The keeper of the flame

peter-lodder-qcThe new Chairman of the Bar Council intends to pass on to his successor a Bar which has got through the difficulties and is ready to flourish, finds David Wurtzel.

If every elected leader needs a “narrative”, then Peter Lodder QC, the new Chairman of the Bar, has one and it is straightforward: “Perhaps because I have been fortunate in my own career, I am an optimist and I continue to be an optimist. I intend to pass on to my successor a Bar which has got through the difficulties and is ready to flourish.” As for those seeking to enter the profession, it is imperative “to make sure there is a good, successful future for them. There was one for me when I came to the Bar; there should be one for them. It is something I hold dearly.”


When we met in early November we discussed the hurdles he would have to get over. Peter clearly appreciates that new Chairmen are not handed a blank slate, and that amongst his tasks is resolving what he has inherited. As a former chairman of the Criminal Bar Association, he has been living for a long time with the questions of publicly funded fees, and of the incursions of higher court advocates into the Bar’s former monopoly.

Publicly funded fees

In February 2009 Peter gave evidence to the Justice Select Committee and deplored the disparity of payments between prosecution and defence counsel. He would later see the Labour Government distort that and in fact reduce the level of payment to the defence, which was precisely the opposite of what he was pleading for and of what the Bar thought would emerge after the Carter process. Like others, has suffered the reduction in income from legal aid work.

Higher court advocates

Peter’s evidence session in 2009 largely dealt though with the increase in CPS Crown advocates doing Crown Court trial work. It was one of the major goals of his predecessor to achieve stability in numbers, viz the CPS. “We are very close” to achieving that now, thanks to patient negotiation, the CPS’s own budgetary constraints and cuts, the different approach taken by Keir Starmer QC as DPP, and the “great value and great store” which the Attorney General, Dominic Grieve QC MP, places on the self-employed Bar – in particular on the benefit to those who both prosecute and defend. The result is that the Bar retains a significant proportion of prosecuting work.

Quality assurance

Quality assurance for advocates in the Crown Court will start during his term of office (“there will be a system whether we like it or not”). It is his view that it must be based on judicial assessment: “We need an assessment to be performed by a consumer and judges are a consumer of advocacy and independent.” There is nothing constitutionally inappropriate about this; indeed, they have the strongest interest in ensuring that there is a good standard of advocacy in their courts. It is also “undoubtedly the cheapest way”. What is being considered is a simple tick list system which does not require a long, reasoned analysis but the decision will be spread across a series of judges, perhaps as many as ten. These are minimum standards, and “most of those entering the system will not find it difficult to achieve the levels they think they deserve”. The alternative proposals are too costly or inadequate.

The Advocacy Training Council

I pointed out that having done the Bar Finals course 30 years ago, no one ever taught him advocacy. “I may not have been taught in a classroom but I learned by being a pupil and watching my pupil master and other advocates. Advocacy can be learned but if you have skill in advocacy it is because there is something of it in you before you start.” “But there is always more to learn.” He is committed to providing more support and funding for the Advocacy Training Council and to turning it into our export. Requests for training are constantly being received from overseas jurisdictions. Not all of these can be met but we must try to do so. “It is the gold standard and it is ours.”

Route to the Bar

He has been most aware of the quality of applicants to the profession in his own chambers, which he finds “quite outstanding” – although he worries about the numbers of those who are coming through the system with such huge debts and an uncertain future. He came to the Bar himself in a different era but belies the myth that it was a closed shop. He is the first member of his family to go to university (Birmingham) or to be a lawyer; his late father was a Royal Navy officer who was not upset when Peter turned down an offered place at Dartmouth. He took the decision to try for the Bar while a student and joined Middle Temple during the era of the redoubtable Jean Austin as student officer. Having explained to Peter which chambers would not take him because he had been neither to the right school nor Oxbridge, she talent-spotted the then 3 Hare Court (now 2 Bedford Row) as the chambers for him. In those days “we were not doing particularly well”; however, twice in the last four years they have been named Criminal Chambers of the Year.

She suggested Howard Godfrey, who became his pupil master and who allowed him to defer his pupillage for a year. Peter worked for six months to make some money, and then bought a plane ticket to Bombay and a return ticket from Hong Kong dated six months later, and “got on with it”. He travelled around India, Nepal, South-East Asia and then China as one of the first westerners allowed to travel there independently. He was bitten by a cobra in India (treated by a local snake doctor whose previous patient had died), went six months without meeting anyone he had ever met before and came back with a love of travel (he has been back, several times, since), a sense of self sufficiency and an interest in how other people live.

Immediately before pupillage he worked for some months as a temporary court clerk at the Old Bailey while working two double-shifts on Saturdays and Sundays at a factory in Foots Cray in Kent. The weekend job carried on once he began pupillage until he received a Jules Thorn Scholarship from Middle Temple. Having benefited from the opportunity which the scholarship brings is one reason why “I am Bar to my boots”. His gratitude survives to this day and he clearly felt the honour – and that things had come full circle – when he was elected a Bencher of the Inn.

Peter’s chambers were originally a “mixed common law” set and his first months were in commercial law spent drafting affidavits, Mareva applications and Order 14 summonses. Over time chambers focussed on crime and regulatory work with a memory of their civil past – Peter specialises in financial crime (fraud, money laundering, and confiscation), as well as murders. Although he has prosecuted a good deal, he now largely defends.

A moderniser

As Chairman of the CBA he has often spoken on criminal law matters to the media and has appeared on “Law in Action”, “Unreliable Evidence” and many news programmes. As someone who believes in the Bar asserting its voice without being partisan, he will be presiding over the first Bar debates which will be taking place this year. A moderniser, he is glad to see how the Bar has set about establishing ProcureCos and alternative business structures. “We need to shake off some of those traditional elements” which are “increasingly out of place”. However there is nothing to fear in this. “The Bar’s identity will be preserved by its professionalism, standards and camaraderie. The relationship with the BSB in this respect is excellent.” Overall, “the Bar in the last ten years has developed more than it did I suspect in the preceding 30 or 40 years”. The rate of change is now so rapid that few can regard the Bar as being a stuffy or traditional profession.

Would he recommend the Bar then to his own children? They are still young, he explained, although they have stumbled on one truth: they are concerned that it involves an awful lot of hard work?

 

Profile Peter Lodder QC

Peter Lodder QC, a tenant at 2 Bedford Row, was Called to the Bar in 1981 and took Silk in 2001. He was appointed a Crown Court Recorder in 2000.

Peter Lodder has an extensive practice in serious and complex fraud including money laundering and particular recent experience in sanctions breaking. He also has a general crime practice (murder, drugs confiscation etc). He is described in Chambers and Partners as “the real McCoy” and a “consistent performer”.

He has also appeared on national radio and television news broadcasts to comment upon high profile criminal cases and on changes in the law. He has contributed to current affairs programmes such as “Unreliable Evidence”, “Law in Action”, and “The One Show”.

Prior to his appointment as Chairman of the Bar Council, Peter was Chairman of the Criminal Bar Association (2008-09). He is also a Bencher of Middle Temple (2010).

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David Wurtzel

David practised at the criminal Bar for 27 years and is a door tenant at 18 Red Lion Court. Prior to his retirement, he was a consultant in the CPD department at City Law School and consultant editor of Counsel. David is a member of the Counsel Editorial Board.