Praising judges and respect for jurors; your letters to the editor
Training levy is deepening inequality
James Kitching is quite right to call out the abuse of the apprenticeship levy in the legal sector.
We are seeing a situation where government money, intended to open up careers such as the law to those without a university education, is instead being used to further deepen inequality.
In a profession that already favours those from privileged backgrounds, it is a disappointing reality that a levy designed to encourage businesses to take on apprentices and benefit those from less advantaged socio-economic backgrounds, is in fact being used to fund graduate education for those who already have the odds stacked in their favour.
Clearly a rethink on the apprenticeship levy is overdue – it is not the answer to making a legal career accessible and affordable for all.
Far better to scrap the levy for degree apprenticeships and instead use the funding to support scholarships, bursaries and apprenticeships that provide access to a legal career outside the traditional university route.
Professor Chris Bones
Chair, CILEx (Chartered Institute of Legal Executives)
Praise judges doing their duty amid brutality
The recent call by Michael Thomas QC [former attorney general of Hong Kong] to support the justice system there would have been warmly approved by William Buhagiar, president of the Imperial Court of Ethiopia from 1957 to 1969.
Mr Buhagiar informed me on a long-distance flight in the 1970s of the daunting challenges he had faced in administering a justice system that, since the 1920s, was still holding some prisoners in chains and in appalling conditions.
He explained how, after mitigating the lower court’s sentence for a fatally ill prisoner to be flogged prior to execution, he learnt that the prisoner had died with lash marks on his body. When he asked why, the warder explained: ‘Because the lower court sentenced him to death and, when he became ill and was going to die anyway, I felt it was my duty to carry out the sentence of the court.’
I asked Mr Buhagiar how he had managed to dispense justice under such a regime. He replied that it was his duty to do his best to temper the rigours of a brutal justice system.
We can only applaud all judges who strive to uphold that worthy tradition.
Trevor Lyttleton MBE
Paying the price for SRA’s complaints remit
Someone complained to the Solicitors Regulation Authority that we (a) made a will for the deceased who did not have capacity, and (b) conspired with the other executor to defraud the local council and potential beneficiaries. The SRA asked to see our files. We argued that (a) was a matter for the courts and (b) a matter for the police. They insisted they were entitled to see the files. Who argues with the SRA?
Our file note showed both capacity in the client and the potential for mischief by the complainant. Nevertheless, we spent a great deal of time dealing with the matter only to receive a one-line email from the SRA taking it no further. They refused to let us see a copy of their response to the complainant.
The head of a large north-west firm told me that the SRA is now dealing with so many such complaints that they have had to take on more staff and introduce a triage system.
We get furious, but are busy and move on. Then the SRA email and ask to speak to me because they have a complaint about me from a defendant litigant in person unhappy with the way I am representing the claimant. The matter is issued and we have had two hearings where both judges leant over backwards to explain matters to him. Conscious of his ability to misunderstand/misinterpret matters, it takes probably three times as long to write anything to him as it would to another lawyer.
One phone call was enough to make the matter go away. But why is the SRA dealing with these complaints? Why are they not telling these people to consult a solicitor (or the police)? How is this part of their remit? How many people are they employing to do this work and how much is it costing the profession?
Past-president, Law Society (2017-18); Joe Egan Solicitors Ltd, Bolton
Respect for jurors
Sir Simon Jenkins is right about the shameful underfunding of the entire justice system (Seen & Heard, 1 February). The pandemic rendered a service already on its knees unworkable in any way truly consonant with the safe delivery of justice. That said, I disagree with him about abolishing jury trials.
As to ‘demarcation’, I earned my Higher Rights of Audience back in June 1995. Indispensable additional hoops had – rightly – to be gone through for that.
On the trial a while ago of my client, who was facing rape allegations, I had observed sotto voce to my opponent: ‘He absolutely looks the part.’ Indeed, he did. We professionals all run the risk of becoming case hardened.
As the case had unfolded, genuine doubts concerning guilt had been teased out for complex reasons requiring the closest attention of those jurors, tackling their duties with an independence of mind.
Following upon acquittal, the judge, in thanking them for their services, declared that the decisions on innocence or guilt had rightly been theirs and that if juries were ever to go then so would he. Many a judge I respected would tell jurors the same at the conclusion of other cases.
That case typified my general experience throughout my practising years. I dare to venture that the ‘snapshot’ impressions Sir Simon offers are just that: impressions.
My 47 years’ worth of jurors have led me increasingly to respect the way they go about their duties and, overall, the verdicts returned. True it is that, apart from a skilled judicial hand on the tiller, the calibre of advocates for all parties is also a vital ingredient. No way is that attainable in a system starved of funds.
Solicitor and higher-court advocate (retired); past-chair, Law Society Criminal Law Committee, Birmingham