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.
The Telegraph, Moose Gazette - Police are solving half as many crimes as four years ago with under one in 13 offences leading to a prosecution, official figures reveal.
The number of offences resulting in a charge has fallen from 15.5 per cent in 2014/15 to a record low of 7.4 per cent in 2018/19, with rape charges dropping to just 1.4 per cent, according to Home Office data.
Richard Atkins QC, Chair of the Bar Council, said: “The apparent steep decline in the charging of offences is another serious concern for our criminal justice system, particularly if it is down to the fact that many victims do not support prosecution.
“The Home Office must investigate why this is happening. Those who commit criminal offences should be prosecuted and victims of crime need to have faith that their cases will be heard swiftly.
“The long delays in getting cases put before a court may be one reason and the Bar Council has urged the government to open the many criminal court rooms currently sitting idle to help cut the backlog.”
The Independent - The Bar Council, which represents all 16,500 barristers in England and Wales, has lent its backing to a number of proposals the government has outlined in its recent consultation on sexual harassment at work.
The Bar Council argued there needs to be a new mandatory preventative duty that necessitates employers to protect workers from being subjected to harassment in the workplace.
The council’s law reform committee said: “In our experience the types of measures that an employment tribunal would consider to constitute ‘all reasonable steps’ does not accord with what the majority of respondent employers understand as being reasonable, even employers that consider themselves quite ‘progressive’ in terms of instituting diversity measures in the workplace.”
It also backed proposals for a longer time limit of at least six months in instances of pregnancy and maternity discrimination for bringing a claim to an Employment Tribunal.
Eleena Misra, an employment and equalities barrister who is vice-chair of the committee, said: “The legal protections that currently exist within the framework of the Equality Act 2010 are not having the desired result…The Bar Council considered that the law did need to be strengthened in this area.”
Jacqui Hunt, of Equality Now, a non government organisation which aims to promote the rights of women and girls, said: “We welcome the Bar Council’s support for a code of practice that will provide employers in the legal professions with greater clarity on what their role and responsibilities are in addressing sexual harassment and other forms of sexual misconduct.
Lady Justice Hallett
The Times - Lady Justice Hallett, the vice-president of the criminal division of the Court of Appeal, has only one regret as she prepares to hang up her wig this week after a long and notable career. “I didn’t become lord chief justice,” she says.
The judge turns 70 in December and under the present requirements must retire. Hallett, the state-educated daughter of a policeman, studied jurisprudence at the University of Oxford before being called to the Bar in 1972. She took silk in 1989 — only the 34th female to do so — and in 1998 became the first woman to chair the Bar Council, which represents barristers in England and Wales.
Criminal case backlog
Law Gazette - Robert Buckland QC MP was grilled on Wednesday by the House of Commons justice select committee on the backlog of criminal cases, trial delays and court sitting day allocations.
Told that the number of courts sitting empty has increased, Buckland said: 'There has been a downturn in receipts to the Crown court, an increase in family law cases which meant we had to increase resources there...We do have to adjust our priorities according to the evidence. It's not an exact science and it's not easy.”
Committee chair Bob Neill told Buckland that 'common sense says if there's a drop in receipts, that's the absolute opportunity to reduce the backlog positively. Why is that not being done? It's a political decision, isn't it lord chancellor?'
'It certainly is not,' Buckland replied, before Neill quoted the senior presiding judge's letter to the Bar Council, which stated that the decision not to cut the backlog further was political.
Buckland said: 'I think what she was referring to there was it was a decision made in the department as opposed to a decision made by judges.'
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The Guardian, The Times, PoliticsHome, New Law Journal – Bills that aim to beef up sentences for serious and violent offenders, create a statutory definition of domestic abuse and make it easier to deport foreign national offenders were in Monday’s Queen’s Speech. The government claimed its latest legislative menu aimed to strengthen public confidence in the criminal justice system.
Richard Atkins, QC, chair of the Bar Council, which represents the 16,500 barristers in England and Wales, welcomed the acknowledgment that public confidence needed to be restored in the criminal justice system after cuts of 40 per cent of the Ministry of Justice’s budget since 2010.
He said: “Justice must stay high on the priority list of any government. We will be watching closely to see whether the repairs that our crumbling justice system so desperately needs will be delivered.”
Legal Futures - HM Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS) has come under fire for failing to assess the impact of its court reforms and adopting a “carry on regardless” approach.
Giving evidence to MPs on the public accounts committee (PAC), barrister Sam Townend said that not only were the “overall impacts” of the reforms not being properly assessed, but there were “not even measures in place” to assess them. Mr Townend, a member of the Bar Council’s legal services committee, said everyone knew that HMCTS “had trouble with staff churn” and this was partly to blame for the lack of consultation on court reform.
Mr Townsend said the Bar Council did not believe “overall impacts” were being properly assessed. “There seems to be a decision to carry on regardless.”
Rule of law
House Magazine (print), PoliticsHome – Lord Falconer is interviewed by Tony Grew about the importance of upholding the independence of our judiciary.
Tony Grew writes:
Miller 2 refers to the recent ruling that prorogation was unlawful. Miller 1 was in 2016, when Gina Miller went to the High Court to prevent the government triggering Article 50 without getting the consent of parliament.
The judgement led to a Daily Mail front page so infamous it has its own Wikipedia page. "ENEMIES OF THE PEOPLE" was the Mail's own verdict. Their readers were informed that one of the justices was an openly gay ex-Olympic fencer. The headline was above a story by James Slack, who is now the prime minister's press spokesman.
Liz Truss, then the lord chancellor, was slow in recalling her oath to protect the judiciary. Only after the Bar Council had requested it did she release a three-line statement about the "rightly respected" independence of the judiciary. Lawyers throughout the country were unimpressed.
"You don't need to be a lawyer in order to understand that the judges need defending," says Lord Falconer.
Women in law
Bustle.com – Lauren Sharkey writes:
As the paper [Telegraph] reports, new findings from legal ranking company Chambers and Partners show that less than a quarter of UK-ranked barristers are female. This figure has increased by only five percent since 2010.
Yet another problem arises when women decide to have a family. Amanda Pinto QC, vice-chair of the Bar Council, told Sky News: "The Bar is a difficult profession because you don't necessarily know if you're going to be working a very long day or get home to pick up your children. It's that uncertainty that makes it hard."
The Bar Council have a helpline and mentoring initiatives to help female progression, though it will take time to measure any impact they may have.
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LawGazette – Guides explaining the workings of criminal courts should be corrected ‘as a matter of urgency’ according to the Bar Council, which claims they ‘effectively airbrush out of history the role of barristers’.
The Ministry of Justice has published a four-part guide for defendants in criminal cases. The illustrated guide is designed to be understood by all defendants, including those with low literacy levels, and will be available online and in courts.
According to the MoJ, the move follows reports that lay users often go to court without a sufficient understanding of what to expect, which can ‘cause delays and restrict access to justice'. The leaflets should make courts 'more efficient for victims and witnesses’.
However, Richard Atkins QC, chair of the Bar Council, said he was ‘very surprised’ by the publication.
‘Whilst I understand that they are meant to provide easily digestible information, to effectively airbrush out of history the role of barristers in the criminal courts is incomprehensible.
‘Barristers conduct the vast majority of cases in the Crown court and are involved in many in the Magistrates' courts. Barristers also appear under the direct access provisions without the need for a solicitor to also be instructed. I hope that whoever has produced these documents corrects them as a matter of urgency.’
Barristers are mentioned just twice in the four-part guide. Solicitors are mentioned in every section of the pamphlet.
Women in law
The Telegraph, Yahoo UK – Make more television shows with female barristers, lawyers have insisted, as new figures show less than a quarter of those in the profession are women.
Just 23.6 per cent of 7,409 barristers currently working in the UK are female, compared with 17.3 per cent in 2010, according to think tank Chambers and Partners.
Painfully slow progress in remedying the gender imbalance in the last decade has prompted calls for more to be done to attract women into the profession and incentivise them to stick with it long enough to progress to the most senior positions.
The Bar Council, which represents barristers in England and Wales, has previously highlighted the problem of retention, pointing out that only 15 per cent of the most senior barristers, known as QCs, are women.
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