Lawyers are not always represented in a particularly positive light; some politicians who dislike legal challenges against immigration decisions have referred to an ‘activist blob’ or ‘lefty lawyers’ as if that were relevant to the merits of the profound disquiet that has been attracted by the government’s Illegal Migration Bill.

I have repeatedly said on behalf of the Bar that it is wrong to associate lawyers with their clients or with their clients’ causes simply because of who those clients are. This is recognised in the United Nations’ Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers adopted by the UN in 1990. Article 18 says: ‘Lawyers shall not be identified with their clients or their clients’ causes as a result of discharging their functions.’

But closely allied to this is our obligation under the Code of Conduct not to decline work because we disagree with, or disapprove of, our client. This seems to be widely understood at the Criminal Bar, but the rule (and the thinking which underpins it) is equally applicable in civil proceedings. The rule reflects the principle that it is for judges or juries to decide who is right and who is wrong, or who is guilty and who is not.

Our job as barristers is to advise and represent. Not to judge. If you are a client with an unpopular cause, or accused of a particularly unpleasant offence, you will have enough problems of your own. You should not have to persuade your chosen barrister to take you on. If barristers start to pick and choose their clients on the basis of the barrister’s opinion and beliefs, it will mean that some clients cannot get the representation of their choice. And it will prejudice the Bar’s reputation for independence before the courts and the public.

I recently attended the 23rd Commonwealth Law Conference in India and the event saw 42 Bar leaders unanimously endorse the ‘Goa declaration’ highlighting the importance of an independent legal profession and a properly funded, independent judiciary.

When the elections to Sri Lanka’s Local Authorities, due to take place in March, were postponed by the authorities because parliament blocked the release of funds, a three-judge bench of the Sri Lankan Supreme Court issued an interim order to the Attorney-General and to the Secretary to the Treasury asking them to refrain from withholding funds.

The Speaker of the Sri Lankan Parliament then accepted a request to refer the judges to the parliamentary ethics committee and the finance minister called for the relevant authorities not to act on any matters relating to the polls until the ethics committee concludes its inquiry. We have issued a Bar Council statement stressing the importance of an independent judiciary – not answerable to Parliament – and the principle that governments should comply with court orders.

The decision to enable foreign lawyers and law firms to work in India has been met with a chorus of approval after the Bar Council of India (BCI) announced the opening of its national legal market. The Bar Council in England and Wales has been working on this issue for decades and the announcement is a significant step forward for us. India has been one of the last major global economies to restrict legal practice to its own citizens.

Now members of the Bar in other countries have been granted short-term rights to provide advisory services in India and can act as advocates in international arbitrations, similar to the rights our Indian colleagues have enjoyed in the UK for many years.

This month you will hear about our latest Barristers’ Working Lives survey. It is one of the most important initiatives organised by the Bar Council. This longitudinal research project, previously carried out in 2021, 2017, 2013 and 2011, is designed to explore the lived experiences of barristers working in England and Wales. The survey asks questions about your life at work and covers issues such as practice area, wellbeing, retention, working hours, cost of living and earnings.

Please complete the survey. There is nothing else quite like it and the research results provide us with valuable data that helps to better understand the whole of the Bar and informs all of the Bar Council’s priorities, focus and work over the next few years.

Finally, three thank-yous: to all those who have paid the Bar Representation Fee while completing the Authorisation to Practise (AtP) process; to all those who have supported Advocate through the AtP process; and to the members of the Western Circuit and their leader Jo Martin KC for hosting me in Bristol for a court and chambers visit – and a first class Grand Night Dinner.