Monday, August 14, 2006

Meet Vera Baird QC

I went to a meeting today in Cambridge to meet the Legal Aid Minister Vera Baird QC. The meeting was attended by about 40 to 50 other solicitors in order to discuss the Carter Report. The meeting consisted of the Minister and Derek Hill of the Legal Services Commission taking for about 30 minutes about the implementation of Carter, and then they answered questions for the next 90 minutes.

I had been looking forward to this meeting as I had a number of questions to put to the Minister. I was somewhat, selfishly, disappointed when most of the time was taken up by answering questions on the civil implications of Carter. When the subject turned to crime a local solicitor started to exaggerate the circumstances of waiting around at the Police Station claiming that he had been called to the Police Station four times in the past ten days and made to wait for three hours. I have no doubt that he did have to wait but not for three hours, four times, in the past ten days. This exaggeration detracted from the seriousness of the crime reforms, and the true impact they are going to have.

When I was able to get myself heard in the room I asked the Legal Aid Minister if any exceptions would be made to fixed fees for waiting in the Magistrates Courts allowing solicitors to claim for time wasted that was not their fault. During my exchange I was told that solicitors would have to alert the Department for Constitutional Affairs about delays caused by third parties so that the DCA could resolve the problems in the future in order to make fixed fee payments work. I replied by quoting examples of waiting that was caused by the fault of others, and then pointed out that a report produced by Professors Cape and Moorehead a few years ago alerted the legal world to the fact that waiting was a part of solicitors work and that the waiting was generally the fault of other parties. Unfortunately my exchange with the Minister broke down, she talked over me, and when I tried to talk over her she replied in a Question Time like manner, "Will you let me finish please." The verbal traffic was very one way in that I was talked at. Eventually the Legal Aid Minister decided that I was not being courteous enough as I was taking up too much of the question and answer session time. She made us all raise our hands and we had to wait to be selected before we put further questions to her, unfortunately she decided not to pick me for any further questions so I grew tired of trying to ask questions and put my hand down.

From this meeting I have gleaned that the basic principles of the Carter reforms are going to be brought in by the government. This was no big surprise. I have been told that if I object to the proposals then I need to put those objections in writing. Again this was no surprise. I intend to reply to the government consultations on Carter but if my written responses are treated anything like my verbal questions today I cannot see much notice being taken of my point of view. I simply hope that if more people voice their concerns the government will listen to a large number of voices.

8 comments: said...

"I simply hope that if more people voice their concerns the government will listen to a large number of voices."

I wouldn't hold your breath waiting for that to happen.

Smartie said...

Hello. Nice blog idea. As a criminal pupil wondering whether Crimes the way to go in this career, your archive that i browsed through was very insightful :)

PS: I nicked one of your links which i found amusing (solicitors from hell) ;)


Anonymous said...

Vera Baird QC is an example of what I despise about this Government. She has gone from being an outspoken critic of the way that the Government has treated the criminal justice system to being part of the very system that seeks to destroy it.

Clearly Blair thought it best to have someone on the inside pi**sing out than someone on the outside pi**sing in.

As for shouting you down and talking over you - much like the Carter reforms eh?

Anonymous said...


There will (despite reforms), always be a place for top quality criminal advocates (I say advocates - who knows what we will be called in 2026).

The top sets and top advocates will survive - not sure about the rest.

Smartie said...

>The top sets and top advocates will survive - not sure about the rest

Hi Wig and Gown,

I agree and thats my thinking. You see the formation of these 'super sets' of Chambers who will rake in the Criminal work due to their reputation. The middle (where i am at) and lesser known chambers in London will disappear. I think provincial Chambers will be securer places to practise.

I'm actually applying in-house for non-criminal work, and thinking to throw the towel in over the coming few months (i'm a 3rd 6 and survival is getting tough).

Anonymous said...

same thing that worries me

Anonymous said...

from what ive seen of vera baird in the press etc i am of the opinion that she is an acidic evil tongued woman who should be burned at the stake as a witch.

maybe that last bit was OTT but i hope it gets across that i seriously dislike that woman and your tale of woe reaffirms my opinion.

i remember a few mnths ago she lambasted a judge on radio 4 when i was travelling back frm uni and i said to my father that the wretched woman would be seriously rebuked for her comments , 3 days letter a full apology and retraction was squeezed out of her by charlie falconer. I laughed my little head off over hearing that on radio 4 when it came thru, classic :)

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