Guarding the profession

The Bar’s wellbeing portal is launched; lobbying priorities for the autumn season; and countering threats to independence

Autumn is always a busy time of year for the Bar Council. On the domestic front, it involves attending the Labour and Conservative Party conferences, as well as our own Annual Bar Conference. 

Looking outward, it is a time when we host jointly with the Law Society over 60 foreign Bars for the Opening of the Legal Year, as well as attending the International Bar Association conference. The latter was in Washington, DC this year; over 75 barristers attended.

All these occasions, in one way or another, involve promoting the interest of the Bar of England and Wales. For example, we work hard to ensure that the Bar and the UK continue to be the destination of choice for international work, and in the context of Europe, that the UK is presented as outward-looking and open for business on the international stage. Closer to home, we continue to lobby for reform in the context of enhanced court fees and to promote a new deal for the criminal Bar in the context of the Advocates Graduated Fee Scheme for defence advocates in the crown courts.

Negotiating strength as one Bar

In the same way that as advocates we have obligations both to the court and to our client, so too the Bar Council, in its outward-facing role, combines the roles of acting in the public interest and of representing the Bar’s interests. This is perhaps most evident in the 50 or more consultations we have responded to over the last 12 months. We are unique in representing the whole Bar and we are stronger together. Good examples of our strength, I believe, include the work we have done in negotiating with the Government on criminal legal aid, in responding to the proposed court reforms in civil, family and crime, and in responding to the recent HMRC consultation on tax avoidance. In each case work we closely with the relevant specialist Bar associations and Circuits, and our voice is stronger, because we represent one Bar, not just part of the profession directly affected.

Wellbeing portal launch

The 2016 Bar Council conference was packed with content and excellent speakers. Many of you attended and made it a real success. One of the highlights was the launch of the Bar’s Wellbeing Portal (see also here). Funding came from the Bar Council, the Inns and the Institute of Barristers’ Clerks. The portal is aimed at barristers as well as all those who work with them. It is full of useful information and includes inspiring stories from individuals who have suffered from wellbeing problems, as well as practical information for individuals who are struggling, and for those around them.

Being a barrister is challenging, rewarding, exciting and great fun. But it is hard and demanding. I have met many barristers this year whose practice demonstrates the demanding nature of the job: the female barrister in her 30s from the north of England with a diet of sex cases over the recent years, who has had to digest the horrors of these cases; the young male London barrister struggling with loneliness; the female barrister juggling family life, travelling to far-flung courts, and leadership responsibilities, all while earning much less on legal aid than many would consider reasonable; the head of chambers concerned that he had failed to see in advance the immense pressures a colleague was under; or the senior male barrister not coping with the demands of a very busy practice.

Each one of us will need support at some stage in our career. Working with the four Inns, the specialist Bar associations, and the Circuits, the Bar Council has been able to bring together a wide range of resources to help the Bar and those who support the Bar. We hope that these resources will make it easier for people to withstand the pressures of professional life. I believe this project demonstrates what, by working together, the Bar can achieve and I encourage all of you to look at this portal.

Independence of the Bar: the right of every citizen

The 2016 Bar Conference was closed by the President of the Malaysian Bar Association, Steven Thiruneelakandan. Speaking of the unprecedented threats to the independence of his profession, he thanked the Bar Council for standing in solidarity with the Malaysian Bar. In a moving closing speech he referred to the independence of the Bar as ‘the right of every citizen’ which is ‘fundamental to the independence of the judiciary’, and ‘vital to the economic progress and development of a nation’. Our challenge and role is to remind society, and politicians, that this is – and remains – the case.

Contributor Chantal-Aimée Doerries QC, Chairman of the Bar

WORKING ON YOUR BEHALF

Here’s a glimpse of just some of the Bar Council’s work recently:

  1. The Chairman of the Bar represented the Bar at the Conservative and Labour party conferences, speaking at events hosted by the Bar Council alongside senior ministers and shadow ministers.
  2. The Bar Council responded to the ‘Transforming our Justice System’ consultation.
  3. The Chairman of the Bar delivered a keynote speech at the IBA conference on challenges facing the profession. 
  4. The Bar Council submitted its response to the Competition and Markets Authority consultation on the legal services market. 
  5. The Bar was invited to complete two important surveys from the Bar Council on pro bono work and the employed Bar.