Nigel Edwards QC has been nominated to apply for the position of Vice Chair of the Criminal Bar Association. Please take the time to read his manifesto and cast your vote.
Nigel Edwards QC
The CBA will never be a means to any other end for me, and I hope my fellow candidates will echo that sentiment resoundingly.
I was newly appointed Silk on the 20th December 2018 and was sworn in on the 11th of March this year.
I got silk by hard graft and against the odds, not unique I know.
But I now find it ironic that coming from a one parent background, where my mum worked multiple jobs for a pittance doing her very best every day where nothing was for free or came easy, I now find myself in a world where the expectation is that we work long hours, very often for free and always for far less than we deserve.
I have grave doubts that the youngsters of today will be able to do what many of us did. Social advancement and proper diversity is withering on the vine.
People that once earned a good living are being driven from the profession in droves, those that deserve to come into it are denied opportunity.
This has to stop and we must make sure we stop it before it’s too late.
A lot of people have asked why senior juniors can’t stand for Vice Chair and become chair, why is the rule so restrictive? I don’t know!
I’ve only just finished 22 years as a junior, so perhaps you get the best of both worlds from me, a Silk with instant, enduring and burning recall of being a Junior. I can hardly have forgotten what it’s like to be a hard working junior, nor what has happened to our Junior fees, both prosecution and defence.
I’m still getting paid them, or what little is left of them once the LAA has slashed them to the bone and further, or refused payment for some banal nonsensical reason.
I am hacked off almost every day with every petty deliberate disingenuous reduction imposed by the LAA.
I wanted to be a Silk because I wanted to be the best at what I do. I believe that this is the best job in the world.
I do not EVER want any kind of judicial appointment. I do not sit as a Recorder, and I have no intention of ever applying.
Those who know me, and there are more than one or two of you around the country, will tell you that I am as good as my word.
A Barrister is all I ever want to be, this is my only career path and I have nothing else.
I came into this profession after aspiring to become a full time rugby player and succumbing to a long term injury, I came in after initially training to be an economist and wanting to be a number crunching actuary, and I came in after discovering the Bar through a mate and finally finding what I knew I wanted to do and be.
I am Yorkshire bred, strong in arm and perhaps sometimes thick int’ed, stubborn my wife calls it. Utterly single minded and stubborn.
I have appeared in most of the Crown Courts in London and on each and every Circuit in this country, both for the defence and the prosecution.
I have a reputation for fighting hard but always fairly.
If elected I am going to bring that fight for my fellow members, be they pupils, juniors, or silks, to those in power.
If you prosecute, defend or both I will represent you. If we take action and judges or others complain I will be the first to appear in your defence
I will also ensure we give whatever support we can to our solicitor friends, I can’t not, I’m married to one.
If I get this wrong, if we get this wrong, and the Bar and the solicitors don’t achieve our aims, I have nowhere else to go.
It has been said that some long past leaders had been vulnerable to influence, with one eye an appointment, and because of this had allowed gaping wounds to fester whilst treating them with short term fixes, sticking plasters.
I am in no position to know if any of those criticisms are true. I would hope they are not, but in reality I care less. The past is the past.
Put simply, that won’t ever be me.
The CBA will never be a means to any other end for me, and I hope my fellow candidates will echo that sentiment resoundingly.
THE RECENT VOTES AND THE WAY FORWARD
It is only right that you know one or two things about me.
Firstly, I recently voted for action and then against the suspension of it.
I didn’t think there was any other way forward than taking action, and latterly I didn’t feel the deal for those that prosecute was good enough.
I didn’t think the fees offered were sufficient, or were going to be provided quickly enough and that too much time was going to be spent afterwards in prevarication and kicking the can down the road.
I did and do understand what a difference it will make to the lives of many, and I did and do understand why we voted the way we did.
I do accept that vote to suspend, and as vice chair I see my role as one where I look forward, not back over my shoulder, I will bring unity and more than a little hope.
Someone quite famous recently called hope an audacity, “a willingness to take bold risks”.
Rudeness, recriminations, and disrespectful behaviour are divisive, and at this time they will simply do more harm than good and get us nowhere. It must stop.
I fully support those hopes, they must be given full effect, and the full weight of the membership must be thrown behind it and them and future negotiations.
However, if elected as Vice Chair I will not hesitate to call for any and all necessary action, should the ministry of Justice, and more broadly the government, renege on any of their promises to fully engage, or fail to deliver on what have been described as the CBA red lines.
If they perceive and take our audacity for stupidity on any level they will quickly learn the error of their ways.
I recognise and want to build on the work of others who have brought us this far, but with an extra surge of energy, (and utter sheer stubbornness) that will take us over those red lines we/you have drawn in the past.
If you want to know how stubborn, ask a few colleagues and perhaps a few judges.
THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM
The CJS we all know it is at its very lowest ebb. It is slow, it is cumbersome and, as a we say in Yorkshire it’s “Brassic”, it’s “skint”, it has shamefully been allowed to fall to its knees
The Chief Inspector of Constabulary in his annual assessment of policing recently added yet another voice of concern when he described the Criminal Justice system as “dysfunctional and defective”
Successive Governments have stripped away at the funding of the Criminal Justice System as a whole. On present projections annual public expenditure on justice will have been cut by 40% in real terms between 2010 and April of next year.
This has not only impacted upon the morale we once enjoyed and now lack, but also on the basic standard of court buildings, prison conditions, probation services and the Judiciary.
Whether you are a prosecutor or defender, Junior or Silk, Barrister or Solicitor, leaver or remainer, this is a critical time for the Criminal Justice System. It is without a doubt a critical and perhaps pivotal moment for the Criminal Bar and strong leadership is called for.
If elected vice chair I intend to bring that strength of leadership, together with a single minded vision of what is fair and what is right.
MY AIMS AND AGENDA
Our immediate task will be to concentrate on the responses from CPS and MOJ.
The debate within the Criminal Justice system and indeed the CBA must be broadened.
By no accident of history, expenditure on justice is unprotected, unlike both health and education.
All three are essential, necessary attributes of any civilised society.
The law, justice and the rule of law, is the bedrock in which society allows itself to find anchor.
It is long past time that we took control of the narrative about the Bar, the criminal justice system, and all that work within it.
If elected I will seek to persuade both the public and the powers that be, what we do, how we do it, is essential/ important, and that without us the very fabric of society is at risk.
I will make it plain that any failure in the system, including any action that needs to be taken by us, will be and is the fault of government, the fault of the politicians and the fault of the civil service mandarins.
I will seek to unify the Bar as between those members who prosecute and those who defend, between Junior and Silk.
I will do so whilst striving at the same time to unite the Criminal Bar with our sister profession with whom we work so closely on a daily basis.
I have a very wide range of contacts who work tirelessly in the other representative bodies, who both trust me and I trust them. We are agreed we can work together and I will seek their cooperation immediately on being elected.
With that unity in hand, I will strive to negotiate on a level footing with the MOJ and Government alongside those representative bodies, and where necessary alone.
It is time, in a unified way, to do something to reverse the assault on a system of criminal justice that was once the envy of the world.
If elected Vice Chair, together with the strength of will of the incoming Chair Caroline Goodwin QC, during my tenure I will seek to put an end to the continued false promises, the assault on fees and decimation of the fabric and infrastructure of the Justice System.
My election and Caroline’s move to chair will be at the most crucial of moments in our history, we have known one another for many years and we will bring both strong leadership and the necessary determination to succeed.
In doing what is needed, I give my word that I will always say it how it is, I will always speak for all, and will never be afraid to do so.
For me, my goals at the bar are not yet and won’t ever really be fulfilled. Always the next case, always getting better.
However, right now my next goal is to see that our profession survives, those within it flourish, and once again we become the envy of the World.
MY OBJECTIVES ARE AS FOLLOWS;-
The Junior bar is being taken advantage of like never before. Prosecutors, those that defend and those that do both have suffered appalling cuts in recent years, all while being undermined and criticised at every turn.
The Junior Bar is under remunerated! Fact!
I have just trained my last pupil, and it is apparent just how woeful her fees are and that a lot more money is required, as is a fairer distribution, if we are to keep those of her quality.
Indeed if we are to ensure social mobility and that the broadening of all forms of diversity is to continue, a properly funded Bar and CJS must be fought and fought hard for.
Proper remuneration throughout the system must be provided, so that as people move onwards they can provide for families, so that diversity is optimised by ensuring that at pivotal moments in life funding doesn’t just disappear and people are not driven from the profession.
If elected vice chair I will seek to ensure that a unified approach is taken to work with the Circuits, Bar Council and the Law Society and the three main solicitor representative bodies the CLSA, LCCSA and SAHCA to stave off any future assault on fees.
I will work tirelessly to address all areas of concern, both prosecution and defence, about fees and seek increased proper remuneration at every level.
I will seek proper payment for all work done, used material and unused, in the small but nutty or complex cases through to those described as paper heavy.
I will focus on the governmental and parliamentary structures of where power lies and ensure discussions take place with those making the decisions about funding and the policy that underpins it.
I will work without rest to ensure the morale we once enjoyed returns and there is more than hope or a mere audacity of the same.
Warned Lists must go!
None payment for seemingly irrelevant mention hearings must go!
Last minute removals from long standing lists must end, court rooms and funding for recorders must be found for the wellbeing and welfare of all.
It is not acceptable for the Ministry of Justice to have 8 courts closed in an 11 Court centre.
Shoddy Court Security Measures for professional Court users must end!
Previous work by previous leaderships have made inroads but it is far from ideal. Respect and manners costs nothing.
WELLNESS AND WELLBEING
I will strive with the CBA executive members, the inimitable Mary Aspinall Miles and all others involved, to address the psychological effects of the profession. I will seek to ensure support and its provision will be available to all
We all deal with traumatic and stressful cases; I dealt with two young teenage double killers in 2017. It impacts on me still. It can leave unseen scars at every level and it needs recognition, it needs addressing.
This was something they taught at Bar School, it now needs to be and it needs to be addressed. I am proud of those in my chambers who have achieved recognition in the provision of this area for our members.
I want all of us to enjoy the same facility.
I will seek to promote psychological wellbeing and wellness within our profession on every level, and I will ensure it proper provision is achieved.
DIVERSITY, AWARENESS AND SOCIAL ADVANCEMENT
This is and will be at the heart of all we do and what I hope to achieve should I be elected as Vice chair.
I am unwilling to allow the ladders to be pulled up and an I’m alright jack attitude to pervade our system and ruin all that has been so hard fought for in the past few years.
If the Bar and our sister profession cannot be truly representative of our society as a whole we have failed, society has failed. We cannot stand for or allow any further cuts, they will make this an inevitability.
We must fight for proper funding which will allow this effect to be reversed, to allow members to assist in the provision of that funding as we have for years.
I will seek to ensure this failure stops here and stops now.
YOUR VOTE MATTERS
Alongside my practice I have, for almost 14 years, helped run a successful commercial mediation, negotiation and PR company.
I am good at this and I believe I can use those skills to make a difference here and now.
I ask all of the Bar, Junior and Silk, prosecutor or defender to vote for me.
I have an instructing solicitor who often repeats to me an anecdote from a closing defence speech I once gave to a jury in the Moot Hall at Newcastle, it was about promises and failures, he compares it to how the MOJ treat us all:-
“Ladies and Gentlemen, the prosecution made you promises at the beginning of this trial, they said they would prove this and that, all would be wonderful, all would be perfect, all would become clear.
I hope the vegans and vegetarians among you will forgive me.
They have in fact produced nothing more than “a shambles”; they have taken you to butcher’s shop, one where you were promised the finest steak, said to be the best, none better. But all you have in fact been given is Tripe.
To add insult to injury it has come with a heavy lacing of vinegar from my learned friend, the kind that does little but leave a bad taste in your mouth”
The MOJ and various flavours of government have all done this to us at various times. Promised the world and done little but leave a nasty taste when they defaulted on them.
I don’t want to give that speech to the next aspiring pupil who joins my chambers, or the next person who fears they that they cannot survive having dedicated so much of themselves to a system that doesn’t value them.
For my part there will be no backsliding. If the MOJ or others try it, they will be met with a solid wall of resistance:- from top to bottom.
I don’t believe in banging a desk for the sake of the plaudits on social media, I DO believe in getting the job done.
I will start planning for our responses to government failure the minute I am elected as vice chair, and/or build on that considered by others hitherto. I will hope it never comes to that.
I will sit down in robing rooms and listen to you. Every week I will be available by phone and email for you to discuss matters with me.
You might want to tell me that you have had enough of fighting. I will listen to that.
You might equally want to say that you want us all to down tools the next day. I will listen to that too.
It’s going to be all about listening, learning, and acting.
I won’t ever fight shy of giving offence if I feel something needs to be said.
Equally I won’t take offence if someone stands up and says I’m talking nonsense. But people do need to make sure they are solid ground when and if they choose to do so.
All of this, and more, is why I am standing for vice chair and why I ask for your Vote.