It is reassuring to know the Bar will, even without a clear mandate, stand shoulder to shoulder alongside their solicitor colleagues
The last weekend of June saw Pride in London and in many cities around the world. The legal profession joined the annual pageant from Baker Street to Whitehall.
Maybe it was the glorious sunshine, or that the US Supreme Court (SCOTUS) had only the day before made it possible for every American in a same-sex relationship to marry their partner but, whatever it was, the capital was in a jubilant mood. It was time for a party.
As I have previously said, Pride has for a long time been a show of protest and a call for recognition. Now it is a show of unity, no matter who we are, where we come from, or what we do. It is a powerful symbol of the power of togetherness and one that continues to make international headlines.
This in mind, I considered whether it is time for the profession to take more pride in itself and to share in the infectious unity that I saw on the streets of London. I have been reassured that we are already heading down that road.
It was with a warm heart and high spirits that I followed – through the standard medium of Twitter – a series of meetings across the country in which lawyers voted in favour of direct action against the latest round of legal aid cuts.
The 8.75 per cent reduction in solicitors’ fees kicked in on 1 July. Since then, lawyers in many of the country’s key cities have refused to act in new legal aid cases. Direct action is, in all but name, a strike by a profession which values justice and access to it over financial reward.
What has been surprising is the apparent flip-flopping of the Criminal Bar Association (CBA), which initially said it would not fight solicitors’ battles for them, having itself done a deal with the government on payment of barristers’ fees in March 2014.
However, barristers have come out in support of direct action, with 400 barristers adding their voices to the ballot conducted by the London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association and the Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association, which received almost 1,200 responses with an overwhelming majority in favour of action.
Having taken into account the strength of feeling on the issue, the CBA balloted its members who voted in favour of action, just.
Now, one of the largest criminal chambers in the country has come out in support of their solicitor counterparts. A statement from Exchange Chambers said its barristers would not undertake any new legal aid work after 1 July and also implemented a ‘no returns’ policy from Monday 6 July. It is reassuring to know the Bar will, even without a clear mandate, stand shoulder to shoulder alongside their solicitor colleagues. It is now up to the wider legal profession to show their support.
Just ahead of the legal contingent in the Pride parade was the Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners (LGSM). If you have seen the film Pride, you will recognise LGSM. It has been 30 years since a group of London-based homosexuals supported the plight of striking miners in Wales, yet here they were again, marching alongside the unions.
I’m not anticipating an annual parade of lawyers through the streets of London, but if we can look back in 30 years’ time and know we made a difference to clients, future lawyers, and our colleagues, I, for one, will stand proud.