The Bar Council’s latest survey of the barristers’ profession has revealed the profound impact of Covid-19 on justice. It finds a criminal justice system pushed to breaking point and a huge reduction in work and income, forecasting an exodus that could drain the Bar of diversity and diminish access to justice in the future.

The results reflect an ongoing trend: publicly funded, criminal and young barristers are hardest hit, and the public is impacted - 80% of barristers do not feel people are currently able to access justice at an acceptable level. These findings dash hopes that the reopening of courts and tribunals would kick-start the Bar’s recovery.

Key findings:

  • 38% of criminal barristers are uncertain whether they will still be practising law in 2021; 16% of self-employed barristers actively want to leave the Bar as a result of the pandemic (for 20 years, this has been no more than 4% yearly).
  • Interruption to court work persists: the number of hours worked by self-employed barristers has halved and fee income has reduced by 59%.
  • Publicly funded barristers have seen a 69% reduction in fee income.
  • Just 22% of barristers 0-2 years in practice will survive more than a year without financial help. 34% of those 0-2 years in practice were already experiencing financial hardship in April. That has now risen to 42%.

Diversity and social mobility are likely to decline at the Bar without preventative measures: BAME, women and state-educated barristers are triply hit by being more likely to be in publicly funded work, face greater financial pressures and be primary carers for young children.

The survey also found barristers were keen to get back to court, both in person and remotely, but had concerns about practical court safety arrangements and had experienced problems with court provision for remote hearings.

Amanda Pinto QC, Chair of the Bar, said:

We had hoped to see some green shoots by now, but this shocking evidence suggests the opposite. The Bar is fighting harder than ever to survive. The justice system won’t last much longer unless those essential to it are supported, just like others working in the public sector and playing a crucial role in society.

The huge drop in working hours, brought about by courts not operating at anywhere near capacity, has a direct impact on the public – barristers not working means citizens cannot access justice now. It also puts the public’s future access to justice in jeopardy if barristers are forced to leave the law in droves – our findings indicate a turnover rate that has quadrupled overnight, compared to the past twenty years. Diverse talent will also be lost, further damaging public confidence in justice and our ability to reflect the society we represent.

“On top of that, our survey clearly shows current government support has not worked for barristers, despite their attempts to use it, which suggests a government “committed to law and order” is choosing to ignore the practical realities of life at the Bar. Recovery looks a long way off and, when barristers cannot afford to stay in their profession, the public will lose out on vital help in exercising their legal rights. The government cannot avoid intervening any longer.”

Read the Bar Council’s survey report here

ENDS

Notes to editors

  1. The Bar Council surveyed 16,482 practising barristers in England and Wales by questionnaire between 16 June and 6 July 2020. Response rates were 16% for self-employed barristers (2,147 of 13, 095 self-employed barristers) and 9% for employed barristers (254 of 2,956 employed barristers).
  2. Publicly funded barristers refers to those working in areas like crime, immigration, housing and family law.
  3. The Bar Council represents all 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.

Press contact: Press@BarCouncil.org.uk / 020 7092 8175