I have to say that it was with complete incredulity that I read an advert in the Law Society Gazette last week. I recognise that I am a little unusual in that I take the time to read the magazine. So many lawyers I know seem to take a particular pride in not having the time even to remove the wrapper. Unfortunately, that risks meaning that the recipient also doesn’t have the time to keep up on changes in the law and practice, which is bad news for their clients.
Anyway, there was this job ad. I wasn’t really looking for a job, so I guess that I just stumbled across it. It was placed by a company called CrimeDirect Ltd. It’s situated in North Shields in the North East, so I did wonder just what direct crime it was in the business of providing. Actually they serve criminals rather than supplying crime, directly or otherwise. And, I hasten to add, those who are merely suspects and who may be, and often are, entirely innocent. Specifically, they have the contract to advise persons arrested and being held at a police station. The advice is provided over the phone rather than face to face.
It’s clearly a demanding job. They want duty solicitors and accredited police station representatives to apply. As I used to have the dubious distinction many years ago of doing just that myself, I read on. The applicants will work three shifts per week. Each shift lasts a full 12 hours! Presumably there will be meal and comfort breaks, though this isn’t specified. Shifts run from 9 am to 9 pm and from 9 pm to 9 am and you have to be prepared to work both – you can’t just opt for one or the other. The service has to run 365 days of the year, so you have to be prepared to work on any bank holidays, including Christmas, if that’s when you’re rostered.
All this is, just as I say, very demanding. As a solicitor or accredited representative you will have certain educational qualifications. A solicitor will have a degree. A representative will have passed what I rather hope is a rigorous written examination and practical assessments. If you a degree, presumably you have student debt. So what can you expect for this demanding job, supported by your previous studies and qualifications?
£15,000 per annum. That equates to 8 quid an hour. For enormously unsocial hours and conditions. The national minimum wage, I would remind you, dear reader, is just over £6 per hour.
The candidates will be expected to advise suspects on matters related to their freedom from imprisonment, so that’s a huge responsibility. If a suspect exercises his/her right to remain silent after taking their advice, that advice could potentially be picked over at length in court.
I don’t know which is worse – that someone actually advertises this salary, presumably in the belief that it constitutes fair remuneration – or that they may actually find staff prepared to work on these terms. Just what will they be getting for this money?
Back in the early 1990's, there was the Royal Commission on Criminal Justice. It was instituted after a number of prominent miscarriages of justice. It identified various common features of these - a failure by the prosecuting authorities to give proper disclosure, a lack of legal advice in custody, forced or false confessions. So the government of the day responded by limiting the obligation on the prosecution to provide disclosure and reducing access to legal advice. Oh, and altering the right to remain silent by qualifying it.
And now, without enacting anything, the legal advice to be given may be by an underpaid member of staff at the end of a 12 hour day, having worked all through the night. Perhaps even after a switch between an early shift and a late shift, with whatever effects that has on mental alertness and functioning.
I gave up criminal law and legal aid work over 10 years ago - why? Well, for one thing because my family had to put up with the disruption to family life of my being on call and being called out at all hours of the day and night, and the money just didn't make it worth it. But that doesn't mean that I stopped caring about justice, and there'll be even less of that around if this proves to be a "success"!
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