Chief Executive Blog - 15 October 2015

15 October 2015

Making contact 

Since September, the Bar Council has been on a major drive to engage not just with those we represent - our members - but also with government ministers, policy-makers and those who influence them, and with international audiences. 

This is a vital part of the work of the Bar Council. We are here to represent the interests of the Bar. We can only do that by listening to our members and by talking with those who take decisions that affect the profession, access to justice and the rule of law.

It has been a busy month with more to come in the run up to Christmas. 

Party Conferences 

Alistair MacDonald QC, Chairman of the Bar, and Chairman-Elect, Chantal-Aimée Doerries QC, along with Bar Council advisers, attended the two main party conferences. As well as meeting with key Government ministers and shadow ministers on a range of issues of concern to the Bar, the Chairman took part in several justice-focused fringe discussion events relevant to the future of the Bar - covering legal aid, gender equality and the importance of enhancing the quality of advocacy in our legal system. To inform conference delegates about the important work of the Bar in the justice system and society, we published a party conference briefing report Justice: A Precious Asset

International presence 

The Bar of England & Wales has a high reputation with other Bar associations around the world as well as with the wider legal sector. It is essential for us to maintain our high standing with these audiences. Once again the Bar Council played a central role in the Opening of the Legal Year proceedings in London earlier this month. This is more than a ceremonial affair. Bar leaders and other prominent legal figures travel to London from all over the world to participate in a varied programme of events, many of which are designed and hosted by the Bar Council. This year was no exception. The programme provided valuable opportunities to meet with the leaders of a number of overseas bar associations to discuss key issues affecting justice and make new contacts. The proceedings served as a powerful reminder of the central importance of law around the world, especially where the rule of law is under threat. 

England & Wales remains a leading global legal centre and we are naturally interested to keep up to date with developments among our competitors and partner associations around the world. The Chairman of the Bar and members of the international team participated in the International Bar Association annual conference in Vienna. This is a major gathering of leaders of the world's legal services sector and provided a good opportunity to discuss the latest global trends and developments affecting the profession around the world, including our counterparts from jurisdictions that we rarely encounter - Japan and Korea, for example. 

Strengthening ties between the Bar of England & Wales and key overseas markets goes to the heart of our international work. A good example of our work on this front has been strengthening our links with China. We recently agreed a Memorandum of Understanding with the China International and Economic Trade Arbitration Commission (CIETAC) which is designed to strengthen CIETAC's international arbitration training programme for Chinese lawyers. This MoU  follows a recent visit to China by the Chairman of the Bar, Alistair MacDonald QC, as part of the China-EU Access to Justice Programme policy dialogue on legal aid. Earlier this year, the Bar Council celebrated the 25th anniversary of the Bar Council China Training Scheme for Young Lawyers which has involved over 330 Chinese participants, many of whom now hold leading positions in international law firms, corporations and government. 

We are also developing links with other key developing markets, including Brazil. 

Listening to the Bar 

Our participation in all of these activities described is based on listening to members of the Bar who tell us what they want us to do. It is the Bar Council's job to represent its members. We can only do that by talking and listening to members of the profession. That is why we have a representative Bar Council, and why we have an army of barrister volunteers who sit on our committees and shape policy, develop consultation responses and speak for the many different sections of the profession. To extend our reach, and make it more effective, we have opened up new channels of communication with the Bar. The appointment of two relationship managers is intended to help us connect with individual barristers and chambers better about matters that really matter to them, to get their views about what we can do better and to get a sense of the Bar's priorities.   

At the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester, the Chairman of the Bar and Bar Council staff met with barristers from the Northern Circuit at an event hosted by St John's Buildings chambers. We had a good turn out, which included the Chairman of the Commons Justice Committee and the Solicitor General. It was a good example of our efforts to meet up with those whom we seek to represent. 

Our relationship managers are returning to Manchester on 22 October and are in Birmingham on 3 November.  If you would like to find out what they can do for you, contact Danielle Wright and Darren Moss.  

What next? 

We are two days away from the 30th Annual Bar Conference and Young Bar Conference. The Saturday event provides an excellent opportunity to bring the Bar and those who work with the profession, together to listen, discuss and share best practice. The programme is packed with topics, from tax affairs, to ethics for the young Bar. There is still time to register. 

Then it's National Pro Bono Week (2-7 November) which gives us and other legal professionals the opportunity to take stock of the huge amount of pro bono services we provide and to recognise the importance of this contribution over the course of the week. 

Much of the work we do - lobbying, representing our members on the international stage and more - would not be possible without the critical funding we receive from those who pay the Bar Representation Fee (BRF) which now costs £100 a year. I have given just a two month snapshot of what the Bar Council is doing to represent the Bar. Spread over a whole year, I hope you will find that £100 provides good value for money to support the vital work of the profession.

 

Stephen Crowne 
Bar Council Chief Executive