Bar Conference and Exhibition 2009 - Access to Justice - Justice for All?

THE 24th Annual Bar Conference, which took place on 7 November 2009 in central London, focused this year on Access to Justice. At a time when the Bar is facing regulatory changes which could revolutionise the way it works, and the future of the publicly-funded Bar is endangered by repeated cuts to the legal aid budget, the Conference heard leading figures from the legal, political, media and academic worlds discuss the future of the justice system. The keynote speaker was Sir Nicolas Bratza, one of the Vice-Presidents of the European Court of Human Rights. Other speakers, such as Dominic Grieve QC MP, Lord Carlile of Berriew QC, Diane Abbott MP and Sara Payne, the first Victims’ Champion, addressed issues such as mediation, the treatment of women in the justice system, pro bono work, and international access to justice.

Opening the Conference, Desmond Browne QC, the Chairman of the Bar, described the challenges facing the legal aid system, at a time of unprecedented pressure on public expenditure. Mr Browne set out his concerns about the state of the legal aid system, in what is the sixtieth anniversary year of its creation. He discussed the way in which the Legal Services Commission, the body responsible for administering legal aid in England and Wales, is managing its task, saying that “In the past few months the Legal Services Commission has been at great pains to have us ‘celebrate’ legal aid’s sixtieth all the party euphoria the Commission generated, it overlooked those fundamental principles which govern a social democracy’s obligations for the welfare of its citizens. Today, more than ever, at a time of deep economic recession and confronted by laws of ever-increasing complexity, we need to remember those principles – and be sure that we apply them in practice.”