Often I am asked: what is the Bar Council doing to promote the Bar in the media? The answer is that over the past year we have developed the in-house communications department. Our team constantly seek media opportunities for the Bar Council, and for the individual SBAs and other interest groups within the profession. In addition, I have made important changes to the structure and operation of the Public Affairs Committee (PAC): improving the level of circuit representation and ensuring that half of meetings will take place out of London.
The first of these PAC meetings was held in June at St Phillips Chambers in Birmingham. Afterwards, with the Leader, Gareth Evans QC, I hosted a reception for journalists from a variety of Midlands newspapers, television and radio stations. This provided an excellent opportunity to develop existing relationships and make new contacts between the media and the local Bar. These regional connections make it easier for the press to gain a better understanding of the Bar, and help to overcome the residual myth that the Bar is remote. We plan to hold the next event in Manchester and it will be run on similar lines. Two days later, I hosted the Bar Council’s Annual Media Reception in London. This brought us together with the national print and broadcast media and was attended by 22 journalists covering a wide range of publications and interests. They met members of the Bar from differing call bands, disciplines and geographical areas. It is always difficult to assess the success of these initiatives, but in recent days the media has sought contributions from the Bar on referral fees, legal aid cuts and sentencing discounts, CPS panels, Facebook use by jurors and lobbying Parliament. I invite you all to contact your circuit office or the communications team to discover who are the representatives for your area on the PAC and how you may help in this new initiative.
LSC payments – how much longer must we wait?
This is a problem which has reached crisis proportions in some cases. I am aware of individuals who have waited many months for payment. This has a significant effect on their personal finances and can have disastrous consequences for chambers incomes as well. The situation is aggravated by the rejection of claims for seemingly trivial reasons and the impossibility of getting through by telephone. The frustration is clear. I have raised these concerns with the Chief Executive of the Legal Services Commission. She has acknowledged the problem and has allocated more staff to the task. I very much hope that there will be signs of improvement by the time this column is published. We will be monitoring the situation closely.
Legal aid – another waiting game
Again, by the time you read this, the Government is likely to have released its response to its consultation on legal aid. The timetable has been much delayed by apparent last minute changes of policy. The response is expected to be published at the same time as a Bill incorporating the Ministry of Justice’s proposed reforms to sentencing, legal aid and civil litigation. The wide-ranging scope of this legislation means that it will demand careful and detailed attention as it passes through Parliament. We will be working hard amongst our contacts in both Houses and in the press to ensure that the Bar’s voice is heard by both the Government and the Opposition.
CPS panels – resolved at last?
There were significant fears about the application process and operation of the new Advocate Panel scheme. We embarked on intense negotiations with the CPS in which the Chairmen of the Bar, the Criminal Bar Association, the Young Bar, the Circuit Leaders and the Bar Council’s Equality and Diversity Committee were closely involved. At the same time the Bar Council sought advice on the prospects of a successful legal challenge. During the negotiations the CPS agreed to make a number of important modifications to their scheme (the detail is on the Bar Council and CPS websites). The Bar Council received advice that there was no basis upon which to commence judicial review. It is not possible to come up with a scheme that will satisfy everyone, but we have been able to secure much of what the Bar has been calling for and it is widely felt that we now have a scheme with which we can work. The Chairmen of the CBA, and the YBC, and all Circuit Leaders are united with me in encouraging members of the Bar to engage in the scheme. This has been a team effort, and I am very grateful to all of those who have been involved in what has proved to be a demanding round of negotiations.
A catalogue of some recent events: I spoke at the Inaugural St Petersburg International Law Forum, attended the IBA Bar Leaders conference in Warsaw, hosted a reception for the American Board of Criminal Lawyers, spoke at an IBA student committee meeting, planned a Bar delegation visit with the Minister of Justice for Abu Dhabi, and I will be speaking at English Law Week in Moscow where we have arranged seminars to feature practitioners from privately and publicly funded sets. The search for new opportunities is unabated.
And finally, help us to help you.
Last month the Bar Council and Bar Standards Board launched a biennial survey of working life at the modern Bar, which will help to build a clearer picture of the working patterns and experiences of the profession. The policy direction of your representative and regulatory bodies will be informed by the results of the survey, so I warmly encourage those who have been selected at random to participate to do so.
Peter Lodder QC, Bar Chairman