50 Shades of Affray Blogs

This selection of blogs are based on my experiences, frustrations and confessions as a junior criminal barrister.

The Indignity of Impotence – Why We Must ‘Strike’

They observed one another; the undeniable feeling of anticipation was tangible and electric. After weeks of pregnant expectation and waiting, the time had finally come. She smiled wryly and his heart skipped a beat as she advanced provocatively in his direction. The move wasn’t entirely unexpected, but he nevertheless felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand to attention as the pressure mounted. He knew that she would be watching his every reaction. ‘This is what I was born to do’ he thought, as he loosened off his collar. But, he couldn’t turn away from the nagging feeling of internal doubt, which suddenly enveloped him like a cold, wet blanket. As the crucial moment of impending conquest approached, something happened; something unimaginable.


He didn’t notice his own unconscious reluctance at first, but she of course did. It was difficult to ignore his limp, wilted enthusiasm or the clumsy, artificial attempts to rouse that once libidinous, proud member into action. He momentarily floated outside of his body and grimaced as he watched himself going through the motions. Something which should have been instinctive and natural had suddenly become desperate and over-thought. Denial and frustration replaced passion, as he became an unwilling victim of the dreaded paralysis by analysis. ‘Why me?’ he thought resentfully. ‘I used to be good at this! Why can’t things go back to the good old days?’ He reflected, with melancholy wistfulness, his now-receding, former prowess.

She tilted her head to one side and her face creased into a half-smile which didn’t quite meet her eyes. He couldn’t tell if it was genuine disappointment or patronizing delight. Everything was changing and resented himself deeply for it.

A Week of Sex…

You would be forgiven for thinking that I am describing erectile dysfunction; however you would be wrong. Most criminal lawyers would agree that in this sometimes-pleasant, pro bono hobby we call a profession; we don’t much get time for a sex life. In the shrill words of one frustrated solicitor last week: ‘We don’t get time for a bloody life!’ A criminal practitioner’s ‘week of sex’ is more likely to involve the uncomfortable cross-examination of a defendant accused of paedophilia; not a seven day, oxytocin-induced, Craig David-inspired love-in.

The hypothetical impotence, of which I speak however, is professional, not sexual. The metaphorical ‘she’ might be the public, the Government or other criminal lawyers. ‘She’ is your gut instinct, your sense of conscience, your inherent integrity. ‘She’ is now watching and waiting to see how our great profession reacts to the impending assault on our Criminal Justice System. The time is now and each and every one of us is accountable.  Such accountability is all-encompassing and spares not a single one of us. Not even you.

Legal Armageddon

As Great Britain retrogrades further and further into the socially immobile days of Victorian Britain, criminal practitioners watch wide-eyed and with their hands covering their mouths, as Grayling steamrollers ahead on a one-man demolition mission of the Criminal Justice System. The deafening avalanche of fifteen thousand unanimous responses urging him to reconsider has barely turned his head, nor persuaded him to alter course. This breathtaking arrogance/stupidity* (*delete as appropriate) of a man, who lacks the basic rights of audience to conduct a simple bail application, is as dangerous as it is misguided. As the first missives of Legal Armageddon rain down, we can be left in no doubt, that this bizarrely-appointed, non-lawyer Lord Chancellor is not for turning. As the shutters come down on access to justice for ordinary people, those who have actual (rather than absolutely no) experience of working within the law, wonder how things have got so out of hand.

You see, Christopher Grayling, despite arguably having all the charisma, presence and oratory skills of an out-of-date, own-brand cornflake; has somehow managed to dismantle the Great British Legal System in front of our very eyes; with all the care of a five-year old destroying a crudely built Lego house. Make no mistake: this is happening our on our watch. We each bear witness to this mindless atrocity, and in the event that we don’t stop this self-serving megalomaniac, history will rightly judge us. Impotence, my learned friends, is not an option.

The 7th March 2014 is a historic day: the criminal side of the legal profession will stand united in a day of protest, for only the second time in five hundred years. We are on the precipice of something unprecedented. As each of us glances nervously from side to side, it is gradually dawning on doctors, lawyers, soldiers, probation workers, court interpreters, police officers, nurses, firefighters and civil servants generally that we can no longer rely upon our Government to act with common sense, in the best interests of the majority of the people. The elective dictatorship we quaintly refer to as democracy has no apparent interest or concern for 95% of the population; less so for the vulnerable and disadvantaged. Yet, despite the average hard-working Briton feeling thoroughly disenfranchised, ignored and insignificant, protest and unity is rare. Why so?

Great Britain?

The Western population has slowly and sadly become a nation of armchair voyeurs. Millions are passionately committed to the globally irrelevant performances of a bunch of overpaid ‘celebrities’ kicking a leather bag of wind up and down a football pitch, yet feel motivated to do precisely nothing to combat the gradual destruction of our planet. We gossip with our workmates about which latest vacuous personality has eaten a frog’s eyeball on I’m A Celebrity, yet petrol prices increase by another 20% and it’s all that we can do to let out an apathetic sigh as we resignedly hand over even more of our already heavily-taxed wages. Akin to worker ants, we conform to the bizarre social ritual of spending thousands of pounds commuting to work each year, in a car we don’t own; to fund the mortgage on a home in which we rarely relax because we’re always out, working most of our waking hours in order to pay off debt, utility bills and tax. We have become desensitized to pain, suffering and tragedy; moreover we have seemingly lost the once inherent ability to stand together and fight injustice and corruption. We are drip fed a 24/7 brain-food diet of disinformation and distraction, whilst the media brainwashes the new working-middle class to blame the poor, the disadvantaged and the powerless for the ongoing catastrophe created by corrupt bankers, disgustingly rich corporations and certain politicians.

So why does the responsibility lie with criminal lawyers to restore order out of chaos? Why do I beseech each of you to search your soul and your heart, in order to fight to win the case of your lives?

We Cannot Change What We Refuse to Confront

I’m going to say something that might cause mild outrage across the profession. I predict that several solicitors or barristers might be driven to putting down their sandwich. There may even be isolated outbreaks of frowning.

The uncomfortable truth is this: there are a significant number of practitioners who fear that we will not win. They believe that we are simply going through the motions in a vain and transparent attempt to ensure that historians will be kind to us, when future generations question how we allowed justice for all to be sacrificed on the hastily assembled altar of Grayling’s single-minded career aspirations.

We must confront reality. To describe professional morale as waning would be to award an unworthy compliment. An accurate description of the mood would range between self-excepting, optimistic denial and resigned defeat. This week alone, one of my instructing solicitors was made redundant on the day he qualified as a criminal practitioner. His dream of orating in court was dashed on what should have been a long-anticipated, hard-earned day of celebration. I know personally of numerous practitioners who are working each day despite being under their doctors for work-induced clinical depression. Two others told me how they are soon to be taken to court to face bankruptcy proceedings; their homes and small offices to be repossessed. I know of others who can no longer afford to remain in practice and have hung up their wigs and gowns forever; a bleak and uncertain future ahead.  The idea of a qualified barrister on benefits is no longer an oxymoron: this is the new-found, grim reality of criminal practice for many. Social mobility has unfortunately reversed for working class practitioners, as the Criminal Bar returns to the domain of the privileged and elite. Sadly, so too does access to justice for defendants and victims of crime alike.

Many practitioners are secretly hoping that we are going to witness a movie-style ending, where all manner of unlikely scenarios serendipitously coincide, despite the laws of time and physics. Just as the Criminal Justice System descends into catastrophic meltdown, Grayling’s mask is ripped off and everyone breathes a collective sigh of relief as a bumbling, cartoon Homer Simpson is revealed. The world makes sense again. Fairness is restored. Superman flies in and leads the canary yellow caricature away in handcuffs on charges of being a complete and utter idiot.

Sadly, this isn’t going to happen. Our fearless leaders have brought us this far, but the turbulent journey from herein is up to us.

A strike by any other name…

Impotence can be embarrassing and lonely. It causes frustration. It can make a person feel powerless and out of control. As a former therapist, I can tell you that the primary cause of erectile dysfunction is the result of a little-known phenomenon referred to as Coue’s Law of Reversed Effort. Simply put, the more that you think about the adverse outcome, the more likely the adverse outcome will re-present. As the symptom intensifies, so too does the compulsive thought process. Eventually, the mind, which processes fact and imagination in exactly the same way, starts to ‘believe’ the imagined worst case scenario as a foregone conclusion.

To combat impotence, one must focus strongly upon the desired, rather than feared outcome. The desire must become all-consuming. We must desire victory in the same way.

Failure is not a foregone conclusion. We still hold destiny in our hands. Grayling is not the bogeyman. He is a solitary politician in a transient, temporary role, pitted against an entire, time-honoured profession. We must recognise the strength we have. We must decide on our desired outcome. The word decide comes from the Latin decidere, meaning ‘to cut off’. A true decision involves cutting off all other possibilities and committing to such without the consideration of defeat. Just as Hernán Cortés instructed his men to burn the boats as they descended on Mexico in order to conquer the land, we too must cut off every possibility of defeat.

As yet, we have fought the assault on Legal Aid by allowing the Lord Chancellor to dictate the rules, the position of the goalposts and even the dates and times of our games. Thus so far, we have bargained on his terms: we have pleaded, we have begged, we have reasoned. On the 7th March, we will politely abstain from attending court. Sadly, I fear that this is just the start. We must be prepared.

You, the reader, are being called upon to stop it. Do not think that others will overcompensate for your lack of participation in this all important battle.

Do or don’t do; there is no try.

The time has come to pin your colours to the mast.

Remember the analogy of bacon and eggs: the pig is committed but the chicken is just involved. Don’t be the impotent, uncommitted chicken as  your colleagues run into battle, burning boats in the background.

Save Legal Aid is a command; not just a catchy strapline.