January always seems long, but for me it has rushed by as my first month as the Chair of the Bar. I am delighted that we have secured some positive changes to renumeration for barristers.

Update on fees

The government has announced changes that mean a 23.5% increase in the fixed advocacy fee in civil fast track cases, uprating the advocacy fee for intermediate track and, for the first time, advocacy fees will be recoverable when cases are vacated or settled close to trial. This follows sustained representations by the Bar Council and the Personal Injuries Bar Association (PIBA) over some years. The Ministry of Justice agreed to increase the fees in line with inflation backdated to 2013, the last time fees were fixed.

There is modest good news also for the junior Bar in crime too. Following extensive discussions with the London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association, the Magistrates’ Court Protocol for the Greater London area has been updated and a 15% increase to the Protocol rates is effective from this month. The Crown Prosecution Service fees for a s 28 matter have also increased to £1,000 and now match the fee increase on the defence side. Despite the increases, pay rates in crime remain far too low and both the Bar Council and the Criminal Bar Association are committed to continue making the case for an immediate increase to criminal legal aid fees.

Overall, however, the increases will particularly benefit more junior barristers, which I am pleased about, and are a good step in the right direction. We will keep pressing for needed investment, in particular, in the publicly funded Bar.

Back the Bar

The recent positive changes to renumeration help to show the results of the Bar Council’s efforts. Much of this work would not be possible without the vital contribution of the Bar Representation Fee (BRF). It is easy to pay this fee during the Authorisation to Practise period that is about to start, so please consider supporting the Bar Council by subscribing to the BRF when renewing your practising certificate.

Investment in the justice system

Following the government’s announcement of plans to deploy an additional 150 judges to fast-track Rwanda-related asylum appeals, and to work weekends and evenings in doing so, the Lady Chief Justice, Baroness Carr, rightly struck a firm note in defence of judicial independence when she told the Justice Committee that the decisions on how judges are deployed are ‘exclusively a matter for the Judiciary’.

Our profession was not consulted about the announcement and there has been no consideration of capacity or the number of immigration barristers to carry out the work. If the government has the money to spend on this matter, then they can make more resources available to tackle the backlogs in crime and family matters too.

Global and local events

I am delighted to be leading a Bar Council delegation to attend the World Bar Conference this year. The event is organised by the International Council of Advocates and Barristers (ICAB) and will take place on 15-18 May in Belfast and in Dublin. The agenda is full of interesting speakers and there will be a session focused on the independence of the Bar and Judiciary with contributions from the Chief Justices in ICAB jurisdictions. I very much hope that colleagues from the Bar of England and Wales will register and attend.

After a break last year, the Bar Council Conference is back. This is our flagship event for England and Wales with a new and improved format. The event will take place in person in London on Saturday 8 June and there will be an evening drinks reception on Friday 7 June. This is the best opportunity to meet, socialise and engage with colleagues from across the legal profession. Save the date and register your interest so you get to hear when the tickets are available.

Artificial intelligence and the Bar

The use of artificial intelligence (AI) for our work has been the subject of much discussion. The Bar Council has responded by issuing new guidance for barristers that should help to navigate the growing use of AI tools in the legal sector.

The best-placed barristers will be those who make the effort to understand AI so that it can be harnessed with control and integrity. AI must be approached carefully and it is essential that all barristers maintain client confidentiality, trust and confidence. I am really pleased the Bar Council has been able to start to navigate this new terrain while championing legal and ethical standards.