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No Ferraris on the cab rank - by Henry Milner

HAVE you ever seen a Ferrari waiting for a fare at a cab rank? I haven't - and it is no different at the Bar.

Over the years I have with increasing scepticism read highly intellectual and academic articles about the virtues of the Bar's cab-rank system - all very praiseworthy, no doubt. The reality, however, is that in practice there is no such system, certainly not in criminal defence work if you want a top barrister.

The notion that Mr Ferrari, QC, is available at the drop of his wig to conduct any case that might be thrown his way is nonsense. Don't believe me? Try a little practical experiment. Speak to the clerk of any top QC and offer him a legal aid brief in a VAT fraud case estimated to last up to six months at Ice Station Zebra Crown Court (Woolwich), on a date to be fixed for his personal convenience.

"Mr Ferrari," you will be told, "is booked up back-to-back for the next 15 months." Or "Mr Ferrari has an appeal coming up in Hong Kong but no date has been fixed - I couldn't possibly take a chance of your case." Or, if push comes to shove, "Mr Ferrari has promised his wife a world cruise and is not taking any further work until his return."

Now, ask your fellow lawyer to telephone the same clerk and offer Mr Ferrari a serious fraud case at the Old Bailey for an oil tycoon. It may astonish you to find that the great man will "slip in" your client's little problem and, as a personal favour, will even stay late for a conference that very day.

I'm not saying you won't find some very reasonable vehicles on offer at the cab rank. A fleet of young turbo-charged BMWs; some fine old Mercs, and even (for a short journey) the occasional vintage Rolls. But a Ferrari? Dream on!

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