Grayling Day

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This article appears this month in the LCCSA magazine The Advocate

The courts are empty of lawyers. At Westminster, Old Palace Yard is overflowing with them. Barristers and solicitors are spilling out into the road. Bemused tourists stop and take pictures of the English men and women, some in wigs and gowns, shouting on a grey Friday morning in March. This is where the action is.

There is poetry. There is jazz. Oh, and there is a massive effigy of Chris Grayling. Indeed, the day is dominated, literally and figuratively, by the odd, unsettling presence of the Lord Chancellor.

On indictment

Greg Foxsmith begins proceedings with an indictment of Grayling for conspiracy to destroy the criminal justice system. The huge pink face of the defendant remains impassive. The witnesses for the prosecution are many.

Paul Harris is passionate: “The justice system is in meltdown! This is about unfettered access to justice. The government is reducing the accountability of the state and increasing power over the individual.” Criticising restrictions on judicial review to challenge unlawful state action, he tears into Grayling for refusing to talk to the National Justice Committee. “We won’t stand by and watch you destroy the criminal justice system,” he tells the defendant. “The Ministry of Justice is not fit for purpose! Justice on the cheap is not justice!” The crowd loudly approves.

From over the road in the Houses of Parliament,  Black Rod asks for the lawyer gang not to make quite so much noise. Black Rod is given some free legal advice. The lawyer gang make more noise. Chris Grayling’s great claw sways in the breeze, insouciantly dismissing the “Grayling Must Go” banners. Maxine Peake is posing for photos in the crowd. “I’m here because I’m filled with dread and fear of what this government is doing to the weak and the dispossessed in this country,” says the actress from the TV drama, Silk.

Chair of the Criminal Bar Association, Nigel Lithman QC, is up. “It takes centuries and much sacrifice for democracies and justice systems to emerge,” he says. “It’s taking this government the blink of an eye to demolish it. We will be left with  one law for the rich and one for the poor! The MoJ is inept!” The evidence is stacking up.

Speech after speech

Shadow Lord Chancellor, Sadiq Khan, takes to the stage. He says Grayling is a woeful mix of blind ambition and wilful ignorance and is the most legally illiterate Lord Chancellor in history. “Chris Grayling believes that the Magna Carta is a bottle of champagne,” he says. “I am with you!” he cries. “We will defeat them!”

Even the Tories are piling in now. Ivan Lawrence QC, 23 years a Conservative MP, says he is ashamed of this government. “I’ve been at the Bar for 50 years and I have never seen a demonstration like this. We will make this government frightened of our resolve. We must make them know if they don’t stop savage cuts they will not be re-elected.” More cheers.

Veteran solicitor Alured Darlington is in the crowd and agrees there’s been nothing like this before in his 51 years of practice. The crowd is getting bigger.

Banners and signs appear. “Keep Calm And Call The Duty Solicitor” says one.

The mother of Gary McKinnon, Janis Sharp, is on the stage. “One day, it could be you needing a lawyer,” she says. “You’ve no idea the relief when a lawyer says they will take your case without asking how much money have you got.”

Now it’s Liberty’s Shami Chakrabarti. “This is Grayling’s day of shame,” she says. “The government are constitutional vandals!” CLSA chair Bill Waddington is scathing too. “It took 800 years to build this system,” he tells Grayling. “Leave it alone!” The swollen head of Chris Grayling looks on, his preternatural smirk undisturbed by the strength of the case against him.

Birmingham Six defendant Paddy Hill is on the attack. “It wasn’t us who caused the financial crisis, it was them and their banker mates,” he yells pointing at Parliament behind him. Now it’s Dave Rowntree. “The government is creating a separate McJustice system for the poor,” he says. Ian Lawrence of NAPO says there must be no privatisation of the probation service. Grayling’s got form he says. “He’s a repeat offender!” he blurts out.

The closing speech is delivered by solicitor Matt Foot, son of journalist Paul Foot and great-grandson of Liberal minister and campaigner for legal rights Isaac Foot. “This is an ideological attack,” he says. “Grayling is picking on the most vulnerable.” He calls for more action. The crowd agree. It’s poetry time. “Rise like lions after slumber!” he exhorts.

On the march

Keep calm and call the duty solicitor

Stirred by Shelley, the crowd are on the move, ready to take the fight to the Ministry of Justice. The defendant is secured and heads the march like a terrifying Pied Piper alongside the golden Lady Justice. The jazz band is up and playing, and with their hypnotic accompaniment, we’re off towards Petty France, the Justice Alliance banner leading the way. We stop off at the Liberal Democrat headquarters to drop off a love letter to Simon Hughes, the justice minister. “Simon Hughes, shame on you!” we yell happily.

The march snakes back along the length of Storey Street, lawyers as far as the eye can see. The throng eventually masses outside the Ministry of Justice. An official is popping out for lunch. “Ooh look! It’s a giant Chris Grayling,” she says to her friend. “Quite flattering actually,” she adds.

There is excitement. What will happen next? (The possible criminal liability of a peaceful occupation of the Ministry of Justice goes through a thousand legal brains simultaneously like an old exam question. “Explain what criminal offences have been committed, if any, making reference to mens rea and actus reus.”)

We settle for some old-fashioned well-mannered chanting. “Legal Aid must stay, Grayling must go!” A cry goes up: “Bring me the massive head of Chris Grayling!”

Lady Justice accompanies Paddy Hill inside to  deliver a letter to the real Chris Grayling, who declines to make an appearance. The press photographers bundle through the double doors. It’s all a squash. The security guards are tolerant until the gigantic effigy of the Lord Chancellor tries to get in too. To the amusement of the MoJ officials, the Lord Chancellor  is barred from entering. Outside, the crowd shout “Grayling Grayling Grayling, out out out!”  “Let him in! Grayling in!” is the cry from inside. Now the immense pink head of Chris Grayling is jammed in the doorway of the Ministry of Justice, a sight few would wish to relive.

Central Hall

The chants continue. As no-one can think of a way of pithily shouting, “They say cutback, we say we are prepared to sit down with you to outline a series of savings that can be found across the criminal justice system,” the crowd disperses to reassemble in the Methodist Central Hall for the LCCSA training afternoon, where president Nicola Hill is pleased with the day so far. “The turnout today has been fantastic. We will gather momentum and I hope Chris Grayling will now man up and stop these cuts.”

As Jon Black introduces the speakers, the glowering figure of the Lord Chancellor stares defiantly back upon the assembled delegates. Unperturbed, Richard Atkinson sets out the full horror of Grayling’s reform. “We are peering into the abyss,” he says. The future? A black void appears on the screen. Richard Furlong of 25 Bedford Row advocates the withdrawal of solicitor’s goodwill from the court system. Richard Bentwood of Argent Chambers sets out the “no returns” policy.

The lawyers on the panel in the afternoon are united. Greg Powell graphically tells us that solicitors will be “nipple to nipple” with barristers in the fight to come. “Grayling has to understand that, when we say something, we mean it,” says Nigel Lithman. Disappointingly, he wasn’t talking about the nipples thing. Bill Waddington says there will be no cracks in unity, a message echoed by Aika Stephenson of Just For Kids and Raj Chada of Hodge Jones and Allen. In January, the courts were closed for half a day. Today, the courts are closed for a full day. To applause, Raj Chada calls for a three-day action next time, and advises Shadow Justice Minister Andy Slaughter to listen to the people in the hall. “Together we will forge unity,” he says.

As people are leaving, Matt Foot surveys the day’s work and is uplifted. “It’s been a wonderful day, there was nowhere left to stand this morning, and the march to the Ministry of Justice filled up the whole road.  Solicitors and barristers are very serious about the fight with Grayling.”

Shelley’s The Mask of Anarchy:

Rise like Lions after slumber

In unvanquishable number

Shake your chains to earth like dew

Which in sleep had fallen on you

Ye are many – they are few.

 

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‘A shameful day in legal history’

‘These newly confirmed cuts are a short-cut to a two-tier system, where justice becomes a luxury not a right. This can’t be right for any defendant, whose liberty, family and livelihood are often at stake.’  Nicola Hill, LCCSA president.

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Protest:

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LCCSA: The London Criminal Courts Solicitors Association at 65

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It’s early October 2013 in central London. There’s a long queue of criminal defence lawyers snaking down Euston road in the direction of the old Clerkenwell Magistrates Court. The lawyers’ faces have a look of grim determination. A meeting is about to start about the future of Legal Aid, and solicitors and barristers from London and around the country have assembled to deliberate, listen, let off steam. Organising the meeting is the London Criminal Courts Solicitors Association (LCCSA), 65 years old this year.

The LCCSA was founded in 1948, the same year in which whipping and hard labour were removed from the court’s sentencing powers, perhaps to the relief of the thieves and swindlers appearing at that other defunct court house, Bow Street Magistrates Court. The imposing figures of Claude Hornby, Arthur Prothero, Samuel Coleman and a handful of others were worried about the looming Legal Aid Act. Legal Aid was seen by the then small number of lawyers practising in central London courts as a ghastly threat, both to their income and to standards. As former president Jeffrey Gordon put it, “criminal practitioners were worried that Legal Aid would drive out the paying client.” The other aim, he said, was to establish ethical standards “so as to distinguish members from what one might call the more doubtful practitioners.”

Past president of the LCCSA, HHJ Timothy Lawrence, who did his articles at Claude Hornby and Cox, puts it bluntly: “It was for the elite criminal practitioners and they were very jealous as to who they let in.” There was a concern that criminal law was attracting a sleazier, undesirable side of the profession, an impression not aided by the seedy solicitor caught trying to smuggle a raincoat and a false moustache into the Old Bailey for his client to make good his escape. The founder members wanted the Association to confer a hitherto absent status on criminal lawyers. Members also agreed a protocol to allow them to pass work to each other without it being pinched by the unscrupulous. The applications of those who applied to join were analysed thoroughly and proposed members were routinely blackballed. It was considered a great honour to join. One solicitor who was refused membership began high court proceedings to force the Association to let him join. He remained a non-member. Vivien Symons, the first female member of the LCCSA, said in an interview in the Advocate not long before she died that she had been thrilled to be proposed for membership by Claude Hornby. “You’d only be proposed for it if you were a reasonable advocate,” she recalled.

Criminal law in London was then a much smaller world in which a small group of solicitors’ firms undertook much of the criminal defence work, and the LCCSA remained an exclusive, largely West End dominated club. Early presidents included celebrated practitioners of the post war period such as Sir David Napley, J B Wheatley, Victor Lissack, and T V Edwards. Typically solicitors’ offices would be situated right next to court rooms. Claude Hornby and Cox was next to Great Marlborough Street Magistrates Police Court where, long before the Crown Prosecution Service existed, police officers queued up to prosecute their prisoners, giving evidence before a stipendiary magistrate. Timothy Lawrence recalls one such Stipe at Great Marlborough Street who, when called a ‘bald old bastard’ by a departing prisoner, declared to the public gallery, ‘He is quite right on two of those points.’ The charismatic Victor Lissack, known for his love of gold jewellery, had his office next to Bow Street Magistrates’ Court. One time secretary of the Association HHJ Steven Dawson trained with the firm and, in the days before the duty solicitor scheme, he says, the court would ring the solicitors next door to say there was a prisoner in the cells and could the firm send someone over to represent them. Those were simpler times.

Working dinners dominated the Association’s calendar. Steven Dawson recalls that the annual dinner was initially a chance for solicitors to entertain the grand old stipendiary magistrates, usually barristers some of whom had been sitting since before the war. ‘Solicitors, particularly those in crime, were thought to be a little below stairs, and this was a chance to raise their profile,’ he says. Sandra Dawson, who has been on the LCCSA committee for 25 years, recalls that when she started there were about three hundred members. In those days before computers, members’ details were kept on index cards and communication with members was a laborious task. She has seen enormous changes, she says. “The Association was far more social back then,” she recalls. “There were some working dinners, but there was no training, and the membership was quite exclusive.” That began to change significantly. The first woman president was District Judge Sue Green followed in the next few years by June Venters QC, Angela Campbell and Linda Woolley. The old boys’ club was coming to an end. Training was begun in earnest by Julia Holman and has expanded enormously – members now routinely click onto the Association’s webinars for their CPD points. Membership grew and became much more diverse, and in time there were more than 1000 members.

As membership grew so did the annual dinner. Held at various swanky hotels including the Savoy and the Dorchester, the annual dinner grew in size – when one time president Mark Haslam of Burton Copeland spoke at the dinner there were 1200 people there – and it was on occasion a notoriously noisy and drunken affair. Mark Haslam was also instrumental in establishing the Association’s European Conferences in the 1980s and he holds at least one proud record. “I have the dubious honour of being the only member to have attended each and every one of the trips,” he says. The most interesting trip, he says, was the one to Berlin before the wall came down. The most memorable? “Anyone who went to Dublin will instantly remember a pub called the Johnny Fox; that is if anything remains of their recollection!” European conferences remain an important and much needed opportunity to spend time with fellow professionals to talk about law and much besides.

Communication with members changed too. The dry newsletter sent to members had typically been a densely typed reproduction of the Association’s minutes and responses to new legislation. In 1995 the LCCSA magazine, The Advocate, appeared and immediately became an important source of news, views, information and guidance, binding London solicitors in its unflagging spirit of comradeship. Early editions reveal anxiety about some familiar issues. In the very first edition of The Advocate the magazine reports on the Lord Chancellor Lord Mackay’s plans for legal aid reforms and competitive tendering. In issue number 3 in March 1996 there was concern about the drop in the amount of work in Magistrates’ courts. The July 1999 edition carries an article by future president Rob Brown about cuts to legal aid and the importance of retaining ‘solicitor of choice’. The article is headlined ‘The Value of Justice’. Other back copies are a gallop through such reforms as Carter, the Auld report, Narey courts, block contracting and fixed fees, and reveal that even as consultations, Home Secretaries and Lord Chancellors came and went, the Advocate remained a reassuring and entertaining constant.

There were earlier indications of the prominent campaigning role the LCCSA would in time assume. Already by the 1970s the Association was being consulted by the Home Office on legislation and fees, regularly responded to consultations and worked with the Law Society Criminal Law Committee. In 1979 the LCCSA submitted evidence to the Royal Commission on Criminal Justice. The Association now wielded some clout with legislators. The LCCSA’s role was changing.

Campaigning became an important part of the work of the LCCSA. The Association responds to the stream of consultations and is represented on significant groups and bodies within the criminal justice system, influencing and shaping policy. Greg Powell, another past president, says that in some ways events forced the LCCSA to change character and become what it is today. “There has been such an enormous change in the last 10 to 15 years.” he says. “There was no longer a convivial inside track in which representatives from the LCCSA could negotiate. The changes have been so large and severe that the government didn’t want to work that way any more. The LCCSA had to become a more campaigning organisation, with the ability to present evidence and organise mass responses to consultations.” He pays tribute too to past presidents Rob Brown and June Venters who vigorously resisted the Carter reforms, the market and tendering proposals which were the wellspring of consolidation plans that remain today.

The present day committee is strengthened by the experienced presence of past presidents like Greg Powell, Paul Harris and Raymond Shaw. Paul Harris says it was exciting and a great honour to be president. “I think our great achievement has been in becoming an effective campaigning and lobbying organisation and in becoming highly regarded by other agencies in the criminal justice system,” he says. “The trick is to balance the interests of our diverse membership of owners, employees, freelancers, CPS lawyers and the rest. I am proud of our reputation and of remaining important to our membership.”

Greg Powell agrees. “The modern LCCSA has succeeded in being thought of as of value to members, resisting PCT, defending collective interests, mobilising members, and being able to help shape events.”

The organisation has evolved and changed out of all recognition. Where once the LCCSA was a cosy, closed, inward looking club for respectable middle class solicitors worried about the menace of Legal Aid, the Association is now an effective, inclusive pressure group, campaigning against successive governments’ assaults on the same Legal Aid system.

The exclusive London club doesn’t exist any more. What has replaced it is on view at that October Legal Aid meeting. Solicitors and lawyers from scattered parts of London, from big firms and small, sole practitioners, self-employed advocates and prosecutors as well as associate and honorary members, are taking their seats. The LCCSA represents them all. The debate is vigorous, serious, angry, important. Sixty five years on the LCCSA has grown up. Not retiring, just getting started.

 

This article first appeared in the London Advocate Magazine

Justice: Closing Down Sale – Everyone must go!

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The campaign against proposed Legal Aid cuts and reforms continues.

Solicitors, Barristers, Chartered Legal Executives and everyone involved in the field of criminal law are invited to a meeting to discuss the MoJ’s latest consultation “Transforming Legal Aid: Next Steps”.

October 1st 2013 at 18:15 Camden Centre (opposite St Pancras Station).

Panel Speakers Include:- 
Des Hudson – The Law Society
Greg Powell – LCCSA
Bill Waddington – CLSA
Nigel Lithman QC – CBA
Carol Storer OBE – LAPG

Get your tickets at the LCCSA website.

Profile of Hillsborough Lawyer James Saunders

James Saunders is one of the lawyers representing the Hillsborough Family Support Group. In January, he was named in The Lawyer’s Hot 100 2013.  He spoke to Oliver Lewis.

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James Saunders is a man who likes a challenge. Having conquered Kilimanjaro last year, he is now facing the momentous task of representing families of the Hillsborough disaster victims in their long fight to get justice after perhaps one of the biggest cover-ups in British legal history.

Sitting in his office near the Royal Courts of Justice, he says the case came to him somewhat unexpectedly.When the Hillsborough independent panel was constituted, the Hillsborough Family Support Group  (HFSG), the larger of the groups of those affected by the disaster, wanted lawyers in place and they approached Michael Mansfield QC. “Michael and I go a long way back. Of course, we didn’t know what the report was going to say; but we met the families and looked at the evidence and said we would act if we could do anything useful. And then the Prime Minister stood up in Parliament and said he thought it was an outrage, so, with an invitation like that, how could we resist?”

Things moved quickly after the publication of the report and he soon found himself in meetings with some surprising figures. “It is certainly unusual for me to be meeting with people like the Home Secretary and the Director of Public Prosecutions, but the establishment has decided it wants to help and ensure that justice is now done. It’s a case where politics and law have intertwined.”

Legal career a surprise

In fact, James Saunders has often been at the point where politics and law meet – but he had not planned to be a lawyer. He did sciences at A Level and hated it.

“Back then there was only one subject you could study if you wanted to switch, so for that rather negative reason I moved over to law and found I loved it.” And studying law in the late 1960s was a formative experience. “The events of 1968 were rather sexily cradled in the middle of my studies. It was the era of student politics; and we erroneously thought we might take over the world.”

He decided to start a law centre and soon met up with Peter Kandler who, with Lord Gifford and others, was already along that path. “I joined them and together we started the North Kensington Law Centre in 1970 – it was a great adventure.”

The landscape for criminal defence lawyers was very different then and solicitors did not normally go to police stations. “If solicitors were so unwise to break that rule they were politely told by the police that it would not be in the interests of justice for them to see their client before charge!” he recalls. “If complaint was made of this at a subsequent trial, the judge would say ‘Quite right too, officer!’ As I had always liked climbing mountains this seemed like a good one to have a go at, and so that’s how I became a criminal lawyer.”

Life on Mars

Qualifying in 1972, he set up his own firm two years later, and was subsequently at the forefront of the changes which took place in the 1970s and 1980s.

“The next generation of lawyers think there have always been solicitors in police stations and are unaware of a frequent feature of trials then: disputes over ‘verballing’, where trials turned on what words were supposed to have been used by suspects.”

He dealt with many cases where people were beaten up by police and says the abuse meted out then is unimaginable to most today. “Police took the view they were the judge, jury and executioner too, and beatings were handed out as a sort of extra-judicial punishment. The beatings weren’t really to force people to make confessions, because police were perfectly happy to make up the confessions anyway. I did a case where it took three visits to the Court of Appeal to prove that my clients, who had been in prison for more than 20 years, were wholly innocent because of this type of verballing.”

He and Michael Mansfield did a long series of cases together involving the Robbery Squad. “I think we had the record for the most consecutive acquittals at the Old Bailey,” he says. He feels those cases had some part in the introduction of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE) in 1984. Over the years, the tide of opinion had turned against police. “Eventually, Margaret Thatcher woke up to the fact that the conviction rate was going through the floor and they brought in PACE. There was a growing enlightenment, and, as false convictions have been illuminated, people have been able to see that, if you take shortcuts, then you won’t necessarily convict the right people.”

Police mindset

And he sees a connection between the attitudes and behaviour of police in that era and what later happened at Hillsborough. “In that context, Hillsborough is an interesting case for a number of reasons,” he says. “Hillsborough was in 1989, so it was not so long after PACE, and the attitudes reflected in the behaviour of the police were very typical of the time – the police ran the show and they decided who was guilty. There was an arrogance which stretches the imagination of politicians today. When Cameron stood up and spoke about what had happened at Hillsborough, I think he was genuinely in shock.”

Born and bred in Sheffield, and tribally a supporter of Sheffield Wednesday, Saunders also sees a link with the infamous Orgreave riot case after the miners’ strike in 1984. “I think Orgreave is going to be carefully looked at again in the context of Hillsborough because that also involved the South Yorkshire police and many of the individuals are common to both cases,” he says. “There is a thread of arrogance and impunity which is common to both cases and is very striking.”

Hillsborough families

The criminal aspect of the Hillsborough case is now in the hands of the DPP and he thinks that is right. “It’s my view that as long as the state does its job, it is the correct and competent body to bring prosecutions, rather than for the family to bring private prosecutions.” But could civil proceedings still follow?

“Experience tells us that disclosure and the procedures in civil litigation can be more effective in shining a light on the truth than criminal law, so I am also considering that.”

He is full of praise for the families in the case. “The Hillsborough families are very interesting and impressive. They are united by having endured what Cameron called a ‘double injustice’, typically having lost a child or children and then to have them denigrated for causing their own death; but what is really striking about them is the lack of bitterness. I’m sure I would be really very bitter indeed if all of that had happened to me, but for them it’s almost like forgiveness. Yes, they want accountability and justice, but they want it without rancour. They just want it because it’s the truth and it’s what should happen.”

Changing landscape

Having held a practising certificate for over 40 years, James Saunders could be forgiven for wanting to spend more time in his large garden at home; but he says that his workload is more wide-ranging and interesting than ever. “Once, I did only criminal trials and the odd appeals. When I started, the heavy crime was robbery, old fashioned ‘blagging’, although no-one does that now because a large amount of cash is no bloody use to anybody! Now professional criminals are into fraud and money laundering. We criminal solicitors follow where the action is!”

He is unmoved too about the recent appetite for never-ending legislation. “It wasn’t quite the Ten Commandments when I set out, but the relevant law could be carried around in a book under your arm. Now there isn’t a lorry big enough to carry all the authorities,” he observes drily. “As you get older, you look out for new challenges, and I now have a wonderfully mixed diet of cases. I do a mixture of media law, civil litigation and professional regulation. I am dealing with a thought-provoking multiple murder case at the Old Bailey which is ultimately about how we treat people with mental health problems; and coming up this summer is a Privy Council appeal of a lawyer accused of money laundering. I am also doing some cases associated with Leveson, but in the centre of it all right now is Hillsborough.”

The novel experience of sitting down with establishment figures like the Home Secretary has, however, not softened his scepticism about politicians’ views on defence lawyers. He thinks the political classes are more determined than ever to strangle the criminal defence profession.

“An obvious way they set out to achieve that is by reducing legal aid and creating bonkers schemes like QASA, and it’s obviously a worry,” he says. “All politicians are working class heroes in opposition and support legal aid and oppose control orders and so on, but when they come into power they are subverted by the demands of office and government. There are individual exceptions, but corporately they change spots and become oppressors. Politicians come and go, but all of them deep down dislike and resent criminal lawyers for making their lives more difficult. Of course politicians don’t actively want injustice, but they want things that result in injustice. Criminal lawyers stand in the way of that.”

Looking ahead

Even so, he remains optimistic about the future. “It is perversely wonderful that there are more youngsters wanting to become criminal lawyers than there is room for – and they broadly do a job vastly better than the one that is being paid for.”

His firm runs a training programme and students also come to the firm for a year as part of their degree course. He detects in the young lawyers coming through today the same determination of his own ‘68 student generation, even as ever-greater challenges for criminal lawyers loom into view. “I think the government policy is to push things until there is a tipping point, perhaps towards a small number of large legal aid factories; but they will be disappointed if that’s their business plan, because, although they may yet get some of those factories, and there may be some already in existence, there remains a freedom of spirit; and I have every confidence the next generation won’t stand for it.”

James Saunders gives the impression that, like that next generation, he is relishing the prospect of tackling many more mountainous challenges in the years to come.

This article appeared in the March issue of the London Criminal Courts Solicitors Association magazine, The London Advocate.