Musical chairs

Keeping tabs on Boris’s sizeable re-shuffle – practitioners in the top three justice roles bodes well – fees, governance and Brexit


Traditionally August was a quiet time for the Bar. This August, however, has been far from quiet for the Bar Council. Avid readers of this column will recall that two months ago I expressed the hope that whoever became Prime Minister would not embark on a wholesale re-shuffle of those who had responsibility for our justice system. I do not know whether Boris Johnson reads this column, but although there has been a sizeable re-shuffle, those now in post do seem to have more than a passing acquaintance with the law, and my expressed fear of further ‘experiments’ seems, so far, to have been avoided. We now have barristers in the offices of Lord Chancellor (and Secretary of State for Justice), Attorney General and Solicitor General. Whether this is ‘as it should be’, as the Attorney General mischievously said when welcoming the Lord Chancellor at his swearing-in, I will leave you to decide, but having practitioners in those top three roles can only be a good thing.

On 30 July I was present in the Lord Chief Justice’s court to welcome in the new Lord Chancellor, Robert Buckland QC MP and the new Solicitor General, Michael Ellis QC MP. Robert, as many of you will know, is the former Solicitor General and, albeit for the blink of an eye, Prisons Minister. Fiercely proud of his Welsh roots, he took his oath in English and Welsh. He was called to the Bar in 1991 by the Inner Temple and practised at the criminal and planning Bars in Swansea and Cardiff, and also sat as a Recorder. I have worked with him since his appointment as Solicitor General when I was then Leader of the Midland Circuit. He knows and understands the Bar’s concerns and we look to him to fight for the justice system. He knows that he can rely on the support of the Bar if he does so and I look forward to working with him closely during the remainder of my tenure as Chair of the Bar. I very much meant what I said at Robert’s swearing in, that I hoped I would not be the first Chair of the Bar to welcome two Lords Chancellor in a year. In these turbulent political times however, anything seems possible, but stability at the Ministry of Justice with people at the helm who know what they are talking about is I suspect a dream shared by many of us.

Our new Solicitor General is also a former criminal practitioner, who practised from chambers in Northampton and I look forward to establishing good relations with him. I am of course sad to see us lose Lucy Frazer QC MP with whom I had worked closely during her time at the MOJ and for her short period as Solicitor General, but I congratulate her on her promotion. Of course, the one major non-mover was the Leader of the Bar, the Attorney General Geoffrey Cox QC MP. Whether we see much of him over the next few months given the prominent roles he has been given in relation to Brexit on the various Cabinet committees to which he has been appointed, remains to be seen. But he has been a pleasure to work with so far and I for one am delighted that he has remained in post. He also knows and understands the Bar and the wider legal profession well and I have little doubt that he will fight his corner for the justice system, regardless of whatever other demands there may be on his time.

Arrangements are being made for me to meet with all of them as well as with the other Ministers at the MOJ. I very much hope that the ‘enlightened holistic approach’ that I previously mentioned David Gauke, Sajid Javid and Geoffrey Cox brought to our justice system will be continued. I have yet to meet the new Home Secretary, but she is also on my ‘hit list’. It is perhaps a little-known fact that prior to her rise to prominence as an MP she started her career working for the Bar Council’s then PR consultants, so I am hoping that she will have remembered something of what the Bar is about.

Whilst trying to keep tabs on the musical chairs in government, much work has continued to be done on the Crown Prosecution Service and MOJ reviews of fees. I am grateful to all of those who have taken the time to attend the various roadshows across the Circuits. It is really important to engage with these reviews and that those conducting them hear your concerns. We are also continuing to work hard on the Bar Council’s response to the Legal Services Board decision about the Internal Governance Rules.

Brexit naturally continues to dominate the headlines. We are planning for all eventualities at the Bar Council and I never cease to be amazed at the tireless work done by those on the European and International Committees as well as the Brexit Working Group. The Brexit Papers are highly regarded and continue to be referred to by Ministers and those who advise them. Hugh Mercer QC, Steven Thompson QC and Rhodri Thompson QC and their teams deserve the highest praise.

Lastly, a plug for this year’s Bar and Young Bar Conference which takes place on Saturday 23 November at The Grand Connaught Rooms. It is chaired by the dynamic Rachel Langdale QC and promises to be very different this year. A stellar line-up includes the keynote speaker Philippe Sands QC, author of East West Street: On the Origins of Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity. It is an exceptional book which I recommend. I also recommend that you reserve your tickets for the conference now. See you there.

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Richard Atkins QC

Richard Atkins QC, Chair of the Bar