Many criminal solicitors feel betrayed by the bar on legal aid. But they must not be embittered.
How long ago it seems since that heady January day when, despite the threat of further swingeing fee cuts, solicitors and barristers stood shoulder to shoulder, in defiant but upbeat spirit.
Brought together as targets of a common enemy, the historically prickly public relationship between the two branches of the profession softened and they protested jointly in the first united half-day of action.
It was the start of a brief dalliance, with the two sets of lovers dancing, if not quite in step and sometimes to the slightly different tunes in their heads.
Their second date in March – this time longer, with a full ‘day of action’, went off well.
But, like Bendrix and Sarah in Graham Greene’s The End of the Affair, the relationship would end as quickly as it had begun.
As the third, even longer date, lasting 48 hours loomed at the beginning of the month, behind the outward public displays of affection, the attraction was wearing off.
Barristers were ‘seeing other people’.
Then the hammer blow – bar leaders did a deal with the ministry, agreeing to call off direct action in return for a delay to their fee cuts.
The anger of solicitors is palpable. That hurt was compounded when the membership of the Criminal Bar Association voted this week to accept the deal. It was not helped by barristers who, in the wake of the vote, said they will continue to support solicitors in any way they can – something that had the hollow ring of the lover ditching their partner with the words ‘we can still be friends’.
Whatever the rights and wrongs, the affair between the two branches of the profession is over. Bill Waddington, chairman of the Criminal Law Solicitors' Association, said: ‘We are no longer burdened with having to look over our shoulder to see what our former allies are doing. But we can now just look after ourselves without any concern for any other part of the profession.’
Other solicitors used less temperate language to express how they feel about their former partners.
What difference it would have made had the unity lasted can only be speculated upon. With a government opposed to funding legal aid properly, or at least being indifferent to the need, many will argue that the deal is the best that could have been achieved.
When any relationship ends, of course, the parties need to pick up the pieces and find a way forward.
If the professions remain embittered, the real losers will be the justice system, the public - defendants and victims - and the rule of law. They are the children of the broken relationship, if you will.
The parents - the legal profession - have a duty to ensure they remain their priority and are appropriately safeguarded.
Catherine Baksi is a Gazette reporter