Grayling is a menace. His department is frighteningly Kafkaesque
4 Nov 2014 at 16:21
In that great Palais de Wankerdom, the Ministry of Justice, Grayling’s peculiars have been up to their usual tricks. A few months ago I was defence counsel for one of the defendants in the Leicester fire bombing. This was the case where an innocent family were burned to death. This was an emotive, high profile and complex case which needed specialist and senior counsel. A High Court judge granted a certificate for two counsel per defendant. He also granted us our hotel expenses, which nowadays is a rarity. After a long trial, which was considerably shortened by the cooperation of the bar, we put in our bills. And this is where the trouble began.
Let me take you down a little trip down memory lane. A few years ago Jack Straw came up with a brainwave. Rather than the trial court computing and paying counsel, which was free, fraudless and quick, it was taken out of their hands and put into the paws of a new tier of bureaucracy now called the Legal Aid Authority. Needless to say the system is a fiasco. Whereas we were obliged to be paid within 28 days (we took a fee cut to secure this) it can take up to three months or longer. I would love to know how much extra this bureaucracy costs the taxpayer. The LAA is a dysfunctional, hopeless organisation who will use any excuse not to pay us for work done.
Now back to my Leicester case. I submitted my bill with the order by a High Court judge for a certificate for two counsel. Several weeks later the LAA were of the view that this was not valid. ‘But it is an order given and signed by a High Court judge. What do you think that we were doing for 9 weeks?’
‘Ah’, came the response, ‘it should have been headed In the Birmingham Crown Court. It is headed In the High Court of Justice’.
‘Of course it is, he is a High Court Judge’.
‘That may well be, but it doesn’t accord with our audit’.
So for weeks they refused to pay, until the High Court judge personally intervened. I was paid a couple of weeks ago. But they are still refusing to pay my hotel bill (no booze allowed) despite a schedule and receipts. This is not just nod and a wink to Kafka but a disgrace. As each counsel’s bill is ‘audited’ by a separate pointy head the same argument is on going with other counsel in the same case. And this is happening all the time.
Another little trick is putting evidence on disc. We are not paid to look at evidence on disc, like CCTV. But they have moved the goal posts. Now, telephone raw material is put on disc. I have one case that I have finished where there is the equivalent of 4000 pages they are refusing to pay. Despite that inconvenient fact there is legal authority to say that they must pay us it, is ignored. In large conspiracies where there are many defendants and flotillas of telephones the raw material has to be cross referenced and checked for accuracy. This evidence is vital, it can either destroy a defence or undermine the prosecution case. It is very often inaccurate. I would be rightly disciplined if I didn’t read it as I would be failing in my duty to my lay client. But despite courts saying that we must be paid, the LAA ignores them.
Can you imagine what the reaction if a consultant surgeon or a GP was treated like this? There would be an outcry. But we are just ‘fat cat lawyers’ (I bloody wish) representing alleged criminals. Who cares? Well, we do. Even the most wicked deserve a competent defence. That is why our system of justice is the envy of the world. Until Grayling vandalises and finally destroys it.
You may remember a few weeks ago Grayling was judicially reviewed over suppressing a report that undermined his plans to destroy the High Street solicitor and replace them with the likes of G4s and Serco. The latter, you may recall, is being investigated for claiming for tags of those who have died and were in prison. The money extracted from the taxpayer is over £100 million. The review was I the middle of a ‘consultation’. But an MOJ pointy head who gave evidence said that the suppression of the report didn’t matter as the decision had already been made! It is no surprise that Grayling wants to seriously curb judicial review. Mr. Putin would be so proud.
But there are no votes in lawyers. They can do what they like to us and the red tops will cheer. Until one of their own is accused of a crime. But then they can afford to pay privately. Grayling is a menace and the end of our cherished system of justice is nearly nigh.
Will nobody act?