Recorded Delivery - Open letter to Mr Spence QC

Simon Spence QC - Red Lion Chambers - Manifesto

Dear Mr Spence QC

I am one of the ‘postmen’ to which you refer so disparagingly to in your manifesto seeking election as Vice Chair of the Criminal Bar Association.

I am incensed that you have sought to suggest that members of my profession should be paid a penny less than we are now.  I am incensed that you think my only role in the profession is “instructing counsel and inviting them on to the CCDCS”. I am incensed that you think I get paid more to simply “deliver the post” than you do to “read and digest it.”

Perhaps you need to think a little more about what you have so boldly stated for all to read.  Let us think about how us ‘postmen’ deliver your work and what we do for the fee that we get paid. 

Firstly how does the’ postman’ receive the work? There are of course a variety of different ways in which we are instructed to deliver your work.  In the main for ‘postmen’ like me it is because of reputation.  A reputation that was not built by simply delivering a brief to counsel.  Believe it or not Mr Spence the criminal justice  system consists of more than just the Crown Court which sees only a small percentage of cases.

As ‘postmen’ we represent our clients at the police station and at the Magistrates Court.  Representation at the latter being paid for by the litigators fee that you believe ought to be cut.  As ‘postmen’ we see our clients on countless occasions before your brief is even delivered by us.  As ‘postmen’ we are instructed because of the job that we do and let me tell you it involves far more than just delivering your post. As ‘postmen’ our clients regularly turn to us with a manner of problems that don’t ever come anywhere near your letterbox.

Think about how you get paid Mr Spence.  Legal aid isn’t just handed out.  As ‘postmen’ we sit with our client and fill in the forms.  We obtain the necessary financial evidence and we submit the application.  We do all of this so that both of us get paid.  How do you suppose this would happen if the ‘postmen’ didn’t exist?  You see Mr Spence this is just one of the things you appear to be completely unaware of. I say one of the things because I doubt that you have any idea what being a ‘postman’ actually entails and what a difficult job it is. 

You clearly have no idea what the LGFS pays for and yet you have taken it upon yourself to openly suggest that the government might like to cut our fee to pay you more.

As a starting point Mr Spence this is what the LGFS covers;

•             The first appearance at the Magistrates Court plus any bail application

•             Completing and submitting legal aid

•             Reading all of the evidence (including unused material which can run to many thousands of pages not incorporated within PPE)

•             Attendance upon the client for initial instructions

•             Attendance upon the client for comment upon all of the evidence (and unused) served

•             Attendance upon witnesses

•             Viewing CCTV/listening to audio material

•             Considering electronic evidence

•             Attending at Court

•             Instructing experts

How many times have you undertaken any of the above Mr Spence?  That is precisely why we receive a different fee. Our jobs are different. They should not be conflated and neither of us should be seeking to reduce the fee paid to the other.

Your carefully thought out analogy Mr Spence clearly shows how little you know about your sister profession.  One would have thought that someone seeking to speak on behalf of their profession might have taken a little more care before offending as many of us as you have.  Solicitors have a difficult job, much of which is unseen by you, our clients or the government.  Solicitors are tightly regulated with requirements to have in place recognised “quality marks”  [Lexcel or SQM], to have a COLP, to have Supervisors, to have staff on call 24/7, to have an office, to have access to digital evidence in court, to submit legal aid electronically and to conduct training.

These are significant overheads and a further financial burden upon Solicitors which must never be overlooked. Indeed to disregard the financial burden in respect of internal and external regulation of Solicitors when considering the impact of reducing our fees is a recipe for disaster and is also one of the reasons that the levels of remuneration for Solicitors as compared to the Bar are incompatible.

So you see Mr Spence your suggestion that the problem of underfunding for the bar can be dealt with by “simply a re-allocation of funding away from the litigator’s fee” is fundamentally wrong and is one that ought never to be repeated or canvassed for.  The simple fact of the matter is that both sides of our profession are underfunded and both sides of our profession ought to be working together and never at the expense of the other.

Yours Sincerely

Zoe Gascoyne

Chair Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association

ps. I have nothing but respect for the postal service who do a difficult anti-social job at low pay which is something we do actually have in common. 

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