The outsider might find it perverse, distasteful even, that a criminal barrister should ever expect to feel joy in practising his craft. But anyone who has ever addressed a jury will know exactly what Moses LJ meant when he said that to be an effective advocate there must be the potential for joy in this profession. Without joy, or even the chance of it, being a barrister can be a truly horrendous experience; not merely humdrum or routine but genuinely bleak.
In a speech that made it abundantly clear that joy was not a euphemism for fees but rather being an active participant in a genuine quest for justice unafflicted with deadening bureaucracy Moses LJ, once again, stuck his head above the parapet to make it clear that QASA as envisaged will be a disaster. As he put it he could not wait for the moment that he could tell advocates to shut up and sit down and they would have to laugh at his jokes.
It was wholly apt that with the theme ‘United we Stand’ the conference delegates could see for themselves that at least one extremely senior judge was prepared to go public with his dismay at the degradation of the Bar and the contempt with which it is treated by politicians and the public. Rightly Lord Justice Moses emphasised that independence comes at a cost and there is a financial element to that. Barristers have to be able to afford to fight fearlessly for their clients and to stand up to judges and the state. He enquired rhetorically where it was the Government thinks that judges, who they claim to esteem so highly, come from and will come from.
Also taking to the platform was Dr Vanessa Davies, Director of the Bar Standards Board, who spoke on the future of regulation and pluckily took questions from the floor. The Solicitor-General, Oliver Heald QC MP, then spoke in the Attorney-General’s (who was unable to attend) stead, and affirmed the Government’s esteem for the Bar but endorsed the suggestion that the Bar would have to contract. He referred to junior barristers attending his surgery complaining about their meagre incomes whose diaries showed them to be in court only a few days a week. In an impassioned plea the Chairman of the Young Barristers’ Committee, Hannah Kinch, urged the Solicitor-General to take the message to his political masters that the junior Bar is constantly told that its fees are being preserved or even increased by the Government but that this is not the experience of juniors at the coalface.
There were a number of breakout sessions including an important and extremely useful session on vulnerable witnesses conducted by Lesley Bates who, together with Paul Mendelle QC, has been working so hard on the excellent CBA backed video available at the Advocate’s Gateway website.
In straitened financial times it is more important than ever that scrupulous adherence to the Code of Conduct is maintained and that barristers resist outside pressures to deviate from the clear ethical guidance contained within it. For that reason it is surprising that there is no ethics dimension to the CPD requirements for established practitioners and why the session on criminal ethics, conducted in the afternoon by HHJ Dodd QC and Christopher Convey of 33 Chancery Lane, was so welcome and necessary.
Junior practitioners can often feel themselves particularly susceptible to unwelcome pressures and it was therefore a great reassurance to be reminded that the Bar Council’s ethics hotline (020 7611 1307) is always staffed with experts ready to counsel and advise. A call to the hotline is the best possible insurance policy for a pupil in a pickle.
The afternoon keynote speaker was Alistair MacDonald QC, vice-chairman elect of the Bar Council, who gave the junior Bar a history lesson on the rules that dictated a barrister’s professional conduct when he came to the Bar and how these contrast with the free for all for work that exists today. He called upon the audience to help him come up with the answers for securing the Bar’s future.
Finally there was a plenary session in which Nigel Lithman QC explained what steps the CBA was taking to tackle the cuts consultation, and in which he set out the Bar’s appetite for direct action. As has been common in recent years there was an atmosphere of the Bar militant about the conference, and I ought therefore to pay tribute to Hannah Kinch for organising the inaugural Young Bar Dinner held on the eve of the conference in celebration of its 10th anniversary as a welcome reminder of the joy that drew us all to this profession.
Maximilian Hardy, 9 Bedford Row, is Vice Chairman of the Young Barristers’ Committee