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News update from The Bar Council

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.

14 December 

Divorce  

The Times, Law Society Gazette – The Times and Gazette report that the Bar Council has said vulnerable spouses and children will be put at risk if the government proceeds with plans to ditch the ability to contest divorces.
 
The Ministry of Justice has made a raft of proposed reforms to divorce law in England and Wales, with the main recommendation being that the obligation for one party to accept fault for the breakdown of a marriage should be removed, reports The Times. 
 
In its response to the ministry’s consultation on the reforms, the Bar Council said that it agreed with the recommendation that fault should be removed from the divorce process. However, the Bar Council disagreed with ministers over the proposal that the ability to contest divorces should be removed as a general rule.
 
Bar leaders said they were “mindful of the sensitivities within some communities of divorce and the stigma it may bring, more often to the ex-wife than the ex-husband”, reports The Times.  

Court staff 

Bolton News, ThisIsLancashire – The north west local media report that court staff are set to be handed judicial powers under new laws, leading Labour to warn the Government is eroding the rule of law.
 
The reforms will give court staff power to carry out routine judicial functions such as changing the start time of a hearing in the Crown Court, thus freeing up judges' time. Ministers pledged the changes would make justice "quicker and easier" but Labour warned the reforms could see unqualified staff taking important judicial decisions.
 
The press report that: Imran Hussain, in the shadow justice team, said Labour did not oppose reform in principle, but added: "We cannot support the changes in this Bill without the protections that we, the Bar Council and the Law Society amongst other organisations and legal professionals have called for. Unfortunately, on these matters we feel we have been ignored and therefore we will be opposing the Bill. 
 
Justice Minister Lucy Frazer said the Bill made "small and technical" changes that would make "access to justice quicker and easier for all".

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12 December

Advocate for the bereaved

The Times, Law Society Gazette – The Times and Gazette report that the Bar Council has said a public advocacy service to represent bereaved families at inquests will not be sufficiently independent and will have funding problems.
 
The Ministry of Justice announced plans last September for the creation an independent public advocate, designed to help members of the public understand and engage with investigations into accidents and disasters.
 
Responding to the ministry’s consultation, the Bar Council said that “the interests of survivors are often less well represented than those of the bereaved” at present.
 
The Bar Council added that the term 'Independent Public Advocate' is an 'inherently misleading' title because the advocate is acting as an intermediary between the victims and the statutory bodies. It suggests 'Independent Public Adviser' would be better.
 
The Bar Council’s response also stated: “There has been extensive media coverage of the challenges facing core participants in public inquiries who are unable to obtain legal aid to fund independent representation. Given this context, it is likely that those who are introduced to an "Independent Public Advocate" following a disaster will find it difficult to understand that the IPA is not in fact able to advocate on their behalf in legal proceedings and that the role has not been created in response to demands for the provision of funding for legal representation for victims.” 

Online courts

Law Society Gazette – The Gazette report on the recent International Forum on Online Courts at which Chair of the Bar, Andrew Walker QC spoke on HMCTS’s plans for online courts. 
 
The Gazette reports that the Chair of the Bar called for a ‘reality check’ on HMCTS’s plans. “Will we really do all this? Or will expediency take over?’ he asked of lofty proposals to make online justice fair and transparent.”
 
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10 December

Legal Aid

Analysis from the BBC’s shared data unit which shows that up to a million people live in areas with no legal aid provision for housing, with a further 15 million in areas with one provider. 
 
The Yorkshire Post reports that Doncaster is one of five areas in England and Wales with no legal aid available for housing advice.
 
Andrew Walker QC said: “With the withdrawal of legal aid from many areas of practice, and its restricted availability in others, we are experiencing a hollowing out and de-skilling in all parts of the legal profession in all of these areas. Without paying work in these areas, barristers are moving into other areas of practice, and new entrants are not being recruited into these areas.”

Sentencing

The Times reports on calls from Sir Brian Leveson, president of the Queen’s Bench Division, for a new sentencing code.
 
Delivering the Bar Council’s 16 annual Law Reform Lecture he said: “I am sorry to say that the current state of sentencing law means that frequently the right result is not reached until even the third time.”
 
He cited an analysis from 2012 which found that 36 per cent of cases in the Court of Appeal criminal division involved an unlawful sentence “which the judge simply had no power at law to pass”. 
 
“The proposed code will save money and time and create greater certainty in relation to the options available to sentencers in this ever increasingly complex world.”
 
“The current rates of error and delay consequent on that complexity in this crucial area simply cannot be allowed to continue.” 

Women in Law

The Times reports that when Anna Bradley takes over as chairwoman of the Solicitors Regulation Authority in the new year, she will join a near clean sweep of women leaders of the legal profession’s regulatory and representative bodies.
 
In an article on women in leadership in the legal profession, Grania-Langdon-Down writes:
 
“The Bar Council has had three female leaders, with Amanda Pinto, QC, from 33 Chancery Lane chambers in London next up in 2020. The council is launching a “next 100 years” campaign next year to mark the centenary of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act.

Four Bars meeting

Journal Online - The latest meeting of the referral Bars of Scotland, England & Wales, Ireland and Northern Ireland took place at the Advocates Library in Edinburgh  on Friday 7 December.

Meetings of the four Bars – The Faculty of Advocates in Scotland, The Bar Council in England and Wales, The Bar of Ireland in the Irish Republic, and The Bar of Northern Ireland – take place twice a year, with the location circulating among the member bodies.

In attendance were the Deans or Chairs of each Bar, together with their chief executives. As well as sharing information and experiences across the different jurisdictions, the four Bars forum addresses common and long standing policy concerns across all jurisdictions, particularly in relation to upholding the rule of law and access to justice.
 
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Date posted: 14 December 2018