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.
Criminal justice statistics
Coventry Telegraph, Derby Telegraph, Cambridge News, Evening Chronicle Newcastle, Evening Gazette Teesside, South Wales Evening Post, Burton Mail, Grimsby Telegraph, Leicester Mercury, Hull Daily Mail, Nottingham Post – Further national coverage of Richard Atkins QC, Chair of the Bar’s comments in response to the government’s latest criminal justice statistics.
The number of criminals being dealt with by the Criminal Justice System in England and Wales has dropped to a record low. That’s despite a rapid rise in the number of crimes recorded by the police in recent years.
Richard Atkins QC, Chair of the Bar Council, said: “Criminals up and down the country will be rubbing their hands with glee knowing that even if their crimes are detected and they are caught by the police, the chances of them being prosecuted or jailed are slim.
“These statistics make for grim reading, however, the state of the criminal justice system is far worse than the figures show.
“If crime is not detected, it cannot be recorded, investigated or prosecuted, so the official figures are just the tip of an iceberg.
“The Bar Council, MPs, senior judges and others have been calling out for reversal of the draconian cuts to the justice budget – the steepest cuts to any public service.
“Our democracy, society and our economy depend on a properly functioning, fair, justice system, that the public can have faith in.
“Sadly we fear that this is no longer the case.”
Law Gazette – The Bar regulator has delayed the introduction of compulsory written pupillage agreements which could tackle the ‘abusive’ treatment of pupils.
In May the Bar Standards Board proposed that written agreements should be drawn up between chambers and pupils to help both parties ‘understand their obligations’.
The suggestion was embraced by the Bar Council, which said written contracts would help to counter the ‘truly shocking’ and ‘abusive’ treatment of some pupils. It said that some instances of behaviour towards pupils ‘indicate a complete failure on the part of the authorised education and training organisation to appreciate the nature of pupillage and their responsibilities towards their pupils’.
Anti-bullying and harassment app
The Telegraph & New Law Journal (print, page 5) – An AI bot created to log reports of bullying and sexual harassment is being launched for barristers, to “call out” inappropriate behaviour following a surge in complaints.
The Bar Council has partnered a Silicon Valley tech company to roll out an app to support members of the Bar who are victims of - or witnesses to - discrimination, harassment or bullying.
Perpetrators can be other members of the legal profession, solicitors, judges or others. Victims have told The Telegraph of instances of groping, inappropriate comments and sexual harassment and assault.
Justice Week 2020
New Law Journal (page 4) & Manchester Law Society – Educating people about their legal rights and obligations and improving public knowledge about the justice system will be the key themes of next year’s Justice Week 2020, which begins on 24 February. The Bar Council , Law Society and CILEx are inviting legal professionals and third-sector organisations to contact them with proposals for discussions, talks or events. Justice Week is an annual event launched in 2018 to raise public awareness about justice and the rule of law.
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Education and training
Legal Cheek – Plans to introduce mandatory contracts between pupil barristers and their chambers in a bid to curb “inappropriate behaviour” have been delayed, the Bar Standards Board has confirmed.
As part of a consultation earlier this year, the regulator said it was looking to implement compulsory written agreements to ensure that supervisors and pupils “understand their obligations”. The more formal approach aims to make the “pupillage experience across the bar more consistent” and could, according to the BSB, help reduce the risk of pupil barristers being subjected to “inappropriate behaviour”.
The Bar Council’s Education & Training Committee backed the move, saying that contracts might concentrate chambers’ minds on their responsibilities. It went on to claim that some sets are guilty of “truly shocking” treatment of their pupils, with some calls to its helpline disclosing behaviour verging on “abusive”.
The plan had been to introduce mandatory written agreements this November, but the BSB has “now decided that, if these proposals are adopted, more time would be needed for implementation”.
A report produced by the Bar Council last year revealed that bullying was still a big problem at the Bar, with around 30% of employed and 17% of self-employed barristers having reportedly witnessed abuse — a rise of roughly 8% on the 2013 figures.
PoliticsHome - The Bar Council responds to the National Audit Office report 'Transforming courts and tribunals: a progress update' on HM Courts and Tribunal Services’ (HMCTS) court reform programme.
Richard Atkins QC, Chair of the Bar Council, said:
“HMCTS’ Court reform programme has once again come under critical examination by the National Audit Office and once again it has been found wanting. Whilst the Bar Council is relieved to see that the planned court closures have been scaled back, we have previously expressed considerable concern about the lack of access to justice for people who find that they live many miles from their nearest court, and we remain concerned over the future.
“HMCTS clearly needs to look very carefully at its modernisation programme. Whilst the aims are laudable, HMCTS must ensure that it does not put justice beyond the reach of many, or that costs rise and negate any supposed benefits from the proposed court closures. This modernisation programme must not become the HS2 of the justice system.”
Lady Justice Hallett
New Law Journal (print) - Lawyers featured on Theresa May's resignation honours list include a Court of Appeal judge, a QC and a professor. Lady Justice Heather Hallett, vice president of the Court of Appeal, Criminal Division, and the senior judicial lead on diversity, was nominated for a crossbench peerage. Hallett LJ chaired the Bar Council in 1998, was appointed a High Court judge a year later, and acted as coroner at the inquest into the deaths of the 52 victims of the 7 July 2005 London bombings.
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National Audit Office Report
Law Gazette – The recently published NAO report shows that the Ministry of Justice plans to close 77 more courts over the next seven years, as the ongoing modernisation programme renders them surplus to requirements.
The figure, which court officials say is still an estimate, is revealed in the latest update from public spending watchdog the National Audit Office on progress of the £1bn Transforming Courts and Tribunals project.
Richard Atkins QC, chair of the Bar Council, said: 'This modernisation programme must not become the HS2 of the justice system. HMCTS’ Court reform programme has once again come under critical examination by the National Audit Office and once again it has been found wanting. Whilst the Bar Council is relieved to see that the planned court closures have been scaled back, we have previously expressed considerable concern about the lack of access to justice for people who find that they live many miles from their nearest court, and we remain concerned over the future.
'HMCTS clearly needs to look very carefully at its modernisation programme. Whilst the aims are laudable, HMCTS must ensure that it does not put justice beyond the reach of many, or that costs rise and negate any supposed benefits from the proposed court closures.'
Rule of Law
The Guardian & City AM – The High Court in Belfast has ruled the Prime Minister’s decision to prorogue parliament was lawful, and would not damage the peace process in Northern Ireland. A judge dismissed the case on all grounds on Thursday.
It is one of a series challenging Boris Johnson’s Brexit strategy, and follows a landmark ruling by Scottish judges on Wednesday, which claimed Johnson acted “unlawfully”, and that the suspension should be overturned.
Earlier the English High Court found that prorogation was legal.
Richard Atkins QC, chair of the Bar Council, said: “The United Kingdom is a country built on the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary is a fundamental pillar of our democracy.
“I strongly urge those in positions of authority not to undermine the courts or judges. Without the legal protections that the courts afford we are all in peril. The Bar Council expects the Government to uphold the rule of law in this country.”
Anti-bullying and harassment app
The Times (online and print) – Talk to Spot, an app developed by Silicon Valley researchers in conjunction with the Bar Council, has been launched to enable barristers to quickly and easily take down evidence of harassment or inappropriate behaviour at work by typing it in a chat window with an AI bot.
Legal Futures – The Bar Standards Board (BSB) has delayed plans to require chambers to enter into written agreements with pupils, which were due to come into force in just two months’ time.
The hope was that written agreements would reduce the risk of pupil barristers being subjected to “inappropriate behaviour”.
The Bar Council supported the move, saying it may help to counter “shocking” instances of abusive treatment.
The BSB also proposed to make it compulsory for chambers and other training providers to bring their pupillage recruitment timetables into line with the Pupillage Gateway.
BAR COUNCIL TWEETS @ thebarcouncil
- 18 September Bar Council News Update (PDF)
- 16 September Bar Council News Update (PDF)
- 13 September Bar Council News Update (PDF)
- 11 September Bar Council News Update (PDF)
- 9 September Bar Council News Update (PDF)
- 6 September Bar Council News Update (PDF)
- 4 September Bar Council News Update (PDF)
- 2 September Bar Council News Update (PDF)
- 30 August Bar Council News Update (PDF)