Where do we go from here? In one sense, the question is irrelevant because we have set our face towards continuing industrial action which carries massive support. Again and again the cry is – what else can we do? Continuing action will produce one of three results: government capitulation, increased professional poverty and decimation or ultimately settlement. And thousands of otherwise conservative lawyers say in those circumstances we have no choice but to fight. I find it utterly heartbreaking. The sight of my beloved profession placed in such a terrible place that it is committing itself increasingly to bringing the system of Justice to a halt. Yet some form of work to rule surely is defensible, notwithstanding the personal risks it carries. That is why I think a policy of No Returns is a smart response which can be justified very easily in the court of public opinion. It will produce some internal tension, but in the short term it will be very strongly supported. For me there are four questions. How far will Direct Action be pursued? How long can we exert legitimate industrial pressure? In the face of no further Government response, how can the criminal bar survive? What price settlement? If you read the blogs and listen to the anger in chambers and elsewhere, there are calls for the very maximum pressure possible. So we should abandon a protocol and target the most vulnerable cases to achieve the maximum effect. I call that sick nonsense. Or all Recorders should refuse to sit in solidarity, ignoring the responsibilities implicit in a judicial oath. Or we should strike either in a wildcat way or with very limited warning, which is another daft suggestion. Or we should down tools for a week, a fortnight or until the cows come home. All such destructive irrational unprofessional nonsense that I hope the Leaders of the Bar will have the moral strength to resist. There are, of course, the far more responsible official voices speaking in steely terms and without the extreme threats I have mentioned above. They support Direct Action but with a protocol firmly in place. I would be betraying my own beliefs if I agreed that direct action which affected a single client was acceptable, but a good protocol is the least we should do. Leaders must stick to that minimum position and have the courage to resist extreme measures. Now the second question. How long do we pursue a policy of No returns? Here it seems to me that the CBA and others are being very responsible. It is a policy under regular review, initially after a month. It’s merits are obvious and I do support it in its present form. Of course it requires absolute unity in chambers and between chambers, but I certainly think that is possible in the short term. Third question. Survival in the face of no response or change from Government, bearing in mind their very latest decisions. Some months ago I blogged a little tentatively about what we should do if all failed. Could we pool incomes and survive by creating a minimum wage within chambers? I was tentative because it is alien to the whole concept of independent practitioners standing on their own feet within the umbrella of chambers. It is also naive to expect that all chambers could begin to operate such a policy. But now with financial ruin facing us, perhaps we could give more thought to communal solutions or at least safety nets. As a start, someone could draw up a draft financial model. However I recognize that for some this would be a complete non-starter. That leads instead to very difficult chambers economies which means job losses and less pleasant working environments. Last question. What price settlement? I can hear the howls of derision and anger over the air waves. Try talking to the profoundly deaf would be the least of those responses. But eventually it will happen. So there must be voices quietly working to keep the flame of possible agreement burning, even at the very moment when it appears to be dying. Nigel Pascoe QC


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