Why Heather Small (of M People fame) should be Lord Chancellor

Posted: 21/02/2012 in Barrister, Legal aid, Pupil barrister, Solicitor
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No, I haven’t gone mad, well, perhaps a little.

Recently FTD discovered a dark secret on a shelf in his living room. Yes, the M People Greatest Hits CD. Having laughed to the point of possible hernia I started to text some of the boys.

‘Housemate’ has got the M People Greatest Hits CD.

The result has been a monumental in-joke between my mates. The culmination of which was karaoke on my birthday when the back catalogue of M People was at our fingertips. ‘TV Blonde’, ‘Bearded Monogamist’ and I jumping around singing you’ve got to ‘Search for the Hero’ inside yourself and so on. The girls just looked on in utter shock.

So now I’m reacquainted with the lyrical works of Heather Small, I’ve got to say, I reckon she’s on the right track for our justice system:

We need a change, do it today – M People Classic: Proud

The Police, the Government, the lawyers and increasingly the public agree that we need a new approach to youth justice. Putting youngsters in the criminal justice system quite simply doesn’t work.

One of the recent oddities mentioned in the latest raft of legal aid changes was what ‘breed’ of lawyer could appear in the Youth Court. Out of no where there was the suggestion that only Barristers and Solicitor-Advocates would be allowed to appear.

In the present climate that is simply not possible. For one, the CPS do not have enough in-house Counsel or Solicitor Advocates and don’t have the money to pay the independent Bar. And on our side, again we just don’t have the bodies to cover everything.

But, if we reformed criminal justice for young people we could have sufficient personnel. The problem with the youth justice system is that it is clogged with minor offending, many offences are summary only and many would have previously been dealt with by a school or words of advice from a sensible police officer.

So why not be bold, children should not be tried for summary-only offences. Think of the money and time that would save.

Crispin Blunt recently stated,

It is crucial that frontline workers focus their efforts on improving outcomes for young offenders, not on filling in forms and ticking boxes. 

Well there we have it, let’s be bold and try something new. Believe it or not, in Jamaica last month they opened four new restorative justice centres. We’re falling behind because we’re simply not willing to try.

We need a change, do it today.

Just who do you think you are – M People Classic: Moving On Up

If recent tweets are anything to go by then it’s probably not a good idea to lock Barristers and Solicitor Advocates up together in Youth Court Advocates’ Rooms.

I was embarrassed to read how one twitter friend (sorry can’t remember who) said he heard, ‘Oh solicitors don’t understand the importance of advocacy and tactics’

@_millymoo made it worse, when she described, ‘I have seen a barrister look at an extended hand and say oh are you solicitor’

I like to think I have a good relationship with my instructing solicitors, I helped out ‘Favourite Solicitor’ when she was doing her higher rights. It doesn’t bother me that she’s got a wig now, far from it. Without her I’d have never got my big breaks. Ironically when I was in my first set a tenant returned a brief to me and ‘Favourite Solicitor’ was a bit panicked when she knew she was getting a pupil. The client and I got on and we did well. From then on, trust has built and work has built up.

I don’t have a God given right to appear in the higher Courts because I did a pupillage rather than a training contract.

The Bar isn’t what is under threat. What it is under threat is the need for specialist advocates. My fear is not the Solicitor Advocate. My fear is that the Government will do away with the dual fee system. In Crown Court cases, the litigator (so traditionally the solicitor) gets paid one fee and the advocate (so traditionally the barrister) gets paid another.

There’s a separate role so that individuals have their cases prepared to the extent required that they can be properly presented in the Crown Court. So  in short, whilst ‘Favourite Solicitor’ is at the police station, or in the office taking instructions and investigating witnesses, I am at Court, or back in chambers drafting applications or defence statements.

The Government are keen to cut legal aid fees, especially in crime. (That’s why solicitors have come to the Crown Court in the first place – not because they’re greedy or want to take over the world).

The only way to stop them cutting fees further is to show that the specialist advocate is still worth paying for. That means working together with our solicitors, and solicitor-advocates, not being at war with them. If we’re all at war then those separate fees will go and it will be the client who suffers.

I fully recognise that the sleeves on my gown are meaningless. What is of meaning is my reputation as a specialist.

If the Bar and Solicitors can’t stand together and protect litigator/advocacy fees then the clients will suffer. Solicitors are less likely to stand at our sleeved shoulders if we are publicly rude to them. And conversely, Barristers are less likely to stand shoulder to shoulder with solicitors if they assume we’re all pompous and out of touch.

Don’t need no drugs to make me high, – M People Classic ‘Sight for Sore Eyes’

On the 27th February 2012 the new drugs sentencing guidelines come into force in both the Magistrates and Crown Court. They’re relatively unsurprising.

There is nothing in there to break the cycle of drug offending. And we spend 0.48% of our GDP on anti-drugs policies. That’s the highest spend of any European Country.

Our massive drug use in this country causes pain elsewhere. In particular in Latin America.

So what’s to be done?

Well, once HMS Dauntless is finished off the Falklands, I’d send her north to the drug exportation routes.

And at home, I’d probably decriminalise the user. I see little is achieved in simple charges of possession, even of class A. Take that money and invest it in arrest referral schemes and drug treatment facilities.

It’s not a Small job

Pardon the pun.  Of course Heather Small isn’t ideal for Lord Chancellor. I’m sure she’s not even interested in the job. However, what is needed is someone who wants to be and is allowed to be radical. The money spent on the current system is just not good value for money. We lock up the same people again and again and it costs us.

When Ken Clarke suggested increasing discount for early guilty pleas he almost lost his job. There was a media frenzy. The move would have saved money and would have encouraged more individuals to plead guilty.

The criminal justice machine does not need someone to tweak and tune, it needs someone to start to re-imagine the engine. And it needs a political party to be brave and stand up and lead, to take the fire and using the last Heather Smallism of tonight: search for the hero inside yourself.



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