To put it mildly the economic challenges are bloody. But having said that the about turn in our relations with government since the election has been very welcome. Ken Clarke has a challenge of immense proportions on his hands and the suggestions for reforms which are emanating from the MoJ in consultation papers are many, various and worthy of the most serious of consideration. Government has shown itself to be accessible, sympathetic and in listening mode. We will not win every battle, but our voice is heard and is taken seriously. The sheer number and range of reforms which will be pushed through in order to save money are such that to minimise the adverse effects of the law of unintended consequences the government must work much more closely with the professions on the fine detail of new legislation. There simply has to be a pact between us which will help get us through the next few years.
The time now has come to say out loud that the publicly funded Bar should diversify away from legal aid. I know that many publicly funded sets are already doing this. We face years of contraction and pressure on fees. For the Bar Council, and for each successive Chairman over the next few years, we must therefore focus upon seeking to expand the work available to the Bar, both domestically and internationally. We have many initiatives designed to achieve just this and we need to keep the foot on the gas.
And as for legal aid
Reform of legal aid is inevitable and will hurt. Amongst the reforms will be new tendering processes for crime and family and the Bar will wish to be front line participants in these. As the publicly funded Bar knows, there is a truly vast amount of work being done on the details and we are quite determined to ensure that the Bar is ready and prepared to participate as and when. This involves activity on a wide variety of fronts because we not only have to work up new business models, we also have to negotiate with government the details of the models and the procurement and contractual schemes. This is all happening in tandem. Clearly in politics things can change but we are committed to being as frank and transparent with the Bar as we can and we will do our level best to keep you informed as matters progress.
Partners in crime
After a great deal of negotiation we have the basics of a new arrangement with the CPS. A consultation paper on a new panel scheme has been launched. I know there will be work to be done to take on board all of the comments received. But I should pay tribute to the DPP, Keir Starmer QC, for his cooperative approach to seeking solutions. I should also pay tribute to the Attorney General, Dominic Grieve QC MP, who has gently nudged and cajoled both parties into vastly improved working relations. So far as the Bar is concerned we must recall where we were just 12 months ago in terms of both relations and the stability of the Bar’s prosecution work. Since then we have normalised relations and we have produced the outline of a scheme which should bring stability to the work the Bar obtains from the CPS.
Our core skills
Advocacy is a core skill and we must invest in it. We are in the process of restructuring the Advocacy Training Council (“ATC”) into a college of advocacy which will guide and coordinate the work of advocacy training for the entire Bar. The Bar Council will invest in monetary and logistical support. The revamped ATC will still however have the indelible stamp of the Inns of Court upon it. I very much hope it will serve to support and invigorate the work of the Inns at the very heart of the profession.
Quality Assurance for Advocates is on the way and will start with crime. It could well roll out to family thereafter. The proposal for a judicially led evaluation system is very important. It will ensure that standards are truly enforced. Some alternatives are being suggested which include role plays and other soft forms of assessment, but as the Master of the Rolls, Lord Neuberger, pointed out at the Bar Council Annual Conference just a few weeks ago, “anyone can swot up for an exam”. I know that many barristers have perfectly legitimate concerns about the scheme and the regulators will need to take these on board. A point which weighs heavily with me is that it is you who will pay for the accreditation scheme. A judicially focused system will be cost effective. Initial costings for so called “soft” or “portfolio” testing procedures suggest figures running into multiples of thousands of pounds.
The entity regulation consultation exercise is likely to lead to the right to conduct litigation, direct access and entity regulation. This could be with us during 2012. Will you be ready?
In just this year I have seen a rapid growth of the different ways in which barristers practise and this will continue as the rules are relaxed and initiatives are pursued by the Bar as to new means of practice. The old division between self-employed and employed is to be consigned to history. All barristers are in “One Bar”. A wider question has recently arisen after discussion at the regulatory forum at the Annual Bar Conference following Lord Neuberger in his address opining that it was absurd that there were two regulators for advocates (the BSB and the SRA). The question was posed who should regulate the advocates? The answer from the LSB was that this should be the BSB. Good answer. We have been saying for some time that solicitor-advocates who were choosing advocacy as their chosen professional path should join the Bar. The Bar is not going to change its rules so that we perform solicitor work; but we are opening our doors to welcome all committed advocates.
The staff on Holborn
The volume and quality of the work performed by the Bar Council and BSB staff at HQ on Holborn is remarkable. The Bar really has no idea of all that is done on their behalf. I simply wish to convey my thanks and gratitude for their unstinting labours. More importantly they have been great fun to work with.
Off to the beach
So that is it. I hand over to Peter Lodder QC to whom I offer my best. He will prove extremely capable in the job. I should now head for the beach; but instead I have my duty as a Recorder to catch up on. So it will probably be Snaresbrook instead.
Nick Green QC is Bar Chairman