The Bingham Centre, dedicated to the rule of law, has been set up in memory of Lord Bingham who died in September. In a fairer world Tom Bingham, as titular head of the Centre, would have continued his unique contribution to the law. Professor Jeffrey Jowell QC has been appointed as the first Director. But here is the rub. The Centre needs funding and I very much hope that members of the Bar can be persuaded to support this important venture which will be a fitting tribute to this remarkable man.
LSB consultation on referral fees
The LSB has issued a first consultation on referral fees—fees paid by one person to another for the right to conduct that litigation. Frankly, this is a disappointing piece of work. The report is based on some analysis undertaken by economists. It suggests there is no real evidence of a problem with referral fees in connection with litigation and in particular criminal advocacy. This is despite strong and adverse views from the Master of the Rolls, Lord Justice Jackson and the Attorney General. The level of understanding displayed in this paper of how referral fees operate and where the public interest lies is woeful. There is scant recognition of the importance of independence and integrity to a justice system, factors which cannot be measured by economists. Anyone who feels strongly about this should join the SBAs and Circuits in making their views known.
Young Bar Conference
300 barristers attended the YBC annual conference in early October, an excellent event. In the session devoted to the future of the Bar, the YBC Chair asked for a show of hands indicating sets in the process of setting up a ProcureCo. This suggested that two-thirds of the represented sets were setting up corporate vehicles. This is heartening because it shows more and more sets are taking a longer term view of their work and adapting to changing circumstances.
There is no more money
By the time you read this the government will have announced the results of the Comprehensive Spending Review. It will then consult on implementing these cuts. Minsters privately are talking about making cuts they really would not wish to make, not only to justice but across Whitehall. The Bar Council has been in close touch with the government and senior civil servants. Once we know the nature of the proposed cuts in more detail we shall intensify our work to ensure the cuts are implemented in a way which preserves the profession and the justice system to the maximum degree. We will seek to extract a promise that once the pressure on the public purse diminishes, the government will re-invest in the system. It would be intolerable if the present cuts were used as an opportunity to weaken the very fabric of justice.
In 2007/8 the Bar offered 562 pupillages; in 2008/9 the number had fallen to 464; in 2009/10 the number has fallen to 402. This dramatic reduction is explained largely by the fact that the publicly funded Bar is holding its breath whilst reform of public funding is undertaken. I doubt there will be an exhalation until about 2013 when the new legal aid distribution system will have settled down. All things being equal, the Bar will then realise that it has a real future and can grow again. In general terms the Bar offers pupillages according to the number of available tenancies. I believe the reduction in pupillages largely reflects uncertainty about the future of legal aid, not a dramatic decline in the volume of available work.
The Bar Council uses its influence here and abroad to widen the Bar’s markets. Internationally there are huge opportunities for the Bar, for publicly and privately funded practitioners. I know of a number of sets who mainly undertake legal aid work in the UK who are seeking to diversify into international work. To some the idea of travelling to China to drum up work might seem remote but in reality it is not. A recent Bar delegation to China included a visit to Hangzhou, a so-called “second tier city”, with a population in excess of six million. At a seminar organised by the Bar Council on international dispute resolution nearly 100 young Chinese lawyers turned up. The vast majority spoke excellent English. They were very interested in how to litigate in England, how to instruct a barrister, the cost of doing so, how summary judgment procedures for debt actions worked and how to enforce foreign judgments. Chambers and individual barristers should support Bar Council delegations that travel to open up markets for the Bar. I am always pleased to see the clerks and practice managers at international events. Getting out there can pay dividends. Got wig will travel.
Nick Green QC is Bar Chairman