The young Bar represents almost a quarter (23%) of the 16,946 practising barristers in England and Wales. The responses to the Bar Council’s recent survey of the profession in light of the coronavirus pandemic revealed that 83% of the young Bar (those under seven years in practice) cannot survive a year without financial support.
Financial support for the young Bar has been a key focus for the Bar Council’s Young Barristers’ Committee (YBC) and for the wider Bar leadership since the earliest days of the current health crisis. The voice of the young Bar is clear and unequivocal: we want to go back to court, but not at the expense of either (i) safety or (ii) the rule of law and access to justice.
The work of a “typical barrister” has changed from over 50 working hours each week to fewer than 18 hours per week, which has resulted in financial uncertainty for many members of the Bar. We welcome the news that the Inns of Court (i) will contribute towards an emergency fund launched by the Barristers’ Benevolent Association (BBA) to distribute funds to barristers in urgent need and (ii) that each Inn will administer hardship funds which will primarily assist pupils and other junior barristers who are not eligible for Government self-employment funding or assistance from the BBA.
The young Bar is the most diverse sector of our profession. The efforts that have been made to improve diversity in recent years must be safeguarded. We are committed to ensuring that our progress in social mobility and diversity continues. Discussions in relation to securing financial assistance for those who are not currently eligible for Government relief are continuing, and we will provide any updates on this in due course.
In the same way that our individual practices are unique, our various areas of practice have been affected in different ways. The impact on the publicly funded Bar is undeniable: of those who earn half or more of their income from publicly funded work, 30% cannot survive three months without financial aid, 69% cannot survive six months and 89% cannot survive a year. The Bar Council survey also revealed that 75% of barristers do not believe that people are able to access justice at an acceptable level during the Covid-19 pandemic.
We have hosted meetings with the junior representatives of a number of Specialist Bar Associations, including the Criminal Bar Association, Family Law Bar Association and Administrative Law Bar Association, and we look forward to meeting other young practitioners in the coming weeks. We have also been using social media to reach out to young practitioners about their individual concerns and needs at this time.
There are a number of important resources available to the young Bar to address key concerns at this time, including:
- Public health guidance: Advice can be found via the Government’s central guidance.
- Wellbeing: The Wellbeing at the Bar website remains an important resource for all barristers at this time;
- Safety concerns: For young practitioners attending court, please report any health and safety concerns to C19WG@barcouncil.org.uk;
- Information: The Bar Council’s Covid-19 website provides coronavirus advice and updates for the Bar;
- Pupillage: The pupillage section of the Covid-19 webpage provides all key information and questions can be sent to PupilHelpline@BarCouncil.org.uk;
- Contact: You can speak directly to the YBC about your key concerns via firstname.lastname@example.org
This pandemic has forced us to look at the realities of every part of our lives. We assess our working lives and resources, often measuring their respective values and, sometimes, their inefficiencies. Our justice system has changed in recent weeks and the long-term impact of some temporary measures remains to be seen.
It is correct to say that during Covid-19 we are not all in the same boat, but we are all facing the same storm. That is true of both the young Bar and the Bar as a whole. All of our consitutent members and practice areas have their own individual concerns and worries at this time. For the young Bar, those who are learning to sail their ships, we must ensure that our profession is sustained, that our members are safe, and that our current and post-pandemic legal landscape upholds the rule of law and promotes access to justice for all. There are important decisions to be made in the coming weeks and months that could leave their mark on our profession and on our justice system for the long-term future. We are working to ensure that these decisions are made carefully and decisively, and in consultation with the Young Bar. We encourage young barristers to engage with us in this process. We are here and we are listening.
Katherine Duncan & Joanne Kane, Chair and Vice-Chair, Bar Council’s Young Barristers’ Committee.