I am writing this on International Women’s Day 2020, having just returned from a busy, enjoyable and informative Circuit visit to Cardiff and Swansea. The Bar Council has spent much of this year influencing the government on domestic policy and improving the lives of those at the Bar, whether through wellbeing initiatives or fair treatment of our members, including women. Another important aspect of our work is maintaining and driving forward our international reach. It could not be more important in light of Brexit and building and maintaining our connections with other jurisdictions, including within the EU.

The remit of the Bar Council’s International Committee, chaired by Steven Thompson QC and run by Christian Wisskirchen, is to identifiy and explore business development opportunities for barristers; promote international opportunities to them; work with other international Bars and law associations to improve the standing and practice of all legal professions and to improve relations between them; and, most importantly, to uphold and protect the rule of law internationally. This work is complemented by the EU Law Committee, chaired by Rhodri Thompson QC. A key objective is to increase further our members’ access to international markets, building on the success of the last ten years: whereas in 2010, 1,000 barristers earned over £165 million fees from international work, in 2019 some 2,000 barristers declared £326 million. The Bar Council supports this by proactively encouraging broad sectors of the Bar to expand into international markets, both in terms of work overseas and new foreign work coming to the Bar in the UK.

It goes without saying that we are currently redefining our relationship with our closest neighbours. At a time when much of the Bar’s focus in Brussels is directed at ensuring we secure the best possible arrangements for clients and practitioners in the UK’s future relationship with the EU, we also have something to celebrate. The Bar Council’s Brussels office, founded in 1999, comes of age this year. Along with the EU Law Committee, it is run by Evanna Fruithof. In the early years, the Bar was directly involved in developing important EU measures such as the European Arrest Warrant, the Services Directive, the Mediation Directive and measures safeguarding defence rights. In those 21 years, as our mouthpiece, ears and eyes, Evanna has channelled the Bar’s expertise into Commission working groups, participated in Parliamentary hearings, advised the profession on pending EU legislation which impacts our law and arranged for Bar Council delegations to meet key EU officials and politicians – most recently the one I led in February. Our Brussels office has enabled the Bar consistently to be part of the EU conversation and expertise. That history stands us in good stead now.

Access to international markets, whether within or beyond the EU, has two elements: reducing regulatory barriers for barristers’ work in other jurisdictions and improving knowledge abroad of what the Bar can offer. As regards the EU-UK future relationship, we enjoy high level access to both sides of the negotiations. We want the government to push for simplified access to the EU market – a client who needs advice or representation on EU law should be able to benefit from the expert opinion of their chosen counsel, whether by email, meeting in person or remotely, and to be represented by that counsel in court. We are pressing for mutual recognition of qualifications.

We also work collaboratively with other jurisdictions so that barristers can help potential clients across the globe. We strive to involve practitioners of all levels of seniority and areas of practice. Despite COVID-19, we have a full schedule of international work. In the summer, for example, we visit Mexico again. Last year our programmes included civil, arbitration, family and criminal issues affecting legal practice across jurisdictions as well as rule of law discussions. Taking part were silks and young practitioners, whose attendance was subsidised by our International Grant Programme – which we run with several SBAs and Circuits.

As a criminal practitioner, I have personally benefitted from the many opportunities provided by the international work of the Bar Council, which have undoubtedly improved my domestic practice as well. Their programme and other events are publicised in the International Newsletter. Please do sign up to receive it by email. Just tick the box on MyBar. If you would like to receive the Brussels office newsletter Brussels News, email: evanna.fruithof@barcouncil.be.

Say yes to the BRF! Not just for international opportunities but to benefit from the Bar Council’s Accelerator Programme, coming soon, to improve equality and diversity at the Bar (see diagram below).