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Criminal Bar comes to blows over GLS involvement

Combative silk takes on the CBA over the appearance of Tony Cross QC at the Global Law Summit

19 February 2015

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Attendance by certain members of the legal profession at the Global Law Summit (GLS) remains a controversial issue as senior members of the Bar clash on social media just days before the launch of the event.

John Cooper QC of 25 Bedford Row has repeatedly railed against the decision of Tony Cross QC, chairman Criminal Bar Association (CBA), to attend the politically polarising government summit in Westminster next week.

Although the former chairman of the CBA, Nigel Lithman QC, had heavily criticised the government for its Putin-esque event in February 2014, the current leadership of the group decided on an incredible U-turn in recent weeks which sees the new chair now speaking at the GLS.

In a statement last month, Cross said he was sorry his appearance had angered a number of CBA members: "I am to play but a small part in a panel discussion entitled 'Whose responsibility is it to maintain the rule of law'. It is a rather distinguished panel. I intend to use the opportunity to set out very clearly the CBA's view on this topic. I intend quite obviously to speak my mind. I will though do it courteously and critically.

"My appearance has been the subject of much discussion on Twitter. Some have accused me of treachery. The terms of my engagement were discussed at the most recent CBA Executive."

In recent weeks, Cooper has both written and tweeted his criticism over the CBA's change of heart and has publicly requested copies of minutes from the committee debate discussing the association's involvement with the GLS.

"Mr Cross will argue that the platform gives him the opportunity to make his case over the attacks on access to justice to those who most need to hear it - notwithstanding that it will be for just six minutes in a side room," wrote Cooper in The Times.

"He argues that despite criticisms, the 'consensus was that this was a perfect forum to put forward our case'. There is also strong case for saying he should not attend at all - and it is this that has angered many. They are unlikely to be there to hear him."

The criminal silk's appeals, however, seem to have fallen on deaf ears at the CBA. He even found himself blocked by the association's official Twitter account in January and, though an apology from the CBA quickly followed, relations remain frosty on social media to say the least.

The latest spat (see screen grab below) saw the CBA suggest that Cooper had not attended a single committee meeting while the editor for Criminal Bar Quarterly, and if he were truly 'interested' he would have attended more, allegations which the barrister vehemently refuted.

The CBA have since issued Cooper an apology for their comment over his alleged lack of attendance.

The GLS has divided opinion within the profession. While some practitioners have argued that division will only hurt the profession and the country's standing as a leading provider or legal services, others are taking the opportunity to protest against the GLS, the government's cuts to legal aid, and its administration of the justice system.

Though the government, sponsors, organisers and attendees of the GLS would no doubt have been hoping for a celebration of law in this 800th year of Magna Carta, it now seems likely to be an embarrassing affair for all concerned.

SJ will be reporting live from the summit and at the various protests during next week.

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