It may not quite vie with Brexit; but 31 October nonetheless has its own quiet significance as a departure date in the passageways of the Inns of Court.
Mark Hatcher, Special Adviser to the Chair of the Bar, is leaving the Bar Council on that day after 13 years to ‘devote more time to the church’ – specifically the 12th century Temple Church, where he is currently Reader. ‘I’ve been round the course a few times... and I’d now like to devote more time than I am currently able to, ministering to the spiritual and pastoral needs of those who live and work in The Temple.’
For four years now, Hatcher, 64, an ordained priest, has split his time between the Bar Council offices at the top end of Chancery Lane and the Temple Church at the other. A typical day might see him up early for Bar Council meetings, rushing down the street to take a lunchtime communion service, back for more meetings then a return for evensong followed by a reception somewhere and then a dinner.
Combining the two, he admits, has been ‘challenging at times’ but colleagues at both ends have been supportive. And when the opportunity to serve at the Temple Church (with the Master of the Temple, Robin Griffith-Jones) came up, it was, he agrees, a job made for him. ‘I have been blessed.’
The law and the church have always been twin pulls on Hatcher’s life. He started out as a barrister, reading law at Oxford where he was an exhibitioner at Exeter College. He was called to the Bar (Middle Temple), with a clutch of prizes, doing a pupillage at Queen Elizabeth Buildings with [now Sir] Hugh Bennett, where he did mostly family work. ‘I joined a common law set at 3 New Square where I squatted, hoping to get a tenancy.’
That did not materialise so he joined the Lord Chancellor’s Department – the idea being to earn some money rather than ‘continue sponging off my parents’ and then perhaps return to the Bar. But he became used, as he puts it, to the monthly pay cheques and so stayed, working with Lord Chancellors Hailsham of St Marylebone and then Mackay of Clashfern, on legislation and law reform including the Matrimonial and Family Proceedings Bill which became an Act in 1984. There was also a stint as a legal assistant at the Law Commission.
After eight years, Hatcher moved in 1988 to the private sector, building a successful career with a firm of top management consultants and specialising in public affairs. He admits it was a good life, with plenty of travel and was well rewarded. But then he was headhunted by the Bar Council. ‘I knew they were looking for someone to direct the new representative structure of the Bar Council that was being created in anticipation of the Legal Services Act 2007. It was a very interesting time for me to give something back to the profession.’
"Of what is he most proud? Hatcher transformed public affairs at the Bar Council and he believes that, as a result, the profession has developed good relationships with government and Parliament."
So he became the Bar Council’s first director, leading its representative and policy work.This was in 2006. The changes in 13 years have been immense: chief of these, he says, is the growth in the Bar’s size and increase in diversity, with more women and entrants from much more diverse backgrounds ‘trending in the right direction’. The Bar is more commercial, more international and more specialised: the days of the generalist common law practitioner are disappearing and that brings a risk of fragmentation, he says. IT, too, has changed working patterns ‘out of recognition’, enabling people to work remotely ‘rather than coming into chambers, sharing rooms and taking part in chambers’ teas’. But the downside of that is a greater sense of isolation and a less collegiate atmosphere.
He cites two particular changes with adverse consequences: the explosion in social media which he says reflects change in the communications environment, with barristers ‘more outspoken in public, sometimes more strident and shrill’ when they comment on, say, Twitter. ‘It’s a reflection of the way people communicate, in short sharp bursts, often in anger and with animosity. A lot of what passes for comment, whether about a policy change or a Bar Council initiative, is critiqued in a way that sounds very shrill.’ Many Bar Council issues do not readily lend themselves to expressions of opinion in 280 characters but he accepts it is a ‘sad and inescapable fact of the way people communicate these days’.
The ‘successive waves of cuts in legal aid’ have also been damaging, demoralising practitioners and causing people to re-think their futures. Some possible light at the end of the tunnel can be glimpsed on fee levels, with the Ministry of Justice’s review of criminal legal aid and the Crown Prosecution Service review of prosecution fees. But this remains a challenge: ‘The Bar must continue to attract, retain and motivate the brightest and best from diverse backgrounds so that serious, quality advocacy can continue to be available, whether in criminal, commercial or public law matters.’ The cuts have caused ‘senior juniors after 15 years of practice to wonder if they had made the right career choice, and either to leave, or to go to other areas of practice. And that would be a loss to the criminal justice system.’
The profession is more regulated: there are new internal governance rules from the Legal Services Board that ‘could render the Bar Council in its current structure unsustainable’. The regulatory arm, the Bar Standards Board, could seek to detach itself completely and, so it is argued, enhance its independence but also increase its cost. The Bar Council has made representations and been heard, to some extent, Hatcher says. But the issue remains live.
Of what is he most proud? Hatcher transformed public affairs at the Bar Council, developing it as a ‘disciplined in-house function’ and he believes that, as a result, the profession has developed good relationships with government and Parliament, ‘allowing both sides sometimes to have robust exchanges which are regarded as appropriate and constructive’. Communications with the profession, too, have improved and the Bar Council is more ‘fleet of foot’.
A true diplomat, Hatcher declines to single out the most knotty issues that the Council has had to wrestle with in his time; or any individual chair for praise. All he will say is that it has been ‘very challenging work with men and women of great ability, drive and commitment to their profession, who at the end of the day want to promote the Bar in the profession’s as well as the public interest. They have all been inspiring to work for.’
All this while Hatcher was developing his alternative calling, one he had ‘resisted’ for many years. ‘The sudden death of my father in 1995 when I had a senior role as head of global public affairs at PwC prompted me to reflect on what I was doing with my life and my priorities.’ With the encouragement of his wife, Clare (a partner at Clyde & Co) and friends, he eventually decided to pursue his vocation and in 2009 was selected by the Church of England to train for ordination. After a part-time degree in theology he became a curate at St Saviour, Brockley Hill and in 2013 was ordained priest.
This necessitated a change in his role at the Bar Council: he gave up responsibility as Director of its representative functions and became Special Adviser to the Chair. A new structure was created, with three directors taking on the various parts of his old job. Then in 2015 the opportunity to apply for the post of Reader of the Temple came up and he left Brockley for the Temple Church. It has been difficult on occasion to combine the two roles, he says – ‘at times it has felt like skating on thin ice’. Now he wants to focus on the church, develop his pastoral work and take a part-time masters degree in canon law.
‘I will miss some of the Bar politics, and many of my colleagues at the Bar Council, but I think of it much more as re-locating rather than retiring.’ He can put aside the uncertainties of Brexit for the Bar, of justice funding, internal governance rules and ‘the future of the Bar in a post-Brexit global Britain’ and pursue his wish to spend ‘more time at the interface between religion, law and the public square’, to ‘share God’s love for me with others’.
Education: Sutton Valence School, Kent; Exeter College, Oxford
1978: Called to the Bar – Middle Temple
1978-80: Barrister in private practice
1980-88: Lord Chancellor’s Department
1988-2006: Deloitte Haskins and Sells; Coopers & Lybrand; PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP; Cubitt Consulting
2006: Bar Council: Director, representation and policy; 2012: Special Adviser to the Chairman
2009-12: theology degree – Christ Church Canterbury University; St Augustine’s College of Theology
2012: ordained deacon, assistant curate; 2013: ordained priest; elected Bencher, Middle Temple
2015: Reader of The Temple
Lives: Greenwich with Clare Hatcher, partner at Clyde & Co. One daughter, Sophie: a teacher.
Likes: ‘Cooking, drinking some wine and listening to jazz or Bach or whatever it might be.’
Frances Gibb is a journalist. She covered legal affairs for the The Times more than 30 years, where as legal editor she was responsible for daily news coverage, weekly law pages and student law supplements. She also launched and co-edited The Brief, the newspaper’s daily legal bulletin. Frances continues to write occasional pieces for The Times and will shortly take up a visiting professorship in the law school of the Open University.