If you were in government, what would you do? The court system for which you are responsible is slowly grinding down. Despite widespread calls for further discussions, you have decided as a matter of policy that your cuts must stand. After all, you are a spending minister with a joint cabinet responsibility for the public purse in a less than perfect economic recovery. Doing nothing is not an option. Steps have to be taken to make it plain that barristers are only one part of the court users and they cannot be permitted to bring the whole system to a juddering halt. This was the question which exercised me most as I read the excellent tweets of the Bar Council meeting on Saturday. Very plainly we have strong leadership, unity and the deepest concerns being expressed. I happen to think that the AG is one of the most honourable and decent men politicians in the country. I have heard him several times face up to his profession with elegance and candour. He is deeply respected by many criminal lawyers who are nevertheless appalled by the policies of the MOJ. So what he was saying was plainly worth close analysis. It seems to me velvet glove stuff, but nevertheless there must be some contingency plans if increasingly courts are interrupted. I cannot see that it would be possible to expand dramatically a state defence service in the short term. But a series of short term contracts would be possible. It would be provocative, but it would be met by the argument that when direct action seeks to undermine the rule of law it is going too far. The veiled reference to one case one fee troubled me. That would be provocative as well. Yet it seems to me reasonable to assume that there must be some steps in the offing to be unveiled if this dispute continues. So I hope that the possibility for constructive negotiations is being actively considered by the Lord Chancellor when the AG faithfully reports back to him the level of anger at the criminal bar. At the risk of the obvious, ultimately there has to be a settlement. In saying that, I utterly reject a degree of direct action which would seek to close the system down completely. I still support the system of no returns but I see increasingly that a very fine judgement has to be taken before this dispute gets completely out of hand. Nigel Pascoe QC


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