Since our last update, a large amount of work has been done to assist young practitioners at this difficult time. The Young Barristers’ Committee (YBC) has been working alongside the Bar Council and its constituent committees to assist with the key concerns facing the Bar following the outbreak of COVID-19.
- We continue to engage in daily discussions with senior leadership on how best to respond to COVID-19;
- We continue our work to ensure that the courts, in particular the magistrates’ courts, have been given proper consideration in relation to court safety;
- We are involved in the discussions relating to court technology to facilitate hearings safely and expediently;
- We are responding to concerns from young barristers about their work and their working environments; and
- We held an extraordinary meeting of the YBC on Friday 27 March to address how we can best assist practitioners in the short and long term, and attended the most recent Bar Council meeting on Saturday 28 March during which the key concerns of young barristers were addressed.
Safety and well-being
Safety remains our primary concern and we are grateful for the creativity of the Bar and the judiciary in facilitating remote hearings where possible and assessing which cases continue to be heard in courts.
As matters develop, we are increasingly focussing on the wellbeing of the profession. A number of practitioners have voiced concerns about their own wellbeing and that of their colleagues at a time of financial uncertainty, isolation and disrupted normality. The Wellbeing at the Bar website remains an important resource for all barristers at this time.
Young barristers frequently use technology to stay in touch with others. Please remember to communicate with your friends and colleagues, particularly those who may be isolated, during this time.
The announcement of the Chancellor’s financial package for self-employed workers was met with concern from barristers who fear that they may not be eligible for financial relief. Discussions in relation to this issue, and wider financial aid, are continuing on behalf of the Bar as a whole and, in particular from our perspective, on behalf of pupil barristers and new tenants who currently are unable to provide the necessary evidence of their income. This is a key focus of our current work and we will update you on this as soon as possible.
The stability of chambers may be a concern for practitioners, particularly young practitioners at the beginning of their careers. We trust that those responsible for chambers management are in regular contact with their members. Heads of Chambers were recently surveyed by the Bar Council in relation to the impact of COVID-19 on their sets and this information is being used to inform ongoing financial discussions.
We are aware that a number of junior barristers, both employed and self-employed, are concerned about fair allocation of work, from a financial perspective and in relation to the division of caseloads. We continue to encourage equitable allocation of work in relation to fee-earning work, in-person court appearances, and the quantity of work expected from individual barristers. It should not be forgotten that individual young barristers may have an underlying health condition or childcare responsibilities which would impact on their ability to manage their workload at this time.
Access to justice
The use of technology for court appearances and conferences has been revolutionised in the space of a few short weeks. Necessity has required decisions to be taken with some urgency.
While some hearings, by necessity, have been conducted remotely during the current national health emergency, the YBC is clear that this is a temporary measure under an extreme set of circumstances. The future of the justice system will rely upon the efficient use of technology, where appropriate, but we remain committed to ensuring that the use of technology in the justice system is carefully scrutinised and subject to evaluation and review.
The main issues relating to pupillage training are addressed in the relevant section of the Bar Council’s dedicated COVID-19 webpage. We ask for any queries to be addressed to the pupillage helpline: PupilHelpline@BarCouncil.org.uk.
If you have found any aspect of your work difficult during this period and if you would be assisted with any form of training, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org. We are committed to developing online training in relation to key areas of need, and input from young practitioners is welcomed.
Getting in touch
The Bar Council’s COVID-19 web page remains the best source of coronavirus advice and updates. You can also find regular updates via our Twitter account (@YoungBarristers). We ask for all relevant queries to be sent to the Bar Council’s coronavirus inbox as the working group is best placed to triage issues and communicate with the appropriate sources of help. If you would like to contact the YBC directly, you can do so here.
As ever, we ask that you continue to follow the Government’s central guidance on coronavirus.
Be safe and support your colleagues. We are always here to listen and to address your concerns.
Katherine Duncan & Joanne Kane, Chair and Vice-Chair, Young Barristers’ Committee