Highs and lows

Our profession unites in opposition to cuts to AGFS fees; our colleagues’ successes abroad and the role of the Bar Council’s International Committee; and the time spent by practitioners in promoting the Bar as a career to students of all backgrounds.

On 27 February, the Government announced its response to the second consultation paper on legal aid. Sadly, despite the arguments advanced by the Bar Council, the Criminal Bar Association, the Circuits and all at the criminal Bar, the Government’s intention remains to introduce further cuts to the fees paid to advocates under the Advocates Graduated Fee Scheme. This comes on top of three years in a row of repeated cuts to AGFS fees and the cut in December 2013 of 30% in the fees paid to advocates in Very High Costs Cases.


It is no wonder that feelings are running high. I said at the time that the meetings outside courts on 6 January were a very clear demonstration of the strength of feeling about the proposed cuts in criminal legal aid. On 7 March I saw this same strength of feeling in Old Palace Yard, where the barristers and solicitors outside Parliament were so vocal that Black Rod asked them to keep the noise down.

There were a number of civil and family practitioners outside Parliament on 7 March. This was a further demonstration that ours is one profession, following on from the meeting in Lincoln’s Inn on 8 February, when barristers from all practice areas and from across the country spoke with one voice to warn the Government of the impact of its planned cuts. Sadly, the Government has not heeded that warning.

Turning to a brighter note, one of the success stories for the criminal Bar in recent years has been in the international field, with an increasing number of appearances by barristers before international courts or tribunals. Barristers have, for example, prosecuted or defended cases before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, the Special Court for Sierra Leone, the Special Tribunal for Lebanon and the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia.

This development goes hand-inhand with an increase in the export of UK legal services generally, and of the Bar’s services in particular. According to BMIF statistics, the value of the Bar’s international exports has grown from £90m in 2004 to £231m in 2012. Over 1,200 barristers now do this kind of work.

"There were civil and family practitioners outside Parliament... ours is one profession"

Through its International Committee, the Bar Council develops opportunities for the Bar abroad, as well as promoting the rule of law and human rights, an area in which the Bar Human Rights Committee is also very active. For instance, in 2013 the Bar Council arranged trade missions or other events in New York, Germany, Russia, Ukraine, China and South Korea. In 2014 similar events are planned for Brazil, Japan, Boston and several European countries.

All are welcome to these events, and the Bar Council Scholarship Trust, together with the Circuits and Specialist Bar Associations, provides funding to help those under 7 years call to attend these or other international conferences.

At the Bar Council meeting in January, Chantal-Aimée Doerries QC, who chairs the International Committee, provided a number of examples of barristers who had attended international events such as these and received instructions as a result from foreign lawyers. These included recently-called juniors and specialists in family as well as civil work.

Family practitioners were out in force at the Family Law Bar Association’s annual dinner on 28 February, and were in good spirits despite the many difficulties created by the withdrawal of legal aid from large areas of family work. I was honoured to be their guest and was impressed by their evident passion for, and devotion to, what can be a very demanding and difficult area of work.

It was also a great pleasure to be invited to address the annual dinner of the Kent Law Temple Society on 7 March. This is the association for law students at the University of Kent who are considering a career at the Bar. Many of the students I met came from non-legal backgrounds, and events like this are important in providing them with an opportunity to meet barristers and judges in informal surroundings and to find out more about the career they have in mind. I was delighted to see that many senior members of the Bar and judges supported this event and support the society’s other activities, such as mooting competitions. Many members of the Bar are involved with other universities in the same way, and this is something which makes a real contribution to our efforts to ensure that all students, from whatever background, have a real opportunity to come to the Bar.

Finally, a reminder that litigation has always been a risky business. It is now six hundred years since Hull J. heard Dyer’s case (1414) 2 Hen. V, fol. 5, pl. 26, one of the first restraint of trade cases to be reported. The plaintiff failed to appear. This was wise, as the judge not only held that the defendant’s promise not to compete with the plaintiff in the dying trade was void, but also exclaimed, “per Dieu se le plaintiff fuit icy il irra al prison tanque il ust fait fi ne au Roy.” (“By God, if the plaintiff were here, he should go to prison until he had paid a fine to the King.”)

Nicholas Lavender QC, Chairman of the Bar

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