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.

24 January 

Courts – Western Circuit

BBC News, Politics Home, The Guardian, Western Daily Press, PA Media - The Bar Council has issued a response to the new Western Circuit report “This Doesn’t Look Like Justice” on the impact of closed court rooms and cuts to sitting days. 
 
Responding to the new Western Circuit report, “This Doesn’t Look Like Justice”, Chair of the Bar Council, Amanda Pinto QC said: “This significant report exposes the real-life consequences of closed courtrooms and cuts to judges’ sitting days. The problems highlighted by the Western Circuit are by no means confined to one region. This is a national issue which is fast becoming a national crisis. Currently, crime is rising but courts are sitting empty. We are seeing an increasing time gap from an offence allegedly being committed to the end of the court case. The many months of delay and the false starts in hearing cases, are undermining effective access to justice for all those caught up in the criminal courts.
 
“This trend must be reversed. Investment must be made across the whole of the criminal justice system. With thousands more police and many more CPS prosecutors due to be recruited and, as a result, more crime likely to be detected, investigated and prosecuted, how will the justice system cope when our courts can’t function effectively now?”
 
BBC News reports that Western Circuit leader, Kate Brunner QC said: "Currently knife crime is rising but courts are sitting empty." While Amanda Pinto QC told the BBC: "You've got all of the stress and the impact of that on the witnesses, and of course on the defendant. It may be that he or she is not guilty, but the time lapse is very significant."

Day of the Endangered Lawyer

Law Society Gazette, Politics Home - The media reports that the Bar Council has joined international calls on Pakistan to protect lawyers, saying they are ‘subject to death threats, physical attacks, harassment’.
 
The Bar Council said the situation in Pakistan ‘remains extremely concerning’. In 2016, dozens of Pakistani lawyers were killed in a bomb attack in provincial capital Quetta, following the shooting of the president of the Balochistan bar association earlier that day. According to the Bar Council, attacks have continued, causing serious fear for the safety of legal professionals.
 
Amanda Pinto QC, Chair of the Bar, said: "The situation in Pakistan remains extremely concerning. For the rule of law to exist, lawyers and members of the judiciary must be able to fulfil their role in defending the rights and freedom of citizens, without fear of persecution or attack. On this day, the Bar Council stands in solidarity with our colleagues who are at risk around the world and calls, in particular, on the Pakistani government to take immediate steps, to ensure the safety of its lawyers."
 
Politics Home also runs a blog by Bar Council International Committee member, Patrick Duffy on the issue. 

QC appointments

The Times, CDR Magazine - CDR Magazine reports on the Bar Council's reaction to the 114 applicants appointed as Queen’s Counsel (QC) or silks, as the results of the 2019 competition were announced last week.
 
A record 22 new silks were appointed from 42 applicants with ethnic minority backgrounds, the largest such number ever, good news with the number of applicants having risen from 13 of the 30 candidates who applied, in 2018, and 18 from 33 in 2017. However, the numbers of female applicants remained constant with 2018, (52 compared to 55) although over 60% were successful, with the appointments panel chair, Sir Alex Allen, saying in a statement that he was “concerned that the number… remains comparatively low”.
 
Amanda Pinto QC, Chair of the Bar, said she was “particularly pleased to see a significant increase in the number of ethnic minority silk appointments” but rightly cautioned “on the need to look at data over several years before drawing conclusions”, saying diversity at the Bar was “an absolute focus at all levels”. The Bar Council, she said, was developing programmes towards this, supported by the QC appointments body.
 
Pinto flagged the introduction of “a future leaders’ programme aimed at ensuring that the most senior levels of the Bar are representative of the society we serve,” as one of a range of initiatives, adding that, over 100 years since women were allowed to practise law, “barristers and the Bar Council aren’t going to wait another 100 years to see substantial improvements on diversity”.
 
The Times reports on the finances of the QCA and points to grants the QCA makes available to organisations, including the Bar Council, to improve diversity. The Times reports that the Bar Council has used the funding to hire a consultant to deliver this important work.

Televised sentencing

Australasian Lawyer, The Times, Pontypool Free Press, New Law Journal - Further media coverage appears of the news that sentencing in high-profile cases in Crown Courts of England and Wales will be televised from later this year.
 
The Bar Council warned that the move could make sentencing a “spectator sport.” It welcomed the move as a “positive step” in making the courts more transparent but said that risks that come with “reality TV-style broadcasting” must be addressed.
 
“Open justice gives an insight into our justice system and our courts to the public, many of whom will never personally go to court, but who value justice. This initiative will help people understand the realities of our criminal justice system,” said Amanda Pinto QC, Chair of the Bar. “However, given that it is only the judge’s sentencing remarks that will be televised, the public may well not fully appreciate why a particular sentence has been given without seeing the evidence presented during trial, the mitigating factors and other relevant information, such as probation reports.”
 
The danger is more pronounced in a trial where the judge will have already seen and heard the victim, the defendants, and other witnesses, Pinto said. That fact may not be fully appreciated by viewers of the televised broadcast.  
 
“We must guard against unwarranted attacks on judges where the sentence isn’t popular with the public.  ‘Enemies of the People’ type proclamations, where judges have been personally attacked and their independence questioned, simply for doing their job, are completely unacceptable,” Pinto said. “Sentencing must not become an armchair, spectator sport.”
 
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22 January 

Deferred Prosecutions  

The Daily Telegraph – Prolific burglars are being let off jail if they agree to four months rehabilitation under a “deferred prosecution” scheme.
 
West Midlands Police is pioneering an approach where repeat burglars responsible for an average of 30 offences apiece, have deferred their jail sentences of up to seven years.
 
Their prison term is suspended for four months during which they are electronically tagged as long as they agree to sign a behaviour and rehabilitation contract which can include drug or alcohol treatment, education and training.
 
Amanda Pinto QC, Chair of the Bar Council, was concerned at the lack of consistency and central guidance. “The Government must urgently give clarity to all police forces about when it is appropriate to use these rehabilitation schemes, otherwise we risk the initiative being used by different forces for different crimes – some serious and very upsetting to victims - across the country,” she said.
 
“Without such accountability and consistency, neither the public nor victims of crime will be reassured that the system will work properly or in the interests of the public.” 

LexisNexis survey 

Law Society Gazette  – The bar is officially ‘on the brink’. Rising costs, falling fees, cuts to legal aid and delays to payments are threatening the livelihoods of barristers across England and Wales – or so says a report by information provider Lexis Nexis, which balks at what it sees as misguided optimism. How can barristers be so bullish, it asks: doomsday is coming!
 
Barristers themselves remain chipper, with their answers to LexisNexis’s questions jostling against the report’s conclusions. Of the 768 barristers surveyed, almost 70% believe their practice will grow or remain stable in the next five years, and 73% reported that their practice is either stable or growing compared with three years ago.
 
Meanwhile, chair of the Bar Council Amanda Pinto QC tells the Gazette she is optimistic about the bar’s future. ‘Do I think it’s going to stay around? Yes, I do. And the reason I’m optimistic is because I think the bar has an absolutely crucial part to play in the justice system. We’ve got an extraordinary reputation for excellence overseas and we are a really important feeder for the senior judiciary,’ she says.
 
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20 January 

Deferred prosecutions 

The Daily Telegraph (print and online) – The Telegraph’s front page and page 2 report that violent offenders, burglars and thieves are being allowed to escape prosecution if they agree to rehabilitation as part of a “deferred” charge scheme that could go nationwide. 
 
The Daily Telegraph has established that at least 10 police forces – almost a quarter of the total in England and Wales – have adopted “deferred prosecution” schemes, where offenders are offered four months’ rehabilitation, to which they have to agree, in return for prospective charges being dropped. If they complete it without reoffending or breaching the terms, prosecution is waived and they avoid a criminal conviction. The schemes were pioneered by West Midlands and Durham Police for crimes including assault, burglary, theft, criminal damage, affray, drug possession and low-level drug dealing. Eight other forces are now to join in with similar “deferred prosecution” schemes.
 
Amanda Pinto QC, head of the Bar Council, said any initiative to stop reoffending was welcome but added: “We have concerns some of the offences in this scheme are serious, such as domestic burglary.”
 
“It is unclear how this initiative will fit in with cautions and how the decision to use it, as opposed to the prosecution or caution route, will be taken, or what scrutiny there will be of that decision. 
 
 “If under 18s are excluded from the scheme, it may mean young offenders will go through the courts, whilst adults will have the opportunity to avoid them. We want to examine the detail of this approach fully.” 

Televised sentencing 

Yorkshire Post (print), Jersey Evening Post (print)  - Follow up coverage of the comments from Chair of the Bar Council, Amanda Pinto QC, on the government’s announcement that television cameras will be allowed to broadcast from Crown Courts in England and Wales for the first time. 
 
Richard Jones writes for the Yorkshire Post: “While ministers may stress this move is about information and not entertainment, the Bar Council has raised concerns about a growing focus on judges as individuals. The Daily Mail’s ‘Enemies of the People’ headline about three justices who ruled that MPs should have a ‘meaningful vote’ on Brexit has cast a long shadow. For all that judges might want to resist the spotlight, some will become familiar faces if a pithy turn of phrase is deemed newsworthy.”
 
Amanda Pinto QC, chair of the Bar Council, said: “This initiative will help people understand the realities of our criminal justice system. 'However, given that it is only the judge's sentencing remarks that will be televised, the public may well not fully appreciate why a particular sentence has been given without seeing the evidence presented during trial, the mitigating factors and other relevant information, such as probation reports.” 

Legal Reporting Awards

The i paper (print, page 2) – i’s Rob hastings has won the Bar Council Legal Reporting Award 2019 for written journalism for his series “The Trial: Secrets of Jury Service”. Rob, i deputy features editor, “gave readers a first-person perspective on what it’s like to be a juror and raised important concerns which have been ignored for a long time”, judges said. 

Diversity 

Independent Community Pharmacist (print) – The pharmaceutical sector’s trade media reports on diversity initiatives at the Bar.
 
“The lack of diversity at senior level is not unique to pharmacy and is seen in other professions. Putting aside our egos, pharmacy can look to where progress is being made elsewhere, understand what is being done and accelerate improvement. In June 2019, the Law Society of England and Wales, the Bar Council of England and Wales and the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx) joined together to launch a Women in Law Pledge at the Law Society's international symposium on gender equality. 
 
“Law firms, local law societies, barristers' chambers and organisations outside the legal sector signed their name to the pledge to build a more equal profession for all. Organisations committed to support the progression of women into senior roles by focusing on retention and promotion opportunities, set clear plans and targets around gender equality and diversity, publish their action plan and publicly report on their progress towards achieving their goals.” 

CPS 

New Law Journal (print) – The CPS has launched a recruitment drive to hire 390 extra prosecutors by June. 
 
Amanda Pinto QC, Chair of the Bar Council, said: 
 
“It is good news that the CPS is recruiting more prosecutors; together with the promised increase in police numbers, this should go some way to address plummeting investigation, prosecution and conviction levels, even whilst crime figures have risen. 'But the whole system, from start to finish, needs urgent funding, not only for the police and prosecutors, but also to ensure there are enough defence lawyers, enough courts open, and enough judges sitting to hear cases. A piecemeal approach won't repair the damage done by years of cuts to justice.” 

LexisNexis survey 

City AM (print and online), The Times (print), Law Society Gazette  – Nearly three-quarters of barristers said their practice has grown or remained stable in the last three years, according to research published today.
 
The growth comes despite challenges facing the independent bar, including government cuts to legal aid and a move towards fixed costs in private cases, both of which are driving down fees.
 
The survey by legal research business Lexisnexis found 37 per cent of barristers said their practice had grown compared to three years’ previously, 36 per cent said their practice was stable and 21 per cent said it had declined.

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Thanks for the won award, Rob Hastings

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Date posted: 24 January 2020