Public Affairs BarTalk Update - Thursday 23 March 2017

23 March 2017

Bar Council contributions on a range of issues including online courts, judicial diversity and Brexit have been well profiled in Parliament in the last fortnight.

Prisons and Courts Bill - Online courts

Chair of the Justice Select Committee Bob Neil MP and Shadow Justice Secretary Richard Burgon MP both sounded notes of caution over plans for online courts in the Second Reading of the Prisons and Courts Bill as they referenced the Bar Council's briefing note.

Richard Burgon MP quoted the Chairman of the Bar's warning that on-line courts "might encourage defendants to plead guilty out of convenience, when in fact they may not be guilty of an offence, no matter how small, risks injustice."

Bob Neil MP said: "As the Bill progresses, I hope that the Government will bear in mind some of the caveats raised by practitioners, such as the Bar Council… When dealing with things that might give rise to a conviction online, it is important for people to have the resources necessary to make an informed decision in relation to the plea . . ."

Lords Constitution Committee - Judicial diversity

Chair of the Bar Council Equality and Diversity and Social Mobility Committee Robin Allen QC warned the Lords Constitution Committee this week that the judiciary faces a potential crisis of legitimacy unless diversity is addressed.

Giving evidence to the inquiry on judicial diversity he said: "We cannot go forward in a diverse Britain without a diverse judiciary. We really cannot. It is noticed. It is significant. It is increasingly important. We really have to address it."

All Party Parliamentary Group on Legal and Constitutional Affairs

APPG Chair and Shadow Solicitor General Nick Thomas-Symonds MP led a panel discussion on the impact of Brexit on consumers and small businesses last week featuring Hugh Mercer QC, Chair of the Bar Council Brexit Working Group, David Greene of the Law Society and Caroline Normand, Director of Policy at Which?

Panellists discussed the mutual enforcement of judgments, maintaining the existing rights of consumers, and the importance of reaching an agreement on the recognition of qualifications for the legal services sector.

House of Commons Justice Select Committee

The Justice Select Committee Brexit report,  Implications of Brexit for the Justice System, published this week reflected many of the issues raised by the Bar Council in evidence to the Committee and in  The Brexit Papers: Second Edition.

The report called on the Government to reduce uncertainty for the legal services sector and quoted the Chairman of the Bar saying in evidence, "without the free movement of lawyers nothing else of much importance will be salvaged".

The report echoed Bar Council recommendations to ensure continued co-operation on civil, criminal, and family law, and the mutual enforcement of judgments. (Click here for our press release).

House of Lords European Union Committee

The Lords EU Committee report, Brexit: Justice for families, individuals and businesses? made frequent reference to evidence provided by Hugh Mercer QC and Tim Scott QC, who both gave evidence to the inquiry on behalf of Bar Council.

On the importance of Brussells IIa and the Maintenance Regulation, the report referenced Tim Scott QC's concerns that the loss of these Regulations would have a considerable impact on the workload of the family courts.

The report quoted Hugh Mercer QC saying "our citizens and our businesses need certainty dealing with the EU" and "both sides have a mutual interest in making sure that the little guy does not suffer as a result of Brexit".