Thirteenth Letter to the Lord Chancellor

Thirteenth Letter to the Lord Chancellor, Secretary of State for Justice,

Mr Chris Grayling,

26th March 2014,


Re: Book ban for prisoners

Dear Lord Chancellor,

Tough on literacy, tough on the causes of literacy: congratulations on your ban on sending books into prison under the newly written rules. You and I don’t need to read books so why should people who have committed a crime be allowed to receive them?

This media fuss is a good opportunity for you to promote your political career by emphasising your right wing credentials to the Tory grass roots. Continue reading

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Twelfth Letter to the Lord Chancellor

Twelfth Letter to the Lord Chancellor, Secretary of State for Justice,

Mr Chris Grayling,

16th March 2014

Dear Lord Chancellor,

Don’t fret about the wide use of the new term ‘grayling hearing’ (n. court hearing abandoned because of absence of a defence advocate). All publicity is good publicity for your stab at the leadership of the Tory party after the next election. The key thing is to avoid a meltdown of the criminal justice system in the run up to the General Election (in May 2015).

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Eleventh Letter to the Lord Chancellor

Eleventh Letter to the Lord Chancellor, Secretary of State for Justice,

Mr Chris Grayling,

28th January 2014,

Dear Lord Chancellor,

Let me congratulate you on your Transforming Legal Aid response to the consultation, published yesterday. I think that my imps did a pretty good job cloaking its savage implications under a veneer of reasonableness. You have listened to your opponents and ignored them all: bravo!

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Tenth Letter to the Lord Chancellor

Tenth letter to the Lord Chancellor, Secretary of State for Justice,

Mr Chris Grayling,

22nd January 2014

Dear Lord Chancellor,

Following our emergency summit meeting in the Pontefract bunker before Christmas, can I take stock of the strategy we then decided?
1. Get rid of Lord McNally and replace him with anyone, simply anyone. Was Simon Hughes MP the best Nick Clegg could come up with? At least his first public pronouncement, asking Magistrates to double as defence lawyers to save costs, is the sort of madness that is in keeping with the MOJs hitherto direction of travel.
2. Publishing on the first working day of the New Year the earnings of all the leaders of circuits, in the Daily Mail. I see that Gregory Bull QC, former leader of the Wales and Chester Circuit, was named and shamed as earning £102,792 last year; well that’s the last we’ll hear of him, I hope. LOSER. Continue reading

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Ninth Letter to the Lord Chancellor

Ninth letter to the Lord Chancellor, Secretary of State for Justice,

Mr Chris Grayling,

19th November 2013,

Dear Lord Chancellor,

Thank you for your letter, or should I say cri de coeur? Who knew being Lord Chancellor would be so difficult? I think you are correct when you state that Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice are totally incompatible posts. I see the key problem you identify: (1) the Secretary of State for Justice is a political role that requires a hard hatchet approach to reduce the spending of the MOJ (on behalf of the Treasury), whilst (2) The Lord Chancellor is a quasi-judicial post that requires the upholding of justice and judicial impartiality and the defence of the rule of law. The choice of the first is to cut legal aid whereas the duty of the second is to defend it from cuts. I also see that your strategy hitherto of stating that you are defending justice whilst actively undermining it is becoming less easy to pass off. Some of your triumphs in office as Secretary of State for Justice:

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Eighth Letter to the Lord Chancellor

Eighth letter to the Lord Chancellor,

Lord Chancellor, Secretary of State for Justice,
Mr Chris Grayling,

10th November 2013,

Dear Lord Chancellor,

Well, I’m back. I have just returned to the UK after, as you know, a few weeks travelling on your fact finding mission to Zimbabwe, Somalia and North Korea. I will provide you with my full report into the benefits of their criminal justice systems in due course. But in summary I can inform you that no legal aid need be provided at all for a criminal justice system to function very satisfactorily indeed.

However I am concerned to find on my return home that your splendid legal aid reforms are still being opposed by intelligent and well-informed people who are not remunerated by legal aid, and so are entirely impartial. On a more positive note I see that able and experienced criminal barristers are leaving the profession daily. The second MOJ Consultation: Transforming Legal Aid period has just closed (on 1st November 2013) for responses to your proposals to cut both the methods of paying criminal barristers (the VHCC scheme and the AFG scheme).

1. All the Treasury Counsel have signed an open response stating that “There is no demonstrable need to further cut the very low rates for advocacy under the VHCC scheme” and that options to reduce the AGF scheme is based on a “flawed analysis”. They argue that further cuts will reduce the quality and supply of criminal advocates.

2. The CPS response is still posted on their website and states that it is essential for there to be a viable, sustainable and highly qualified self- employed criminal bar, not least because the CPS uses them and expects to rely on them for advocacy services in future.

Had you proposed a cut to the fees that the Government pay these people, its own lawyers for goodness sake, they may have been less treacherous to their pay-masters. But the savings to the MOJ budget are not to be found from their pockets, you have perhaps unwisely decided. Why can’t they see that if the defendants they prosecute are not represented by adequate defence counsel then convictions will be obtained much more easily? The prosecutors in North Korea aren’t so wet, I can tell you.

The legal aid cuts in family law made in April 2012 are beginning to bite. Experienced and able family practitioners are leaving the family bar. Lady Hale, Deputy President of the Supreme Court, in a recent speech about the cuts to legal aid for litigants in family law said “how can there be a real possibility of going to court to settle matters fairly if legal aid is not available to the one who cannot afford a lawyer?” What does she know about fairness, she’s only a Supreme Court judge? Does she not realise that the MOJ hoped that as a result of the cuts more potential litigants would enter mediation instead? Lord McNally said that one way to save money, and do some good, and avoid litigation in family cases was to encourage mediation. Mediation in divorce cases has a success rate of settling 2/3 cases and also reduces the emotional cost of contentious litigation whilst saving the public money as well. How on earth did Lord McNally get it all so wrong? The number of divorcing couples using out of court mediation since April 2012 has virtually collapsed. In April 2012 there were 12,415 people who went to the formal meeting to explore mediation and by April 2013 this had halved to 6090. Before the reforms it was a pre-condition of obtaining legal aid that potential litigants must go for a formal exploration of mediation. And that’s not all; there has been a corresponding increase in people applying to the family courts (without lawyers) and representing themselves. The courts are clogged up, hearings take longer, the cost to the taxpayer is increasing and the benefit to couples of mediation is lost. So the MOJ legislation has at a stroke practically cancelled the savings made by the cuts and led more divorcing couples into acrimonious litigation. Lord McNally really failed to brief the department properly on this one didn’t he?

Lord Justice Moses chided the Prime Minister in a recent speech for not knowing the real meaning of Magna Carta. He lampooned the MOJ’s attempts to encourage international business into the London legal world to resolve litigation and criticised the proposed cuts in legal aid at the criminal bar as a reform that will lead to an inevitable reduction in advocacy quality. In identifying the dangers of falling standards he said “if lawyers are not to provide services of a quality above a level specified by the state, why should judges?” So I salute your riposte to Moses LJ when you announced a global summit in London in 2015 on the 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta. The world knows it as a document that has provided a long history of freedom and justice for the English from the arbitrary authority of the state. Nevertheless you, Lord Chancellor, see 800 years of Magna Carta as “a tradition that still provides the foundation for the best commercial and legal environment for business to flourish” and can be therefore celebrated at “a world class conference showcasing the UKs unrivalled legal expertise”. You, leading the way yet again, see it as a promotional tool for impartial legal services for Russian oligarchs, Saudi Princes and other foreign business litigants for global corporations. Moses LJ seems to have absolutely no sense of business justice, does he?

Who do Lady Hale and Moses LJ think they are? You are the Lord Chancellor and the Secretary State for Justice, for heaven’s sake, not them. These judicial trouble makers must be neutralised. When I was in Kenya I examined their recent legislation: Vetting of Judges and Magistrates Act 2011, and it makes interesting reading. Can I suggest you study a copy with a view to introducing it to the British Parliament? There was a symposium at the American Society for International Law on 7th November 2013 about this vetting. Judicial vetting was described as the screening of behaviour of individuals and assessing their integrity and stability. Lady Hale and Lord Justice Moses cannot be described as stable if they disagree with the Lord Chancellor of England and Wales, can they? A Board convened under the new Act in Kenya has sacked four out of their nine Court of Appeal judges after they were found to be “unsuitable”. All I’m saying is: have a look at it, it may be just the ticket.

One of the other benefits of your legal aid cuts is the decimation of the members of the awkward squad: the trouble makers who still have the temerity to continue to challenge the power of the state. Tooks Chambers (who existed on 90% publically funded work) dissolved on 27th October 2013: well done. Their barristers represented, amongst many others, the Birmingham six, the families of Stephen Lawrence and Jean Charles de Menezes and families at the Hillsborough Inquiry. These barristers were a thorn in the side of our police and security services weren’t they? Always remember: if troublesome lawyers can’t expose miscarriages of justice, then by definition there won’t be any miscarriages of justice (at least not reported in the newspapers). As Secretary of State for Justice you should know that well enough.

And on a similar theme I see that the Government has introduced clause 151 into the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill (due to be debated in the House of Lords next week). If passed it would prevent victims of miscarriages of justice from obtaining compensation for the time they spent wrongfully in prison in this country. Ministers hope to amend section 133 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 which currently allows such compensation and restrict it to only those who can prove that they are “innocent beyond reasonable doubt” (reversing the burden of proof). If passed it is anticipated the change will save £100,000 a year and has the additional advantage of allowing these victims of the state to know that they have made their small contribution to the reduction of the financial deficit of the state.

The extra £100,000 saved by clause 151 being enacted can go to the exchequer for some more appropriate purpose. I see that the new justice minister, Shailesh Vara, is quickly on message in his article in the Huffington Post on 8th November 2013. He said that legal aid cuts are needed to create a system that “protects those in need of protection whilst also commanding the confidence of taxpayers who fund it.” I see, by the way, that he had to repay £1,531.98 of his Parliamentary expenses for claiming expenses BEFORE he entered Parliament. He’s is just the sort of Parliamentarian to restore the confidence of the taxpayer. The £100,000 saved by clause 151 can go to many such disserving causes.

So on this Remembrance Sunday, let’s reflect on the sacrifice of those brave men and women who fought and gave their lives in the Second World War to save justice and freedom from the threat of authoritarian states, so that you could turn it into a business opportunity.

Yours patriotically,

the intrigant

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Seventh letter to the Lord Chancellor

Seventh letter to the Lord Chancellor, Secretary of State for Justice,

Mr Chris Grayling,

2nd July 2013.

Dear Lord Chancellor,

Congratulations, the U-turn you have announced on client choice for criminal defendants on legal aid is a master-stoke. As we discussed last week, in your bunker under Pontefract Castle, the concession has had a number of very positive advantages:

1. The hostile members of the Justice Select Committee have been thrown off balance and now have only 24 hours to develop a new tack for questioning you when you give evidence tomorrow. It may help restore your reputation as a more sure-footed politician, after being hopelessly outmanoeuvred over the last few weeks. Your letter to Sir Alan Beith on the issue yesterday almost made you sound statesmanlike: “However, I have heard clearly from the Law Society and other respondents that they regard client choice as fundamental to the effective delivery of criminal legal aid. I am therefore looking again at this issue, and expect to make changes to allow a choice of solicitor for clients receiving legal aid”. No wonder you were able to write in the letter to Sir Alan “I look forward to discussing the proposals with the committee.” Ha! That’s not what you said to me last week in Pontefract (when I ran out of tissues trying to dry your self-pitying tears).

2. Further, it confuses those who stated that the consultation was a sham.

3. Those Conservative MPs who spoke against your plans at the Parliamentary debate in the Commons last week, which you wisely elected to avoid whilst electioneering in Bedford, have been brought back onside (and therefore back into the broad church of Grayling supporters in advance of any future party leadership campaign). The potential candidates on the right of the party, remember, are few so your toadying to the Treasury on cuts in the spending review and your right wing ideological plans for privatisation of some of the courts are crucial to you now. By saying “the rationale for proposing this change [the removal of client choice]…is not a policy objective in its own right” shows to the party faithful that it is not a real concession but merely a little tweak.

4. Also, the petition having reached 100,000 signatories has been dealt with. It was worded thus: “The MOJ should not proceed with their plans to reduce access to justice by depriving citizens of legal aid or the right to representation by the Solicitor of their choice.” You were never going to abolish legal aid and you have conceded on the right to representation by a solicitor of choice. Job done. The petition may have become an irrelevance.

5. And best of all it has divided the opposition. The Law Society could see your concession as their victory and then concede on everything else you want. (Ken Clarke made some minor concessions to get the bulk of the LASPO proposals through; this has the potential to be your pacifying decoy.) Our Pontefract strategy would then have worked! In the last 24 hours, since your announcement, duty solicitors have turned on small solicitors firms, small solicitors firms have turned on the large firms. All have turned on the Law Society. There is the delicious danger that they will all fight like rats in a bag for their livelihood and wages. Before, the opposition was united on the ground that removing client choice was not in the public interest (for the simple reason that it was not in the public interest). And you saying to the Commons today, at Justice questions, that the Bar Council did not show “the same degree of constructive engagement” as the Law Society can only enhance this divide and rule strategy.

The beauty of all of this is that the other objectionable parts of your plans will be able to pass through unhindered and unnoticed:

• The ‘residence test’ which leaves the Government free to act unlawfully anywhere outside Britain, with its victims denied access to justice. And provides those trafficked into this country and forced to act as prostitutes with no redress if arrested.

• Prisoners (including children) in custody will not be able to challenge unjust Government decisions affecting their incarceration.

• The lowering of experts fees by 20% (on top of the reduction from 2011) that will have the effect of reducing experts of the highest calibre being available to the courts, as criticised by Her Majesty’s Council of Circuit Judges.

• The fee tapering proposals which sets the same fee for guilty plea as for trial that will provide a financial incentive for some lawyers to ignore their clients best interest and pressurise them into pleading guilty, even if they are innocent, described by the Bar Standards Board as a “high risk strategy”.

• The reduction in the use of QCs and junior counsel for serious and complex cases, even though the Recorder of Leeds Peter Collier QC said that, in his experience as a judge who presides over murder trials, two counsel often “saves time and money”.

• The 17.5% cut in fees across the board, that totally ignores the 71% of the public who are concerned that the proposed legal aid cuts will lead to innocent people being wrongly convicted (ComRes poll 21st May 2013).

• Denying legal aid for judicial review for cases until they achieve permission (justified on those figures shown to be inaccurate by the Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law), a proposal that has been called “unconscionable” by the 150 Treasury Counsel in their letter to the Attorney-General.

Let us hope the broad coalition opposing your legal aid plan doesn’t step back and re-concentrate on your remaining unjust proposals. Let us hope the above proposals, that are clearly NOT in the public interest, slip through the net. Let us hope that the opposition argues within about who was, and who was not, present at the Law Society meetings with you and who is stabbing whom in the back. Let us hope that they don’t get a grip, calm down and concentrate on the proposals you are still standing by that are wrong in principle. Let us hope they don’t see the woods for the trees.

I see that you’ve been sent a letter by the Information Commissioner’s Office asking you to obey the law following your website being spotted as one that may have unlawfully gathered the data of visitors without their consent (via computer cookies). How on earth are you expected to know the law, you’re only the Lord Chancellor for heaven’s sake? My imps are scurrying within the internet server at the MOJ offices in Petty France now to resolve the issue. Whilst there, as you asked me to arrange, they are frenetically deleting emailed responses to the consultation paper. It is a bit awkward, I agree, that some of the lawyers who responded to the paper ‘tracked’ their emails so that our deleting them has now been spotted. Anyway the MOJ press release claiming technical glitches and you saying you are ‘confident’ seems to have held the line, for now. You keep telling people to re-send their emails and we’ll keep deleting them. These lawyers are a deviously suspicious bunch. How could they not have confidence in your confidence?

My chief imp has, at your request during the Pontefract bunker summit, placed the musty robes of one of your Lord Chancellor predecessors on eBay for £454. The late Earl of Kilmuir (Sir David Maxwell Fife, when he was Attorney-General) was a fine predecessor of yours (Lord Chancellor 1954-1962). He refused a plea made to him by Derek Bentley thereby allowing him to hang, despite the jury recommending clemency and a similar petition from 200 MPs, and Bentley having a mental age of 11. Those were the days! That, my friend, is how you deal with a troublesome petition. However he was not all good, I see that he was one of the people who drafted the European Convention on Human Rights. So you are quite right to dump his robes, as poetic inhuman and degrading treatment, onto the market place for dressing-up clothes. Spend the £454 wisely.

Finally, my imps are, as we speak, delivering favourable planted questions in brown envelopes to Nick De Bois (C, Enfield North) and Rehman Chishti (C, Gillingham) your two most favourable henchmen on the Justice Select Committee. Good luck tomorrow.

Yours, already in position under Sir Alan’s chair with a spike,

the intrigant.

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