MoJ tries to keep a brave face amid signs of legal strike panic
It's quite revealing to compare the rhetoric from the Ministry of Justice about the legal strike with the way it is discussed behind closed doors.
Publicly, the department is keeping a brave face and insisting it's business as usual. Here's the statement they sent me yesterday for instance:
"All our intelligence shows that courts continue to sit as usual and that the vast majority of cases requiring a solicitor at the police station have been picked up within an hour."
But behind the scenes, things are much more frantic. Take the police, for example. For obvious reasons, they're one of the first groups to come into contact with the chaos reaped by a legal strike, so they function as a reliable litmus test of state nervousness about the action. And they seem worried. The Police Federation are firing off frenzied emails to solicitors demanding to know if their members are going to be able to rely on them if they face legal problems.
"We are aware that as of the 1st July 2015 direct action commenced by some solicitors and barristers who object to the cuts in the fees," the email states.
"It is expected that a widespread boycott of new cases could affect courts and police stations across the country.
"We would very much appreciate you providing us your views and re-assurance that services rendered to our members will not be affected by this direct action.
"We are currently looking into the impact this will have on the membership and therefore would appreciate your written response by return email as soon as possible."
And that growing sense of chaos is increasingly evident in public, across the country. In Bradford, the local press reported that judges were expressing concern over two serious cases where no legal representation was available for the defendant. In Hull a man who abducted a child could not be sentenced because he had no legal representation. In Manchester, court staff were describing the situation as "horrendous". And we're still a week away from the official Criminal Barristers Association start date for the no-returns policy, which could really bring the system to its knees.
The MoJ is putting a brave face on it, but behind the scenes there's evidence of things falling apart. The question is: will solicitors be able to hold on long enough for the full impact of the strike to be felt?