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.

9 April 2021

Backlog

Southern Daily Echo (print, p2), Reading ChronicleOldham Times, Bucks Free Press, Planet RadioThe Telegraph & Argus, Lancashire Post, Times and Star, North West Mail, Hereford Times, News and Star, Bolton News, Cumberland & Westmorland Gazette - Further regional media coverage of the Bar Council’s response to the most recent criminal court quarterly statistics and of regional court backlogs across the country.

Chair of the Bar, Derek Sweeting QC, is quoted across all media. He says: “With an end to social distancing in sight the Government needs to seize the opportunity to allow the courts to deal with as many cases as possible by investing in more court capacity, more court staff and adequate sitting days.”

‘Census’ of the Bar

Law Society Gazette, New Law Journal – Legal media report that the Bar Council is to undertake a profession-wide ‘census’ to help establish its priorities after the pandemic.

The voluntary survey, Working Lives, will ask barristers to answer questions about their working lives, including career progression, working practices, wellbeing, and remote hearings. The Bar Council said the anonymous results will help it better meet the needs of the profession.

The survey will open on 20 April and will play a part in shaping Bar Council policies, training programmes, and how it seeks to influence government policy and other decision makers on issues affecting the profession.

China

Financial Times (print and online) – The FT gives further coverage to the news that China has imposed sanctions on British lawyers and others accusing them of “gross interference” for their comments about Xinjiang, where more than 1m Uyghurs and other Muslims have been interned since 2017.

Derek Sweeting QC, Chair of the Bar, is quoted by the FT as describing China’s move as “an attack on the rule of law”.

Diversity

Law GazetteLegal Futures - The Chair of the Bar has questioned the legal profession’s tendency to group black, Asian and minority ethnic lawyers together, saying the BAME label may ‘disguise the fact that there's massive under-representation of black members of our community at the bar’.

Giving a Gresham College lecture about diversity, Derek Sweeting QC said ‘progress has been very slow in some areas’. ‘I think we need to be honest about why that's the case and why sort of some bits of the bar are still what people thought they were years ago… dominated by people from private schools, perhaps Oxbridge, and also from a particular ethnic and social background.’ Sweeting backed the introduction of diversity targets to improve the situation.

The Chair added that the profession should consider whether BAME is ‘actually a cosmetic category’ to disguise a ‘massive under-representation of black members of our community at the bar still’.

BAR COUNCIL TWEETS

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26 March 2021

Crown Court Backlog

Daily MailEvening StandardPolitics HomeHerald Scotland, Worcester News, expressandstar.com, Droitwich, Windsor Observer, Darlington and Stockton Times + 170 others media outlets – The media reports that the proportion of criminal cases waiting more than a year to be dealt with by crown courts in England and Wales has “increased markedly” amid the pandemic, new figures show.

According to the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), 18% of cases had been outstanding for a year or more in the three months to December last year. This is three times as high as for the same period at the end of 2019 (6%), before the coronavirus outbreak.

Chair of the Bar, Derek Sweeting QC, is quoted across all media. He says: “With an end to social distancing in sight the Government needs to seize the opportunity to allow the courts to deal with as many cases as possible by investing in more court capacity, more court staff and adequate sitting days.”

China’s sanctions

The GuardianLaw Society GazetteThe Global Legal Post – The media reports that China has issued sanctions against Essex Court Chambers, accusing it of spreading “lies and disinformation” about the treatment of the Uighur Muslim minority group in Xinjiang.

The chambers is one of four UK 'entities' named by China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) today alongside nine individuals in retaliation to sanctions imposed by the UK government on Monday over human rights abuses against the Uighur Muslim minority group.

Chair of the Bar, Derek Sweeting QC, is quoted in media coverage. He said: “The Bar Council strongly condemns any threat against members of the Bar simply for doing their job. Sanctioning a chambers or any legal organisation because a member has given a legal opinion in accordance with their professional obligations is an attack on the rule of law.”

Independent Review of Administrative Law

New Law JournalPolitics Home – Further media coverage appears of the Bar Council’s response to the public consultation on judicial review. The New Law Journal reports that lawyers have urged caution on proposals to reform judicial review, following the publication of former Conservative minister Lord Faulks QC’s 195-page report.

Chair of the Bar, Derek Sweeting QC, is quoted as saying: “Whilst there is always room for sensible adjustments and reform, the number of judicial reviews in all areas (including immigration) has been falling over recent years.

“Outcomes show that across the board, of those cases which proceeded to a substantive hearing, the success rate for claimants between 2014 and 2019 ranged from 39% to 44%, and the reality is that the judicial review process already includes safeguards, including a filter mechanism to ensure that cases which lack merit do not proceed.”

Covid Operating Hours

Law Gazette – The media reports that Covid operating hours are “still on the table.”

In an update to barristers, Chair of the Bar, Derek Sweeting QC, said Lord Chancellor, Robert Buckland QC, does not want to impose restrictions on the right to a jury trial or to replace 12-person juries with a judge and two magistrates.

However, following a meeting with the Lord Chancellor last week, Sweeting said temporary Covid operating hours are still under consideration. “I have reiterated our opposition to this measure and our doubts about whether it will make any substantial impact on the backlog rather than just consuming sitting days inefficiently,” he said.

Autonomous Vehicles

New Law Journal – Coverage of the Bar Council’s response to the consultation on autonomous vehicles appears in the media. New Law Journal reports that lawyers at Kennedys have said the minimum safety standard for an autonomous vehicle (AV) should be higher than that of the ‘average’ human driver.

However, the Bar Council response suggested using the same legal standard as that applied to human drivers, as the courts have shown they can adapt that standard to circumstance.

BAR COUNCIL TWEETS

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19 March 2021

Independent Review of Administrative Law

The MirrorThe Times (print, p.2 and online), Law Gazette – Media reports that democracy and the rule of law are under "attack" after the Government set out plans for an overhaul of the powers of judicial review.

A public consultation on ways to alter the way some judicial reviews are carried out was launched by Justice Secretary Robert Buckland to “protect” judges from being drawn into politics after an independent panel set out its findings on how the process is working.

Bar Council Chair Derek Sweeting QC described judicial reviews as a "national asset", adding: "Whilst there is always room for sensible adjustments and reform, the number of judicial reviews in all areas (including immigration) has been falling over recent years.

"The Bar Council will be looking closely at this report and the impending consultation in the interests of the public's access to justice."

Backlog

Bloomberg Businessweek – US media reports on the crisis in the courts in England and Wales.

According to a December survey of self-employed barristers by the Bar Council, the organization that represents them, 61% said they’ve had to survive the pandemic on personal debt or savings, and 20% said they were unsure if they would renew their licenses to practice this year.

The Bar Council has warned that the profession’s precariousness will particularly impact Black, Asian, and ethnic minority barristers and threaten the field’s diversity.

In October the council noted that some junior barristers are earning less than £13,000 ($18,000) annually pre-tax.

Pupils

Law Gazette, Legal FuturesLegal Cheek – Trade press report on the results of the Bar Council’s 2021 pupil survey. 

Legal Cheek report that the overwhelming majority (82%) of pupil barristers said the biggest challenge they have faced is the lack of networking opportunities as a result of the global shutdown and move to remote ways of working.

Law Gazette and Legal Futures focus on the fact that a quarter of pupil barristers (23%) say they are experiencing “some financial hardship” during the pandemic.

Bar Council Chair Derek Sweeting QC is quoted as saying: “The good news that emerges from the survey findings is the high percentage of pupils who are very satisfied with their pupillage experience and feel supported by their sets.

“That is a testament to the dedication of chambers and pupil supervisors, who have worked hard under difficult conditions to ensure pupils have been given the training and support they needed throughout the pandemic.

“But pupils are clearly struggling with the lack of networking opportunities, interruption to court work and their general wellbeing. In a year where pupillages have decreased by 35%, it remains a challenge to support pupils in a way which addresses these issues and allows them to complete pupillage feeling confident about a future at the Bar.”

Human Rights Act

Law Gazette – Law Gazette reports that the government risks breaching international law by changing the Human Rights Act, the Bar Council has said in a consultation response.

In its submission to the independent review of the Human Rights Act, the representative body said the 1998 act ‘has worked and continues to work well’ and ‘strikes the right balance between the court’s power to interpret legislation and parliament’s power to make it or change it’.

Legal Ombudsman

Legal Futures – Further coverage of the Legal Ombudsman’s (LeO) announcement that it will scale back its planned increased budget for the coming year, but it is still set to increase by 13%, or another £5 per lawyer.

This comes after a negative response from the profession, uniting the Law Society, Bar Council, Chartered Institute of Legal Executives and Council for Licensed Conveyancers in opposition.

BAR COUNCIL TWEETS

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Date posted: 09 April 2021