The Bar Council provides a regular News Update on general legal issues that will be of interest to our members.

The most recent News Updates can be viewed below. If you would would like to sign up to receive this News Update by email, please contact The Bar Council.

Friday 13 May

Queen’s Speech

The Law Society Gazette, PoliticsHome The Gazette and PoliticsHome published Mark Fenhalls QC’s reaction to the Government Bills announced in the Queen’s Speech.

Mark’s full quote reads: “Of the proposals announced [on 10 May], the Bar Council’s priorities will include the Bill of Rights, justice legislation, the victims bill and legislation on economic crimes, Brexit freedoms and trade.

“As we set out in our consultation response, the litmus test of a remodelled Bill of Rights is whether it will provide coherent, readily applicable remedies.

“A Brexit Freedoms Bill could involve the unpicking of decades of legislation and any steps taken must be considered very carefully to avoid unintended consequences that could damage the interests of the United Kingdom.

“Barristers in England and Wales spend their daily working lives operating within the legislative framework established by Parliament. We will continue to engage constructively and be guided by the expertise and knowledge of the practising barristers the Bar Council represents.”

‘Liberal lawyers’ 

The Guardian, PA News Agency (coverage in Mail Online, The Independent, Evening Standard, Belfast Telegraph, Jersey Evening Post + others) – More media outlets covered Mark Fenhalls QC’s reaction to the Prime Minister’s claim that “liberal lawyers” will try to scupper plans to send migrants to Rwanda.

As reported in last week’s news update, Mark said: “Attacks on men and women for simply doing their jobs are irresponsible and undermine the rule of law.”

Mark’s comment ran again because Home Secretary Priti Patel talked about the Rwanda policy, saying she would use every “every tool and every piece of legislation at our disposal” to remove migrants who arrive in the UK “illegally”.

She also said: “We see various hurdles and barriers, mainly from specialist law firms that want to block the removal of individuals that have no right to be in our country. That is part of the techniques that they use.”

Justice Week 

Counsel Magazine (print and online) – Counsel Magazine’s regular column from the Chair of the Bar includes a look ahead to Justice Week.

Mark Fenhalls QC writes: “As the Bar Council starts to prepare for Justice Week this year, we would like to encourage you to do the same. The week of events starts on Monday 20 June and promises to build on previous successful Justice Weeks by raising the profile of justice issues with the public and decision-makers alike.

“We would like to encourage Circuits, specialist Bar associations, the Inns of Court, chambers, and legal networks to play a role in Justice Week by organising their own events and activities.

“The intention is to highlight the importance of legal services and access to justice; build public understanding and support for the rule of law; increase understanding in the justice system; and galvanise support and engagement that can help us to improve justice for all.”

‘No returns’ action 

The Law Society Gazette – The Gazette reports that Jo Sidhu QC, Chair of the Criminal Bar Association, says the ‘no returns’ action is having a widespread impact.

Mr Sidhu is quoted as saying “the breadth and depth of commitment to the pursuit of our action has been nothing short of extraordinary”.

The CBA Chair says some trials are being postponed “deep into 2023”.

Mark Fenhalls QC

FT Adviser – The FT Adviser has printed a court report featuring Mark Fenhalls QC as prosecutor.

The FT Adviser reports that two financial advisers will be sentenced next month after convincing hundreds of vulnerable pension holders to transfer their plans into a sham company in a £20mn con.

Public Order Bill

The Independent – The Independent reports that Jo Sidhu QC has criticised the Government’s Public Order Bill, which bids to crack down on disruptive protests.

The Independent says the Public Order Bill will outlaw tactics in England and Wales such as protesters “locking on” to public transport infrastructure or gluing themselves to roads.

Mr Sidhu, Chair of the Criminal Bar Association, is quoted as saying the Government’s “ongoing refusal to properly fund the prosecutors and defenders required to deal with the pile-up of delayed trials for existing public order cases means any new legislation for new criminal offences will fail to deliver justice for either the public or those accused”.

Young Bar

Counsel Magazine (online; print next month) – Counsel Magazine has published an article from the Young Bar leadership giving an update on the work done since the release of the ‘Life at the Young Bar’ report.

Pay policy

BBC, RollOnFriday The media report that a London law firm has offered staff the option to work from home permanently – but for a 20% pay cut.

The firm, Stephenson Harwood, said it didn’t expect many people to take up the offer.

The article was published on the BBC website earlier this month, having originally appeared on RollOnFriday.com

SLAPP legislation

The Law Society Gazette – The Gazette reports that a leading media lawyer has suggested anti-SLAPP legislation is unnecessary.

Justin Rushbrooke QC, joint head of chambers at specialist media law set 5RB, said that “a SLAPP case, properly understood, is something of a chimera in this jurisdiction”.

Mr Rushbrooke was appearing in front of the Commons’ justice select committee on Tuesday (10 May).

Libel action

The Guardian – The Guardian has reported on a court case which campaigners have described as a SLAPP.

Northern Ireland

The Times, The GuardianThe Times reports that the Attorney General believes it would be legal to override the Northern Ireland protocol – but the Guardian has run quotes from barristers who disagree.

Bar Council tweets

 

Friday 6 May

‘Liberal lawyers’

PA News Agency (coverage in Shropshire Star, Basingstoke Gazette, Belfast Telegraph, Andover Advertiser, Banbury Cake, Border Counties Advertiser, Bicester Advertiser, Ayr Advertiser, Alloa Advertiser, Ardrossan Herald) – PA News Agency quotes Mark Fenhalls QC following the Prime Minister’s claim that “liberal lawyers” will try to scupper plans to send migrants to Rwanda.

The Chair of the Bar Council is quoted as saying: “Attacks on men and women for simply doing their jobs are irresponsible and undermine the rule of law.

“Few details of how the proposed scheme may operate have emerged but the Government has published a ‘factsheet’ that says: ‘Everyone considered for relocation will be screened and have access to legal advice. Decisions will be taken on a case-by-case basis and nobody will be removed if it is unsafe or inappropriate for them.’

“It is unclear who will be making these decisions or what criteria they be applying. But, as the Government acknowledges, the lawyers who provide legal advice in such cases will be fulfilling their professional duties.”

Judicial diversity 

The Law Society Gazette (print and online) – The Gazette mentions the Bar Council in a ‘Sounding Off’ column on judicial diversity.

The piece, by editor-in-chief Paul Rogerson, quotes Mark Fenhalls QC as saying: “The Bar Council supports an independent appointments process that is both fair and transparent.

“Candidates from an ethnic minority background and solicitors do not currently secure appointment at the same rate as other lawyers. The senior judiciary therefore remains insufficiently diverse and we are supporting efforts to ensure the judiciary reflects the society it serves.

“We would welcome suggestions that would help to secure further improvements.”

Mark Fenhalls QC

The Times (print and online) The Times’ law pages mention Mark Fenhalls QC’s recent appearance in front of the House of Commons’ justice select committee.

The short article in the diary section says Mr Fenhalls “seemed to be more content” than others about the Government’s response to Sir Christopher Bellamy’s legal aid review.

The piece reads: “Asked by Sir Bob Neill, the committee chairman, what he expected by way of a rise from the government, Fenhalls said that he was not expecting anything. Cutting an Uriah Heep-like figure, Fenhalls said that he was grateful for the government’s stated intention to increase fees by 15 per cent, which criminal barristers and the Law Society claim actually amounts to a 9 per cent rise. Bar chairmen receive more than £192,000 for their year of tenure, which may make the cuts easier to bear.”

Boris Becker

The Guardian, The TimesThe Guardian quotes barrister Leon Glenister in an article reporting that Boris Becker could face deportation after he is released from prison.

Mr Glenister, of Landmark Chambers, said: “The presumption is that he will receive a deportation order but although one has to consider his right to a private and family life, I can’t see that is going to give him much hope.

“Even if Becker goes to a high street lawyer to defend him, costs can reach £30,000. The only other option is for him to represent himself as a litigant in person. This is not unheard of but it can be quite complicated, so it’s not advised.”

The Times followed up the story.

Domestic abuse 

The GuardianThe Guardian reports that research suggests tens of thousands of domestic abuse survivors have been “forced to continue living under the shadow of their abusers” in the decade since access to legal aid was scaled back.

The article states: “About 34,000 people are estimated to have been denied support allowing them to seek orders to help remove attackers out of the family home or prevent them from returning at will.

“The House of Commons library also calculated that since the law was changed 10 years ago, the proportion of domestic abuse cases funded by legal aid had fallen from 75% to 47%.”

Sentencing powers

The Times, The Independent, Sky News, Evening Standard, MailOnline, Daily Express + others – The media report that magistrates are now able to hand out jail sentences of up to a year, with new legislation having come into effect.

The Times says: “Ministers said that the move would free up to 1,700 days of crown court time as they battle to reduce a record-breaking backlog of cases that is badly delaying trials of serious criminal offences.”

Sir Bob Neill

Evening StandardThe Evening Standard ran an opinion piece from Sir Bob Neill, Chair of the Commons’ justice committee, with the headline: ‘Our courts are on life support. This government must act now’.

Sir Bob wrote: “The Government needs to take a long-term approach to providing the funding to upgrade the courts to provide the public with the justice system it deserves.”

He added: “The Government and the courts’ response to the pandemic, in particular through the use of Nightingale Courts and remote hearings, shows that we can find more resources to keep the wheels of justice turning. Now is an important moment to go beyond simply fixing the latest problem in the justice system. It is imperative that the focus turns to upgrading the estate and the overall level of resourcing.” 

Public Defender Service

The Times – The Times has published a comment piece which argues that the Public Defender Service should be expanded “so that it offers a significant number of salaried roles for defence counsel”.

Nick Scott, a former barristers’ clerk who is now doing a law degree, writes: “The central issue highlighted by the no-returns policy is uncertainty surrounding pay. The security provided by salaried roles, similar to the approach in the US, would answer that concern directly.

“Additionally, providing an adequate number of salaried public defender roles to cover legal aid-funded cases would be consistent with the approach applied to many other essential roles within the justice system.”

Bar Council tweets

 

Friday 8 April

Criminal Bar

Today the Bar Council has published new data revealing the number of barristers practising full-time in criminal law has declined by more than 10% in 2020-21.

Mark Fenhalls QC, chair of the Bar Council, said: “The Bar Council has consistently said that both solicitors and barristers need an urgent injection of money immediately, a minimum of 15% as recommended by Sir Christopher Bellamy. This is essential funding to keep the criminal justice system afloat, and so that victims, complainants, witnesses and defendants do not need to wait years for trials to take place.

“Many barristers are burnt out and need a break from the relentless amount of work they are doing. Criminal legal work is incredibly challenging. The new data published today suggests that barristers will look for alternatives to criminal work whenever they can.”

Read the press release and download the full set of data via the Bar Council website.

Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation

In the latest edition of Counsel magazine, Mark Fenhalls QC’s column focuses on the issue of Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs). He said:

“The Bar Council’s role is to support the profession and to promote the highest standards of ethics. Readers of this column will hardly need reminding that in England and Wales the cab-rank rule requires a barrister (who is available and competent to act in the given case) to accept instructions for litigation from a professional client (a solicitor or in-house counsel), irrespective of the identity of the client; the nature of the case; and (importantly here) any belief or opinion which the barrister may have formed as to the character, reputation, cause, conduct, guilt or innocence of the client.

“The practical consequence is that members of the Bar may find themselves professionally bound to act on either side of a SLAPP, or in other litigation that public opinion finds distasteful for one reason or another.

“The cab-rank rule ensures that all potential litigants, regardless of reputation, background, or the apparent circumstances of the case, have access to justice. This is a cornerstone of our legal system and our democracy.”

Press Gazette reported on the parliamentary session this week as journalists and lawyers gave evidence to the House of Lords Communications and Digital Committee. The witnesses emphasised the impact of SLAPP cases go deeper than court cases, with pre-court intimidation and the threat of costly legal proceedings meaning countless articles never get published.

Ukraine

The Law Gazette this week reports on the appointments to the Legal Task Force on Accountability for Crimes Committed in Ukraine. The new task force members include Lord Neuberger and Baroness Kennedy.

Legal Futures reported that some London law firms are “rubbing their hands with glee” at an influx of new oligarch clients turned away by the big City firms. Mark Stephens, a partner at Howard Kennedy, said: “As long as it is lawful to represent somebody, whether or not their money is stained with blood, somebody will do it…”

The Law Gazette reports that the Solicitors Regulation Authority has begun spot checks on firms named in parliament as working for Russian oligarch clients.

According to Politics Home Lord Harrington, the refugees minister, has described the rollout of the Ukrainian refugee schemes as “embarrassing”.

Today The Guardian reports that Priti Patel has apologised for the amount of time it has taken for Ukrainian refugees to arrive in the UK under two visa schemes.

Pupil Survey 

Following the publication of the Bar Council’s second annual survey of pupils, the media outlet Legal Futures has reported that nearly four in 10 pupils have experienced or observed bullying, harassment and/or discrimination.

Legal Cheek emphasised the survey findings showing most pupil barristers found the application process to secure pupillage “challenging” and said the experience could be improved by getting better feedback.

Aptitude Test

Media outlets including The Barrister, Law Gazette and The Times have reported the BSB’s decision to abolish the Bar Course Aptitude Test.

Legal Futures highlighted the Bar Council’s concerns about the high number of students enrolling on courses compared to the limited number of pupillages.

Legal Cheek reported: “The decision to ditch the exam comes despite the Bar Council and the Inns of Court arguing that it was premature, given the reforms to bar training are relatively new. They also cited recent student performance on the centralised assessments as evidence that too many students are enrolling on bar training courses without the requisite aptitude.”

Money for Lawyers

In a piece for the Evening Standard, the ex-minister Anna Soubry launches an attack on the Government for failing lawyers and defendants – claiming that her law work pays less than £10 an hour.

In a piece for the Mail on Sunday last week, couples were warned of ‘bandwagon-jumping lawyers’ and ‘greedy’ solicitors following the enactment of new divorce laws.

Diversity

The Daily Mail has highlighted the first hijab-wearing criminal barrister to be appointed Queen’s Counsel.

The Law Gazette reports that Clifford Chance has published pay gap data showing up to a 44% difference in the average pay between staff from different socio-economic backgrounds.

Hong Kong

Law Gazette reports the president of the Supreme Court has denied resigning from the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal as a result of ‘pressure’ from Government.

Joshua Rosenberg reports that the House of Lords constitution committee session led to an unexpected clash — and one that was deeply unconstitutional, as the former Conservative leader Lord Howard of Lympne CH QC posed a question about a 2019 legal case.

Judicial Review

The Sunday Times reported last week that “The government’s plans for wider-reaching reforms to the judicial review process, in which individuals and organisations could challenge official decisions in the courts, have also been put on hold.” The story was followed up with a piece by the Law Gazette entitled: Government ‘cools on JR reforms’ after Lords defeats.

Press Campaigns

The Government has admitted that pre-2016 journalist surveillance was illegal and in response, Privacy International’s lawyer and legal officer Nour Haidar, who worked on the cases, told Press Gazette: “The government has previously been reluctant to admit that its surveillance regime violated human rights standards, so this is an important step towards transparency and strengthening safeguards … the UK’s investigatory powers regime must [be amended to] also include safeguards for lawyers’ communications – in particular, legally privileged communications”.

Press Gazette reports that a coalition of national newspapers including the Mail, i, Telegraph and Times have joined forces to call for a new requirement for privacy claimants to prove “serious harm” in their response to the Government’s consultation on reforming the Human Rights Act.

The Mirror reports that the Attorney General has won her bid to prevent the BBC identifying a “dangerous extremist and misogynist” who is allegedly an MI5 informant. A BBC spokesperson said the corporation firmly believe the issues involved were of the ‘highest public interest’.

The Telegraph added that the BBC is allowed to air the programme but must not identify the covert human intelligence source. In Thursday’s ruling, Mr Justice Chamberlain said public disclosure of the agent’s identity would have “no significant effect” on protecting women but would pose a threat to him and damage the effectiveness of the security services.

Press Gazette reports that News Group Newspapers has lost a legal case to end the litigation linked to phone hacking scandal. The court this week heard there have been more than 1,000 claims settled so far, a further 52 claims registered, 436 claims are at the pre-action letter stage and more claims are still likely to come. Lawyers have suggested there could be up to 20,000 -25,000 potential victims, with around 45 hearings having already taken place and using up an estimated 70 hours of court time.

Media Investigations

In the latest BBC TV programme Panorama, journalists investigate why only 1% of reported rapes in England and Wales result in a conviction. The film follows five people who have reported rape as they journey through the criminal justice system.

An investigation by The Bureau of Investigative Journalism and ITV has found that eight out of ten police employees accused of domestic abuse are still working. More than 1,300 officers and staff have been reported for alleged domestic abuse since 2018. Only 36 have been dismissed.

The Bar Council Twitter

Find out more

Contact

Get in touch with the Inn

Find us

Getting here and our opening hours

News

Find out about the Inn's news and announcements

Login