The show goes on

For Richard Atkins QC, his term as Chair is almost over, but the Bar Council’s work continues at pace; some 2019 highlights


I cannot believe that this is my last Counsel column. Where has the year gone? I chaired my last Bar Council meeting on Saturday 2 November. Meetings normally start at 10am, but I put the start back to 11am because of the clash with the Rugby. Sadly, the result was not what many hoped for, but we had a great gathering of Bar Council and Bar Standards Board members and staff at the Middle Temple watching the match. The first email I received from a Bar Council member following my decision to start at 11am stated: ‘A Bar Council to believe in. Especially when they accommodate the RWC.’ I said last year that I aimed to make the Bar happier in 2019 and it seems that I have achieved success with at least one member of the Bar. I hope, however, that the comment was more than a little tongue in cheek. I appreciate that some barristers think the Bar Council does nothing, but I hope fewer members of the profession hold that view now than they did at the start of the year. I remain firmly of the opinion that the profession would be far worse off if the Bar Council did not do all it does.

This year I have visited sets of chambers in Chester, Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield, Cardiff, Swansea, Birmingham, Nottingham, Southampton, Winchester, Bristol and London. I held dial-in and drop-in clinics at the Bar Council. I have tried my best to ensure that every member of the Bar has had the opportunity to raise any issues with me and the Bar Council team. I do not believe that anyone can say that they did not have the opportunity to speak with me, but if anyone does still think that, then I am in post until the end of the year.

I know I have not done all that I had hoped when I set out my stall last December, but there have been some significant successes. CPS fees increased on 1 September for the first time almost in living memory, and more is due in February 2020. Whilst it is by no means all we asked for and is still a long way off reversing the last 18 years stagnation, it is a sizeable increase. This is due to hard work by the Criminal Bar Association, Young Barristers’ Committee and Bar Council as well as the team from the CPS. There has been a huge change in the way the CPS and the Bar have engaged, and I am very optimistic that the positive engagement and collaborative reviews will continue.

At the time of writing this column, the General Election has just been announced and nobody is sure how the defence Criminal Legal Aid Review will be affected by the government entering the pre-election period. Nevertheless, we shall continue to fight for a substantial increase to defence fees.

The Bar’s Court ID scheme pilot was a success and 30 more courts are about to be brought into the scheme. The aim is to roll it out across all courts by mid-2020. If there are teething problems please let the Bar Council know, but the scheme is already popular in the courts where it is operating.

In July the Bar Council met for the first time outside London. It is important that the Bar Council of England and Wales is seen throughout England and Wales. We held a tremendous meeting in Cardiff, addressed by Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd and attended by members of the Welsh Bar. I hope that at least one meeting a year will be held on Circuit from now on.

Internationally, we have continued to develop new opportunities worldwide and to promote the Rule of Law. In October we signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Brussels Bars which will help barristers to continue working in Brussels whatever the Brexit outcome.

I have led teams from the Bar Council, CBA and Family Law Bar Association meeting with the Legal Aid Agency to help improve payments and to try to improve the family Very High Cost Cases scheme. These meetings have led to some success and the collaborative spirit of engagement will I believe lead to further improvements in the coming year.

We successfully persuaded the Legal Services Board to back down on some of its proposed amendments to the Internal Governance Rules which govern the way the Bar Council and the BSB interact. The work put in on responding not just to this consultation, but to many consultations, by members of the Bar Council and Bar Council committees is truly remarkable. It often goes unseen by members of the profession, but were it not done, the profession would be far worse off. We are very lucky to have so many impressive people giving up so much of their time for the profession.

The Bar Council advice on judicial bullying was well-received and the new “Talk to Spot” platform for recording (and reporting) harassment and bullying, demonstrates how the Bar Council is continually looking for new and innovative ways to help members of the Bar. Unfortunately, I do not have the space to name all who have helped me this year, or report on everything the Bar Council has done. I would, though, like to thank all the Bar Council members, chairs and committee members for their stalwart support. I would also like to thank the Bar Council staff who work tirelessly to make the Bar a better place. When I finish at the end of the year it will be the first time since mid-2003 that I have not had any involvement with the Bar Council; I will, I am sure, miss it. The Bar Council though remains in good hands and I wish Amanda Pinto QC and Derek Sweeting QC the very best for their years ahead.

Lastly, may I once again encourage everyone to pay the Bar Representation Fee? We could do so much more with more funds. Best wishes for 2020. 

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