Bar Council Chairman tells Annual Bar Conference: Bar is a vital force for good

2 November 2013

The Chairman of the Bar Council, which represents barristers in England and Wales, will today tell delegates to the Bar's Annual Conference that the Bar is a vital force for good and that they must fight to maintain their values and place in society in the face of fierce opposition.

Publishing "The Bar in society: barristers making a difference", Maura McGowan QC, Chairman of the Bar, speaking in London this morning, will say to over 550 assembled delegates:

"We work to achieve justice and to provide access to justice to every citizen. Our tradition is rooted in public service, because we have an intrinsic and instinctive commitment to the Rule of Law, not just because it pays, or in some cases doesn't.

"We are the driving force, the proponents of the development of the law and legislation. We argue the cases at all levels, we test the boundaries in all areas. We regularly, in all disciplines, take on cases for free. We represent those convicted and sentenced for crime, often for no fee at all but because we believe there is a wrong to be corrected. That is our tradition and our ethos. It is increasingly undervalued by politicians, unknown to the public and ignored by some sections of the press, unless it's about cameras in courts."

On regulation, she will say:

"Despite the quality of training we provide both at the start and throughout barristers' careers, which we continue to improve, we are watched over like naughty children. The advent of the LSB has not driven up standards, it has put more obstacles in the way of those trying to practise well and honestly. We will continue to contribute to the debate on the future of regulation in a sensible and responsible way. In the meantime we should not be held to account by an oversight regulator whose stated position is, "to look forward to a future when the provision of legal services means more service and less legal"."

On the Bar's international reputation:

"More than any other aspect of the country's international trading arm, the legal profession has helped repair the reputational damage done to the City, to London and the UK as a place to do business by the banks and major financial institutions. We have done that by virtue of our continuing reputation for probity and integrity. And we have done all that at a time when banks fail and bankers are prosecuted, when MPs are imprisoned for fiddling their expenses and when some sections of the press are literally in the dock for hacking into the phone of a dead teenager."

On the Government's attitude to the profession:

"We must all be alive to the value of the Bar in society, Chris Grayling should protect it and be proud of it as an institution vital to the proper functioning of a democratic society. But it's not the role he seems keen to take up at the moment.

"Conservatives are supposed to believe in preserving institutions. If so, they have an odd way of showing it."

On the Bar's contribution:

"There are few professions and no profession of self-employed individuals who can say that nearly half of their practitioners work pro bono, out a sense of social responsibility. We should never be ashamed to proclaim clearly the Bar, and the Bar Council's, ongoing commitment to the communities we work within."

On facing the challenges of the future:

"It's easy sometimes to become despondent. To think that it is all too much and that it cannot possibly be overcome. But if you want to see the Bar of tomorrow, look at the young Bar of today. I see a generation of outstanding practitioners, which will secure this profession's future and values for years to come."  


Notes to editors:

1. The Bar Council will be publishing The Bar and Society: Barristers making a differenceat Bar Conference, which can be found  here.

2. The Annual Bar Conference 2013 will be held at the Westminster Park Plaza, London. The official hashtag is #BarConf2013. Full details can be found here and the speech can be found here.

3. The keynote speech delivered by Lord Pannick QC can be found here.

4. The keynote speech delivered by the Lord Chief Justice can be found here.

5. For further information, please contact the  Bar Council Press Office on  020 7222 2525 or .

6. The Bar Council represents barristers in England and Wales. It promotes: 

  • The Bar's high quality specialist advocacy and advisory services

  • Fair access to justice for all

  • The highest standards of ethics, equality and diversity across the profession, and

  • The development of business opportunities for barristers at home and abroad. 

The General Council of the Bar is the Approved Regulator of the Bar of England and Wales. It discharges its regulatory functions through the independent Bar Standards Board.