Prosecution fees

I have lobbied the Treasury – and everyone else who will listen – to provide Crown Prosecution Service funding so that prosecution fees keep pace with defence fees. I have told the Treasury (among other things) that the difficulties in finding RASSO prosecutors will only get worse unless something is done. We and the Criminal Bar Association await the outcome of all our efforts.

Protecting the Bar’s independence

Our professional role as advocates is to advise and represent our clients with integrity and determination as fully as the law permits. No more and no less.

One of my first priorities this year is to invite the government to conduct a review of the Legal Services Board (LSB). Happily, the LSB itself does not oppose our suggestion. Under the Legal Services Act 2007 the principal role of the LSB is the oversight of the Approved Regulators. But the LSB has given itself the task of producing a strategy for the entire legal services sector – both regulated and unregulated. That is a job for Parliament, not the LSB.

The latest idea from the LSB is a suggestion that the front-line regulators should prohibit lawyers from drafting non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) – even when doing so is in the client’s interest and is perfectly lawful. But it is matter for Parliament, not the front-line regulators, and certainly not the LSB, to decide in what circumstances NDAs should be permitted.

Meanwhile the Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Bill is making its way through Parliament and the Bar Council has been briefing politicians. The Bill seeks to insert into the Legal Services Act 2007 a new regulatory objective of ‘promoting the prevention and detection of economic crime’.

Economic crime destroys lives and removes livelihoods. Its victims are often the most vulnerable in society. Its perpetrators are amongst the most sophisticated and callous criminals. Money laundering is the lifeblood of organised crime.

All right-thinking people wish to see economic crime both detected and prevented, just as all right-thinking people want to see violent crime and sexual crime prevented and detected. The Bar Council supports policies and funding decisions which promote the prevention and detection of crime – of all types, not just economic crime.

But these sentiments do not belong in the regulatory regime for lawyers. Sometimes we are instructed to defend people accused of economic crime – and we are obliged to act for them. Adding this new regulatory objective is unnecessary. It confuses the role of lawyers and law enforcers. If enacted it will make for worse regulation, not better.

Menopause at the Bar

In January I attended a roundtable about menopause and the criminal justice system organised by the all-party parliamentary group on menopause. I learnt a lot by doing so. Last year the Bar Council submitted evidence to the Menopause and the Workplace Inquiry launched by the House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee. Lyndsey de Mestre KC has written an excellent blog on this topic. There remain genuine fears and concerns that women barristers will lose out at work if they admit to having symptoms.

The parliamentary committee published its report recommending a range of changes, including cheaper hormone replacement therapy (HRT), improved GP training and piloting specific menopause leave and flexible working policies. The government has accepted some of these recommendations but rejected the suggestion that the menopause should be made a new ‘protected characteristic’.

The Bar Council has produced guidance to support chambers and barristers. It includes information about how chambers can provide assistance to barristers and has a sample policy that can be adapted for your particular needs. The Bar Council has been encouraging the profession to ensure there is appropriate education, policies and training in place and the next steps are likely to include looking at the evidence to better understand how the menopause impacts retention and careers at the Bar.

What is the Bar Representation Fee for?

February and March are the time for barristers to pay the Practising Certificate Fee and at the same time you will have the option to pay a voluntary contribution to the Bar Council (none of it goes to the Bar Standards Board) called the Bar Representation Fee (BRF). The BRF contribution is £160 a year (or just under £13.50 per month if paid via Direct Debit). You can pay more if you would like to – and some people do.

The BRF funding enables the Bar Council to lobby and influence politicians and decision-makers on behalf of the Bar on a huge range of issues. I have given some examples above. The BRF also helps to fund the Bar Council’s guidance and support provided to barristers and chambers. If you want this work to continue, please do pay the BRF this year. 

To find out more about the BRF, please see Back the Bar in 2023 (Counsel magazine, February 2023) and the Bar Council website.