Obiter commends the Ministry of Justice’s impeccable timing.
News that the government would be pledging a further £8m for criminal legal aid advocacy was announced on 24 November – just hours before hundreds of barristers descended on central London for their annual conference. Where, as it happens, lord chancellor David Gauke was billed to speak.
Lord chancellors know all too well that the sort of barrister who gives up their Saturday for the annual conference is usually at the stroppier end of the profession, or as bar chair Andrew Walker described himself last year, a member of the ‘awkward squad’. Even though, for the first time in living memory, no alcohol was served with lunch.
In the event, Gauke’s speech was politely received, even though it came from a mere solicitor. The lord chancellor threw in a brief mention of the ‘extra £8m’ and a commitment to work with the relevant bodies, and got away without even a hint of a hiss or a boo.
Another factor that may have helped was the Criminal Bar Association’s decision to host its own annual conference elsewhere on the same day. The CBA’s members might have given Gauke a tougher time.
Even so, the lord chancellor was taking no chances. There was no time for questions: Gauke was off stage before the half-hearted applause died away.