Who we are

The Bar Barometer and the growing diversity of the Bar; the changing face of, and the debts incurred during, pupillage; the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill; and an eventful time on the South Eastern and Wales and Chester Circuits.

The publication in February of the Bar Barometer is an opportunity to look at who we are. We already know that the Bar is a profession of advocates and specialist advisors who are committed to the values encapsulated in the Bar Council’s strapline: integrity, excellence and justice. But the hard figures in the Bar Barometer confirm that the Bar is also a growing and, contrary to clichéd stereotypes, increasingly diverse profession. So, for instance, the number of practising barristers continues to increase, to 15,585 in 2012, including 12,680 at the self-employed Bar.

As for greater diversity, there are more black and minority ethnic practising barristers than ever before, both in absolute terms and as a proportion of the total. In 2012, there were at least 1,716 black and minority ethnic practising barristers, which is 350 more than in 2007. Those 1,716 made up 11% of the practising Bar. Moreover, 1,332 of those black and minority barristers were practising at the self-employed Bar, which again is the highest number recorded. They constituted 10.5% of the self-employed practising Bar, the greatest proportion to date. 83 of them were QCs, a number which has almost doubled in five years.

In 2012, there were more women (4,117) practising as self-employed barristers and they made up a greater proportion (32.5%) of the self-employed practising Bar than ever before. There were also more women (187) among the ranks of practising self-employed QCs.

The statistics will no doubt be carefully studied, especially by those who are concerned with recruitment to the profession. They confirm, for example, that the number of pupillages has been falling, from 562 first six pupillages in 2007/08 to 438 in 2011/12. Sadly, even after the generous scholarships offered by the Inns and the pupillage awards given by sets of chambers, the majority of pupils (51.4%) expected to have debts of £10,000 or more when they finished pupillage, with many anticipating debts of over £20,000 (32.2%), £30,000 (16.2%) or even £40,000 (8.1%). Nevertheless, the proportion of first six pupils who attended state school is slowly rising, with at least 55.4% in 2011/12 having attended state schools.

The Bar Council and the Inns continue to do what they can to ensure that good students from all backgrounds come to the Bar. In February, the Bar Council organised the first Bar Placement Week in Leeds and Manchester, enabling Year 12 students to find out what a career at the Bar is really like. Similar weeks will be held in London and Birmingham later in the year. The Bar Council arranges the Speak up for Others programme, which links barristers to over 500 state schools each year, and supports the Citizenship Foundation’s National Bar Mock Trial competition, where, after a little coaching from members of the Bar, sixth formers have the chance to display considerable advocacy skills (see p12). The Bar Council, the Inns and the Specialist Bar Associations also do much work to enable university students to find out what they can expect if they come to the Bar, and sets of chambers provide mini-pupillages which enable students to judge at first hand whether becoming a barrister is for them.

We are grateful to everyone involved in these various initiatives. It is encouraging that the latest statistics show that their efforts are bearing fruit and that the Bar continues to become more diverse. Needless to say, more effort will continue to be required to keep up the momentum.

February also saw the publication of the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill and of the Government’s response to its most recent consultation on Judicial Review. Those of us who attended the Bar Conference in November 2013 heard a powerful speech by Lord Pannick in which he was rightly critical of the Government’s proposals for reform of judicial review, in particular on the issue of who has standing to bring an application for judicial review. His views echoed those of the Bar Council in its response to the consultation. It is pleasing to see that the Government has listened to Lord Pannick and others and has decided not to restrict the rules on standing. However, the Government continues to pursue many of its other proposals on judicial review, and on legal aid for judicial review. The effect of many of these proposals is to reduce access to justice, and the Bar Council will continue to resist this.

Finally, I want to thank two of the circuits for two excellent events. On 5 February, the South Eastern Circuit invited Justice Stephen Breyer, of the United States Supreme Court, to speak on the independence of the judiciary. His passion for the law and his enthusiasm for his subject were striking, and the several hundred who came to hear him speak cannot fail to have been inspired. Then, on 7 February, I was a guest of the Wales and Chester Circuit at their Circuit Dinner in the Banqueting Hall in Cardiff Castle, when they congratulated Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd on his appointment as Lord Chief Justice and celebrated the career of Mr. Justice Griffith Williams. It was a pleasure to meet so many members of circuit who, despite the difficult times facing the publicly-funded Bar, maintain a strong collegiate spirit and an evident commitment to the values of integrity, excellence and justice.

Nicholas Lavender QC, Chairman of the Bar

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