Be a part of history

The Bar continues to survive, thrive and make history as the Bar Council celebrates 125 years and goes on Circuit for the first time


In the week leading up to the writing of this column I attended a celebration at Guildhall – very generously hosted by the City of London Corporation, to mark 125 years of the Bar Council and 100 years of women being allowed to practise law following the enactment of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919 – I took the Bar Council to Cardiff, and was a guest at the Western Circuit’s Grand Night held in the Great Hall in Winchester. The historical significance of the 125th anniversary of the Bar Council and 100 years of women practising law are obvious and it was a pleasure to share the platform with Lady Justice Heather Hallett, Vice-President of the Court of Appeal and the first woman Chairman of the Bar Council in 1998.

Less obvious but of no less historic significance were the Bar Council’s trip to Cardiff and what happened in Winchester. The Bar Council holds eight main meetings a year and the meeting held in Cardiff is, as far as anyone can tell, the first time the Bar Council has held such a meeting outside London. The significance of this will, I am sure, not be lost on any of you. We are the Bar Council of England and Wales, not simply the Bar Council of London. Representatives from across England and Wales regularly come to London to attend Bar Council meetings, but it is important that the Bar Council is seen as being relevant to and representative of all of those who practise at the Bar.

I have visited all the Circuits already this year and hope to visit them all again before my term ends. I have also tried to make myself available and contactable at the Bar Council with my dial-in and drop-in sessions. The fact that the Bar Council has now been on Circuit is I believe another piece of history that deserves to be marked in years to come.

The Wales and Chester Circuit were the most generous of hosts, and nobody who was present at the dinner on the Friday night in Cardiff Castle and who heard the magnificent Welsh Bar Choir get the evening under way will forget it. The meeting the next day, addressed by Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, former Lord Chief Justice, as well as by the Director of Public Prosecutions, Max Hill QC and others, and attended by not only members of the Bar Council but also members of the Wales and Chester Circuit, was an excellent meeting. I hope that a Bar Council meeting on Circuit becomes an annual event. I see at first hand how much the Bar Council members and the 400 or so members of the Bar who give up their time to serve on Bar Council committees do for the Bar. But we need to get that message out to the wider Bar and there can be no better way of doing that than by taking the Bar Council out on tour. If I am remembered for nothing else, I hope that I am remembered for this.

The significance of the Western Circuit’s Grand Night was not just that it was a fabulous evening in a wonderful location, attended by a large number of members of the Circuit and the Judiciary, at which new members of the Circuit, the majority of whom were women, were welcomed, but it also marked the passing of the leadership baton from Bill Mousley QC to Kate Brunner QC. Kate is the first woman Leader of the Western Circuit. Other Circuits have had women Leaders, but the fact that the Western Circuit has now done it, in this significant year, is another historic milestone. The Bar Council has been at the forefront of championing equality and diversity at the Bar. Some voices have criticised the pace of change and, as I have acknowledged, there is always more that can be done. But led by and with the support of the Bar Council, the profession is becoming more equal and diverse.

At the event at Guildhall, I was asked a question by a journalist who in effect suggested that the Bar Council had no relevance and that the Bar was likely to disappear as an independent profession in the not too distant future. You will, I hope, not be surprised that I told the journalist in no uncertain terms that I disagreed. I have no doubt that the Bar will not only continue to survive but that it will also continue to thrive. I also have little doubt that the Bar Council will remain relevant to the continued survival and success of our profession. As I have repeatedly said, so much is done by so many at the Bar Council to support the profession, much of which goes unnoticed, which if it was not done would be to the detriment of the profession. The Bar will always need the Bar Council as its lead representative body. Chris Henley QC, Chairman of the Criminal Bar Association in a recent article in The Times was quoted as saying: ‘The Bar Council fights the corner of the publicly funded Bar in different ways to the CBA, but no less vigorously.’ The same is true not just in relation to criminal matters, but also in matters affecting the whole of the profession.

We are not only celebrating a number of historical matters this year but we are making history and I am sure this profession will continue to make history. It will only do so though with the continued support and hard work of many members of the profession. Once again I would like publicly to acknowledge all they do and to encourage all members of the profession to get involved with the work of the Bar Council. Help to continue to make history; and be a part of history. I can assure you it is very rewarding, and the profession will be a better place for it.

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Richard Atkins QC

Richard Atkins QC, Chair of the Bar