As many of you will already be aware, the Bar Council is urging the Government to implement the following recommendations to assist barristers during the COVID-19 pandemic:

  1. Expand the types of acceptable evidence required to be eligible for self-employed relief, to include those under the threshold but without 2018/2019 tax returns.
  2. Increase the threshold above the £50,000 trading profit for self-employed barristers, to ensure that more junior barristers are eligible for relief, thereby going some way to ensuring the sustainability of the profession.
  3. Extend business rates exemption relief to barristers’ chambers.
  4. Provide an urgent rescue package for those at the publicly funded Bar who provide a vital public service but are ineligible for the self-employed scheme.
  5. Provide an urgent rescue package for chambers doing publicly funded work.

The Bar Council is currently asking its members to write to their local MP and to support the #MakeTheCase campaign.

We would like to expand upon the aims which are particularly relevant to the future of the Young Bar.

Expanding acceptable evidence for eligibility for self-employed relief to include those without 2018/2019 tax returns

At present, the most junior barristers are unable to access the relief for self-employed people, as they do not yet have the requisite tax returns.

This is a particularly difficult situation for young barristers because:

  • They are no longer supported by pupillage awards and are entirely dependent on their ability to earn;
  • They often work on a constant diet smaller cases for lower fees, so they are dependent on a regular flow of work which has significantly reduced in some areas of law;
  • They have not been in practice for a long period of time, so many people within this category do not have cash reserves to support themselves at a time when their ability to work has, in many cases, been diminished;
  • They are not well established in their chambers, whether as third six pupils or new tenants, so they may feel unable vocalise any extreme financial hardship, particularly at a time when many chambers will not be in a position to offer financial assistance;
  • They, do not have the established network of business contacts that more senor barristers may be able to use to obtain other sources of work.

Relief for chambers

The Bar Council is currently asking the Government to (i) extend business rates exemption relief to barristers’ chambers and (ii) provide an urgent rescue package for chambers doing publicly funded work.

Our chambers are our professional homes. Many of us spend more time there, when we are not social distancing, than we do at our houses. Chambers are a unique business model in which self-employed people congregate to do their work. They provide an important function: in an otherwise isolated profession, they are a hub of support, profession development, legal expertise, training, administration and instructions.

In April, an initial survey of Heads of Chambers following the coronavirus outbreak revealed that 55% of all chambers cannot survive six months without financial aid and 81% cannot survive 12 months. The position is even more stark in relation to chambers undertaking vital publicly funded work, as 90% of criminal chambers predicted that they will collapse after 12 months without financial support.

Many chambers are already heavily impacted by the lack of income currently available and although some trials are starting again, there will be few at first and there is no indication as to when trials will proceed as normal. Earlier this week, we had the opportunity to speak directly with representatives from the Ministry of Justice about safety for practitioners, jurors and all parties in recommencing Crown Court trials and we look forward to continuing those discussions. We would like to remind young practitioners to contact the COVID-19 working group with any court safety concerns.

The clock is ticking. What are the consequences of failing to help these chambers? Quite simply, they will no longer exist and many of the legal minds within them will leave the Bar. For the youngest members of chambers, they will be left without their support system and without their source of income. The Young Bar needs chambers more than most in order to develop their own practice through the support of those more senior in the hierarchy and by dealing with “returns” from other members of chambers. The future of the profession is at risk.

There’s no place like chambers. Chambers are an essential component of a justice system that has been heavily beaten. Rescuing chambers is not an investment in building, it is providing a lifeline to the clerks who work there, maintaining the standards of training for which the Bar is world-renowned and ensuring the survival of the Bar as a whole. A failure to act now to help chambers will destroy the Bar as an institution to the detriment of the justice system and, as a consequence, to law and order.

Therefore we ask young barristers to write to their MPs and join the Bar Council’s campaign. Saving our chambers is essential to the future of our profession and, as each day passes, many chambers are facing increasing pressure. We need to act immediately and ask you to join us.   

Katherine Duncan & Joanne Kane, Chair and Vice-Chair, Bar Council’s Young Barristers’ Committee