My task in the next twelve months will be to work with Government and other agencies to protect the public interest in maintaining this standard so that all members of society, especially the most vulnerable, have proper representation when they are involved in the justice system.” Mr Mendelle begins his year-long term just days after the Ministry of Justice announced plans to cut the legal aid budget further, slashing the rates for defence work. Mr Mendelle said of these plans:

“Ill-considered and cavalier cuts, such as those proposed recently, seek to drag defence fees down to levels that are already considered by many to be inadequate. They will fall heavily on younger barristers, most of whom are burdened by the large debt they incurred in higher education before coming to the Bar. This will result in fewer and fewer talented young people, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, practising at the publicly-funded Bar, and will greatly reduce diversity in the profession, something which the CBA has worked so hard to promote. The legal landscape is changing ever more quickly in the wake of the Legal Services Act 2007; indeed, the Ministry of Justice appears to have torn up the recommendations for incremental and considered change set out in the Carter Report 2006. As Chairman of the CBA part of my role is to try to help steer the Criminal Bar through these challenging times. The Bar has modernised and will continue to modernise, responding quickly and effectively in a rapidly-changing environment, but change must never be imposed at the expense of the justice system of which we are so rightly proud.”

In particular the Working Group highlights the tension between the LSB’s belief in the potential benefits from the liberalisation of the market for legal services despite a lack of any real evidence as to how the market might change, and the effect this would in turn have on consumers. The discussion paper also suggests a prioritisation of promotion of access to legal services at the expense of promoting access to justice.

Commenting on the response, Desmond Browne QC, Chairman of the Bar, said:

“The Bar Council welcomes in principle the introduction of Alternative Business Structures and the opportunity to provide innovative solutions to changes in the demand for the provision of legal services. There may, however, be tension between liberalisation of the market, and the core principle of providing effective access to justice. It is right, therefore, to advance with caution.

For this reason, the Working Group, in its response to the Legal Services Board’s wide-reaching and thought provoking discussion paper, advocates a pragmatic and proportionate approach to the liberalisation of the market. Such an approach will better enable the licensing regime to adapt to changes in the market as they occur, benefitting both regulators and providers of legal services, whilst that ensuring the public interest is properly protected.”