We wanted to update you on some of the work we have been doing on your behalf.
We continue to believe membership is fantastic value for money, whether it be for individuals or for those using the ‘firm membership’ option which provides further discounts, but we are aware that the pandemic has hit firm’s bottom lines hard. We are therefore pleased to announce that, whilst much of government support will be ending in September, our discounted rate for membership will continue for the forthcoming membership year, which means a 75% discount to just £25 for individual members, and discounts for firm membership as well, which includes the Court ID card.
We are pleased to be able to say that our ID card system launched this year has proved a great success and we have issued large numbers of cards, to members and non-members alike. To our new members, we say ‘welcome’, and to our existing members ‘thank you for your loyalty’. Whilst you do not need to be a member to apply for a card, the best value remains in full membership as the cost of the card is included.
Criminal Legal Aid Review
We have continued to engage with the Criminal Legal Aid Review and as well as detailed submissions our Chair has had a number of meetings with Sir Christopher Bellamy, who also attended one of our Committee meetings. Sir Christopher is touring far and wide and is anxious to speak to practitioners, and so if the opportunity arises, we encourage you all to speak to him about your experiences.
New Crime Contract
The Legal Aid Agency has announced that there will be a tender for a new contract with the LAA and we are engaging with them about the terms of that contract. We will of course update members as and when we can, and we will be making the case for the contract to reflect changes in working practices in the last 18 months, such as hybrid working, and remote attendances, many of which we expect will be a preferred way forward for many firms.
Joint Interim Interview Protocol
During the pandemic we have been working with the police, CPS, HMCTS and MOJ to ensure that our members can continue to practice without an undue risk to their health caused by the pandemic: the Joint Interim Interview Protocol (‘JIIP’), which we are a signatory to, has allowed remote attendance at police stations; the use of CVP has allowed remote attendances at courts and prisons; and, as one of the contributors to the report recommending Nightingale Courts, we have led the way in securing extra capacity in the system to try and tackle the backlog, but there is so much more to do.
We are pleased to be able to say that following constructive discussions with the other signatories, the police station protocol will continue beyond the 19th July 2021 date the government has announced for the relaxation of many measures against the spread of covid. There will come a time when it is right for us all to return to police stations en masse, but now is not it. Infection rates are very high and increasing, and whilst the vaccine programme has been a huge success, we must not forget that the vaccinated can still become infected with coronavirus and can spread the virus (the latest research appears to suggest 2 vaccines reduced the risk of onward transmission by around 50%, and according the government briefing on 19th July 2021, 60% of those hospitalised with covid19 have had both vaccinations). We cannot afford to be complacent. We must also not forget that not everyone can have the vaccine, and many more have only had one dose as yet (which offers, relatively speaking, only slight protection against hospitalisation and serious complications from the COVID19 Delta variant) and the latest estimates from the government’s own advisors are that as many as 1 in 8 who are infected, even those who have asymptotic infections, can go on to develop long term health issues (so called ‘Long COVID’). With upwards of 50,000 infections being reported daily, that is a lot of people at risk. We remain of the view that it is the experts, and not the politicians, who we will be guided by, but ultimately our members will make their own informed decisions as a group of well-informed, highly educated and highly professional individuals.
A change in government policy does not necessarily mean a change in good practice, and we would continue to urge everyone in the CJS to protect themselves and others by reducing the chance of infection and taking simple steps such as avoiding unnecessary contact and wearing masks. Good practice, together with the vaccine programme will be our route out of this pandemic, but that will require everyone to have had both vaccinations, something we will likely not achieve before September. Good ventilation is essential but remains an issue at Custody suites, not because of any policy decision being taken, but because of the very design of custody suites. That means extra care has to be taken in these environments.
We are therefore in discussions with the other signatories to the JIIP about a further version of the protocol rather than simply ending it when the current version is to in due course end. We will update members when we can about the progress of those discussions. For our part, we are clear that the Protocol was never intended to be permanent and there is a wider discussion to be had about the role of remote advice at the police station which no doubt will be happening in the near future. In the present however, whilst it is the aspiration that we can return to our more familiar way of operating in the coming weeks and months we should remain vigilant and monitor the infection and hospitalisation rates. In accordance with the government’s own strategy, for example, we would suggest a gradual easing of the protocol might be appropriate, rather than a ‘cliff edge’, with an interim period during which our members can safely choose to attend custody suites, or work remotely if required. Any new version therefore must in our view continue to make provision for remote attendance where appropriate, even if the expectation in a larger number of cases is that defence representatives attend in person.
Whilst the provision of PPE has been fairly consistent across Custody Suites, the use of it has not been and we have urged that the use of PPE continues, and indeed improves before our members can return to the police station in the numbers previously seen, especially given that a dreaded app ‘ping’ or positive case has the potential to cause entire firms to have to isolate. Put simply, the provision of legal advice by our members remains at risk and it is entirely possible that if infection rates continue to grow exponentially, many areas will find it difficult to provide services to those accused of crime due to a lack of available solicitors and agents. Our duty to look after ourselves and our colleagues is a duty to protect the very access to legal advice. We will therefore only agree to any protocol if it remains in our view safe, and appropriate mitigations are in place to reduce to risk of infection. If and when there is agreement on what the next phase of the protocol looks like, we will update our members.
We are also pleased to announce that we have agreed a discount with Sweet and Maxwell for 25% off Archbold for this year for a limited time and 15% of the White Book, and other titles will be added on an ongoing basis. We will publish details on how to access these discounts via our website in due course.
We’ve also held webinars led by experts and have added articles form experts, most recently on Encrochat, to our members area.
Sadly we were not able to get together for our usual Conference last Year, and we have made the difficult decision not to do so again this year given the uncertainly with the pandemic and wanted to avoid taking risks with members’ money. We are hoping that, exceptionally, we may be able to all get together in the Spring of 2022 and, all being well, we look forward to making further announcements in due course and seeing you all there.
DANIEL BONICH, Chair
JONATHAN COUSINS, Vice Chair