The Bar Chairman slammed the ‘eye-watering’ cost of qualification as he called on the profession to do more to attract and retain the best junior barristers.
In his inaugural address, Andrew Langdon QC said the fees charged for the current course were ‘indefensible’ and expressed support for the two-part exam proposed by the Council of the Inns of Court.
‘I want us to focus in 2017 on opening the door wider to young, socially diverse talent and to enabling fair competition for junior barristers,’ he said.
More widely, Langdon warned of the risk of injustice without skilled advocates and noted a ‘shared frustration’ that policy makers undervalue the work of the Bar, which he said has resulted in ‘a lack of confidence in the future for the mainstream Bar’.
Proposals to extend civil fixed recoverable fees, he warned, risk the Bar ‘being squeezed out of the process’ and resulting in longer trials and more satellite litigation. He suggested a mechanism to allow recoverability of costs reasonably incurred instructing counsel.
In criminal legal aid cases, to ensure the best advocate for the job is instructed, he said the Legal Aid Agency should operate a ‘purchaser’s panel’, with advocates graded according to training, skill and experience.
He insisted it was ‘not Bar-protectionism’, but a way to restore confidence at the junior criminal Bar.
On moves towards online dispute resolution, Langdon suggested there needed to be a Plan B and said the Bar should be able to articulate its concerns without ‘fear of being castigated as Luddite or lacking vision’.