Introduction from the Chief Executive
Malcom cree cbe
I am delighted to present this report for the first time as Chief Executive. It sets out how the Bar Council performed in meeting its strategic aims in 2016-17, in its capacity as the representative body for the Bar.
My first three months have been spent developing an understanding of the profession, largely by visiting sets of chambers and attending court; getting to know the Bar Council and Bar Standards Board (BSB) staff and what they do; meeting all our key external interlocuters; assessing the health of the organisation and future challenges; developing the next strategic plan and, of course, throwing myself into the day to day ‘battle rhythm’ and current issues.
I am most grateful for the warm reception I have been given by everyone I’ve met and for the time and commitment you, the profession, have given. I am honoured to be serving a noble profession and look forward to meeting many more of you. I am also most impressed by the time many of you give to support the Bar Council and to conduct pro bono work.
My first impression of the Bar Council is that it is punching well above its weight and serving the Bar most effectively. There is critical work that goes on unseen (e.g. the ethics hotline and regular meetings with the Ministry of Justice) but when the Bar Council goes public, it does so impressively: the Brexit papers, the Manifesto for Justice and the Chair’s open letter to Lord Justice Fulford about court operating hours, for example. The team is diverse, committed and resourceful.
The organisation has clearly made steady progress under my predecessor and previous Officers in areas such as corporate governance, risk management, communications and engagement and information management. There are further improvements and efficiencies in the pipeline. Although, there is more to do and some areas of business have been through choppy waters, I have inherited an organisation that is heading in the right direction and I am grateful to my predecessor, Stephen Crowne.
The Chair has highlighted the many policy areas where we have achieved, or sought to achieve, progress over the period of the report: I will not repeat them. Suffice to say that a year of considerable change and uncertainty for the nation has had a significant impact on the workload of our staff, Committees and the Officers. It was a year when everyone had to rise to the challenge, supporting the values and aims of the profession ever more vigorously. Having now met many of the people we seek to influence, I believe that the reputation of the Bar Council has been enhanced as a result. I hope that the same can be said of our reputation with the Bar too!
Over the year, the Bar Council continued to strengthen its support to barristers. Apart from the Ethical Enquiries Service, the Wellbeing at the Bar portal was launched and a variety of training courses for barristers and chambers continued. We changed our ways of working to become a leaner, more agile and flexible organisation, reducing our office footprint in the process.
The Bar Council-backed Direct Access Portal has gone from strength to strength in 2016-17. Its popularity has exceeded expectations with more than 100,000 members of the public and small businesses searching for a barrister on the portal, with numbers rising all the time.
Looking ahead, we are exploring ways of becoming more efficient; developing a significantly improved approach to our commercial activities and maximising the opportunities presented by an unavoidable office move in 18 months’ time, whilst acting now to minimise or remove the risks.
We are developing a new Strategic Plan for the next five years, which will link our aims, objectives and values directly to activity and will be used to prioritise expenditure.
I am seeking to improve management practices, performance management and financial accountability. We are becoming more sophisticated in how we communicate with members through digital channels: BarTalk is now our main communication route. A new portal for barristers to renew the Practising Certificate Fee (PCF) and pay the Bar Representation Fee (BRF), with access to bespoke content that suits your practice, will go live later this year. There will also be a new online ethics hub. We will also aim to provide guidance and support to barristers and chambers in applying the new General Data Protection Regulations, and the Bar Directory will go online.
I have already developed a good working relationship with Vanessa Davies, Director General of the BSB, and we are both determined to ensure that your money is spent wisely and efficiently, for independent regulation and for representation. The bulk of your PCF is spent on regulation, so this is an important commitment from the BSB.
Much of the representational and member services work I have highlighted above is funded by the BRF, so a big thank you to those who contribute (and a gentle nudge to those who do not).
Malcolm Cree CBE, Chief Executive of the Bar Council