Letters: Lawyers' pay

Poor pay driving bright young lawyers from the criminal courts
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Sir: Good government listens to informed advice. There is a dangerous new language in politics that calls informed professionals simply "lobbies", with the implication that they are simply self-interested. Such professionals should not be blamed when things go wrong.

Poorly paid publicly funded lawyers, who daily handle serious crime in our courts, are blamed for the rising cost of criminal justice. The Government admits privately, and a survey of the cost-drivers inside the Legal Services Commission proves, that this has more to do with excessive legislation, and causes far beyond the legal profession. The fault lies in a failure to listen.

Young lawyers, handling very serious cases, are now asked to accept new cuts which will average 15 per cent, and will often rise to a level of 50 per cent, when they have not had any increase to take account of inflation since 1997. Many have already left the law, the seed-corn of the profession is starting to diminish, and if this continues good advice and representation in the criminal justice arena will become hard to find.

The earnings of some top barristers (report, 15 September) represent a tiny proportion of practitioners. These are not remotely relevant to the debate about low fees. The Bar have always suspected that those who serve government with their black art of spin would release these figures now. They are fees approved by the government-sponsored Legal Services Commission and that the Government have known about for months.

The vast majority remain on an income which has been eroded by more than 22 per cent since 1997. Young aspirants who thought of a career in difficult and challenging publicly funded work are now thinking the unthinkable and considering declining to take on work at the new low rates.

Some solicitors' practices and barristers' chambers are saying they can no longer meet their overheads.

Both the Law Society and the Bar have been encouraged to co-operate with Lord Carter's review of funding for the legal professions, and are engaging as professionals should. He will report in the spring. Why then, before the review has even reached a conclusion, is the Department for Constitutional Affairs proposing to cut the fees of lawyers to the point that those who would never have considered refusing work are now doing so? Why not wait to see what Carter proposes, and then engage with all lawyers in good faith, remembering we are friends of justice and all of us have the public interest at heart?



Saving the planet is good business

Sir: Surveys among the FTSE500 and the world's top 500 companies, recently released by the the CarbonNeutral Company and investor-backed Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) highlight the growing need for businesses to respond to the risks and opportunities presented by climate change. With emissions now increasing at their fastest ever rate, government legislation in this area is almost certainly set to tighten. In tandem, shareholder scrutiny is increasing.

Many businesses are behind the curve, and clearly there is a need for UK plc to catch up with regulator and shareholder thinking. However some businesses have already ­ very successfully ­ embraced the low-carbon economy and are seeing the consequent benefits to top and bottom line.

Our businesses have launched CarbonNeutral programmes. This has involved finding innovative ways to reduce CO 2 emissions wherever possible, and then working to neutralise or "offset" the remainder through renewable energy, energy efficiency and/or forestry projects around the world. Between us we have neutralised over 145,000 tonnes of CO 2 in five years.

Whilst the benefits to the environment are significant, this is not merely a question of bowing to regulatory pressure or being a better corporate citizen. Our businesses have also seen some commercial benefit; as a result of the related marketing and communications opportunity, increased engagement with customers and employees, additional competitive advantage in tender processes, and more efficient ways of working.

Business should not only acknowledge its responsibility to the environment but also recognise the commercial opportunity that positive action presents.



Sir: If global warming really is "past the point of no return", as your headline puts it (16 September), then what is the point of trying to cut carbon dioxide emissions? Surely our money would be better spent protecting people from the consequences.

For example, a common prediction is that the warming Gulf Stream will weaken, sending northern Europe into a new ice age. If so, the windmills will freeze up and solar cells will be perpetually covered in snow. Nuclear power may be the only practical way to keep warm and provide the extra energy for producing food indoors or under glass.



Sir: Your sobering and thoughtful front page on the irreversible effects of global warming was an interesting foil to the full-page coverage of RallyGB in the sports pages.

Future wet, warm and windswept generations will no doubt be very grateful that our civilisation was so obsessed with cars, bikes, karts and boats going round in circles to see which was the fastest that we were prepared to melt the icecaps in order to indulge ourselves.



Shameful behaviour in the Oval crowd

Sir: I was at the Oval on Sunday on the fourth day of the last Test match, with my 12-year-old son, and can confirm what Peter Roebuck (12 September) and Gary Flowers and Brigid Allen (letters, 13 September) say about the behaviour of parts of the crowd.

In the morning session the balance was just about right: the cricket was thrilling and the atmosphere was electric. The chants egging on Flintoff as he steamed in got a bit repetitious, but it was mostly positive.

But as pint followed pint, and more Australian wickets fell after lunch, things got nastier. When the England innings began about a dozen men near us poured endless abuse ­ that they clearly imagined witty ­ at the Australians, and mostly at Shaun Tait ("You're just a sub for a Gyppo!") who was unlucky to be fielding near our stretch of boundary.

It was a shameful experience and made it impossible to appreciate what was happening on the field of play ­ and this when Shane Warne, probably one of the greatest cricketers in the history of the game, was bowling. My son was upset. Our day at a test match, a once-a-year treat, was spoilt, and we left.

Cricket is a contest and a drama, but also a test of character, an aesthetic experience ­ and a game. It can't be reduced to a braying partisanship that finds no worth in your opponents and lacks elementary human respect. The marvellous and historic recapture of the Ashes has been tainted by the way the Australians were treated by sections of the English crowds. Sunday at the Oval exposed an unpleasant side of the national psyche.



Sir: I would like to provide an antidote to Nikki Ginsberg's letter regarding racist football supporters (15 September).

On Tuesday night I witnessed black referee Uriah Rennie being subject to sickening and vitriolic abuse for 90 minutes from a large section of my fellow Wolverhampton Wanderers supporters.

Despite the colour of his skin, none of this abuse contained racial overtones however ­ as it undoubtedly would have done twenty years ago. It focused instead purely on unfounded slurs about Mr Rennie's parentage and sexuality, and was due to perceived anti-Wolves bias in his past inept refereeing displays.

I trudged home from a desperately disappointing 2-1 defeat warmed by the knowledge that racism in football, at least in the West Midlands, is well and truly dead.



Sir: Terence Blacker's thoughts on cricketers v footballers (Opinion, 16 September) are substantially flawed. Comparisons will not be appropriate until such time as England's footballers win a competition of significance. Unless he is suggesting that embarrassing defeat to Northern Ireland is cause for raucous celebrations resisted only by their innate professionalism and sense of decency?



The logic behind 'panic buying'

Sir: It isn't "panic buying" of petrol, but a rational response in a world of uncertainty, as games theory tells us.

The best possible reaction to the fuel protests (assuming that they do not pose a threat to supplies to garages) is for me and every other motorist to maintain our present petrol purchase habits ­ nobody is deprived of petrol at a time we might want to buy it.

However, if I maintain my usual purchase pattern while everyone else fills their tanks, I might be much worse off (empty tank) because I might be caught out by queues and dry garages. If I join the "fill up" group with everyone else, I am less likely to be stuck with an empty tank. It is not rational for me or anyone else to practise forbearance if we are left to make individual decisions.

I am sure the same reasoning applied, for example, to bottled water purchases in New Orleans before Katrina. Both are examples of rational individual decision-making producing a poor collective outcome.



Don't lose liberties in face of terror

Sir: Gareth Marr says he would rather see freedom restricted a little than see his employees blown up (letter, 16 September).

Even if he fails to grasp the intrinsic worth of the civil liberties we enjoy in this country, the fact that our ancestors fought and died to establish them should at least be taken into consideration before we pawn them off. I am prepared to defend the rights of all, even as I sit here at Canary Wharf, a place which has felt rather uncomfortable at times during the last few years.

The terrorism we face now is a temporary thing, the result of our failure to understand that we cannot without fear of reprisal sit back and allow our government to wage wars of aggression in our name. But once we give up our hard-earned fundamental rights, they're gone for good, and generations to come will curse our myopic foolishness.



Sir: When Londoners or New Yorkers are killed by terrorists, the world shows its outrage. Politicians rise to decry the terrible insult to humanity. Citizen-strangers gather to demonstrate their anger, sympathy, grief or support.

On Wednesday and Thursday, nearly 200 Iraqi citizens, including many children as pretty and promising as any in Britain or America, were massacred by suicide bombers. But the world has not stopped to gasp or declaim, light candles, or sing songs.

Are Iraqi lives not worth mourning? Where is the moment of silence for the innocent casualties of America's war?



Time for the world to reform English

Sir: Masha Bell (letter, 15 September) and her book on Understanding English Spelling point out that perversities in English spelling could easily be cleaned up and make a tremendous difference to our great literacy problems, without losing all that we have in print or the historical links to our language.

It is time that research and research grants turned from finding out what is wrong with those who cannot learn, and what is difficult about our spelling, to how spelling could better match the needs and abilities of readers, writers and learners.

Foreign speakers of English now outnumber native speakers, and the useful role of English as the world's lingua franca is hampered by the unnecessary difficulties in its writing system. It is time for an international commission on English spelling, like the other international commissions that facilitate communication in our globalised world.



Presidential style

Sir: It is of interest to note that President Bush's note to Condoleezza Rice about a bathroom break, of which you publish a photograph (16 September), is in a mixture of upper and lower case letters as might be expected of a primary school child.



Unchanging prejudices

Sir: Gordon Young's instructive letter about the modus operandi of the immigration service (15 September) owes a lot to the great Big Bill Broonzy. Back in the 1950s he sang about the prejudices of bosses when hiring labour in the following way: "If you're white, you're all right; if you're brown, stick around ... but if you are black ... get back! get back! get back!



The houses we need

Sir: Shaun Spiers berates what he terms the "disastrous" increase in housing recommended in the Barker Report (letter, 15 September). This increase, if it all took place in the South-east, would only constitute 0.75 per cent of the region's land area. Only 7.1 per cent of England is urbanised, half the proportion of the Netherlands and less than in Belgium and Denmark. As other European countries have shown, we can build the houses we need and preserve the countryside we all value. We need a similarly sensible approach.



British cuisine

Sir: May I bring your attention to a glaring omission in your " Cookbooks that changed the world" piece (13 September)? Elizabeth David was the most important British food writer of the 20th century. Her early books on French and Mediterranean cooking changed British attitudes to food in an era when olive oil was virtually unheard of.



Animal linguists

Sir: Surely Simon Dalgleish's trilingual feline (Letters, 16 September) is simply an example of one cat's meat being another one's poisson?