It is to be held, as in recent years, at a very successful location, the Westminster Park Plaza, which is just on the south side of Westminster Bridge. The theme of the event this year is The Advocate: our role in the balance between state and citizen. I think this is a particularly apposite issue for our conference. One of the reasons why I wanted to be a barrister was the long, and distinguished, history of the Bar in championing the rights of the small man against the state. I revelled in the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of those who had played such a major part in standing up for ordinary people oppressed by the state. Take William Prynne: he was a barrister of Lincoln’s Inn. Because of his independent writings and his refusal to be silenced, he was imprisoned for twelve months and after that, it was ordered that he be placed in the pillory and have part of his ears cut off. Just thinking of the circumstances of that cruel act, performed, of course, without any form of anaesthetic, is enough to make one shudder. But it did not end there. Prynne refused to be silenced and a further order was made three years later that the stumps of his ears should be cut off and he should be branded on the cheek by a red-hot iron with the letters SL standing for “seditious libeller”. He took his searingly painful punishment without a murmur and was barbarically handled by the executioner. The crowd who witnessed these events were so impressed by his stoicism that they cheered him as he stood in the pillory after his mutilation. One cannot help but be inspired by people of such principle and indomitable courage.
As the addition of the “Young Bar Conference” suggests, this year marks a very significant change. For the first time, the event will be twinned with the Young Bar Conference. There are many advantages to holding the events together. In the first place, it fits with the concept of “One Bar”, which was so successfully championed by the holding of an event in Lincoln’s Inn Hall last year protesting about legal aid cuts. If, by way of example, the Chancery Bar, the Commercial Bar and the Criminal Bar are all part of “One Bar”, surely the Young Bar are as much part of that concept as those who are unlucky enough no longer to be defined as “young barristers”. Second, it means that the Young Bar will have access to all the facilities of the Park Plaza and also to the sponsors, who are so important to the success of the conference. Third, it will provide the opportunity for the Young Bar and their more senior counterparts to mingle and talk about the things that really matter to them at lunch and over a drink at the end of the formal events of the day. I think it is a really exciting development. I have every reason to believe that it will work.
We have a star-studded list of speakers. To open the event, we have a keynote speech from Helena Kennedy, Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws QC. She has been one of our foremost human rights champions for many years. She has also been a leading figure in the struggle for equality for all, whatever their gender, race or sexual orientation. In addition, she has been involved as counsel in some of the most important criminal trials of the day.
Uniquely, we have also secured the attendance of the authors of three of the most important reports about the criminal justice system to emerge in recent years. Sir Brian Leveson will share the stage with Sir Bill Jeffrey and His Honour Geoffrey Rivlin QC. They will each set out their key findings and consider what actions should be taken as a result of their recommendations. There will be time for the audience to ask questions of the panel about their vision of the future of the Criminal Bar. This is surely an opportunity that no barrister, whether they are engaged in criminal work or not, will want to miss. We are very grateful to the speakers for giving their time so freely and I know of no other occasion upon which they have appeared together in this way.
Finally, we have a high-powered political session at which the speakers will be the Solicitor General, Robert Buckland QC MP for the Conservative Party, Andy Slaughter MP, who was a member of the shadow justice team under Ed Miliband and Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames QC, who practised as a barrister on the Western Circuit and has spoken for the Liberal Democrats for many years.
I hope that this article has whetted your appetite for 17 October. There is so much more on the programme than I can deal with here and no-one, whatever their speciality, will be unable to find a series of interesting sessions throughout the day. I appreciate that it is sometimes difficult, when we all work so hard, to give up a Saturday, but the universal experience of those who attend is that it is a really enjoyable day – and it would be fantastic if we could begin our new-style joint conference with a real success. Finally, to those who are still in need of points, there are up to 5 CPD points on offer and the discounts to those attending from the Circuits are still available.
Alistair MacDonald QC, Chairman of the Bar