Saturday, 2 November 2013

A Matter of Conscience

With the probation strike looming on Tuesday and Wednesday next week, there's naturally much debate, soul-searching and angst amongst colleagues as what to do. Tempers are becoming frayed, tensions are building and some very uncomradely feelings are developing in certain quarters. This is crunch time and to be honest it reminds me a bit of something I suspect only people of a certain age will understand 'Daddy, what did you do during the war?'

I think it's also worth remembering that the shit we find ourselves in is part of something much bigger and we are not alone. In trawling through the internet, I came across the following wonderfully acerbic 'consultation' response, written by a senior QC in relation to the legal professions on-going battle with Chris Grayling over legal aid. It pulls no punches:- 

I suspect there will be fewer responses to this second “consultation”. That should 
not be interpreted as a decline in interest on the part of the legal profession and 
certainly not as any indication that the anger in the profession has diminished. 
Rather it is likely to be attributable to the fact that as everyone can see this is not 
a “consultation” at all. We have a millionaire Secretary of State who shows not 
the slightest interest in the work that a large part of the legal profession 
undertakes on behalf of the public. He has failed to engage with the Bar at all and 
has taken little or no notice of submissions by the organisations that reflect the 
views of high street solicitors. It is clear to all that Mr Grayling just isn’t 
interested in a discussion or debate. He is simply going through the motions of a 
“consultation exercise” before going ahead with what he planned all along. He 
merely seeks to prove his credentials to his cabinet colleagues as a man who can 
deliver the cuts he promised, if necessary in the teeth of sustained opposition. 
Small wonder then that many in the profession will think they have better things to 
do with their time than waste it in trying to talk to someone who isn’t interested 
in listening. 

No one could seriously contend other than that this whole exercise is part of an 
ideological assault by this government on all aspects of the welfare state, of which 
legal aid is an important part. The government has taken the opportunity 
provided by the economic crisis caused by their chums in the banking industry to 
blame the poor and to wreak havoc on the welfare system on which many of our 
fellow citizens depend. To a cabinet stuffed full of millionaires the loss of high 
street solicitors and barristers who do mainly legal aid work will be a matter of no 
concern. When would any of them ever need a legal aid lawyer? But to millions in 
this country who cannot afford to pay for a lawyer any more than they can afford 
to pay for expensive medical treatment the legal aid system is not a luxury, it is a 

How else than by judicial review are people supposed to obtain redress from 
government at local or national level when officials seek unlawfully to close 
hospitals or imposed new benefit regimes that have not been properly thought 
through? How are those without means suppose to seek redress against slum 
landlords, overcharging on rent and housing them in appalling conditions? How are 
they supposed to defend themselves against an unlawful eviction? And what of 
those accused of crime? The wealthy can no doubt afford the best and when MPs, 
newspaper executives and celebrities find themselves in trouble with the law they 
go off to expensive lawyers who charge far above the legal aid rate for their 
services. But what of the poor? Does the government not care if the result is that 
more innocent people are found guilty not because of the strength of the evidence 
but because their lawyer was sub-standard because they could not afford a better 
one? Are they to have a second rate service provided by increasingly less well 
qualified lawyers paid at increasingly low rates of pay? That is already 
happening of course. Solicitors rarely attend court these days with their client, 
because the government stopped paying them to do so, leaving only the barrister, 
whose attention also has to be on what is happening in court, to provide any sort 
of support and reassurance for a bewildered and frightened lay client and no one 
to help find a document in the file or locate a witness who has failed to turn up to

At several points in this submission I have paused and wondered whether to 
continue or just delete the whole thing and get on with some other work. In the
end I decided that despite the fact I am fully aware that this document will have
absolutely no impact on the Secretary of State’s plans to slash funding for legal 
aid, it was important that someone like me who has spent a whole career working 
in publicly funded law should record these views if only so that sometime in the 
future when people are surveying the wreckage of our criminal justice system 
someone may come upon this submission and find in it a key to understanding what 
has happened. It is said that for evil to triumph it merely requires that good men 
do nothing. That may seem over-dramatic for what is currently under 
consideration but let it not be said that when this government decided to impose 
cuts on legal services that ended up destroying the system there were no 
dissenting voices. 

The following was written by a colleague yesterday and left as a comment on this blog:-

I really feel the anxiety in the responses so far about whether to strike or not. There is real polarisation here, by all parties and to a great extent that is to be expected - 

The EMPLOYERS (MoJ) want to change our collective terms and conditions and de skill the work that we do,

The EMPLOYEES want to protect their roles by not rocking the boat, not losing money and with a general feeling of anxiety about the future and whether anything will change.....
MoJ have been crass, bullying and incompetent, NAPO has been equally unreliable and the Trust CEO's have rightly or wrongly focused on BUSINESS AS USUAL.

None of our previously reliable (!) sources of comfort and support have provided US with sufficient confidence to make a clear decision in any way and so we are all in an almighty pickle.

I believe that if I am in the union of probation and court staff, then I have a DUTY to support the call for strike action, there is fellowship in this group whereby staff are able to share experience and support each other in good times and bad and now when it is CRITICAL, so we should stand together.

We all know that we are been royally shafted from all angles and that the Secretary of State is taking a personal interest in this because he has self interest and self promotion in mind. Our voice has not been heard, we have been stifled by our Trusts, by the MoJ and by the Press - all we can now do is stand up and say to them all we have a voice and it will be heard...

If you think the £100 or so that you lose on Tue/Wed is a lot, what about the £1000's we stand to lose in lower terms and conditions, with frozen pay, loss of increments, longer hours, reduced pensions, job security and job satisfaction - and most importantly of all the service that we provide to the public.

Look around and see the other sectors that are taking strike action...not for pay or bonus but to protect the PROFESSIONAL integrity of public service - Teachers, Fire, Royal Mail etc etc

In my personal and professional life, I would rather give someone enough for a meal rather than let them go hungry - none of us will go hungry but I would say to anyone still unsure that for the loss of a days money is small change compared to the alternative.

I have changed my career previously and you might think that getting a new job may be straight forward , but think about the time you need to serve to get the same holiday, sickness, pension and training opportunities as you have NOW. It takes many years.
Good Luck to everybody taking Industrial Action next week and whatever you do, do it with a clear conscience.

Finally, here's the redoubtable Pat Waterman, Chair of Greater London Napo being interviewed recently by the the artist taxi driver:-


  1. As a PO who is starting a secondment in 9 days time I feel I owe it to my IPP cases to attend their Sentence Planning Board Meetings as one case has no replacement PO as yet and the other PO cannot attend, hence I will not be striking.

    1. Whilst your commitment may reflect the values held by most of Probation staff, I thought the purpose of a strike was to cause disruption?

    2. Just remember that the essential 'good practice' that forces people to break the strike will be dead and buried if Grayling's plans become reality. Sentence planning with be done by templates, call centres or tick boxes. Colleagues need to see the bigger picture before colluding with TR by undermining the industrial action.

  2. Great piece of writing from the QC and more power to his/her elbow. Also, the taxi driver interview with Pat, so uplifting...and not at all high brow.....unlike some of the Pro - Gov speakers at Wed's debate. I am flailing between feeling strong and empowered to outright delirium....but right now - I'm with Chuckymark (The Taxi Driver) Let's have a National Strike. I would also suggest that people struggling with Tues/Wed keep it to themselves, or talk to someone who really knows them and their position; it isn't helpful broadcasting the anxiety being experienced by some of the contributors. Good luck to everyone, whatever you are doing next week - strike, not strike or fudge need to look to your own conscience! Let us never forget that we are a special group of people, serving another special group of people, with commitment, dignity and skill.

    1. The sad thing is, that us striking will have no affect on the outcome. Our situation is one based on ideology and nothing else. I do plan to strike next week, however, in order not to inconvience my clients, appointments have been moved and I have no doubt that I will be working late to complete the two Annex Hs I have due next week.

      This service is run on the dedication and good will of the staff, I for one will not be giving any of my unpaid time to either of these new organisations if I choose to stay in this sector after we have been transformed and rehabilitated.

    2. Ultimately the only real power PO's have would be to refuse to complete Pre-Sentence Reports and Parole Reports for a fixed, sustained period of time, severely impacting Court and Parole processes.

      This would never happen as not only would this be a critical breach of contract that could not go unpunished by employers, inevitably resulting in termination of employee contracts, but for practitioners like me would be utterly unethical and indefensible due to the adverse effect on clients.

      Short of this I have to agree that strike action is futile. Many people I know are striking simply out of fear of how they might be perceived if they don't but are, for instance, refusing to go on the picket line in protest at the futility of it all. It's hard to see the value of the picket in the face of overwhelming evidence that most of your colleagues are completely apolitical and happy to keep their heads down and hope for the best, despite the rousing speeches about unity from NAPO.

  3. I will strike because it is the only thing I now can do. I am in fear in my workplace because of an anti union colleague effectively silencing any discussion by threats of complaint which HR will action. My trust is headed by a person who is openly anti union and very difficult to deal with. In short, I am disenfranchised in my work place. In solidarity with union colleagues I have a voice.

  4. I really feel for the colleague above who is clearly struggling in a hostile environment. I also have to say I am somewhat shocked and dispirited by the level of apathy if not hostility demonstrated in some of the comments on this site against the strike.

    Nevertheless despite being less than two years from retirement I will be on strike; I will be on a picket line (however fruitless it may seem to some )
    Why? because I cannot in conscience do anything other. I don't agree its futile, its a rallying call to action a message to Chris Grayling that we will not go down without a struggle. Yes it will cost us but not only financially as if, and I hope we do, move on to a work to rule then we are all going to have to make difficult choices. The alternative is to do nothing. Unthinkable.
    To the writer of the comment above please take heart you do have solidarity with union colleagues, I will be thinking of you and others in similar positions on the day as your action takes a greater courage than mine as all of my colleagues will walk out with me on Tuesday.

    1. I have to raise two issues with this argument. It's difficult to argue that "we will not go down without a struggle" and assume a collective 'we' when half of NAPO members couldnt be bothered to even send back a ballot paper and most offices will remain overwhelmingly well staffed during the strike action.

      Secondly, how on earth can there ever be an effective 'work to rule' campaign if we can't even get people to strike for one day? The approach of working to rule is largely unsupported in my office, even amongst NAPO members and more so than with strikes, work to rule requires a united approach to allow workers to feel safe in the decision to work to rule.

      I hate TR as much as anyone but the mirage that there is a unified fight against TR amongst Probation staff is just that.

    2. “Experience has shown, that even under the best forms of government those entrusted with power have, in time, and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny.”
      ― Thomas Jefferson

      The death of democracy is not likely to be an assassination from ambush. It will be a slow extinction from apathy, indifference, and undernourishment.
      Robert M. Hutchins

      “After all, if you do not resist the apparently inevitable, you will never know how inevitable the inevitable was.”
      ― Terry Eagleton.

      I am not a victim. I am alive, wide awake and free from the numbness of apathy.
      ROKELLE LERNER, Daily Affirmations

      Please support NAPO and strike

    3. Not sure of the reasons but it does seem that not everyone is as concerned as they could be with either the dismantling of yet another public service or the destruction of the whole notion of 'public service' as an integral part of a healthy mixed economy where inividuals should be unable to pocket (steal?) public funds. We are entering a period of modern serfdom where most people will be struggling financially just to survive. For those who currently enjoy and take for granted the material benefits negotiated and secured by others on our behalf, the shock will be the greatest. A political elite is taking cynical advantage of a phase in our history of a general apathy and lack of passion for consequences. The choice to strike or not in itself will soon appear a luxury in hindsight once that choice inevitably disappears.

  5. If you do nothing this time are you prepared to do nothing the next time and there will be a next time and then the time after that and so on. Are you prepared to let your clients suffer supervision from those whose are motivated by only profit? Supervision by the downtrodden and demoralised staff of the near future who dont give a toss about their clients because their only focus is survival. This is the logic of neo-liberalism the logic that drives the mad political fools that "govern" us. In the end you will be forced to fight its crazy not to start our fight now for the good of all.

  6. The people who oppose have little integrity: -

    Tory minister accused of tax avoidance via offshore company in Gibraltar

    Conservative Stephen Hammond reportedly avoided capital gains tax by using firm to buy his holiday villa in Portugal

  7. Andrew all the parties have their tax dodgers and pay packages waiting for them for the work they have done during their time "Serving" the people.

    Dont expect integrity or democracy from this generation of political " public servants"

    The good thing is that most people are aware that there is something corrupt at the heart of British society, the question is how bad will it get before they are prepared to do something about it. And this is clearly where we are, we are being shafted, probation, teachers , the working class and the oh so squeezed middle.

    And why did Russall Brand fail to take on the BBC, because the BBC is the main propaganda machine behind the last 30 years of Hoodwinking.

  8. To the person who responded to my earlier comment via a vie a" united fight by probation staff -Yes I did use the term We to describe myself and all of my Napo colleagues who will unite next week and take collective action because we will be united. and we will stand together . I am aware I cannot speak for all probation staff . You raise some valid points, I too was disappointed by the turnout- but it was an overwhelming yes vote by those who participated in the democratic process. Your overwhelming pessimism re either a strike or work to rule having an impact may or may not be warranted- only time will tell - but what is interesting is that you fail to put forward any alternative strategy . I would be keen to hear if you have any positive suggestions as to how we go forward on opposing TR without some form of industrial action.

    1. Maybe going on strike for more than a pissing day!!! If we are to strike, lets all walk out and not return until ALL of our demands have been met. The first one being that ALL pay lost during strike action is reimbursed. The longer we are out, the more they have to pay. People think that the likes of Grayling and the MoJ hold the power. They don't!!! Just imagine how many Courts will be adjourned, Parole reports, HDC's, RoTL's. There is a massive crisis unfolding in the prison system with overcrowding, made somewhat worse by the recent 'riot' today. Imagine hiw bad it would be in just one month's time when a increasing number if prisoners are not ket out, the legal challenges (and bills) for those kept in past their parole/release dates.

      Grayling has no problems playing dirty; about time we grew a pair and adopted his approach!

      As an aside, despite being a NAPO member for nearly 12 years, I will not be striking as I do not feel it would achieve anything.

    2. So you want an all out indefinite strike and wont go back until we will all our demands- and you think probation staff will unify behind that?.
      but you wont support your union for one day because in your opinion it won't achieve anything -really !!

    3. Anon 19:37 I have to say I too find your position regarding strike action somewhat difficult to reconcile!

    4. It's a bit like the school bully. Teacher having a gentle word with him is unlikely to make him see the error of his ways. Getting a bigger person to kick his head in will!
      Yeah, he's going to be pissed at you for a long time, but the bullying will stop.
      What we're doing now is akin to telling him not to tickle you as it make you wet yourself.

  9. Regarding tonight's news about the serious incident ( riot?) at HMP Maidstone, I have recently told my manager I will no longer be seeing clients for sentence planning boards etc on the wing for safety reasons. This follows my being told at three separate prisons that staff are really concerned about staffing shortages. I was particularly struck by HMP Northumberland staff concerns as they will lose 200 ( out of 500) staff following the privatisation by Sodexo. Colleagues be concerned for your safety - I suggest you raise this with your managers. It just feels very menacing at the moment and we should spare a thought for our prison colleagues .


    Is there any thing he dosen't want to break?

  11. Support the probation Strike: A moral duty to act!

    SaveProbation (not me) says ... I'll keep this brief. ALL probation employees MUST.... (for the rest) ... go to: -

    Andrew Hatton

  12. I am not a union member but think that the union has a really important job to do. I do ensure business as usual as do all my staff but think this ideological quest is wrong and I hope that some success comes of your action.