Responding to the immediate impact of COVID-19 has been an ever-evolving task. The priority of the Young Barristers’ Committee (YBC) has been the safety of young barristers and pupils as they work to ensure the rule of law is upheld in these difficult times.
The YBC has been one of many voices within the Bar Council which has been working to ensure, alongside the specialist Bar associations and the circuit leaders, that our working environments are safe.
Our work so far
- Engaging in daily discussions with senior leadership on how best to respond to COVID-19;
- Working to ensure that the courts, in particular the magistrates’ courts, have been given proper consideration in discussions relating to the adjournment of many types of hearings and court safety procedures;
- Contributing to the discussion on the use of technology to facilitate hearings safely and expediently via telephone and video; and
- Providing feedback from young barristers (obtained via social media and direct outreach) on their concerns about the work that they are doing and their working environments.
Safety and well-being
Our priority is safety, and we are continuing to work to ensure that the safety of pupils and young practitioners is safeguarded. We remain committed to ensuring that when barristers have to attend face to face hearings, the courts are complying with the Government’s rules on social distancing and hygiene.
We are increasingly aware of the ongoing impact of illness, anxiety, isolation and uncertainty on wellbeing. We will develop targeted resources to deal with the specific wellbeing impact of Covid-19. In the interim, we ask young practitioners to utilise the excellent resources on the Wellbeing at the Bar webpage. In particular, we encourage young barristers to take regular breaks from social media, and to consider how their use of social media can impact others.
We hope to provide guidance on how chambers and employers can best support pupils and young practitioners at this challenging time
Financial stability is another key concern. The YBC represents both employed and self-employed practitioners.
We are waiting to review the finalised financial package from the Government for those working in a self-employed capacity, and the Bar Council will provide an update on this in due course. In the interim, please consult the Bar Council’s guidance on financial support measures for self-employed barristers and chambers, including information on deferred VAT payments and income tax.
We hope to provide training on money management, particularly to self-employed barristers, when the position on legal aid work and financial support for the self-employed is clarified. We are also working to promote equitable allocation of work within chambers to ensure that urgent court work and remote hearings are distributed fairly.
We are conscious that many pupils will shortly enter their “second six”. We are working to ensure that pupils are given the necessary support to successfully complete all stages of their pupillage training. We commend the steps that have been taken by a number practitioners to facilitate online training and learning.
We hope that those responsible for pupils in individual chambers are communicating regularly with pupils to ensure that any concerns about payments, chambers rent, or tenancy decisions are being addressed. Please note that Bar Council guidance for pupil supervisors is available on its website.
The Bar Standards Board is also ensuring that its website is kept updated and the section directed towards pupil barristers (and their chambers or employers) can be found here.
Our message is clear: if pupils feel that they are being placed in a position which is causing them to feel anxious or unsafe, we ask you to speak to your pupil supervisor or another barrister, and please be aware that you can email the PupilHelpline@BarCouncil.org.uk or the YBC using the details provided below if you would rather speak to someone outside your chambers.
In the longer term, there is a great deal to do following on from this crisis. We need to facilitate improved engagement with digital working tools and guidance on how young practitioners can use technology to assist their practice. We will engage with these issues at a later stage, and we welcome input from young barristers on how we can best provide that assistance to you.
The key concerns facing barristers are addressed via the Bar Council’s dedicated page which provides regularly updated coronavirus advice and information, including sections on frequently asked questions and updates from both HMCTS and the Legal Aid Agency.
The best place to report any work-related concerns arising from COVID-19 is the Bar Council’s dedicated inbox: C19WG@barcouncil.org.uk, as the working group can raise issues quickly with the appropriate stakeholders, including the Ministry of Justice and the judiciary. It is also the collection point for the necessary data during this time. If you wish to contact the Young Barristers’ Committee about other matters, please do so via YBC@barcouncil.org.uk.
We are indebted to hard-working Bar Council staff, court staff, chambers management and staff, and those who employ young barristers who are doing all that they can to assist young practitioners at this time. We welcome the creative approach that the judiciary and court staff have been taking in order to facilitate remote access to hearings. We ask that young barristers remember that they are often well placed to provide technological training and support to their colleagues, so please help others, where necessary, to navigate new technology and new ways of working for the first time.
This is a uniquely challenging time for young barristers. The Bar as a whole is facing a period of uncertainty, but we remain united in our determination to uphold the rule of law and to support each other at this time. We take pride in our work and want to ensure that we continue to serve the interests of our clients to the best of our ability even in these difficult times.
The safety of practitioners is of paramount importance. Please continue to follow the Government’s central guidance on coronavirus. The Bar Council, Young Barristers’ Committee and specialist Bar associations are maintaining their social media channels with the latest information as it becomes available.
Be safe and support your colleagues. We will do our best to support you too.
Katherine Duncan & Joanne Kane, Chair and Vice-Chair, Young Barristers’ Committee