Introduction from the Chair of the Bar
Andrew Langdon QC
A test for an organisation like the Bar Council is how it reacts to a period of change and uncertainty for the profession and those we represent. 2016-17 will surely go down as a year of upheaval. The EU Referendum outcome, continued pressures on public funding, and the reform programme driven by Her Majesty’s Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS) each directly affect our profession, the wider legal sector, and the delivery of justice in our society. The challenges thrown up by this upheaval have enabled the Bar Council to show its members its true value.
It has reacted in the short space of 12 months by positioning itself towards the forefront of constitutional, economic and social change.
In response to the Brexit Referendum outcome, the Bar Council’s Brexit Working Group has produced three editions of The Brexit Papers. These have gained currency as concise summaries from leading experts on the impact of withdrawing from the EU in 24 different sectors. The Bar Council has ensured that this valuable work is visible to key policy-makers in government who are at the forefront of Brexit negotiations. The Papers have shaped discussion and focussed the minds of those who have suffered a welter of other publications, upon the essence of the key considerations.
Whereas in 2016-17, Brexit has dominated the wider political scene, for the Bar and the Bar Council a court reform programme more profound in its implications than any such programme since the 19th century, has begun to unfurl. The Bar’s unique position makes our contribution to shaping this reform vital to its success. Much of the proposed reform is overdue and hence welcome; some is much more contentious. In a variety of ways, including through ‘Professional Engagement Groups’ we have sought to help and where necessary educate those planning the reforms. By way of example, plans for ‘flexible operating hours’ in the courts and moves towards online justice have consequences for professional and judicial diversity and the quality and extent of access to justice. The Bar Council has listened to its members in shaping the way it responds and so the voice of the profession is heard in Westminster, Whitehall and the media. These are ongoing campaigns which the Bar Council is leading on.
The Bar Council also took the lead when the media attacked the judges following the High Court Article 50 ruling. The Council led the calls for the then Lord Chancellor to discharge her constitutional responsibility. What followed was a major communications campaign by the Bar Council which led the news agenda, with my predecessor, Chantal-AiméeDoerries QC appearing across broadcast news channels and leading news headlines. That the Bar Council responded as swiftly and as effectively as it did is, I hope, a source of some pride to the profession.
We then turned our attentions to a longer-term goal: providing public education to schools concerning the rule of law and the constitutional issues at stake as exemplified by this episode. In conjunction with the Citizenship Foundation, educational materials were sent to every school in the country exploring and explaining the importance of the independence of the judiciary in a functioning democracy.
Aside from the more public-facing activity of the Bar Council, we’ve focused on supporting working barristers, whose contribution to the delivery of justice in our society is often over-looked. In 2016-17 alone we have launched the Wellbeing at the Bar Portal, aimed at providing support for the Bar and those who work with barristers in identifying and dealing with wellbeing and mental health issues. We are also continuing to provide a rich variety of training and development for barristers and chambers.
One of our flagship services, the Bar Council’s Ethical Enquiries Service continues to offer daily advice and support to barristers who meet a whole range of challenges in discharging their professional duties. This year we have answered approximately 6,550 individual queries and continued to publish guidance on a range of ethical subjects and scenarios frequently encountered by practitioners. In addition, the Young Barristers’ Committee’s Young Bar Hub and Toolkit provides advice to those in the early stages of life at the Bar to help those that are new to the profession develop their practice.
At the start of my year as Chair, I, along with Andrew Walker QC, Chair-Elect of the Bar, and senior members of Bar Council staff toured the circuits, meeting with barristers and listening to their feedback and concerns. The Bar Council would be ineffective if it didn’t gauge the views of the individual members of the profession. These visits gave us several positive steers enabling us to prioritise our efforts in supporting the profession.
This year we have endeavoured to listen to barristers at the core of the profession on the key issues affecting them, including the Advocates’ Graduated Fee Scheme (AGFS), Fixed Recoverable Cost reform, the future training of the Bar and much more. While there may never be consensus on every topic, the Bar needs a strong and coherent voice which, where necessary, speaks truth to power and which explains to policy-makers what the consequences of their decision will be – not just for the profession but for those we strive to serve.
One of the privileges of the Chair is to see at close quarters the effort by committed staff and volunteers who enable the Bar Council to deliver for its members and in the interests of justice, countless persuasive and authoritative consultation responses to those who shape our professional lives. Those that consult us often adopt our thoughts and adapt their recommendations accordingly. If the Bar Council did not do this work, the burden of this heavy responsibility of ensuring the Bar’s voice is heard would be inadequately discharged. Much of it receives little fanfare but is vital to the health of our profession. Seeing off bad ideas and ushering in good ones is a key part of what the Bar Council works at on behalf of its members, on a daily basis.
The work the Bar Council does promoting the profession overseas has long been essential to our international reputation and an increasing proportion of the Bar is developing an international practice. Our international effort is also recognised as a significant contribution to the rule of law world-wide. In the last year, the program of such work was targeted and effective in an impressive array of differing jurisdictions.
This, the 2016-17 annual report, gives some further insight into what it is the Bar Council has been doing and what is in the pipeline to meet the challenges ahead.
I am confident that you will see, as I do, the value of this work.
Andrew Langdon QC, Chair of the Bar