Authors:Sue James
Last updated:2023-09-18
Editorial: Summer of discontent
Louise Heath
Description: Criminal bar strike 2022_Sue James
I had the privilege this summer of watching two of my oldest friends marry on a beautiful Scottish island. They had chosen a stunning beach location, which was ably assisted by the 27-degree heat, glistening indigo sea and complementary sky. It was idyllic, but the journey to and from the island wasn’t – with delays, cancellations and disruption for everyone relying on public transport, and I’m not talking strikes, just the infrastructure breaking down.
But public transport is just one part of the infrastructure that feels broken in Britain; the supply of water is another. The Guardian recently reported that since privatisation no new reservoirs have been built, yet shareholders have been paid £72bn in dividends and those running the water companies have received £58m in pay and benefits over the past five years. The failure to invest and repair is now becoming more apparent as we experience a rise in temperatures, and it is consumers who have to pay, with a 40 per cent increase in charges and hosepipe bans. The footage of raw sewage being pumped into the sea is just horrific and media reports claim that this is down to Brexit as the UK doesn’t have the chemicals necessary to treat the sewage.
But it’s the rise in fuel and food prices that feels the hardest outcome of a broken Britain. Ofcom announced the new energy price cap on 26 August, which will come into force from October. It has risen by an incredible 80 per cent. Hearing this just increases the feeling of ridiculousness and irrelevance of the Conservative leadership contest for most of the population. The reality of the suffering for many, and the increasing hardship to come as temperatures drop, is missing from the leadership campaign. Profits over people is strikingly apparent and Labour seems to be missing in opposition. What is a government for, if not to ensure on a very basic level that the people it serves have a roof over their head that is safe and secure and adequately heated, and enough to eat? I was shocked to find out recently that Ealing (where I live), once named the ‘Queen of the Suburbs’, was the fourth highest in the UK to give out Foodbank parcels,11 April 2021 to 31 March 2022. with only Sheffield, Birmingham and Newcastle upon Tyne ahead. You can see why campaigns such as Enough is Enough and Don’t Pay seem to be taking hold as grassroots organisations start to organise.
The past few months of escalating strikes – criminal barristers, the RMT, the tube, buses, airline staff and postal workers, with predictions of teachers and NHS staff to follow – very much suggests we are witnessing a summer of discontent that seems likely to spill into the colder months. The provision of legal aid is essential to enable a justice system that is fair for all and there is no doubt it is in crisis. The cost of living increase will inevitably result in more legal need, but we have a justice system that is collapsing in on itself through lack of adequate funding. There has to be change – the Criminal Bar Association, by striking, is calling for that change, and we support them.
As seen on the front page of the Daily Mail (23 August), justice secretary Dominic Raab has accused barristers of ‘holding justice to ransom’. Kerry Hudson, a criminal defence solicitor and director of Bullivant Law, responded on Twitter:
As an owner of a firm who does 95% criminal legal aid, I feel like solicitors are being held to ransom. We are being backed into a corner to sign another legal aid contract which effectively ignores the current crisis in the criminal justice system.
The same is true for civil legal aid solicitors – unless you sign, you can’t do legal aid work and striking has the potential to lose you the contract. My son is 25 years old and for the whole of his life, legal aid rates have not gone up – they actually went down 10 per cent in 2013. There are advice deserts across England and Wales and things will only get worse as more lawyers leave legal aid.
Kerry continued:
The barrister strike is an action to save us all, to save legal aid for all. Victims, defendants, witnesses and the wider public. If you believe in the NHS, then believe in legal aid. You never know when you might need us.
Kerry is right!
Closer to home, I am pleased to welcome LAG’s new chair, Ros Bragg, and look forward to working with her as we develop LAG’s new strategy. We also welcome Sarah Golding as our new bookkeeper, and say a fond farewell to freelance workers Zerlinda Ranasinghe, Heloise Gillingham and Jo Walters. All three have contributed to LAG’s success and we wish them well in their journey on.
Finally, the LAG website, which is key to our new strategy, and which we know could work better for our users - you will be pleased to hear that we are going to do something about it. But (there is always a catch) we need your help to do so and would like you to join us on London Legal Support Trust’s Walk the Thames on 15 October. We would love as many of you as possible to walk with us and help us fundraise: sign up, raise money, join our walkers and wear your very own LAG T-shirt. Just email if you want to join us. If you are unable to walk with us on the 15th but would like to donate, then you can do so here.
1     1 April 2021 to 31 March 2022. »