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.
23 October 2020
Prime Minister and Home Secretary
The Observer (print and online), The Guardian, MSN, Yahoo News, The London Economic & Spiked – Media outlets continue to report on further developments in relation to inflammatory statements made by the Home Secretary about lawyers.
Home secretary Priti Patel ignored warnings from at least two senior colleagues to stop targeting immigration lawyers after a knifeman threatened to kill a solicitor last month in an attack linked to her rhetoric, the Observer reveals.
Downing Street on Friday night refused to answer questions from the Observer about what Johnson knew of the attack, Patel’s alleged role in inspiring it and, if he did know, why he felt comfortable risking fresh attacks against lawyers.
Legal sources have confirmed that the first requests from fellow ministers to Patel to desist came two days after the knife attack, when officials from the Bar Council and Law Society contacted Buckland and Braverman to pass on their concerns and tell Patel her anti-lawyer rhetoric needed to stop.
Separately, former Lord Chancellor David Gauke writes in The Guardian (p4, print): “A home secretary is, of course, entitled to seek to reform the asylum system, but there are genuine reasons to be concerned about some of the language being used. This week, a 28-year-old man has been in court charged with a racially or religiously aggravated attack on 7 September on a solicitor at a law firm that has been involved in high-profile immigration cases. Subsequently, both the Law Society and the Bar Council wrote to the home secretary to raise their concerns about her language putting lawyers at physical risk.”
Council of Europe report
The Daily Telegraph (print and online), Daily Mail (print and online), Yahoo News - The UK has the lowest proportion of women judges in the whole of the European Union with fewer than 40 per cent across all court tiers, international research has revealed.
The analysis of 45 nations including the EU shows that only Azerbaijan, Armenia, Morocco and Iceland have lower proportions of women judges than the UK’s 39 per cent. In the high and supreme courts, the UK fares even worse in comparison with just a quarter of its judges women, according to the research by the Council of Europe.
Amanda Pinto QC, chair of the Bar Council, said: “The lack of women in the higher levels of the judiciary must be urgently addressed and rectified in the interests of justice. Progress has been too slow.
“Even appreciating that our judicial system recruits judges who already have significant legal experience – unlike many other countries that recruit through a separate career route – this report shows that we lag behind many of our neighbours in Europe.”
The Daily Mail reports that England and Wales’s spending on legal aid was the third highest out of nearly 50 countries analysed in the report, and funded the second-highest number of legal aid cases each year.
Last year legal aid spending in England and Wales ran to £1.5 billion, but the Bar Council, which represents barristers, has suggested the figure be increased to £2.48 billion.
But Amanda Pinto QC, chair of the Bar Council, said: ‘Comparing England and Wales’ spending on legal aid with that of other countries is like comparing apples with oranges.’
Her full comment can be read here.
The Independent, Yahoo.com, Msn.com, Monmouthshire Free Press, Pontypool Free Press & Barry & District News - The number of ongoing prosecutions in England and Wales rose by one-third in just three months at the start of lockdown, topping 170,000, new figures show.
The CPS was handling almost 171,000 cases by the end of June, up from 109,000 in March, and legal groups have warned of “a cataclysmic backlog of despair for victims, witnesses and suspects alike”.
Amanda Pinto QC, chair of the Bar Council, said: “Law and order means keeping the public safe as well as ensuring access to justice.
“We have seen what lack of funding for law and order achieves – rising crime but low detection rates, long delays to cases, with many collapsing before they get anywhere near a court, and all because government after government has failed to invest in justice.”
Welsh local media also reports that the backlog of criminal cases facing Cardiff Crown Court has swelled during lockdown, quoting Amanda Pinto QC, chair of the Bar Council, who agreed the criminal justice system was “already in severe difficulty” before the pandemic.
The Times, The Lawyer – Barbara Mills QC, Co-Chair of the Bar Council’s Race Working Group speaks to The Times about her journey to the Bar and what she hopes to achieve with the Group.
The group was set up this summer after the killing of George Floyd in America, which reignited the debate about racial disparity and inequality.
“When you set that in the context of the Bar, which strives to say that it represents equality, it doesn’t actually match because it doesn’t look like the population it serves,” Mills says.
The group is examining the factors that hinder attraction and access to the profession and problems with retention that mean black lawyers leave the Bar. It also challenges the “systemic disadvantages and racism” that mean many black barristers get pushed into poorly paid areas of work and cannot make a living, or are mistaken for defendants.
The Lawyer profiles Natasha Shotunde, Social Mobility Advocate for the Bar Council and member of its Race Working Group, as well as founder of the Black Barristers Network.
16 October 2020
Evening Standard (front page) & online, PA Media, Mid Wales Journal, Newport Advertiser, Bridgnorth Journal, South Shropshire Journal, Market Drayton Advertiser, Sunderland Echo, Hampshire Chronicle, Basingstoke Gazette, Politics Home, MSN – Evening Standard reports that the Bar Council and barristers have warned that victims of crime could “lose faith in our justice system” when faced with years of delays and a backlog of court cases set to reach 50,000 before Christmas.
The Government is under mounting pressure to invest heavily in the justice system as trial dates are set for 2022 and courts are restricted on the number of trials able to be held in the pandemic. Boris Johnson faced ridicule last week after he blamed court delays on “Leftie lawyers” and “do-gooders”, prompting a backlash that the system has been decimated by budget cuts and the sale of courthouses.
Amanda Pinto QC, Chair of the Bar, is quoted. She said: “It would be no surprise if victims and the public were losing faith in our justice system.”
The Standard gives examples of long delays to cases, some for serious crimes.
Elsewhere, the Welsh local media reports on local concerns that a decision to move magistrates’ court cases out of Shropshire will force people to travel through areas that are the subject of coronavirus lockdown rules.
The articles look at the wider issues faced by the criminal justice system, quoting Amanda Pinto QC, Chair of the Bar. She said the criminal justice system was "already in severe difficulty" before the pandemic. She added: "We've seen what lack of funding for law and order achieves - rising crime, low detection rates, long delays to cases with many collapsing before they get anywhere near a court, victims of crime denied justice, and all because government after government has failed to invest injustice."
Other publications report on the latest backlog figures which show the backlog in the Crown Courts rising. Amanda Pinto QC, Chair of the Bar, said: “These latest figures make depressing reading for the British public, victims of crime and those involved in the justice system. The government must focus its energy on what is, or is not, happening in our courts; rather than blaming others it must take responsibility and do what is necessary to rescue the whole system now by injecting the significant investment it needs.”
Internal Market Bill
Financial Times (p2 and online) – The Financial Times reports that lawyers have said the Internal Market Bill is a challenge to rule of law and threat to Britain’s reputation.
In an article looking at the legal profession’s reaction to the Bill, the FT quoted Amanda Pinto QC, Chair of the Bar, as saying: “It is a very seriously held concern — I don’t know of a lawyer who isn’t worried about it. The biggest worry is if the government is prepared to break international law it will undermine the reputation of our country on a number of levels — one of which is its negotiating position in the world with other trading partners, if it cannot be trusted to comply with the terms of a contract.”
Prime Minister and Home Secretary
The Observer (front page and online), The Independent (print and online), The Times, The Guardian, The i Paper, LBC Radio, New Law Journal, East Anglian Daily Times, Law Society Gazette, The Barrister, Inside Time, Politics Home, MSN, Yahoo News, Irish News, Legal Technology Insider – The Observer and other media outlets report on the Bar Council’s reaction to news of a violent knife attack at a law firm in September following inflammatory statements made by the Home Secretary about lawyers.
Subsequently, both the Prime Minister and Home Secretary continued to criticise lawyers in their respective party conference speeches.
The escalating rhetoric prompted Chair of the Bar, Amanda Pinto QC to write to the PM to demand an apology.
Pinto said: “There should never be a situation when a British Prime Minister, Home Secretary and other government ministers need to be called upon to stop deliberately inflammatory language towards a profession simply doing its job in the public interest.
“Shockingly, we've arrived at that point. Even if it was never the intention of this government to incite violence against members of the legal profession, the fact the personal safety of lawyers is now at risk demands an immediate retraction of the ill-judged comments made in recent weeks by the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary, as well as a public apology.”
I am the Bar
LawCareers.net – LawCareers.net reports that 10 new barristers from across England and Wales joined #IAmTheBar – the Bar Council’s award-winning social mobility campaign, which is now in its third year – as social mobility advocates.
Despite the advocates’ unconventional journeys to the Bar and the additional challenges that covid-19 has presented, their passion and commitment to the profession aims to inspire other aspiring barristers and improve awareness of the opportunities and challenges for those from underprivileged backgrounds contemplating a career at the Bar.
Amanda Pinto QC, Chair of the Bar said: “Contrary to popular belief, members of the Bar come from all walks of life. In this way we better represent the society we serve which is crucial to keeping public confidence in our justice system. We want that inclusiveness to be a reality from top to bottom in the profession. Regrettably many barristers from different backgrounds have found themselves adversely affected by covid-19 and without any government support. The Bar Council is leading the charge and bringing together work across the profession to shape the Bar of the future.
“By sharing their own experiences, the impressive #IamTheBar social mobility advocates show what can be achieved, no matter what your background. The Leadership Programme provides a practical way for barristers who don’t currently see themselves reflected in leadership positions to change that in future. That is not just great for the individuals and the profession, but for the public too.”
Bullying, harassment and discrimination
Law Society Gazette, New Law Journal, Legal Futures, Legal Cheek – The legal media reports that bullying and harassment is still ‘endemic’ in some areas of the Bar, a report has found, as barristers demand new ways to report complaints.
A BSB study by YouGov found that harassment, bullying and discrimination is ‘widespread and in some place endemic at the bar’ and is perceived to be tolerated because of the profession’s ‘macho and competitive’ nature.
Amanda Pinto QC, Chair of the Bar, is quoted. She said: “This report is a helpful reminder that everyone at the Bar needs to keep shining a light on bullying, discrimination and harassment.
“The BSB’s findings reflect our own experience of work on this behaviour which has long-term negative consequences for individuals and the profession as a whole.”
9 October 2020
Prime Minister and Home Secretary
Daily Telegraph, Metro, Evening Standard, The i Paper, The Independent x 2, The Guardian x 2, The Times, Daily Mail, The Scotsman, Politics Home, MSN, Law Society Gazette, PA Media, Legal Cheek, Roll on Friday, The New European, Irish News, Lawyer Monthly, LawFuel, Australasian Lawyer, Denbighshire Free Press, Borehamwood Times, Wandsworth Guardian, Penarth Times, The Lancaster and Morecombe Citizen, The Herald Scotland, The London Economic, Barhead News, The Scottish Farmer, Northern Farmer, Impartial Reporter, Asian Image, Yahoo News, Epping Forest Guardian, Swanage and Wareham Voice, Prestwich and Whitfield Guide, News and Star, Tivyside Advertiser, Evesham Journal, Bridport News, The National Scot – The national and other media report on the Bar Council’s response to inappropriate comments about lawyers made by both the Prime Minister and Home Secretary in their respective speeches at the Conservative Party Conference.
Amanda Pinto QC, Chair of the Bar, responded to comments made by the Home Secretary that “leftie lawyers” would not hinder the Government’s asylum plans. Amanda Pinto QC, said: “Attempting to paint lawyers with the ‘leftie’ brush seeks to demonise the very people helping constituents every day, without agenda, simply because they provide a vital public service.”
The Bar Council was also quoted across the national media in response to comments made by the Prime Minister in his keynote speech at the Conservative Party Conference, in which he said that he wanted to stop “the whole criminal justice system from being hamstrung by what the Home Secretary would doubtless and rightly call the lefty human rights lawyers and other do-gooders.”
In response, Amanda Pinto QC said: “It is shocking and troubling that our own Prime Minister condones and extends attempts to politicise and attack lawyers for simply doing their job in the public interest. Lawyers – including those employed by the Government itself - are absolutely vital to the running of our grossly under-funded criminal justice system. Their professional duty is to their client and to the court, and not to play political games.”
The Sun, The Guardian, The Times, Politics Home, Yorkshire Post, Hampshire Chronicle, Express and Star, Reading Chronicle, Ilford Recorder, Oxford Mail, Shropshire Star, Witney Gazette, Hucknall Dispatch, Luton Today, Herald Series, Eastwood Advertiser, Evesham Journal, Bournemouth Echo, The Chad, Buxton Advertiser, Ilkeston Advertiser, Banbury Cake, Derbyshire Times, Ripley Advertiser, Matlock Mercury, Malvern Gazette, Peterborough Today, Worcester News, Worksop Guardian, Bicester Advertiser, Lancashire Telegraph, The Star, Northampton Chronicle - The backlog of criminal cases facing local courts has swelled during lockdown, as new figures show a rise in the number of cases waiting to be heard in the Crown Court during the period of March to August 2020.
Amanda Pinto QC, Chair of the Bar, is quoted in The Sun and The Guardian, as well as local media.
She said: “These latest figures make depressing reading for the British public, victims of crime and those involved in the justice system.”
Black History Month
The three guides, titled “Framework for Taking Action on Race Equality”, “Positive Action Guide for Chambers 2020” and “Short Guide to Positive Action 2020”, outline the key challenges facing race equality at the Bar.
Issues identified focus on pupillage, bullying and general culture, noting specific indications of race inequality such as the fact that calls made to Bar Council helplines regarding bullying are disproportionately written by black women. Callers in these cases often experienced shouting and exclusion by co-workers.
Amanda Pinto QC, Chair of the Bar, is quoted. She says: “Although Black History Month in many ways looks back, it is a particularly pertinent time for us all to look forward, to turn words into action and shape a new history for Black people in the legal profession.
“The Bar Council guidance aims to help people do just that, at every level of the profession – when recruiting pupils into chambers, when addressing the culture of the Bar, right through to supporting Black barristers to become QCs and judges.”
Positive action guide
Legal Futures – Legal Futures reports that positive action – such as giving female barristers preferential access to briefs after returning to chambers from career breaks – can bring about real change in addressing under-representation at the Bar, the Bar Council has said.
In its newly published Positive action guide for chambers, the Bar Council’s equality and diversity committee said positive action “can and should make a difference”, but there was “nervousness” about using it.
Committee member Rachel Crasnow QC, who practises at Cloisters, wrote that “positive action can be used effectively for real change in addressing under-representation in training including pathways to pupillage, for career development via targeted access to specific streams of work and also the mitigation of disadvantage to under-represented groups via fixed bursaries or scholarships.
I am the Bar
Asian Sunday & Asian Standard – One the new Bar Council ‘I am the Bar’ campaign Social Mobility Advocates Samreen Akhtar, is interviewed by Asian Sunday about being a Social Mobility Advocate, becoming barrister and life at the Bar.
Law Society Gazette – The Gazette reports that the Bar Council has urged all Government Legal Department barristers to respond to a call for evidence around judicial review, saying it is important to provide a ‘broad range of perspectives from as many parts of government as possible’.
The Independent Review of Administrative Law is seeking feedback from government departments over whether judicial review strikes the right balance between enabling citizens to challenge the lawfulness of government action and allowing the executive and local authorities to carry on the business of government.
The panel, chaired by Lord Faulks (Edward Faulks QC), was set up in the wake of the Conservatives' 2019 manifesto commitment to end the ‘abuse’ of judicial review.
Chair of the Bar, Amanda Pinto QC asked government barristers to provide feedback on how, if at all, judicial review impacts on their decision-making and the ability of departments to discharge their functions.
She said: “It is important that the review receives a broad range of perspectives from as many parts of government as possible. The call for evidence’s questionnaire also seeks feedback about codification of the judicial review process, as well as posing broader questions about the judicial review process and procedure.”
Law Society Gazette, LawCareers.net – Further coverage that the Treasury has been warned that the justice system is at a “tipping point” after decades of underfunding, with some barristers earning less than the minimum wage.
The Bar Council said those on government fees could earn the equivalent of £6.25 an hour “despite their central role in clearing the 500,000-plus backlog of cases in the criminal courts”.
Amanda Pinto QC, Chair of the Bar, said: “The spending review is the government’s chance to protect the rights of the British public and restore confidence in law and order in this country.
“For too long, there has been a dismal failure to invest in the Ministry of Justice budget, and many barristers were left unsupported by the government, struggling to get by, as courts closed during the pandemic and their work dried up.
“The justice sector is now in a dire state: outrageously long delays to people’s cases and shockingly low fees for legal professionals are undermining the government’s commitment to law and order.”
Previous Bar Council News Updates
- 23 October Bar Council News Update (PDF)
- 16 October Bar Council News Update (PDF)
- 09 October Bar Council News Update (PDF)
- 02 October Bar Council News Update (PDF)
- 25 September Bar Council News Update (PDF)
- 18 September Bar Council News Update (PDF)
- 11 September Bar Council News Update (PDF)
- 04 September Bar Council News Update (PDF)
- 28 August Bar Council News Update (PDF)
- 21 August Bar Council News Update (PDF)