contact Aaron Dolan at aaron.dolan@criminalbar.com immediately to join or re-join the CBA.

In the Wake of the JR Result, a Message to the Profession...

...Join, or Die

Our profession may not survive the government's latest assault on legal aid.  We must fight together in one united campaign to prevent Grayling's destruction of the rule of law.

Download the Join or Die leaflet.

Visit out Legal Aid Resource Centre to download the latest leaflets and posters in the campaign, or contact the Secretaries of the Society for hard copies.