Barrister to Chris Grayling: "Come and do work experience"

Fearing his lack of experience with publicly-funded criminal cases, Sarah Forshaw QC wants to offer the justice secretary a "Mini Pupillage" to show him why justice is being compromised, and not all barristers are "fat cats".

It’s rather unnerving that our justice secretary, Chris Grayling, has absolutely zero legal experience, having worked in TV production and management consultancy before turning to politics. But help is at hand: one of the UK’s top criminal barristers, Sarah Forshaw QC, told me she’s happy to invite him to her chambers to complete a work experience placement known, in the language of the Bar, as a Mini Pupillage.

"As I understand it", says Forshaw, whose eloquence is conspicuous even among barristers, "Mr Grayling has been to Southwark Crown Court on one occasion, but he didn’t actually enter the court. I don’t believe he’s ever seen a publicly funded criminal trial."

Grayling is welcome, says Forshaw, to start his legal education at the chambers she jointly heads, 5 King’s Bench Walk: "I’d dearly like to extend him an invitation to come with any junior member of my chambers, to go along to court with them and see what they do. And he can see the fee they earn at the end of it."

Given that he is currently proposing to make cuts and reshuffles to the Bar that many fear will lead to miscarriages of justice, Grayling could surely do with a greater understanding of what barristers actually do. A Mini Pupillage would be a good place to start.

Grayling is fond of portraying all barristers as high earning "fat cats" bloated on public money – but is this actually a function of his lack of knowledge of what it’s like to be a criminal barrister? Because, as anyone with even the most rudimentary knowledge of the Bar knows, no one goes into criminal law to make lots of money.

Forshaw tells me about a recent case she’s done: "It was a murder, and a long murder. Under the current rates, I grossed £380 per day. When you take off 22 per cent for clerks’ fees and rent, and tax the rest, you’re looking at £190 per day. And that’s in a Bailey murder, a complex multi handed murder – and if you work that out on an hourly rate, bearing in mind I’m up at 6 most mornings and normally working until about half 11 at night, that is, I’m afraid, significantly less that you’d pay someone to come in and do the ironing."

Criminal barristers, despite what Grayling says and what many believe, do not do it for the money. And that’s something else he would learn in just a few days as a Mini Pupil. He’d learn why many criminal barristers endure such long hours and pressure for take-home pay of £25,000 per year. Forshaw returns to the Bailey murder case to explain why that is.

"[My client] was a nineteen year old boy and he didn’t have a bean. He was acquitted, [because] he was wrongly accused. After the verdict, we went outside the Bailey, he and I, and the mother of the deceased came up to say to him, 'We knew you shouldn’t have been there.' And the brother of the deceased came up and shook him by the hand, and said 'I’m very glad you were acquitted.' That’s why it matters."

This blog was originally published on the Spear's website - you can find it here.

Is Grayling's portrayal of barristers as "fat cats" a function of his lack of knowledge? Photograph: Getty Images.

Mark Nayler is a senior researcher at Spear's magazine.

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Richmond is a wake-up call for Labour's Brexit strategy

No one made Labour stand in Richmond Park. 

Oh, Labour Party. There was a way through.

No one made you stand in Richmond Park. You could have "struck a blow against the government", you could have shared the Lib Dem success. Instead, you lost both your dignity and your deposit. And to cap it all (Christian Wolmar, take a bow) you self-nominated for a Nobel Prize for Mansplaining.

It’s like the party strategist is locked in the bowels of HQ, endlessly looping in reverse Olivia Newton John’s "Making a Good Thing Better".

And no one can think that today marks the end of the party’s problems on Brexit.

But the thing is: there’s no need to Labour on. You can fix it.

Set the government some tests. Table some amendments: “The government shall negotiate having regard to…”

  • What would be good for our economy (boost investment, trade and jobs).
  • What would enhance fairness (help individuals and communities who have missed out over the last decades).
  • What would deliver sovereignty (magnify our democratic control over our destiny).
  • What would improve finances (what Brexit makes us better off, individually and collectively). 

And say that, if the government does not meet those tests, the Labour party will not support the Article 50 deal. You’ll take some pain today – but no matter, the general election is not for years. And if the tests are well crafted they will be easy to defend.

Then wait for the negotiations to conclude. If in 2019, Boris Johnson returns bearing cake for all, if the tests are achieved, Labour will, and rightly, support the government’s Brexit deal. There will be no second referendum. And MPs in Leave voting constituencies will bear no Brexit penalty at the polls.

But if he returns with thin gruel? If the economy has tanked, if inflation is rising and living standards have slumped, and the deficit has ballooned – what then? The only winners will be door manufacturers. Across the country they will be hard at work replacing those kicked down at constituency offices by voters demanding a fix. Labour will be joined in rejecting the deal from all across the floor: Labour will have shown the way.

Because the party reads the electorate today as wanting Brexit, it concludes it must deliver it. But, even for those who think a politician’s job is to channel the electorate, this thinking discloses an error in logic. The task is not to read the political dynamic of today. It is to position itself for the dynamic when it matters - at the next general election

And by setting some economic tests for a good Brexit, Labour can buy an option on that for free.

An earlier version of this argument appeared on Jolyon Maugham's blog Waiting For Tax.

Jolyon Maugham is a barrister who advised Ed Miliband on tax policy. He blogs at Waiting for Tax, and writes for the NS on tax and legal issues.