Happy New Year. If you do not know me, and there is little reason why many of you will, let me introduce myself. I am Richard Atkins, Chair of the Bar for 2019. I have practised in Birmingham since 1990 and have been at St Philip’s Chambers since 2002. I took Silk in 2011, was the Leader of the Midland Circuit from 2014 to 2017 and have been Vice-Chair of the Bar for 2018. Although I have a largely criminal practice, I am alive to the many problems that other areas of the Bar face.

As I said in my inaugural speech, I intend to be visible and accessible during my year as Chair. If you have any issues which you wish to raise with the Bar Council, you can make contact with the Bar Council representatives from the Inns, the Circuits, the specialist Bar associations or the elected members. Or you can contact me directly at the Bar Council. I intend to hold open meetings at the Bar Council once a month when members of the Bar can attend to speak to me or a member of the Bar Council staff or can dial in if you are out of London. This has never been done before and so I may have to ask for a little patience if you are unable to speak to me on the first occasion. Because I am writing this column in December, I am not as yet able to tell you on what date the first of these events will be happening, but they will be publicised in due course.

In my opinion, the main issues currently facing the Bar Council are: the state of the justice system; Brexit; regulation; court reform; equality and diversity; the perception of the Bar Council across the Bar; and lastly, the job of practising as a barrister.

As I write this column, Parliament is in turmoil over Brexit. I obviously have no idea where we are heading. Why would I, when our political masters have no idea? We have, though, some of the finest minds at the Bar considering all of the options, and we will do all that we can to ensure that our members and clients are not disadvantaged by whatever form Brexit takes.

Regulation is another hot topic. There is currently a Legal Services Board consultation on Internal Governance Rules to which we will be responding. All members of the Bar should also turn their attention to it, as it has the potential for affecting the way we are regulated. You may think of other issues, and if you do, please let us know.

Before I go any further, may I pay tribute to my immediate predecessor Andrew Walker QC. He has worked tirelessly during 2018 to promote the interests of the Bar. He deserves the thanks of all members of the Bar for his efforts. He will be a very hard act to follow, but I assure you all that I will do all that I can to promote the Bar during 2019.

I know that there will be many battles to fight in the year ahead.

The Lord Chancellor and Ministry of Justice have just made an extra £23m available for criminal legal aid payments, for which I am grateful. We all know, though, that this is just the start and I will continue to press for an increase in funding in all areas of publicly funded work, as well as for the justice system and courts’ estate generally.

My aim for the year is to see a happier Bar. I appreciate that some may say that there is little to be happy about. There are, though, in my opinion some reasons for cautious optimism. Whether or not you like the colour of this government, the current Lord Chancellor has shown that he is prepared to listen and has found extra funds for the criminal justice system.

HM Courts & Tribunals Service is also listening and has been supportive of the Bar’s identity card scheme allowing easier access to the courts. I will be pressing for this scheme to be rolled out across all courts nationwide.

The recent high-level appointments of Attorney General Geoffrey Cox QC MP and Director of Public Prosecutions Max Hill QC are of people who have done the ‘day job’ and who will clearly understand the issues facing the Bar.

There are other issues, but my column has only so much space. The final reason for optimism is the quality of the members of the Bar Council, who give up huge amounts of their time to try to improve the lot of every member of the Bar. They work tirelessly on your behalf and I am delighted to lead them.

There is much to be done, but I assure you that I will do all that I can to ensure that the Bar not only survives in 2019 – but thrives.

Contributor Richard Atkins QC, Chair of the Bar

Richard’s inaugural speech can be found here.

The LSB consultation, Proposed Internal Governance Rules Enhancing the separation and independence of regulatory functions within the current legislative framework, closes on 21 January 2019. See here for more information.