World Bar Conference

“Advocacy, past, present and future – Constant values for a modern Bar” is the theme for this year’s ICAB conference, to be held in London in June. Desmond Browne QC offers a glimpse of what is in store.

Every two years the International Council of Advocates and Barristers (“ICAB”) organises a conference in a different city around the globe. ICAB, currently co-chaired by Stephen Hockman QC and Noelle McGrenara QC of Belfast, is an organisation formed by the Bar Associations in those jurisdictions where there is an independent Referral Bar. Past conferences have been held in places as far apart as Edinburgh and Cape Town, and as Dublin and Hong Kong. The memorable fifth World Bar Conference was held in Sydney over Easter 2010. Little did I think, as I swallowed white wine and oysters at the opening reception on the terrace of the Opera House, that the next conference would be in London and I would end up holding the short straw of being the programme’s organiser.

In meeting the challenge of arranging a conference as successful as that in Sydney, I have been tremendously helped by the eagerness of everyone approached to play their part. So it is that speakers will be coming not just from the British Isles, but also from the Antipodes, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Pakistan, Zimbabwe and South Africa. The resulting programme should be compelling: go to the WBC website at http://thebarcouncil.sym-online.com/WBC2012/home.htm and see for yourself.

The theme of the conference is “Advocacy, past, present and future – Constant values for a modern Bar”. It kicks off with a session at the Supreme Court on the afternoon of Friday 29th June and continues at the Inner Temple and at Freshfields in Tudor Street over the next two days, during which Lord Judge will give the keynote address on “The Court’s Expectations of the Advocate”. At the Supreme Court, the President, Lord Phillips will chair a session on “Advocacy in the Highest Court”, in which the other participants will be the Chief Justice of Australia, the Honourable Robert French and Justice Edwin Cameron of the South African Supreme Court.

This will be the first visit of Chief Justice French to London since his appointment in September 2008. He is the first Chief Justice from Western Australia, and as a young barrister helped found that state’s Aboriginal Legal Service. Perhaps surprisingly he never took Silk, doubtless because he was appointed to the Federal Court at the youthful age of 39. Following the recognition of aboriginal land rights in the historic High Court decisions of Mabo and Wik, Justice French served as the first President of the National Native Title tribunal. No wonder that when sworn in, French CJ observed that recognition of the history of Australia’s indigenous people had become part of the country’s national identity.

Just as remarkable is Justice Edwin Cameron, a member of South Africa’s Constitutional Court since January 2009. Many consider he might have been appointed a decade earlier, had it not been for his steadfast opposition to former President Thabo Mbeki’s unwillingness to accept that AIDS was a viral disease treatable with anti-retroviral medication. In an unforgettable public statement in 1998 the Judge disclosed his own HIV-status, after the fatal stoning of Gugu Dlamini, an impoverished woman in a Durban township who paid with her life for having spoken about having AIDS on local radio. Later he told the BBC how he felt driven to act when he compared her plight with his own life behind a palisade in a middle-class suburb of Johannesburg. Nelson Mandela called him one of South Africa’s new heroes, and Sir Sydney Kentridge joined the chorus of tributes to his best-selling book “Witness to AIDS”.

Sir Sydney will himself be taking part in the conference, chairing a session entitled “Advocacy against the Odds”. On the panel will be Beatrice Mtetwa, a former President of the Law Society of Zimbabwe, and Asma Jahangir, the President of the Supreme Court Bar Association of Pakistan, each the first woman to hold those offices. Both women have suffered repeated physical assaults in trying to protect human rights and the rule of law. Beatrice Mtetwa has been a vigorous defender of Western journalists in Zimbabwe, including those working for the Guardian and the Sunday Telegraph. A severe beating by the Harare police in May 2007 following a protest outside the High Court against the harassment of fellow-lawyers was only one such occasion. In 1995 Asma Jahangir was attacked by a mob after she had secured the acquittal of a 14-year-old Christian boy accused of blasphemy. Completing the panel will be the current Chairman of the Northern Ireland Bar, Mark Mulholland QC, who will talk about the pressures on barristers during the troubles.

Focusing on what we can learn from the advocates of the past, Michael Crennan SC from Melbourne, a classical scholar, will go beyond the works of Robert Harris and focus on the forensic techniques adopted by Cicero in dealing with the Catiline conspiracy. Lord Sumption will speak about Erskine, to be followed by Michael Collins SC from Dublin on Erskine’s Irish contemporary, John Phillpot Curran. Michael Beloff QC will tell us what (over and above some very good jokes) we can learn from F.E. Smith.

As can be seen from the WBC website, other sessions will deal with prosecution advocacy, quality assessment (with Baroness Deech and Max Hill QC, Chairman of the CBA), and Advocacy at Public Inquiries (chaired by Lady Justice Hallett, Coroner at the inquest on the 7/7 London bombings). The final session will look at the future of advocacy with speakers from Hong Kong and New Zealand and a searching look by Sir Stephen Sedley at modernising the appellate process. At the end of the three days it will be for Lord Clarke of Stone-cum-Ebony to remind us “Why the Bar matters and will go on mattering”. Would that we and others did not need reminding.

Counsel’s deadlines mean that this is written at the start of March and already two-thirds of the places have been booked, mostly from Australia and South Africa. For barristers here this really should compete with the Olympics, but you will need to move fast to book... And yes, of course, there are CPD points, as well as a reception on the River Terrace at the House of Lords and a gala dinner at the Middle Temple, to be addressed by the Attorney General – not just the Leader of our Bar, but for one night the Leader of the World’s Bars.

Desmond Browne QC 5, Raymond Buildings

Speakers

Speakers at the conference will include:

(In order of appearance in the programme)

  • The Rt Hon the Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers KG PC
  • The Hon Robert Shenton French AC, Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia
  • Justice Edwin Cameron, Justice of the South African Constitutional Court
  • The Rt Hon the Lord Judge, Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales
  • The Rt Hon the Lady Hale of Richmond DBE PC, Justice of the Supreme Court of England and Wales
  • Jonathan Sumption OBE, appointed Justice of the Supreme Court
  • Sir Sydney Kentridge KCMG QC
  • Lord Macdonald of River Glaven, QC
  • Baroness Deech of Cumnor DBE, Chair of the Bar Standards Board
  • The Rt Hon Lady Justice Hallett DBE, Coroner for the 7/7 bombings
  • The Honourable Tan Sri James Foong Cheng Yuen SMW DPMS, Judge of the Federal Court of Malaysia
  • The Rt Hon Sir Stephen Sedley, Former Lord Justice of Appeal
  • The Honourable Michael Beloff QC
  • Beatrice Mtetwa, Former President of the Law Society of Zimbabwe
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