Annual Bar Conference 2016: Opening keynote

Chantal-Aimée Doerries QC, Chairman of the Bar

In her speech at the 31st Bar & Young Bar Conference, held at the Westminster Plaza Hotel, on Saturday 15 October 2016, Chantal-Aimée Doerries QC, Chairman of the Bar, highlighted the profession’s ability, and enthusiasm, for innovation. 

She warned, however, that the profession’s commitment to independence, excellence and advocacy had to be protected. She told her audience that they are more than ‘economic actors’ – repeating the language used by Sir David Clementi years ago – and that the profession’s value should be acknowledged. Her reminder to barristers was that we are professionals whose role is at the heart of our justice system.

Doerries said: ‘Perhaps the Bar should not expect to be popular – after all, the hallmark of the profession is to represent all without fear, including litigants who are unpopular with government, or with society. That is why this profession has fought so hard to keep the cab rank rule.

‘But the profession should be valued. Not just for the money it contributes to the Exchequer, but because the justice system, and the Bar which plays a central role in it, are part of the glue which holds society together.

‘We need to ensure that society and politicians understand what we do, and the important roles we play in ensuring our society is able to exist in its current form.

‘As a profession we act not only in the interest of consumers, but also in the public interest. Acknowledging this does not mean that this profession is unwilling to continue to move with the times, but rather that there is an irreducible essence, which has to be protected. At the heart of this profession are three commitments: to independence, to excellence and to advocacy.

‘These three tenets combined with the Bar’s high degree of flexibility are why the Bar has survived over centuries, and why in my view, despite the undoubted challenges which exist, it will continue to survive and thrive. But, we should not take this for granted. The essential elements of the profession need to be guarded and valued. They are central to what is best about our justice system, and our judiciary.’

She took the opportunity in her speech to make clear that there is often a personal cost in the life of a barrister who receives insufficient support, sometimes with tragic consequences. She announced a joint initiative between the Bar Council, Inns of Court and Institute of Barristers’ Clerks: the Wellbeing at the Bar Portal, an online wellbeing and mental health support tool for the Bar.

Contributor Melissa Coutinho

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Melissa Coutinho

Melissa Coutinho is a lawyer for the Government Legal Service An accredited arbitrator, qualified PPM practitioner and a magistrate, she also writes and lectures on medical products and their regulation.