Few outside the profession understand the years of hard work, resilience and determination it takes to get a pupillage, let alone succeed in a career at the Bar. Often it is only when circumstances take a wrong turn that a barrister’s services are called upon. It is at that time that we are valued by those seeking justice.

Countering threats

Similarly, the work of the Bar Council is sometimes only recognised when there is a threat to the profession or an individual practitioner needs support and guidance. Barristers can overlook the Bar Council’s work, which is being undertaken daily to counter threats to the profession and the public interest, as well as to provide essential guidance and advice.

Some members of the Bar have questioned the need to pay a Members’ Services Fee (MSF) in addition to a Practising Certificate Fee (PCF), especially in these uncertain economic times. Young barristers, who can enter the profession with high student debt and embark on work which may result in that debt doubling, may have particular concerns. I hope this article will explain why we need this additional support and how it is used to all our benefit.

Help and advice

Throughout the year, the Bar Council’s Representation and Policy Secretariat provides help and advice. To name a few, the Bar Quality Advisory Panel raises standards of practice at the Bar by tackling non-disciplinary examples of poor practice. The Chambers’ Arbitration and Mediation Service works hard to resolve disputes between individual members/staff of chambers. The Equality and Diversity Helpline enables students, pupils and practising barristers to speak in confidence with advisers and the Ethical Enquiries Line offers advice on ethical problems relating to the Code of Conduct. The Fees Collection Service recovered over £2m for barristers from solicitors in the last year alone. It also produces many good practice guidance and advice titles (see box, p 26).

Promoting the Bar’s profile

Alongside this support, the secretariat represents us all by promoting the profile of the Bar on a domestic and international level to the media, Government and in the legal market generally (see “Party action”, Counsel, November 2008, p 6). It is worth recalling the concern at the depiction of the criminal Bar in the TV drama Criminal Justice and how the Chairman of the Bar spoke out about it at the time. In contrast, the four-part BBC 2 documentary series, The Barristers, which provided unique insights into starting a career at the Bar, was made with the close cooperation of the Bar Council, chambers, and Middle Temple. While working on legal aid provision in criminal, civil and family cases, they have also been addressing attempts by the European Commission to impose European contract initiatives that would affect the interests of the whole profession.

Tomorrow’s world

The secretariat’s priorities also look  to the next generation and seek to attract the brightest and best, irrespective of background, by implementing Lord Neuberger’s 57 recommendations for improving access to the profession (see “Rolling start”, p 12). This is a substantial undertaking; for the Bar Council it underpins the profession’s future, and will take several years and considerable work to accomplish.

Further work, which often happens behind the scenes, includes seeking improvements to the QC appointments system—the secretariat is considering Sir Duncan Nichol CBE’s review of the Queen’s Counsel Appointment System; recorder competitions and the judicial selection system—Member Services and the Judicial Appointments Commission (JAC) hosted two seminars on “How to Become a Recorder” in December 2008, supported by the South Eastern Circuit Bar Mess; as well as representing your interests on professional practice and training, in particular the Code of Conduct, the Bar Vocational Course, pupillages and CPD accreditation by submitting proposals and response to the Bar Standards Board (BSB).


As the profession comes under increasing scrutiny and pressure, this vital work becomes more important than ever—work that could not be undertaken without a dedicated and efficient secretariat, together with the many barristers who freely give their time, attending meetings and advising on issues facing our profession. In order to continue this activity, the Bar Council needs to raise funds above the minimum level permitted by the statutory formula, which largely relates to the regulation of the profession and forms the compulsory requirement to pay your PCF. The MSF is a voluntary payment that is used entirely in your interests in order to continue the work that cannot be funded through the PCF.

By paying the tax deductible MSF, you contribute to the Bar Council’s efforts to preserve and promote the Bar, and enable us to continue to support you in your practice.

What’s ahead

Without the support of those barristers who contribute through the MSF, the Bar Council could not achieve much of what it has achieved over the past year (see box, p 25) nor could it plan confidently for the future. In 2009, the Bar Council will work hard to ensure that:

  • the cause of access to justice is championed in the 60th anniversary year of the Legal Aid and Advice Act 1949, in the public interest and in the interests of the publicly funded Bar;
  • all clients have a proper choice of advocate, including work on very high cost cases, family graduated fees and the cab-rank rule;
  • the Bar continues to provide the highest quality of advisory and advocacy services, which we believe would not be consistent with price competitive tendering;
  • the BSB model of self-regulation works and that the Legal Services Board does not impose unnecessary, burdensome, expensive and disproportionate regulation on the profession;
  • the Office for Legal Complaints draws on the valuable pro bono expertise of the Bar in investigating complaints effectively and efficiently against barristers, when they cannot be resolved satisfactorily in-house;
  • the full programme of implementation of Lord Neuberger’s recommendations is continued in order to secure our future; and
  • “one Bar” remains united in the face of continuing threats to its existence, by ensuring that private and publicly funded, self-employed and employed practitioners work together.

Think again

On behalf of the Bar Council, I thank all of you who, in the interests of our profession, support us through payment of the MSF and hope that this article will encourage those who have so far thought it unnecessary to pay the MSF to think again.

Andrew Mitchell QC is Treasurer of the Bar Council 2009