Duty calls: improving our lot

Richard Atkins QC tackles the perennial question asked of the Bar Council; all can play their part and look out for the Bar


‘What has the Bar Council ever done for me’ is a phrase I would dearly love to consign to the waste bin of history during my term as Chair of the Bar this year.

If you are ever tempted to ask that question, may I venture to suggest that you might like to attend one of the seven meetings of the Bar Council which are held on Saturday mornings at 10 am throughout the year. You would see, perhaps to your surprise, that the Bar Council is not made up of green-eyed bogey men, or little aliens who are doing their best to kill off the profession, but of barristers remarkably like you, giving up their time to try to make the lot of the Bar better.

If you don’t fancy giving up a Saturday morning, then why not have a look at the Bar Council website to see the work done by the numerous Bar Council Committees, or to see just how many consultations have been responded to on your behalf? Or better still, why not volunteer to serve on a Bar Council committee? If you are out on Circuit, it is not a problem, you can dial in or video link in. You might be amazed at just how much work is being done for the profession by members of the profession.

It is not just members of the profession, though, who work for the Bar Council. There is a small but dedicated staff, all of whom work phenomenally hard to put on training and events, or to promote equality and diversity, who run the Ethical Enquiries Service and the Equality & Diversity helpline, or who lobby government, all in a bid once again to improve your lot. They work over and above the hours they are contracted for and are all dedicated to their jobs.

So, if you do not know what the Bar Council is or does, other than charge you money, here is a potted guide (and in case any of you are still confused about the difference between the Bar Council and the Bar Standards Board, I shall deal with that in next month’s column).

The Bar Council is made up of:

  • the officers of the Bar Council (Chair, Vice-Chair and Treasurer);
  • the six Circuit Leaders and two representatives from each Circuit;
  • 12 appointees from the Inns of Court;
  • the Chairs of six of the major Specialist Bar Associations;
  • 15 subscribers elected by the Specialist Bar Associations;
  • four subscribers elected by employed Bar associations;
  • 54 members elected by members of the Bar who have paid their practising certificate fees;
  • four co-opted members; and
  • the Attorney General, the Solicitor General and the Director of Public Prosecutions.

 

An eclectic mix of people.

If you want to know who they all are, their names can be found on the Bar Council website. They are there to represent you, so make contact with them. If you want an issue raised or debated, contact them and ask them to raise it. Alternatively, you can contact me at the Bar Council and raise an issue. To that end, as I set out in my inaugural speech, I have set up a ‘drop-in or call-in session’ at the Bar Council offices on the afternoon of the 11 February 2019 when members of the Bar can either dial in or drop in to speak to me or other officers of the Bar Council or members of staff to ask any questions. Further details will be published nearer the time.

The Bar Council has 12 committees on which members can serve. These are the:

  • Employed Barristers’ Committee;
  • Equality & Diversity and Social Mobility Committee;
  • EU Law Committee;
  • International Committee;
  • Law Reform Committee;
  • Legal Services Committee;
  • Ethics Committee;
  • Remuneration Committee;
  • Education and Training Committee;
  • Young Barristers’ Committee;
  • Bar Representation Committee; and the
  • Bar Pro Bono Committee.

 

They can all be found under the ‘About us’ section of the Bar Council website, which also sets out what each of the committees does. If you want to get involved, get in touch. Some committees are over-subscribed, others need people. We cannot guarantee there will be a vacancy, but if you do not ask, you do not get.

I first became involved with the Bar Council back in 2003, when the then Midland Circuit Leader, Frances Oldham QC, asked me to consider becoming the Midland Circuit’s Junior representative. Look where that has got me! Before then I had little understanding of, and it would be fair to say, absolutely no interest in, what the Bar Council was or did. I can, however, honestly say that my involvement over the past 16 years has been very absorbing and thoroughly worthwhile.

As I said in my inaugural speech, the Bar Council does not always get it right, but that is not for want of trying. A lot of members of the Bar put in a huge amount of time and effort to try to get things right and as I have already said, to try to make things better for members of the Bar. So in 2019, before you ask ‘What has the Bar Council ever done for me?’, might I ask that you just pause and think momentarily of the late President Kennedy and ask yourself ‘What have I ever done for the Bar Council?’ You never know, you might even find that if you do something for the Bar Council, you actually quite enjoy it. We need, and will value, your help to address the challenges 2019 will bring.

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Richard Atkins QC

Richard Atkins QC, Chair of the Bar