Over 500 guests and speakers gathered in central London for the 32nd Annual Bar and Conference, the profession’s flagship event, on Saturday 4 November 2017. Amongst the high-profile speakers were Sir Keir Starmer QC MP, Lady Justice Hallett, retired Court of Appeal judge Sir Henry Brooke, Chairman of the Judicial Appointments Commission Lord Kakkar, HMCTS Chief Executive Susan Acland-Hood, Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, Max Hill QC and AI guru Professor Richard Susskind OBE.

A wide range of ‘app-enabled’ break-out sessions evidenced the legal sector’s collective and concerted effort to meet and face challenges and opportunities on the horizon, the theme of this year’s conference.

In his opening address, the Chair of the Bar Andrew Langdon QC explained why the Bar is such an irrepressible profession:

‘Our professional opportunities are limitless if we are prepared to stick to our core ethos whilst being intelligent about how we should adapt.

‘Our demise has been prophesied since I was Called 31 years ago, since which time we have tripled in size. Why? Because you can’t keep a good idea down.’

The Chair warned that the pace of change on diversity in the profession has been ‘too slow’, however, and that predecessors had ‘underestimated the conscious effort and depth of change that is required’.

Langdon also hit out at proposals to introduce so-called ‘flexible operating hours’, claiming they could wind back the clock on the work done by the profession to achieve a more equal gender balance at the Bar.

‘Instead of making it harder for women with caring responsibilities to remain in the profession, we want to achieve the opposite – to bring more consistency to the court day,’ he said.

The Chair made clear that the Bar was no stranger to technology and would lead, not stand in the way of progress: ‘We have taken to digital working much more readily than many, with their homely but outmoded Rumpolian caricatures, believed possible.’

Echoing concerns raised by the House of Lords Constitution Committee, Langdon warned of low morale in the judiciary, and also amongst lawyers and court staff: ‘It isn’t just about money. The morale of judges and of the Bar is affected by the way we are treated by officialdom in many guises. Sometimes, frankly, it borders on contempt.’

The Chair advised that the Bar is shrinking at the junior end. He said: ‘We are currently losing young barristers who see how hard it will be to pay back the debts they incur in training.

‘Although the research is incomplete, most believe the lack of confidence in public funding is partly what has caused chambers to recruit fewer junior members.’

Bar Pro Bono Award 2017

This year’s Sydney Elland Goldsmith Bar Pro Bono Award went to Tanya Murshed of 1MCB Chambers and founder of Evolve, for her outstanding commitment to assisting vulnerable individuals convicted of capital offences in Uganda on a pro bono basis.

‘The statistics used in support of her application – supporting approximately 500 people facing the death penalty; and training 90 members of the legal profession on sentencing and mitigation … are exceptional,’ said Lord Goldsmith QC, Chair of the Judging Panel.

Kirsty Brimelow QC, Chair of the Bar Human Rights Committee, received a special commendation in recognition of her ‘career-long commitment spanning continents’, assisting on human rights issues around the world. ●