Letter from the Treasurer
The Treasurer, The Rt Hon. Sir Stephen Irwin, has written the below letter to complement the recent Press Release on behalf of the Inns of Court and provide a fuller explanation of what the Inn is doing and the reasons behind it.
This letter was emailed to Members on 10 April 2020.
To all UK Members of Gray’s Inn
- During its history, the Inn has endured many crises from war, fire and plague to the current pandemic and each has had to be met and overcome. Whilst some of these events affected the bricks and mortar of the Inn, the plague and this pandemic go to the heart of our membership. I want to take this opportunity of setting out the approach the Inn is taking to help our members and the limitations we face in doing so.
- I think it is important that I set out the Inn’s financial position because it defines the scope we have for providing assistance. Each Inn is financially structured differently to support their strategic objectives. For Gray’s, our key strategic objective is education and for that reason, any surplus income is annually transferred to our Scholarship Trust. Unfortunately, it is a one-way street and we cannot withdraw funds from it for other purposes. We have no reserve and hence our ability to provide any financial assistance must be drawn from our annual revenue which is derived from the rent of our properties and our commercial events.
- We have had to cancel all our commercial events to the end of the summer, including our Marquee and we will lose £1m in income. We are also committed to funding a quarter of the cost of the new Bar course which we will host in March 2021 alongside our major construction project at the main entrance. Although close to completion, work has been affected by Covid 19 and it will now be the end of May by the time it is completed. We are also committed to financially supporting a number of legal charities such as Advocate, Support Through Court as well as providing £70k to the Pupillage Matched Funding Scheme and over £62k to support Bar Council activities. Recognising the situation of some of our tenants and residents, we have offered them the opportunity to apply for deferrals of their rent to help them through this difficult period which will impact upon the other main source of income. We have furloughed all but three of the Catering Staff and are also arranging to furlough some Inn staff.
- I hope you will therefore understand the only cash available to the Inn is by stopping or delaying planned activities such the refurbishment of the Treasury Building and not replacing the boilers, installing a disabled access lift to the second floor, refurbishing the classrooms and rewiring and replumbing.
- Having set the scene, let me describe what we are doing to help. I have already described what we are doing to try and help those Chambers located at Gray’s Inn and the process for that is in place with the details passed to Chambers and residents and those details are also on our website. Assessment of these applications will be undertaken by a Hardship Working Group (HWG) which is in place with terms of reference and ready to start work. It is mandated to assess applications within 7 working days as we understand speed of response is important.
- We are very conscious that this only reflects help to those fortunate enough to be located at Gray’s and that it does nothing to address individual hardship across the Bar. All the Inns have recognised the benefits of approaching this problem collectively and we have all agreed to make immediately significant initial donations to the Barristers Benevolent Association (BBA) who exist to help practising members of the Bar who face hardship. It is setting up an emergency fund to assist those in urgent need arising from the impact of the pandemic. The BBA already has the systems and the experience to distribute financial support effectively to those who need it most. It will shortly be launching a fund-raising campaign and contributions to it will have the benefit of attracting gift aid so it will maximise the donations made. The Inns will contribute progressively more funds to the BBA as the demand requires.
- Whilst the BBA’s Charter allows them to support all those who have held a brief, there will be others who require assistance who do not fall within that group. Each Inn will support their members in this group and the HWG will assess their applications for funding from the Inn.
- We have continued to provide Qualifying Sessions online and have replaced all those that have been lost due to the closure of the Inn. These sessions are free and we have refunded money paid by students to attend them. We will adapt training for New Practitioners and Pupils if necessary once we know the duration of the current restrictions.
- Whilst we have had to close our library, we have continued to provide a remote enquiry and limited document supply service to members of the Inns of Court using its online subscriptions. Library staff can access Lexis Library, Westlaw, Practical Law, Lawtel, Justis and Bloomsbury Professional and are carrying out searches on behalf of barristers and providing material to them. Normally there is a fee for this service, but during this crisis we are waiving the fees.
- Following contact by the Inns’ Librarians, LexisNexis are now offering free access for 60 days to the entirety of their online content (including many books). However, this is only for use by the Inn Libraries who would search on behalf of barristers and then supply documents. Their offer to individual barristers is a free 7 day trial access to their online content. We have written to them asking if they can possibly offer anything further to individual members and we are in the process of writing to the other publishers also. Their offer to the Libraries is conditional on us advertising and promoting to members their offer of the free 7 day trial access, e.g. on our website and social media. We hope there will be other offers from other publishers, so we can avoid the appearance of favouring one over another.