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.
15 January 2021
Politics Home, Daily Mail, The Justice Gap, Financial Times, Law Gazette – Media report on the Bar Council’s new report “Running on Empty”, which says the civil law legal aid system in England and Wales is “running on empty” because of cuts imposed eight years ago that are having a “damaging effect” on barristers.
The Bar Council, which represents 17,000 barristers, questioned advocates and clerks working in areas such as housing, immigration and family law that were hit by the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act, which came into force in April 2013 and removed huge swaths of disputes from being eligible for legal aid funding.
Many barristers said that compared with 2013, they were now earning a considerably lower hourly rate in cash terms, the study published on Thursday found.
Derek Sweeting QC, chair of the Bar Council, said the consequences of underfunding of the civil legal aid system would continue to snowball if action was not taken. “Our report finds a civil legal aid system running on an empty tank, kept going by nothing more than the goodwill of the legal profession. This is not a sustainable way to guarantee the future of such an essential service for the public.” he said.
The Daily Mail reports that in October, the Bar Council claimed that some publicly funded barristers were earning less than £13,000 per year pre-tax, working out at £6.25 per hour for a 40-hour week. In a paper submitted to the Treasury ahead of their spending review, the council claimed the lack of pay was putting the future of the legally aided bar at risk and will have ‘a disproportionate impact on diversity in the profession’.
Law Gazette, The Times – A former solicitor-general has defended an English barrister who will prosecute protesters in Hong Kong after he was accused of doing “China’s dirty work”.
Lord Garnier, QC, who served under David Cameron until 2012, said that David Perry, QC, was professionally obliged to take on the case as a member of the Hong Kong Bar but conceded that it appeared “politically strange”. […]
The Bar Council declined to comment on Perry’s decision. However, responding to reports of mass arrests of pro-democracy demonstrators in Hong Kong, chair Derek Sweeting QC described the crackdown as an ‘assault on democracy itself and calls into question the legitimacy of the security laws being used by the Chinese authorities to make mass arrests.’
Courts under lockdown
LawCareers.Net, Law Gazette (print, p.4) – The Law Gazette reports that no plans were pending to test court users for coronavirus as the Gazette went to press, despite demands for further safety measures following news that courts will stay open during the third national lockdown.
HM Courts & Tribunals Service said testing in courts is kept under constant review by the Department for Health and Social Care. However, the current position is that users such as lawyers, jurors and witnesses will not be tested before entering the court estate. […]
According to the Bar Council, HMCTS has been pushing for court users and staff to be vaccinated once the first rollout of vaccinating vulnerable groups has taken place.
Diversity and inclusion
New Law Journal (Daniel Sternberg profile) – Q: What change would you make to the profession?
A: I’ve just finished a seven-year term on the Bar Council so I’m acutely aware of all the efforts that are being made to increase and retain diversity in the profession. The Bar needs to do more to recruit and retain aspiring practitioners from a non-traditional background. Otherwise we will never shake off the pale, male, stale stereotype of the bar (though I do meet two of those criteria).
Master of the Rolls
New Law Journal, Law Gazette – Media report that Sir Geoffrey Vos succeeds Sir Terence Etherton as president of the civil division of the Court of Appeal and head of civil justice. He previously served as chancellor of the High Court and was chair of the Bar Council in 2007.
At last year’s annual bar conference, Sir Geoffrey vowed to ‘radically rethink’ civil justice, saying the UK legal system ‘needs to be ambitious in terms of digitalisation if it is to retain and enhance its status’.
Law Gazette (print, p.10) – Commercial chambers will fund criminal law pupillages that would otherwise have been cancelled this year due to Covid-19. Under a scheme administered by the Bar Council, at least eight commercial chambers will pay for criminal pupils to complete their training. It is nevertheless feared that the supply of pupillages as a whole will shrink in 2021 as a result of the pandemic. To combat this, the regulator has relaxed rules around its new pupillage timetable to allow chambers to recruit pupils until August 2021, as opposed to early May.
Personnel Today, Law Gazette – UK lawyers will not lose their voice at the heart of the European legal profession, it has emerged. Following the end of the Brexit transition period, the UK’s delegation to the Council of European Bars and Law Societies (CCBE) had been threatened with relegation to 'associate' or 'observer' status, which would have severely affected its ability to take part. But, in a move welcomed by the Law Society and Bar Council, the CCBE has voted to create a new a category of 'affiliate' membership for the UK.
BAR COUNCIL TWEETS
8 January 2021
New Chair of the Bar
Daily Telegraph (p10), Daily Mail, PA Media, Yahoo News, Morning Star, News Chain, Herald Scotland, The London Economic, Express and Star, The National, Central Fife Times, Border Telegraph, Chester Standard, Shropshire Star, Salford City News, Alloa Advertiser, Glasgow Times, The Gazette, Cumnock Chronicle, Irvine Times, East Lothian Courier, Wandsworth Guardian, News and Star + 350 other media outlets – The Daily Telegraph, Daily Mail and several hundred other media outlets report on an interview with the new Chair of the Bar, Derek Sweeting QC.
The media reports: “It is “unacceptable” to simply suggest diversity among the bar may improve in the future, according to a leading barrister, who argues it needs to be addressed “sooner rather than later”.
Derek Sweeting QC, the new chair of the Bar Council, said the numbers of barristers from different backgrounds must increase, and more action is needed on inclusion.
Work is needed to ensure people feel comfortable working in the profession and committed to staying, he suggested.
In an interview with the PA news agency, Mr Sweeting, who was called to the bar in 1983, said he had seen changes during his career, including an increase in the number of female barristers.
But he added: “In terms of race, we’re still, on any view, some way behind”.
He said in absolute terms the figures show that the bar is not lagging too far behind, citing figures from a report published last year, which he said showed 3.2% of the bar are from a black British ethnic group, compared with around 3.7% of the working-age population.
Mr Sweeting went on to say in relation to people from black, Asian, and minority ethnic backgrounds, the profession is “still a little bit under-represented in terms of UK working age”, adding “and then it gets worse as you go up the profession”.
“Only just over 1% of QCs are from black British backgrounds, and that plainly ought to change,” he said.
Mr Sweeting said he believes the “forgotten twin” of diversity is inclusion.
Giving an example, he said the fact that around half of those in a barristers’ chambers are women, “doesn’t actually mean they feel comfortable there”.
“It doesn’t mean they feel it’s a comfortable environment when they have to take time off to have children and then come back to work and so on,” Mr Sweeting said.
Courts and the lockdown
The Times, Law Society Gazette, Oxford Mail, Belfast Telegraph, Yahoo News, The Oldham Times, Bury Times, Bournemouth Echo, Barry & District News, Surrey Comet, Enfield Independent, Free Press Series, Gazette News, The Gazette, Richmond & Twickenham Times, Leigh Journal, Shropshire Star, County Press, Ayr Advertiser, Somerset County Gazette, Chester Standard, Hillingdon Times, Messenger Newspapers, South Wales Argus, Border County Advertiser, East Lothian Courier, Warrington Guardian, Leader Live, Western Telegraph, Clydebank Post + 60 other media outlets – The media reports that the Lord Chief Justice and Chair of the Bar have reacted to the latest lockdown and its impact on the courts.
The LCJ said the number of people in courts should be “kept to a minimum” amid a surge in coronavirus cases, whilst Derek Sweeting QC, Chair of the Bar, is quoted across all media. He said: “We are in a different position from last March and must keep the justice system functioning where it is possible to do so safely.
“We continue to press for the maximum use to be made of remote attendance and hearings on a consistent basis across England and Wales.
“It is our clear expectation that judges in all jurisdictions will move to the remote hearing of cases wherever possible and as soon as possible.”
The Courts and Tribunals Service had been “making the case” for court users to be vaccinated once priority groups had been given the jab, he said, adding: “Clearly, there will be a range of other critical workers pressing for early vaccination, but we will continue to push for as much as possible to be done to keep court users safe.”
Covid Operating Hours
The Daily Telegraph – The Telegraph reports that the Ministry of Justice is expected to announce that it will roll out the shift system across England and Wales with morning and afternoon sittings.
The Telegraph reports that the Bar Council and CBA are opposed to the moves.
The Times – The Times speaks to Hugh Mercer QC, Chair of the Bar Council’s Future Working Relationship Working Group about the UK-EU trade deal.
Mercer told The Times that the deal was “great for tariffs” but more about damage limitation for UK lawyers working in Europe, says Hugh Mercer, QC, chairman of the Bar Council’s Brexit working group.
English lawyers who had been given a “massive home market” by the EU, Mercer says, are now dependent on the trade deal, which gives only the possibility of a future arrangement for mutual recognition.
“Unless you qualify as a frontier worker under the withdrawal agreement, then you depend on the country you travel to as to whether you have a right to provide legal services,” Mercer says.
Compared with the pre-Brexit provision, Mercer says the deal on services is “tiny”. However, he insists that “it hasn’t burnt [lawyers’] bridges completely” and that “there is room for some optimism”.
After an attempt to remove UK lawyers from membership of the Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe was defeated, Mercer is hopeful that the Bar and Law Society, which represents solicitors, can build on the government’s deal.
18 December 2020
Chair-Elect’s inaugural speech
Evening Standard, Evening Standard, The Brief (The Times), The Lawyer, Legal Cheek, Legal Futures, Law Society Gazette, MSN, Yahoo News, PA News Wire – Legal and other media report on the Chair-Elect of the Bar, Derek Sweeting QC’s inaugural speech.
The media report on an initiative launched by the incoming Chair which will see sets of commercial barristers fund criminal law pupillages that would otherwise have been postponed or cancelled as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
Derek Sweeting QC is quoted from his speech in the press. He said: “We know that whilst many criminal sets have prioritised the funding of pupillage, there have been and will be gaps.
“We must not accept the exclusion of bright talent from the Bar as an inadvertent consequence.”
Chambers taking part in the scheme, which the council will administer, so far include 20 Essex St, Atkin Chambers, 3 Verulam Buildings, Matrix, Brick Court, 4 Pump Court, and Blackstone -- but Sweeting hoped others will join. In addition, Quadrant Chambers and Keating Chambers have put in place their own arrangements directly with criminal sets.
The media also reports that elsewhere in his speech, delivered virtually this week, Sweeting announced that he will be advised by a young black barrister as part of a reverse mentoring scheme set up by the Bar’s regulator, the BSB, to improve race equality in the profession.
Reporting on the speech, the Evening Standard said that the incoming Chair hailed the efforts of the government, the courts, lawyers, and judges in keeping justice moving with the pandemic, but warned the next generation of lawyers could be driven away by low levels of pay and the longer opening hours plan.
The Sun (print, page 2 and online) – Last ditch legal attempts to block foreign criminals being booted out of Britain will be banned next year.
Priti Patel said she would be toughening up laws to stop ‘stay of execution’ hearings often an hour before planes carrying criminals jet away from the UK.
The Home Secretary stressed that lawyers often had months to work on cases - but lodged their final appeals deliberately at the last moment.
Lawyers suggested the Home Secretary join them to see the work they do - rather than single them out.
Chair of the Bar Council, Amanda Pinto QC said: “I am concerned to hear the Home Secretary continuing to criticise immigration lawyers unfairly for simply doing their job.
"We invite her to shadow an immigration barrister for one day, to understand properly what their work involves and how rigorously they apply their professional duties.
"Access to justice is at the core of what the Bar does and, if it is unclear how that works in practice, we are happy to give the Minister that first-hand experience.”
The Daily Telegraph, Law Gazette – Justice has been delayed as the coronavirus pandemic has led to victims waiting three weeks longer for cases to come to court.
Ministry of Justice (MoJ) figures show there were more than 50,000 outstanding cases up to the end of September, a 44 per cent rise on the same quarter last year – and the biggest backlog since 2015.
It meant victims were having to wait nearly four months for their offender to be brought to justice, simply from the point at which the case entered the Crown Court.
Amanda Pinto, chair of the Bar Council, said: “The backlog of cases in the Crown Court increased quarter on quarter, with greater numbers of trials being put off for longer.
“But an overall increase of 20 per cent in time from receipt to completion of cases is very worrying because it includes those cases that do not even involve a trial.
“If the criminal justice system is a patient in recovery after the drastic impact of Covid-19 on a weak body with underlying health issues, regrettably these statistics show it was far from convalescing in September 2020. Criminal justice will relapse without greater, sustained investment to support the system.”
Internal Market Bill
Lawyer Monthly, New Law Journal, PoliticsHome – The UK government said on Tuesday that it would drop clauses in legislation that breached the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement after reaching a deal with the European Union on future management of the Ireland-Northern Ireland border.
Amanda Pinto QC, chair of the Bar Council said: “We are very pleased that the government has pulled back from its plans to breach international law, which flew in the face of a principle that is central to the very fabric of our society.
“This U-turn should not have been necessary. We are disappointed that the initiative was ever adopted, but this course of action should demonstrate to all―including our potential trade partners―that Britain holds itself to the rule of law.
“We hope that any damage to our reputation and global position that may already have been done, is limited.”
BAR COUNCIL TWEETS
Previous Bar Council News Updates
- 15 January Bar Council News Update (PDF)
- 08 January Bar Council News Update (PDF)
- 18 December Bar Council News Update (PDF)
- 11 December Bar Council News Update (PDF)
- 04 December Bar Council News Update (PDF)
- 27 November Bar Council News Update (PDF)
- 20 November Bar Council News Update (PDF)
- 13 November Bar Council News Update (PDF)
- 06 November Bar Council News Update (PDF)
- 30 October Bar Council News Update (PDF)