Sunday, 7 September 2014

One for All......

David Cameron urged NATO countries not to pay ransoms to secure the release of kidnapped citizens. To do so, he said, was "totally counter productive". Apparently these ransom sums, although securing the release of someone's son or daughter, someone's father or sister, someone's friend or lover....someone, anyone; although it did this thing in securing and saving a life. A full life. Someone's life. Although it did this, it also contributed to terrorism as this money funded that activity which is a threat to the common good, to our national security. I have tried to understand that logic and to a degree, a very cold and dispassionate degree I can see its academic force. Indeed I have seen several very good sci fi movies premised upon that utopian and powerful premise of  'the common good'.  I remember one in particular about a society denied any passion. - music, art, poetry, prose etc to ensure the harmonious propagation of our species; to ensure there was no one individual worth more than the whole.

Am I alone in being utterly traumatised by what is being urged upon our fellow NATO chums by Mr Cameron? Am I seriously alone in having the deepest and most terrifying anxieties about Mr Cameron's righteous pronouncements? Kidnapping is no longer a game; it's no longer a political chess move. Mr Foley's brutal execution that was video recorded for all to see demonstrated that in ways previously unwitnessed by normal citizens like you or I. Citizens who might be Mr. Foley's mum or dad.  His lover or friend. I mean no offence to Mr Cameron, genuinely I don't, but it's not his children in a video about to be beheaded with a kitchen knife. And we have just recently learned that our government and Mr Cameron himself have known 'for some time' that IS have a British citizen hostage. He is apparently the next poor soul to have his head hacked from his neck. It is important to me at least that this is the context in which Mr Cameron has urged, in effect, that we all set our face to the wind....don't give in and let a hacked and hideous beheading be just that. Because we don't give in to terrorism.

Er.....hold on.  This next victim, this British citizen. Who asked for none of this and has no hope in the world but his country, his government and his faith. And most, no hope but in his Prime Minister. This man....we don't even know his name. This man.  Are you not giving him a name so in so depersonalising him he becomes just a number? Well, this number means something to me. This number should be the most precious prime number to any of us. It is in definable, unquantifiable. It is the value of a life. It is the length to which a nation state should go to protect one of its own. It is the length to which a nation state HAS gone to protect one of its own, when that 'one' is all. No person's life is worth less than another's. Mr Cameron's pronouncement effectively, and I hope this is not harsh...effectively says to our unknown citizen 'keep your chin up' as the blade penetrates his throat. It says to his mother and father (and I, like Mr Cameron am a father) 'sorry.  We could save your son's life, but don't you see? It would be madness.  We don't give in to terrorists. We have to think of the greater good'.

Understand. I do. I do get the politics.  I see the rationale. If it were my daughter? Fuck you. Fuck all of you. My daughter is NOT a number. She is a life. She is my life. And what does my country owe me? Owe her?  At the very least? If nothing else? Her life. Her life. Her life. At any cost. Because that cost has no number, is not quantifiable and is only measurable by the value required to secure it.

Mr  British Unknown, my heart truly bleeds for you as, like Christ on the cross at the hideous end, you will surely say of your country 'why have you forsaken me'? And I am afraid I am by no means certain that any answer will justify the image of your decapitated corpse that will no doubt be posted for your government, your loved ones and for all.  In fact, let me retract that last statement. The truth is that I am absolutely certain that nothing will justify such an image, such an eventuality.

Wake up. Wake up all of us. A policy of 'no payment for release' was fine when dealing with Time not Death. In a world where the terrorists, or ship robbers just kept their quarry captive. They didn't hack their heads off with pen knives. This is now a different world and one in which policies must change. If we can afford with all our riches to save a single life we should. We should.  We should. You all know full well we should. If it was my daughter on my life we would. If it was Mr Cameron's son.......I suspect we would.

Mr British Unknown, you are not a number. You are someone's son. Your life has as much value as mine. As my daughter's as anyone's. I would give every penny I had to secure your release. I wish to believe that our community too would do just the same rather than watch your beheading on Youtube.   I am ashamed to my core that the government we have elected are not only prepared to pothsumously pour over the video of your decapitated body for authentication, but before the event urge other countries to visit upon their citizens the same as, god forbid, awaits you.

Sometimes a nation is defined not by the sacrifice of the one for the whole. Sometimes a decision is lauded not for its consequence but for its intention. Sometimes the protection of the smallest right stands firm against the hugest wrong it gives birth to. When Kennedy said 'ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country'....there were those, just numbers to most of us today, who heeded that calling and gave their lives. Numbers. Just numbers. But not to those left counting the costs. And to my mind, if a country can call on one, then one can and should be able to call on country. Because that is who we are.  Who we want to be. We say to all our kith and kin, each and every one of our citizens 'ask what we can do for you'. Mr Cameron, you should pay for the life of our British captive as if it were your own. You should fight government and country to pay for it as if for the life of your child. Or mine. And but for the grace of God it could be either.  Do we negotiate with terrorists today? No. But should we? You decide which side of that fence you are on. I know where I am. And where you should be.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Killing conscience

I am utterly paralysed by the inhumanity of what happened to Mr Foley. I don't recommend anyone looking at the footage unless of a strong constitution. But words and news reports somehow inure us to the graphic reality of the true unbridled horror of pre - meditated execution. There is no Hollywood horror movie that could instil such fear and trauma as the 2 minute footage posted by IS. Execution is surely wrong whoever conducts it and whatever it's purported justification. I have no doubt a video of any state execution in those countries still operating the death penalty would be equally horrific and traumatising to a civilised person. How can any community tolerate the cold blooded taking of life in any circumstances? It is as abhorrent as a life lost to crime. Murder is a crime against state and religion. The most censorious commandment, thou shall not kill, is equally the most serious crime. Execution is no more than state sanctioned murder and there will be no better modern illustration than Mr Foley's traumatic footage. IS consider themselves a state and sanctioned the execution. The US sanction several state executions yearly. Many middle eastern and Asian countries execute drug traffickers regularly. I believe we, as Europeans sanctioned historically many executions that are no less horrific than today. Thousands of 'witches' we burned at the stake in the 1600's. The Catholic Church, of which I am a member, tortured and executed countless innocents in the name of the church. Our British legal system is the envy of the world in no small part to the moral authority and purity that the abrogation of execution invests in it. The same is true of every other significant national criminal tribunal conducting war crimes investigation. If as an individual you support the death penalty then you must support it, if state sanctioned, across cultural borders - it can't be ok in the UK or US but abhorrent in countries with political or cultural differences to the values we prefer. For example adultery is not even a crime in Western cultures. But it is indeed a crime in several countries. A crime to which the death penalty applies. Would anyone really say, 'well if that's the law, that's the law and off with her head....'? But to support state sanctioned execution is effectively to say just that. It's not the execution you would object to, just the offence that the state deem worthy of death. A shocking attitude for any person to hold, you may think. The evident truth is that no state, body, group or man can morally claim to hold sway over the life or death of another. For any reason. Period. All executions are equally abhorrent to the essence of our humanity. Mr Foley's execution was inhuman. As are the thousands if not millions of murders executed in the name of any authority throughout history. A moral conscience and execution are irreconcilable whoever you are. Jesus, who was tried and convicted to be crucified on what was, it seemed to the state, to be the grossest blasphemy - he claimed to be no less than god himself - was nailed to death. That 'open and shut case' is not one in which any of us would come forward to drive the first nail pinning him to the cross now we have the benefit of hindsight. And who would happily set the fire under the woman convicted of witchcraft then pray as her skin sizzled and burned? Who would shoot the poor soldier, no more than a child, who deserts his comrades in abject fear of the terrors of a war he had no wish to be party to? Laws change. We as a community change. Yesterday's most horrific 'crimes' are seen differently as tolerances, prejudices and attitudes dissipate or expand. Children hanged by their necks for theft by order of the very law to which I have devoted my working life are stains on the purity of the enlightenment of civil governance. Uncivil scars on the canvas of our pursuit of civil society. A life, my life, any life is not for taking. It is never justified and our historical experience is that an eye for an eye only leaves everybody blind. There are not many things that are simply inherently and immutably true, particularly in a constantly changing world. But one of them is this...thou shall not kill. Not in any circumstances premised upon the whims, dictates and views of those in governance. So I decry the horror of what happened to Mr Foley in the name of state and religion as I decry every single murder perpetrated in the name of state or religion. In a world peopled by communities with values and beliefs that are worlds apart my prayer is that the sanctity of life might one day be the immutable ground upon which humanity can build, secure that whatever the shifting sands, there is a bedrock upon which every one of us is in accord.

Friday, 10 May 2013

An anonymous lament at the demise of our Calling....

'Fuck em all' the description on a gift to Nadir,
May now be a trueism inescapable I fear,
For those of us labouring in our calling to law
Surely must be thinking 'what the hell for?'.

Should we just get for ourselves as much as we can,
Just as alleged against that Polypeck man?
Well my vocation, my passion my higher calling
Has been treated in a way no less than appalling.

Our wigs no longer the main cause of laughs or much mirth,
More funny that we'll be taken for all that we're worth.
That we are hostages to fortune makes me laugh till I cry,
And those representing our interests must be seriously high.

The Bar we have served and given our lives and our all
Is now making a mockery of the gift of our call.
For the proposed cut in our fees from what I can see
Is tantamount saying 'you should all practice for free'.

Most confusing to me is the loud silence from the Bar,
Not a word from these defenders of laws near and afar.
The adage 'a man representing himself has a fool for a client'
Calls to mind our representatives upon whom we're so reliant.

As barristers are bankrupted, fleeced and deceived,
Our representatives proclaim all they've achieved.
Our Bar is being murdered right under our nose,
And all we can do is wave as it goes.

Twenty years I have been fighting a cause,
Twenty years so proud of our laws,
And when Asil Nadir was told 'fuck em all'
Only the Bar missed this clarion call.

Truth is a vocation will never win
Against business or money selfish as sin.
One lives to give the other to take,
Callings can't win with those on the make.

So we soldier on,
Ignore the con,
Do right by our client,
Remaining silently defiant.

By Anonymous (we all are....)

Monday, 11 June 2012

So sorry so serious

I have just read my last post and have to apologise for the uncharacteristic gloomy and serious tone of this latest missive. Although I stand by its contents I must have been in a dark humour when it was penned! For those more used to my lackadaisical and whimsical take on life and law, the usual tone will be resumed...promise, you can trust me, I'm a, lawyer. Yep, that's it. Lawyer. TCB

Our progressive regressive Bar

For all the advances made by the Bar in the last couple of years, there is one facet of life as a criminal barrister that has certainly rolled back to the days of Marshall Hall and Norman Birkett. As cases have become more demanding and more complicated; as barristers are required to master professions other than their own - medicine, DNA, accountancy, blood analysis, fingerprint analysis, psychiatriatry, psychology - in the preparation and presentation of cases. In the face of these advances washing over criminal practitioners with the force of a Tsunami, carrying them on a wave of relentless change and development in the presentational aspects of criminal trials, one issue manages to swim against the current. And to do so with the determined obstinancy of a salmon heading for its spawning grounds. This issue? This matter resolutely marching back in time to the days of those old legends of our profession? This issue is that of fees. Our fees for practising as barristers. Our income. Our livelihood. The Bar is once again truely 'a calling'. A calling, in the purest sense, of course, is an irresistable urge to a vocation that is without consideration of livelihood. Those called to the priesthood, for example, follow that calling without consideration for matters such as income, standard of living or any of the other banal and base financial considerations of our modern age. In days gone by - long gone by - the Bar was a calling of the highest order, unconcerned with the taint of financial consideration or the requirement of regular and appropriate income. In those halcyon days, those who came to the Bar were, without exception, those who could afford this lofty calling. Those who had an independent income, or family money; certainly those who did not need 'a job'. If you needed a job, er...well, go get one. And if you wanted a job in the law, well, you could always become a solicitor. In these winsome days of the Bar, entrants to the profession were without exception from those in society who could afford a 'calling'. It seems that 'callings' in those days were the privilege of the elite, the establishment and the Old School Tie. Happily those days, and those views were discarded like yesterday's news with the progressive reforms the Bar has until now imposed upon itself. Today we like to think that the Bar is no longer the exclusive privilege of the exclusive privileged. We like to think that a career at the Bar is now open and attainable for all who are called to the profession. We, at the Bar, like to think a lot of things. Indeed, some may say that thinkers are all we have become as a profession; that we are paralysed by thought, by discussion and discourse. Some are concerned we are thinking and discussing our beloved profession to death. There has been much talk, much thought and endless discussion about the devestating decimation of earnings at the criminal Bar. Indeed the only thing worse to a criminal practitioner than contemplating his bleak financial future is to have to read or talk about it a moment more. We have been talked, lectured, analysed and bombarded into weary submission. Into paralysis actually. And with our profession thus in this morbid state, our representatives can go about doing nothing and pronouncing everything. It is a matter of intense curiosity to me that the income of criminal barristers can have been so dramatically slashed without a whisper of 'active' (as opposed to prosaic) protest, whilst in every other field of industry and commerce such a situation would be simply incomprehensible, an impossibility as immutable as a pro bono banker. And so I say again, the Bar is once again truely 'a calling'. Not a career. Not a job. How many of us at the criminal bar would advise university graduates to flock to the profession? How many would say that it was a vocation that provided security of income, let alone any income justifying the enormous demands the profession makes of us? I know anecdotally the views of my colleagues about the state of the criminal bar at present - I hear the same woeful notes played out in every robing room in every Crown Court up and down the country. It is a mournful tune, and one which has made me feel so truely sad about the morale of those esteemed colleagues with whom I practice. I remember the same robing rooms ten years ago, vibrant upbeat coldruns of legal testosterone. Talk was of cases, of cross examinations, of derring do; never then was a word said about fees. About income. Indeed surely those of us old enough to remember will recall how distasteful it was for a barrister to mention 'money' at all? It seems desperation and disillusionment trump distaste, and the extremity of the position faced by the criminal bar has forever, for me at least, changed the very essence of the robing room aura. I believe there is no other single issue that has changed the very character of what we so loved about the sanctity of robing room comradary and culture than our financial humiliation. For my part and from a personal perspective, I have for the first time found myself struggling financially. My commitments, predicated upon my income five or six years ago, have become increasingly difficult to meet. I know many at the criminal bar are experiencing the same distressing problems. Indeed, due to inexplicable bureaucracy and mind numbing accountability, barristers are having to wait ever longer to receive ever smaller fees for the cases they have conducted. Managing personal and family financial commitments is now completely impossible. Against this, the criminal barrister faces in the current economic climate an increasingly unsympathetic and unflexible financial environment - gone are the days of the large overdrafts afforded barristers by understanding bankers, getting a self - employed mortgage is an Herculean struggle and what were seen by lenders as being the benefits of practise at the Bar are now acknowledged as being detriments. Our financial standing has been ruined. This is an undoubted fact. Want financial standing? Want to be a good credit risk? Want a mortgage? Need I say it?.....don't come to the Bar. Why? Because a 'calling' to a financial instition (if not remunerated in accordance with its status) means 'don't call us, we'll (not) call you'. The objective observer might opine that 'if you can't afford to be at the Bar, you should not be at the Bar'. That may be harsh, but it certainly is true today. The problem is that I have devoted my life to my calling. After some 19 years at the criminal Bar I am as proud today of my achievements as I have always been. I could not contemplate doing anything else even were I qualified or capable of doing so. I feel let down. I have to say that I feel really let down. By whom? I am not sure as the buck is passed quicker than the flu. But I cannot escape the conclusion that we, the Bar, have been in some way the authors of our own biography. And our moments of paralysis have allowed others to write chapters of our story that were not part of the plot we envisiged for ourselves. Most of all, we have been writers ourselves. Talkers, discussers, robing room complainers. We need now to jump out of the pages of our profession and 'do' what is required to save not only ourselves but the future of the profession we have loved and devoted ourselves to. I don't want to read another word about what we may be planning or what we think...indeed this, my own written contribution to this inestimable volume of drivel I would happily see burned by those who wake up to what is infecting our profession under our very noses; on our watch. Do I have a solution? Well, I concede that 10 years ago those at the top of the criminal bar were earning very considerable sums of money. Ironically I was one of those lucky individuals who unluckily had his divorce settlement based upon those lucrative years - the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away, I guess. But back to the issue, I agree that a measure of diminution in the income of those earning the highest fees (and therefore involved in the largest cases) is justified. Indeed according to all the statistical data I have read (and we have been deluged with more than enough of it) the largest criminal trials representing a tiny percentage of the total trials annually consume a significant percentage of the legal aid budget. I had thought originally the plan had been to curb the fees paid out in these cases without prejudice to the income earned by barristers seeking a living from the rest of the available pie? Would that were so. Instead, fees paid to criminal barristers have been dramatically and unsustainably slashed right accross the criminal spectrum. Everyone has been financially crippled. As a result, seniority of practice is no protection because the loss of income has, for every barrister, been proportional to his outgoings and commitments at that stage in his or her life. I have spoken to or heard of as many Queen's Counsel in dire financial difficulty as junior's starting out at the Bar. Surely it is uncontroversial that this is a deeply sad and very distressing state of affairs? In my view, the pendulum has swung too far against the financial interests of the Bar, and to the detriment of the community as a whole. It is my hope that if sense prevails it will swing the other way, at least to the extent that the progressive accomplishments that the Bar should rightly be proud of are not regressively consigned to paper - more discussion, discourse and diatribe. Every nation is measured by its legal system. Law pervades every aspect of the management and conduct of our lives. Law is the very basis upon which the legitimacy and authority of a community rests. The unrivalled regard in which our legal system has been held by the world has in large measure supported our authority in global issues, an authority far exceeding our small island status. Our legal system has allowed for our past glories as an Empire, but of more relevance, our present influence in global events. War crimes tribunals operate on our legal principles, financial commerce conducted upon our rules and regulations, democracies founded upon our example. When I was called to the Bar I will never forget the proud moment I first donned my wig and gown. But in any field of endeavour, remuneration is afforded according to the value of that enterprise - costs following the cause, as it were. We may like to be contemptuous of American lawyers. But why? They value our legal system and have adopted it, some may say improved upon it. But they value their lawyers too. In other Commonwealth jurisdictions such as Australia and Canada lawyers are as respected as they are here in our country, but remunerated in accordance with that value. Here in the UK we have now engineered a gaping disparity between the value we place on the criminal Bar and the remuneration we afford it. We are in a situation diametrically opposed to the value we have placed on city bankers and the income they have been given. One extreme is as bad as the other, and both likely to lead to catastrophe. The quality of our criminal Bar is essential in the administration and protection of the quality of our lives. Justice, and seeing justice being done is in some primal way important to all of us. That is why all of us find ourselves interested in such news. It is more than morbid curiosity, and such an explanation for the desire of the community to read or see news of trials is facile. We are interested in the Leveson inquiry, in the important cases of our time because these things positively re - affirm ourselves as a community. The law is the great leveller. It is my deepest desire that the community as a whole realise that an investment in our legal system and those that practise within it is, in fact, an investment in themselves and in their national identity. The public at large will not, of course, know of the malaise infecting criminal barristers up and down the country; but those who do know of this concerning state of affairs - our representatives at the Bar, our politicians - owe a duty to our public and to our community. Our legal system is the most valuable asset we have. Never before have I heard such negativity amongst those answering their 'calling'. This paradox - to be called and to complain about it - surely is, if you think about it, a contradiction of gargantuum proportions. It can be fixed. But only just. And if left too late, I fear no amount of money will paper over the damage caused to an old and noble profession by one arrogant, impulsive and avaricious generation.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Statistics - not just a number....

I am sitting in my study snowed under with work - preparing my cross examination for tomorrow and so I really should not be sneaking time to type postings on my blog, however brief. And sadly (or perhaps happily for those who have to read my missives) this will indeed be brief as I have justified to myself this indulgence on the basis that it is a short and refreshing break from the cerebral intensity that cross examination preparation sometimes demands of me!

I have found myself unusually buoyed in the exhaustive and determined focus that I find critical cross examination preparation exacts from this mortal mind, and suddenly found myself wondering what this unusual happy excitement might be? And when I stopped to think about it, I knew immediately that these happy feelings cruising alongside my thoughts about my work were about my blog! I have always been passionate about everything I decide to do, and my blog is my new raison d'ĂȘtre! I find myself comforted by its existence just in knowing it is 'there', I guess, much like a parted couple are comforted knowing their lover is somewhere in the world, and 'theirs' though not 'there'. And to continue the syrupy analogy, my logging in at the end of the day is as exciting as the hug of the lovers reunited in the Virgin trains advert!

And best of all is that my new passion is not just (and some may say my usual!) love affair with myself! Statistics are a wonderful thing if they are positive as they are hateful if they are not - love 'em or hate 'em is funnily enough something I have heard said about myself, although at least I am not just a statistic. Yet!

Anyway, I have been thrilled to my little toes to see that I have had over 2000 views of my blog in the short few weeks that it has been up and running. And in my case this is particularly gratifying because I deliver postings for a living - the spoken rather than the written, admittedly. But the jurors who have listened to my countless speeches over the 18 years I have been making them have been forced to hear them. There is, no doubt, a pleasure in making a closing speech to a jury. In fact, I can confidently say that it has been the greatest rush I have ever experienced and an experience unequalled by anything else I have managed to do in my life. But starting this blog has made me realise there is something even more rewarding......and that is to have people listen (or read in the case of a blog) to what you have to say, not because they have to, but because they want to!

And so although I only have time this evening to say a huge 'thank you' to those who have ventured to read my contributions to our global consciousness, it is important for me to do so. If whatever you have read has in some way enriched or contributed to your thoughts about yourself or your world then that is just fabulous.

But even if you have thought that what you have read of my postings are completely unremarkable and a waste of your time, I am still grateful, because you are an important static, or at least a contributor to it.

On reflection, although I earlier insisted I was at least not a statistic yet, I suppose we all are in one way or another in this data driven world. The important thing, I have learned from starting this blog, is not to feel like one yourself. Its great to feel able to metaphorically shout like that chap in some advert 'I am not a number!' Because to say something that counts to a reader is to add to the sum of what he is in a way that mathematics or statistics will never achieve. A counting not predicated upon the immutability of a number but free to be valued by the regard you have for it, which in itself is neither calculable nor predictable.

And so I say thank you to all you statistics who are not statistics! In truth its not your number that counts to me, but that I may have in a small way counted to some of you.

That's countless.