New research from the Bar Council has revealed the challenge faced by many self-employed barristers in England and Wales as a result of the Covid-19 lockdown.

The research, carried out amongst the heads of barristers' chambers, shows that many do not expect to survive the impact of the lockdown and that Government measures aimed at helping the self-employed have not provided enough support to the self-employed Bar.

The publicly funded Bar, particularly the criminal Bar, has been hardest hit.

Key findings:

  • 75% of chambers have had their court work reduced by over half since the pandemic, because hearings were suspended, adjourned or courts refused to hear cases remotely. Nearly all sets (99%) have seen a considerable reduction in work.
  • Many adjournments were unnecessary, exacerbating the unacceptably high backlog of court work.
  • Even with the support of current Government measures, 29% of chambers do not think they will survive more than 3-6 months; 58% of chambers will not last 6-12 months
  • Without additional financial support or financial conditions changing, chambers will disappear.
  • 86% of sets that receive over half their income from publicly funded criminal work will go under within a year.
  • Chambers outside London are generally suffering more: 31% of all chambers (compared to 16% of London sets) will go under within six months. This has serious implications for access to justice, particularly in regions with fewer sets.

Amanda Pinto QC, Chair of the Bar Council, said:

"These findings show that some barristers, especially those doing vital publicly funded work, face an uncertain future and that many do not expect their practices to survive. Like many others who are self-employed, a lot of barristers do not qualify for Government support. Add to that the drastic decline in court work, where barristers play such an important role, and it is no surprise that so many are expecting the worst. The government must act now to ensure that the 86% of criminal barristers' chambers predicting their own demise, can survive to help tackle the growing backlog in our criminal justice system. Unless the Lord Chancellor and the Treasury act now to allow more of the self-employed to access government support, who will be there to represent victims and defendants whose cases the government slung in the ‘backlog corner’ long before Covid-19? The Government cannot turn a blind eye any longer.”

Read the survey findings summary here