Taking the tube to the launch of LawCare’s new interactive website, the Evening Standard placards announced “Second lawyer commits suicide”. The dreadful news underlined the ever-increasing importance of the advisory service which LawCare offers to barristers, solicitors and judges (together with their staff and immediate families), who are having to confront stress or depression stemming from work, family or financial problems. Often these problems manifest themselves in alcohol or drug abuse, and lead to family breakdown. For over a decade LawCare has provided a free and confidential telephone advisory service through its lawyer volunteers. From personal experience in dealing with their own problems, these volunteers are able to offer support to fellow lawyers. The number to ring is 0800 018 4299.
The widow of a recent suicide has written how high-achievers in the profession don’t blame the recession for their troubles, they blame themselves and believe that no one can help. LawCare shows how wrong this is: the first step is to recognise the existence of a problem, the second is to seek advice. As the credit crunch bites deeper, calls to LawCare have naturally increased. It is therefore highly timely that they have just launched on their website www.lawcare.org.uk a password-protected personal programme, which assesses stress and makes recommendations for dealing with it. Hopefully we should not have to see another placard like that I saw in January.
There was little support at the January Bar Council meeting for Marc Beaumont’s motion for a new rank of “senior barrister” for those over 20 years’ call. On the other hand, there was support for his complaint that the words “junior counsel” do not properly reflect the expertise and experience of those who, like him, have practised successfully for over two decades. Whilst Rumpole may have gloried in the status, it is natural that older practitioners feel the title of junior counsel is demeaning and promotes misunderstanding amongst lay clients of the extent of their ability and experience. For that reason Tim Dutton made a point of trying never to call people “junior counsel”. Like him, I feel that it ought normally to be possible to refer either to counsel or Queen’s counsel, and differentiate from leaders in that way. I hope that Marc’s efforts will go some way to ending the use of a term that able practitioners without silk naturally resent.
QCA replacement for Roy Amlot
Counsel’s deadline does not enable me to say when the announcement will be made of the successful applicants in the third round of silk in its new guise. There are two barrister members of the selection panel, and Roy Amlot QC has been one of them from the start in 2005. This is taxing work involving a commitment of some 30 to 40 days. It now falls to me to appoint Roy’s replacement, and the best tribute to him would be to find someone just as good. So if you are a silk or employed barrister of equivalent status and think you could do the job, do please apply. And let me know, too, if you think of a suitable name, who may otherwise be too shy to apply. Sir Duncan Nichol’s report found that the procedure and outcomes of the selection process appear to enjoy the broad confidence of interested parties. It is vital that that confidence built up by Roy and his colleagues continues.
Lord Justice Jackson’s costs review
In all the troubles faced by the publicly funded Bar, the profession must not lose sight of the potential ramifications of the far-reaching review of the costs of civil litigation which the Master of the Rolls has asked Jackson LJ to complete by 31 December. Amongst the issues being addressed are the proportionality of costs in relation to damages and whether there should be costs-capping—indeed whether costs-capping should be universal. Also being examined is the rule that costs follow the event: would this make England a less attractive forum for international disputes?
Finally, conditional fee arrangements are in the frame: do they open up access to justice or are they an oppressive weapon against uninsured defendants? We are fortunate that Michael Todd QC, Chairman of the Chancery Bar Association, has agreed to lead the response to the consultation document expected in late April.
Edgar Fay QC
At the recent Western Circuit dinner in London, Judge Edgar Fay responded on behalf of the guests. He was called in 1932 and joined the circuit in February 1934; the Senior Law Lord who was one of his listeners was not born until four years later. The Circuit provided this vigorous centenarian with life membership, which generous gift he said he accepted with optimism. Cras animarum, as they say out West.
Desmond Browne QC is Bar Chairman