The  keynote speaker will be the Rt Hon Lady Justice Rafferty DBE. Lady Justice Rafferty is a former Bar Conference chair – she was its first female chairman, and also has the distinction of being the first female chairman of the Criminal Bar Association. She will address issues of significance in relation to the Bar’s future. The Chairman of the Bar, Michael Todd QC, will also address the opening plenary session. The day will conclude with an address from the Attorney-General, the Rt Hon Dominic Grieve QC MP, who has supported the conference by his participation for many years both in Opposition and now as Attorney-General and Leader of the Bar.

In all, 18 entities, from specialist bar associations through Bar Council Committees to the Bar Standards Board itself, are putting on 13 sessions across the day, which will include opportunities for discussion and for questions to be put to the panel members. The emphasis is on topics which will help barristers face new challenges and develop their practices and careers. We begin with an early bird session organised by the Bar Pro Bono Unit and chaired by Maura McGowan QC, Vice-Chairman of the Bar. With legal aid cuts only six months away, the session will discuss how the Bar should shape and deploy its pro bono contribution as the numbers of self-represented litigants look to reach unprecedented levels, and the importance and potential for additional resourcing of infrastructure through the Access to Justice Foundation.

Following on from the early bird session, access to justice and funding are continuing preoccupations in this year’s specialist sessions. A workshop organised by the Criminal Bar Association with Lord Justice Hooper, Clive Stafford-Smith (Director of Reprieve), and Roger Smith (Director of Justice) on the panel will focus on cuts to criminal legal aid; and the joint Remuneration Committee and Legal Practice Management Association and the Personal Injury Bar Association will address civil litigation post-Jackson. PIBA will also discuss lesser known but equally important Ministry of Justice measures of relevance to the junior personal injury Bar, and strategies for dealing with them, based on establishing the premise that barristers add value in personal injury and clinical negligence work.

Other workshops will explore a variety of topical themes. The Employed Barristers’ Committee will be looking at the employed versus the self-employed Bar, focusing on whether there are differences of ethics and professional culture at the employed and self-employed Bar, and issues in relation to in-house advocacy and practice in private industry, and posing the questions: Has the employed Bar come of age? Is it more accessible, adaptable and relevant than the self-employed Bar? Moving across the Channel, a joint session by the European Law Committee, the European Circuit and the Bar European Group will consider EU law and its challenges, including plans to enable practitioners to make the most of new areas of work being opened up by the creation of new regimes and new problems by EU law.

The Bar Human Rights Committee will be looking at ‘Mediating justice in war and peace’ in the context of ‘Responsibility to Protect’, with speakers including Ben Emmerson QC and Jonathan Powell, former Downing Street Chief of Staff. The Bar Standards Board will be helping us to understand the new Handbook, which will replace the Code of Conduct; and the Social Mobility Group and the Equality and Diversity Committee will discuss social mobility and the Bar, including progress made since 2009 and current initiatives. This year, for the first time, the conference is offering a number of free places to university students who have taken part in the Social Mobility Foundation Bar Placement Scheme, and we look forward to hearing their perspective on these issues.

This is a time of constant change, and this is reflected in the workshop themes, with the Family Bar Association choosing as its workshop topic the proposed changes to the Children Act 1989 in the light of the Government’s response to the Norgrove Committee’s recommendations on private family disputes. Technology and paperless trials feature in several specialist sessions, including those organised by the Young Barristers’ Committee, Combar and the Bar Council’s International Committee, and the Chancery Bar Association, who will also be discussing the Rolls Building a year after its opening. As part of the revised programme, the Young Barristers’ Committee workshop on ‘The future face of litigation’ takes place alongside the other specialist sessions, leaving delegates free to have lunch and attend the exhibition at lunchtime.

Following on from the specialist sessions in the afternoon, and as part of the fresh new format for the end of the conference day, we have two main sessions running side by side. One is a specialist advocacy training workshop from the Advocacy Training Council. Concentrating on the cross-examination of vulnerable witnesses, this will provide an opportunity to watch ‘how not to’ and ‘how to’ demonstrations of the effective cross-examination of a child witness in a sexual assault trial. Elsewhere, there will be a panel session on marketing communications for barristers. This will discuss legal directories, ranking websites and traditional media. Confirmed speakers include legal journalists, and this session should offer inside knowledge of how the directories work. The discussion will be moderated by the Bar Council’s Head of Communications, Toby Craig.

The conference provides opportunities to meet and talk to other barristers from a range of practice areas and geographical locations, both employed and self-employed, at refreshment breaks and over a buffet lunch, and at the exhibition in the main hall which runs throughout the day and is designed to provide information about products and services likely to be of interest to the Bar. Our sponsors this year include Cavanagh Wealth Management, BMW and Mini, Hammicks Legal Information Services, Vector Professions Finance and Currencies Direct, and they will be joined by many other exhibitors. Please join us.

Alison Padfield Chairman, Bar Conference 2012