Back in March last year, as Chairman of the Bar Council’s Working Group, I signed off our Response to the LSC’s Consultation Paper on Best Value Tendering for Criminal Defence Services. That was the Paper which threatened to introduce a system of “one case, one fee” in the Crown Court. Even though the Working Group included some 20 barristers, a retired Appeal Court Judge and former Presidents of the Law Society and the GMC, the burden of producing the Response still seemed immense. Little was I to know that exactly a year later, in March 2009 the Bar Council would have to respond to no less than three Consultation Papers in that month alone. These included the BSB’s proposals for Legal Disciplinary Practices and the LSC’s proposals for a second round of cuts to family legal aid fees. Nor, once the Responses were complete, was the work at an end since negotiations continue to this day to resolve the issues raised.

Consultation paper overload

On successive Fridays in the second half of June we completed three separate Responses to papers from the LSC and the LSB. On top of this, in mid-August we are due to respond to another LSB Paper on the regulation of Alternative Business Structures, and by the end of July the Working Group of SBA representatives under the Chairmanship of Michael Todd QC must have completed their Response to the massive 650-page Preliminary Report by Lord Justice Jackson on Civil Litigation Costs.

The Consultation Paper fatigue induced by this workload would be just about terminal were it not for the astonishing efforts of those in and outside London who help to draft the Responses. A few individuals put in unspeakably long hours notwithstanding demanding professional and family commitments. In addition to Michael Todd and Bar Council staff such as Adrian Vincent and Mark Hatcher, pre-eminent have been Lucy Theis QC of the FLBA and Paul Mendelle, incoming Chairman of the CBA. Another hero is Michael Bowes QC, Chairman of the Remuneration Committee (and, incidentally, just coming to the end of 16 years as a director of BMIF). 

Referral fees and solicitors

Referral fees figured in my Chairman’s Column in June. It is a matter about which the Bar feels exceptionally strongly, so it is significant that in his Preliminary Report Jackson LJ records that there now appears to be a general view amongst solicitors on both sides of the litigation fence that such payments are an unwelcome addition to personal injury costs which bring little benefit to either lawyers or clients. At the Jackson Seminar in London on 10 July, attended by Lord Woolf and the Master of the Rolls, it was encouraging to hear the personal view of the departing President of the Law Society, Paul Marsh, that he was utterly opposed to referral fees across the board. The time really has come for the SRA to re-consider this issue, and if they will not do so, the LSB must show it means business.

The pupil advice line

Not much imagination is needed to understand how pupils anxious about their tenancy prospects feel on those occasions when they encounter problems in chambers. That is why earlier this year the Bar Council’s Pupillage Support Group set up a confidential hot-line to provide help and objective advice from a panel of advisers of not less than five years’ Call. Talking to pupils recently I have been concerned to find that this facility is so little known. Any pupil with a problem should not hesitate to contact Alexandra McHenry at the Bar Council on 0207 611 1430. She will ask the nominated adviser to make discreet contact.

Family legal aid

This Column will have gone to press by the time the Ministry of Justice announces its imminent decision on family legal aid fees. Hopefully sanity will prevail, and an element of graduation will be introduced into the current proposals so as to remunerate properly experienced practitioners doing heavyweight trials.

In his Hershman/Levy lecture on 2 July, the President of the Family Division drew attention to the present chronic shortage of CAFCASS guardians and emphasised how this made the availability of experienced advocates more important than ever. He also noted that already courts throughout the country were experiencing the difficulties and delays inevitable when increasing numbers of cases were being conducted by litigants in person.

Lord Kingsland: RIP

The news of the death of Christopher Kingsland came just as I was completing this Column. No member of either House did more to assist the Bar to achieve what the public interest demanded over the Legal Services Act 2007. Even at the end he was helping us with the Coroners and Justice Bill. I shall miss him terribly. So will the profession.

Desmond Browne QC is Bar Chairman