Update for the profession from the Chairman of the Bar

12 March 2014

Access to justice and the quality of our justice system are currently under threat on several fronts.  As we face a number of challenges, I never fail to be impressed by the sense of unity across the profession, who are determined speak out for what we believe in. I for one have no intention to deviate from that course.

Crime

On 27 February, the Government announced its response to the second consultation paper on legal aid.  I have set out a summary of the Government's proposals insofar as they relate to the Bar here.

Sadly, despite the arguments advanced by the Bar Council, the Criminal Bar Association, the Circuits and practitioners across the profession, the Government's intention remains to introduce further cuts to the fees paid to advocates under the Advocates Graduated Fee Scheme. This comes on top of three years in a row of repeated cuts to AGFS fees and the cut in December 2013 of 30% in the fees paid to advocates in Very High Cost Cases. You can see our press statement on the announcement on our website.

It is no surprise that this has caused such anger and consternation. I said at the time that the meetings outside courts on 6 January were a very clear demonstration of the strength of feeling about the proposed cuts in criminal legal aid. On 7 March I saw this same strength of feeling in Old Palace Yard.  As the Minister of State, Lord Faulks QC, said in the House of Lords in December, "these further cuts really threaten our justice system."

There were a number of civil and family practitioners outside Parliament on 7 March.  This was a further demonstration that ours is one profession, following on from the meeting in Lincoln's Inn on 8 February, when barristers from all practice areas and from across the country spoke with one voice to warn the Government of the impact of its planned cuts. Sadly, the Government has not heeded that warning.

I, together with the Circuit Leaders and representatives of the Criminal Bar Association, have already met the Lord Chief Justice and will shortly be meeting the Attorney-General and officials from the Ministry of Justice, to seek further clarification, and to discuss the ramifications, of the Government's plans. I am fully committed to working with colleagues across the profession to ensure that the Bar continues to press the case for preserving our justice system.

Civil and Family

LASPO significantly reduced the scope of legal aid in family and civil cases and, predictably, has increased the number of cases being presented by litigants in person.  This development led the Lord Chief Justice to suggest in a speech last week that careful consideration should be given to the possibility of moving to a more inquisitorial form of procedure.

As we approach the first anniversary of LASPO, we are working hard to capture the impact of those cuts on the profession and on the clients we serve. We are gathering evidence, which I will share with you in the coming months. Practitioners with real-life examples of the impact of LASPO are reminded of our mailbox (LASPO@BarcCouncil.org.uk) and are encouraged to contact us with those examples.

Judicial Review

We are continuing to fight the proposed changes to judicial review procedure (contained in the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill, currently at Committee Stage in the House of Commons) and to legal aid for judicial review. I am giving evidence to the Bill Committee and will warn of the dangers inherent in allowing public bodies to be less accountable for their decisions.

Nicholas Lavender QC
Chairman of the Bar Council