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.

Friday 16 July 2021 

Judicial diversity

BBC, The Times (print, p.16), Legal Futures – The media reports that lawyers from most minority backgrounds are now more likely than their white counterparts to want to become judges, but less likely to succeed.
 
Recommendations for judicial appointments are 73 per cent lower for black
lawyers than for their white counterparts, the latest Diversity of the Judiciary 2021 statistics show.
 
Legal Futures frames the story around the comments of shadow Lord Chancellor, David Lammy MP, who said the situation was an “absolute scandal.
 
Bar Council Chair, Derek Sweeting QC, is quoted as saying:
 
"Until we understand whether there is a problem in the appointment process, or whether the issue is experience - or both - we are operating in the dark” and that the statistics “show that more work needs to be done” but argued that the legal professions were “playing their part” and the council operated “an extensive programme . . . to support fairer distribution of work”. 

Courts backlog 

York Press (online and print, p. 7) – Regional press has picked up the Bar Council’s response to the latest official court figures which show that the backlog of cases in both the crown courts and magistrates’ courts is increasing. 
 
York Press report notes that the York Crown Court had a backlog of 407 cases in March this year - including 81 cases relating to alleged violent attacks and 51 for sex offences. The Bar Council is mentioned as saying the pandemic has only compounded decades of underfunding and court closures. 

CPS diversity declaration rule 

Legal Futures – The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) is to use a new annual online declaration by panel barristers of any protected characteristics to analyse the proportionality of case allocation and fee payments within chambers.
 
Writing on the Bar Council website, Rebecca Lawrence, chief executive of the CPS, said the new diversity and inclusion statement aimed to give barristers and chambers “a clear understanding of the role they, and their colleagues, are expected to play in respect of CPS casework”.

BAR COUNCIL TWEETS

Winner of the Bar Placement Scheme Blog Competition - Kinjell Singh

Chair of the Bar, Joanne Kane gives updates on the impact of lack of networking due to Covid on the Young Bar 

Friday 9 July 2021

Judicial diversity

Eastern Eye – Eastern Eye runs an in-depth feature on judicial diversity, citing comments from judges who have anonymously criticised the way judges are appointed.

One judge is quoted as saying: “The JAC and senior judiciary were too eager and too busy to blame the Law Society and Bar Council for the lack of diversity, when the problem was secret soundings.”

Judicial bullying

The Times, Law Society Gazette – The Times and the Gazette report on the Bar Council’s guide to judicial bullying after recent examples of bullying by judges were posted on social media by barristers.

Courts backlog

New Law Journal, Law Society Gazette – Further coverage appears of the Bar Council’s response to the latest official court figures which show that the backlog of cases in both the crown courts and magistrates’ courts are increasing.

Chair of the Bar, Derek Sweeting QC, is quoted. He said: “Unless the Government urgently commits to long term and sustained investment in the courts and the wider justice system, the number of cases stuck in the courts will continue to rise.

"Behind every number in this backlog are victims of crime, defendants, witnesses and their families, putting their lives on hold while they wait years to see justice done."

Trans inclusion

LawCareers.net – Further coverage emerges of the news that the Bar Council has published a statement in support of trans, non-binary and gender fluid barristers, encouraging all chambers to consider trans inclusivity in their diversity and bullying policies.

In a statement posted on the Bar Council’s website, the statement says it is ‘important to recognise that some people are transgender and that not everyone feels that their gender can be defined within the margins of gender binary’.

BAR COUNCIL TWEETS

A screenshot of the I Am The Bar

A screenshot of the Welsh tweet

Friday 25 June 2021

Courts backlog

The Daily Telegraph (print), The Independent, The Guardian, Politics HomeMSNCity AM – The national media reports on the Bar Council’s response to the latest official court figures which show that the backlog of cases in both the crown courts and magistrates’ courts is increasing.

The Daily Telegraph and other media outlets report that Chair of the Bar, Derek Sweeting QC, said: “In the recent Rape Review the Government committed to significant increases in the number of cases that will be brought to court.  Greater numbers of police officers will only increase these pressures in the coming years.  Unless the Government urgently commits to long term and sustained investment in the courts and the wider justice system, the number of cases stuck in the courts will continue to rise.

"Behind every number in this backlog are victims of crime, defendants, witnesses and their families, putting their lives on hold while they wait years to see justice done."

Juries

The Times, MSNEvening Standard, Oxford Mail, Shropshire Star, The Argus, Dorset Echo, Harrow Times, Jersey Evening Post, Salisbury Journal, Falmouth Packet, Richmond & Twickenham Times, Ilkley Gazette, East Lothian Courier, Peebleshire News, Glasgow Times, Windsor Observer, Wirral Globe, The National, Oldham Times, Ealing Times, Reading Chronicle, and 200-plus local and international outlets – Local and international media report that the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Burnett of Maldon, has said Covid-19 had exacerbated a backlog of crown court cases with around 57,000 outstanding as of April.

He said: “An opportunity was missed to introduce a temporary reduction in jury size”, and questioned whether such a move could still be brought in.

Derek Sweeting QC, Chair of the Bar, is quoted across all media, saying that “tampering with juries” should be a “last resort”, adding: “Reducing the size of juries risks denting confidence in our justice system.”

The Chair was also quoted in The Times on the story. He led the legal sector’s response to the LCJ’s comments. He said: said that it “was not clear” that smaller juries would make an impact on the backlog.

Sexual harassment – BTAS sanctions

The Daily Telegraph (print and online)The Times (print and online)Law Society GazetteLegal Futures – The Telegraph and Times report that barristers who sexually harass colleagues could avoid tougher disciplinary action if they apologise immediately, under plans being considered by the Bar Tribunals and Adjudication Service (BTAS).

BTAS is reviewing its guidance on disciplinary sanctions for barristers accused of misconduct. Among the proposals is an “immediate apology” being a “mitigating factor” for sexual harassment as well as such incidents being “isolated” and “of short duration with low risk of repetition”.

The Telegraph reports that the Bar Council, in its response to the proposals, has said the sanctions against sexual harassment at the Bar must be “a genuine deterrent”.

The Bar Council added that an “immediate apology” could be seen as “a purely formalistic matter” and it would be difficult “to assess how genuine such an apology is” because it could be referred to as “banter”.

Derek Sweeting QC, Chair of the Bar, said that many of BTAS’s proposals will send a clear message to the Bar that sexual harassment will not be tolerated and help to ensure there is confidence in the sanctions regime. “But we have urged BTAS to look again at some of the less robust elements of the proposals,” he added.

Courts budget

The Guardian (print and online), Exec Review, MSN – The Guardian and other outlets look at the looming battle for spending priorities post-Covid.

The articles point to the crisis in the courts and the justice system. The Guardian reports: “Ministers are becoming concerned that the extent of the problem could soon become a political crisis.

“Putting a price on fixing it is not easy but a Bar Council report (Small Change for Justice) from last year calculated that just to restore per-person judicial spending to levels in 2010, before years of cuts, would cost an extra £2.48bn a year.”

Rape review

The Independent (print and online), MSN, New Law Journal – The Independent reports on the Bar Council’s reaction to the government’s rape review which has acknowledged the depth of systematic failures in the criminal justice system.

The Independent quotes Derek Sweeting QC, Chair of the Bar. He said: “The investigation and prosecution of allegations of rape has been crying out for reform … but without better funding for every part of the criminal justice system which deals with these cases, the government’s ambitious action plan will fail.”

Qualifications Bill

Law Society Gazette - Plans to create a new framework for recognising overseas qualifications could damage the autonomy of the legal profession and impact UK lawyers looking to re-qualify abroad, the Bar Council has warned.

In a briefing issued this month, the Bar Council said the Professional Qualifications Bill subjects regulators’ admission powers to an economic test of unmet need. The bill is currently at committee stage in the Lords and is due to replace the EU’s mutual recognition of professional qualifications directive (MRPQ).

Trans inclusivity at the Bar

 Law Society Gazette – The Gazette reports that the Bar Council has published a statement in support of trans, non-binary and gender fluid barristers, encouraging all chambers to consider trans inclusivity in their diversity and bullying policies.

In a statement posted on the Bar Council’s website, the statement says it is ‘important to recognise that some people are transgender and that not everyone feels that their gender can be defined within the margins of gender binary’.

Social media

 The Times – The Times reports that regulators are ramping up efforts to track down anonymous commentators purporting to be lawyers if they cross the line into professional misconduct on social media.

Watchdogs overseeing solicitors and barristers in England and Wales have told The Times that they will not allow a veil of anonymity to dissuade them from pursuing action for alleged breaches of the professions’ codes of conduct.

The Times reports that regulation is one thing, but the issues around the legal profession’s wider reputation is more subtle.

A spokesman for the Bar Council said that “social media can be an unforgiving platform”. He added that the Council urges barristers “to explore general social media guidance and tips before taking to Twitter, LinkedIn or other social media channels, and above all, to exercise their professionalism and abide by the code of conduct when doing so”.

Law reform

LawCareers.net – LawCareers.net reports that the Bar Council’s Law Reform Essay competition is now open for entries.

BAR COUNCIL TWEETS

A screenshot of the Leeds Civil tweet

 

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Date posted: 19 July 2021