The year has flown by, and this will be my last column as Chair of the Bar. After saying I was hoping for a quiet year, it has been anything but. One of my key responsibilities has been to promote the value of the Bar at home, and champion our legal services globally. English may be the most powerful tool of influence we possess around the world. Our law, and therefore legal services, come a close second. We undermine them at our peril. Our justice system costs less than 0.1% of GDP and represents extraordinary value and minimal cost.

Our legal system is much admired but is put at risk if the government criticises decisions it does not like, attacks lawyers and fails to fund sufficient capacity to ensure timely justice. We must try and ensure our domestic courts are the best they can be, so we can keep the UK as the preeminent global centre of excellence for the law, courts, and legal expertise.

Further investment is vital. Civil, criminal, and family courts are saddled with troubling backlogs, all of which need urgent attention. To build capacity in the system we need long-term planning well beyond the horizon of the current Spending Review and not dependent on the electoral cycle.

Health and education are vital public services to be adequately funded, but it is a mistake not to see justice in the same light. The recent Bar Council report Access denied: The state of the justice system in England and Wales in 2022 illustrates the problems.

There has been a significant, long-term deterioration of the court infrastructure which hardly suggests respect for the rule of law. Umbrellas inside, infestations, collapsing ceilings, sewage pouring down the walls for months. The cost-of-living crisis means those most in need are even more likely to require access to justice for help with housing, employment, and debt. Money tied up in civil disputes is money that cannot be spent in the real economy. We all deserve better.

Barristers working in criminal law are tired, stressed, cynical, and burnt out. I hope that the Ministry of Justice’s (MOJ’s) agreement to raise criminal legal aid fees by 15% may go some way in stemming the flight from criminal work.

All year the Bar Council has encouraged the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) to match the fee increases agreed by the MOJ. The CPS budget is separate and requires a different agreement with the Treasury. The CPS is committed to achieving parity as the Director of Public Prosecutions has recently said when giving evidence to Parliament.

No one wants a return to problems of the past when barristers chose to defend rather than prosecute because of an imbalance of fees.

There remain plenty of challenges ahead, but I also want to acknowledge some real achievements. In February Bar leaders in England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland came together to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as a gross violation of international law. The Bar Council subsequently established a new project to foster dialogue and support between barristers in England and Wales and Ukrainian lawyers. I am proud of the work we have done to help accommodate some Ukrainian lawyers and their families.

I have recently come back from two days at COP 27. We all need to think more about how climate obligations may affect us all and our areas of work.

May I close with some thanks. I was delighted by the appointment of the new Attorney General Victoria Prentis KC. She is a distinguished government lawyer and a fine example of the contribution the Employed Bar makes to our society.

The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Burnett has just announced that he will retire next year. Over the last three years, first as Circuit Leader and then as Vice Chair and Chair of the Bar, I have had the privilege of seeing how hard he has fought to maintain and improve the justice system during the pandemic. All those who depend on and work in the courts owe him a considerable debt.

I have enjoyed my time at the Bar Council, but only because of all of you. The staff have been fantastic throughout. Their tireless work on ethics, pupillage, fair allocation of work, services, policy, to give only a few examples, is often unheralded but is vital to each of us.

May I also thank the many barristers who make such an extraordinary contribution to the work of our committees and policy papers. The Bar Council would be far less effective without the close working relationship with the Specialist Bar Associations and the critical support of the Circuits and their Leaders.

Nick Vineall KC and Sam Townend KC could not have been a better support and you are in great hands. I hope you all have the breaks you deserve at the end of the year, and I wish you all the best for 2023.