Chair’s Reflections on 2018

£46.50 or £90

If you’re a civil or commercial practitioner, like I am, think about what work you would be prepared to do for those sums. How much time you might spend before those amounts were on the clock? Because they are the amounts that a criminal barrister earns for a mention (an application), when prosecuting or defending, whether it is in Croydon or Carlisle, and from which train fares and clerks fees or Chambers rent must be deducted.

I hope you’re shocked by that. I was. And if I’d not been on the Bar Council and the Young Barristers’ Committee (YBC), I might never have known. The Criminal Bar, which both prosecutes and defends, is essential to ensuring the right to a fair trial and the rule of law in criminal cases. But the barristers who do this vital work are paid woefully for what they do. Those of us who operate in more secure areas of practice need to do what we can to support and help our colleagues. If you haven’t already, read the Secret Barrister. You could even write to, or lobby your MP, to try to force them to confront the failures in our justice system.

I’ve spent three really interesting, challenging years on the Bar Council and on the YBC. This year, as Chair of the Young Bar, has been the toughest of the lot. From our three part Primer Series on Small Business, International Law and Media Law at the start of the year, to our much acclaimed Workshop The 21st Century Advocate, in the summer, to the Anglo Dutch Exchange in October through to my speech following the Lord Chancellor at the Bar and Young Bar Conference at the end of November, it has certainly been action packed!

Throughout the year I have not been afraid to speak my mind in meetings with the senior Judiciary, Bar Leaders and the odd politician, as no doubt any of them would attest. It is important that the Chair of the Young Bar does so – it avoids the same mix of very senior people talking to other senior people about what they assume the most junior want. A good example is technology in the legal system. Its benefits to transactional teams are more obvious, but when it comes to the essentials of how to operate court proceedings, caution is needed – something which even the most tech friendly Young Barristers understand. And yet every senior Judge appears to have different ideas about it – which is fair enough on a personal level, but which makes identifying the view of ‘the Judiciary’ challenging, and possibly creates over-dependence on the opinions of individual leadership judges.

On the subject of technology, I have found legal twitter to be a valuable resource, allowing me to absorb and reflect on diverse opinions about particular issues from across the Bar and to ensure that they can be raised as soon as possible where appropriate. The position of Chair of the Young Bar gives unique access to the inner workings of the Bar Council, and it has been a privilege to sit on its General Management Committee and debate with the other Committee Chairs about a whole range of topics.

The Bar Council is often misunderstood, and it is as frustrating for me as it is for anyone when there is a disconnect between what it is trying to say and how its position is understood. It does immensely valuable work – two examples which I and the YBC have tried to promote and support this year are in relation to wellbeing and social mobility. We have made important steps forward this year with raising awareness about the Wellbeing at the Bar project and making that part of normal conversation. Similarly, the #IamtheBar social mobility campaign and our social mobility advocates (including 3 members of YBC) have generated lots of interest. None of this would have been possible without the hard work and dedication of the Bar Council staff, who do not often get the credit that they deserve.

These are, of course, a work in progress, along with many other things. However, I know I leave the YBC in safe hands. I’m delighted that, in Athena Markides and Katherine Duncan as Chair and Vice Chair for 2019, we’ve got a brilliant all female team as we celebrate the centenary of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919 next year. I wish them every success and I am sure that they will achieve great things.

If you have never been to a YBC event, then come along next year. They are a fun way to meet people from all across the Bar when you might not otherwise do so. We share a common profession, even if our practices look very different. Let’s not forget that.

Richard Hoyle (aka @Barrickster) is the Chair of the Young Barristers’ Committee and a barrister at Essex Court Chambers.

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