Things and stuff

A mid-term report from the Bar Chair: big battles still to be won but successes accrue


Whenever I ask my teenage children what they have been doing, I invariably receive the answer ‘things and stuff’. In other words, ‘Mind your own business, Dad’. When considering what to write about this month it occurred to me that I am rapidly approaching the mid-point of my term as Chair, and now might be as good a time as any to tell you about some of the ‘things and stuff’ the Bar Council has been dealing with so far this year.

On 15 June I attended for the first time the Criminal Justice Board, which brings together all the major players in government dealing with criminal justice: the Lord Chancellor, Attorney General, Home Secretary and their senior civil servants; President of the Queen’s Bench Division and Senior Presiding Judge; and representatives of all of the major agencies involved including the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Metropolitan Police Commissioner. The Bar Council and the Law Society have only recently been invited and it is clearly a measure of the realisation of just how important a role the Bar and solicitors play that we now have a seat at the top table. Our invitation is due in no small part to the efforts of Sir Brian Leveson, President of the Queen’s Bench Division, and it is a source of sadness to many of us who have worked with Sir Brian over the years that he retires on 21 June. He has played a huge part in our justice system generally and he will be greatly missed.

As I write this column, the Ministry of Justice review of criminal legal aid is under way and the Bar Council together with the Young Barristers’ Committee, Circuit Leaders, Criminal Bar Association (CBA) and others are engaged and continue to press the case for a substantial increase in investment. The fact that the Bar, solicitors and legal executives perform a vital public function, which should be properly and fairly remunerated, is simply undeniable. We continue to drive progress and we are keeping the pressure on for the review to keep to timetable.

As those of you who prosecute will also know, there is currently a Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) review of prosecution fees. I am well aware of the levels of dissatisfaction amongst many members of the criminal Bar who prosecute. I am a criminal advocate, a member of the CBA, and I have prosecuted and defended in roughly equal measure for my entire career. I will be returning to practise at the criminal Bar at the end of my term as Chair and it is also in my interest to see a properly funded prosecution system which is fairly remunerated for the demanding work that we undertake, which is essential to the criminal justice system. We have waited 18 years for this review, which we have been assured will be completed by September. Together with many others I will continue to press the Bar’s case with the CPS and I assure you we will be doing all we can to secure an acceptable outcome. The CPS understands the consequences of failure.

I was delighted that HM Courts & Tribunals Service has agreed to a national roll-out of the Bar’s ID card scheme that so many have worked long and hard to bring to fruition. It will take some time to reach every court and tribunal and there will undoubtedly be teething troubles which I hope people will bear with. If you are aware of an issue, let the court staff and the Bar Council know. We were recently alerted to the fact that the scanner was not working properly at Southwark Crown Court and it is to be replaced. We do not simply ‘shrug and put the kettle on’ as one wag on Twitter suggested recently. We do try to make the lot of the Bar better. If you talk to us, rather than simply go on the attack, you will see that the Bar Council does respond and it does get things done.

Another considerable success has been achieved in our dealings with the Bar’s overarching regulator, the Legal Services Board (LSB). Many of you may not have picked up on the fact that the LSB recently held a consultation about the rules governing the relationship between the Bar Council and our frontline regulator, the Bar Standards Board (BSB). The LSB had proposed amending the rules to stop the Bar Council having any influence over the BSB’s determinations. This is contrary to the Legal Services Act which states that the exercise of an approved regulator’s regulatory functions is not (to be) prejudiced by its representative functions. In the Bar Council’s response we indicated that the proposed changes were ultra vires and thankfully the LSB has now dropped this proposed change. There are other battles that are still to be had, but at least one battle has been won. All of this may have completely passed you by, but had it gone through without challenge you would have almost certainly noticed it, especially if your practising certificate fee had risen.

These are just some of the ‘things and stuff’ that the Bar Council and more than 400 members of the Bar who serve on the various committees have done for you recently. Other matters include: making representations about the proposed Flexible Operating Hours pilots; sending out the advice on judicial bullying; pressing for reform of family Very High Cost Cases; helping develop the Pre-Application Judicial Education programme; and so on. You may not always know what is going on, but I can assure you, a great deal is, and it is all being done with the aim of making barristers’ lives better.

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Richard Atkins QC

Richard Atkins QC, Chair of the Bar