YBC’s Ambitions

I recently attended the Annual Bar Conference. The keynote speaker, Lord Sumption, reflected on his career by asking himself three questions: what he had come looking for at the Bar; whether he had found it, and whether one could expect to find it today.

He concluded, rather wryly, that first and foremost he had come looking for money; that he had found quite a bit of it, and that – for certain areas of practice – one might reasonably expect to do the same today.

I gratefully adopt the structure of his Lordship’s submissions. But, as his Lordship acknowledged, the content does not reflect a universal truth.

The Bar attracts characters from all walks of life: the independently spirited, the intellectually meticulous, the ambitious, the curious, the righteous and the wronged, as well as those seeking to enrich themselves.

They may pursue justice, or mental stimulation or a healthier bank balance. But whatever measure of success one pursues, they are unlikely to achieve it alone.

We are the progeny of a system of precedent. From pupillage upwards, we learn by observation and emulation – foundational skills to which we may one day be fortunate to add a flare of originality.  But more than that, ours is a collegiate profession. There are few outside it who will understand the fraught and sickening strains that come of a poorly managed case, fast descending into farce, with sky-high stakes which rest, ultimately, on you. A sense of perspective is vital. And perspective is always assisted by those who have survived worse and are sitting sympathetically opposite you in Chambers.

It’s easy to forget that we are members of a profession. And that despite the independence and the solitary stresses of self-employment, the challenges which affect the Bar affect us all.

Even if you remain unperturbed by the erosion of our justice system by constant cuts and a lack of public and political respect, on a purely mercenary level it is easy to see how discontent with a straw-man band of  ‘fat cat lawyers’ leads to cuts in legal aid today and fixed fees for all tomorrow. Moreover, the advent of ‘virtual’ justice and so-called “flexible” operating hours herald changes for our system as a whole.

The challenges which the Bar faces affect us all. And they should engage us all in equal measure.

The Bar Council does vital work promoting and protecting barristers’ interests in a way that individual barristers would struggle to match. We lobby the government and liaise with the regulator. We marshal responses to the numerous consultations the results of which dictate our profession’s future. We are constantly vigilant to these challenges and changes and we strive to keep the profession informed and equipped to deal with them. We provide training, guidelines, mentoring and an ethics helpline. We organise domestic and international events and promote the Bar – as a whole – at home and abroad. And we do this with the dedicated support of a core of employed and self-employed barristers who are members of the Bar Council and its committees, with a fantastic team of staff, and with the financial support of those who pay their Bar Representation Fee.

The coming year will be a typically busy one for the Young Barristers’ Committee. Already on our agenda are an enormous range of issues including pay (AGFS, mags fees and the LASPO review), social mobility and diversity, the online court, flexible operating hours, wellbeing, judicial bullying and Brexit.

If you are in your first seven years of practice and would like to contribute to the Committee’s work, please write to YBC@BarCouncil.org.uk and let us know. Even if you don’t feel you have the time to be involved on a regular basis, we are always in need of ad hoc volunteers for events or practical input to consultation responses.  It can be hard work and it can be frustrating. But it can also be interesting, worthwhile and a lot of fun. And for some of you, it may turn out to be just what you’ve been looking for.

We look forward to hearing from you.

Athena Markides is the incoming Chair of the Young Barristers’ Committee, and a barrister at Crown Office Chambers.

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.

The Case for Justice

Justice for all.

Those three words are at the centre of the Bar Council’s logo, and they are at the centre of what the Bar Council tries to achieve. They are not a statement of reality. They are a challenge to those of us who try to represent this profession, they are an aspiration. But over the past years the gap between the aspiration and the reality has widened. Now more than ever, the importance of access to justice, of access to proper legal representation, of the need for corrections to the iniquities of our struggling system, must be re-emphasised. In short, the case for justice must be made once again.

I’d like to welcome the announcement that I’ve just heard from the Lord Chancellor. That is a positive first step, and the comments he has made about the future are encouraging. The case I make for justice is about that future – and the next steps along the way.

I make this case in defence of the public interest, rather than from a standpoint of any particular self-interest. In my day to day practice I am at the Commercial Bar, in an area of law that the Government is rather keen on. But not everyone can pick and choose where they wish to litigate or arbitrate. Most of you practise in areas where the law rudely intrudes into the lives of your clients, your witnesses, your affected parties, at a time and place of its choosing, and if you’re unlucky enough to find yourself in a court centre which is a couple of judges short, potentially it intrudes at several times and in several places in succession. As anyone who has read the Secret Barrister will know, in these areas, the case for justice must be remade.

Barristers from all across the Bar need to stand with our most junior practitioners at the publicly funded Bar as they try to find their feet, build their practices, and defend our most vital interests on little money and even less sleep.

And outside of the Inns and the Circuits, that view should not be a matter of partisan political persuasion either.

In the Legal Aid debates in the late 1940s the great legal statesmen of the age, Labour’s Sir Hartley Shawcross and the Conservative Sir David Maxwell Fyfe, were not divided in point of principle. Is that really surprising? Let’s put it in today’s terms. What could be more Conservative than support for a key aspect of the rule of law and proper access to justice, concepts which have been over 800 years in the making? If the justice system works properly, does it not help those who are just about managing, and if it works badly, does it not hinder them? And the same for Labour. Shouldn’t access to justice and proper legal representation be something that is for the many and not just the few? Does it not contribute to levelling the playing field between the disadvantaged and the privileged? Is it not a means by which the powerful can be held to account?

Now you’ve all heard the Attorney in fine voice this morning. I mean if the Bar Choral Society is ever short a baritone – well, they know who to call. But Mr Attorney we need you to lend your advocacy to the cause of the Justice System, both in Cabinet and during the 2019 Spending Review. As a practical point – and it is not necessarily widely known – the Attorney is currently seeking to dissolve the National Fund, a charity set up some hundred years ago to serve the national interest through the well-intentioned but ultimately futile aim of paying off the entirety of the UK’s National Debt. The Fund is about £450 million – a drop in the ocean for the Department of Work and Pensions, or the NHS, but an absolute lifeline for the Justice System. So when it’s paid back into central funds, make the case for the same amount to be released by the Treasury to the Ministry of Justice.

Put £100 million into the crumbling court estate, which, as the Lord Chief Justice has said this week, is desperately needed. Some of the places that people most enjoy working – think Google – have a real commitment to high quality workspaces, breakout areas and cafeterias, because they recognise the positive impact it has on wellbeing and productivity. Why should our Courts be any different? At a minimum, out of order bathrooms and leaking roofs must surely be considered unacceptable. Value the people, who day in and day out, provide an essential public service.

And on that question of value, commit the remainder of the funds towards increasing the pay of the publicly funded Bar. As I said at the start, what the Lord Chancellor has announced just now in relation to Criminal Defence funding and its targeting at the most junior is welcome. Nevertheless, I have heard the passionate, persuasive, articulate voices of our most junior criminal practitioners – and they all agree that that there is much more work to be done to ensure a sustainable, long term career for them. To know that this is not just a problem for the Bar, one only has to look at the Law Society’s quite frankly frightening heat map, showing the swiftly dwindling numbers and aging profile of our country’s Duty Solicitors – the vital first point of contact for independent legal advice if you are accused of committing a crime.

The question we have to ask ourselves is what we think that a justice system should provide, and the economic question is whether the money that is being spent generates value – which is not always measured in monetary terms. The social aspects of advice and intervention before it’s too late, the constitutional aspects of counterbalancing the power of the state, ensuring the right to a fair trial and maintaining continued confidence that the legal system works justice and not injustice, are not easily costed, but are of central importance to the fabric of our society.

But even with a narrow monetary focus, restoring funding to the types of areas affected by LASPO could deliver longer term savings. Small scale studies indicate that for every pound spend on legal aid, more than a pound is saved elsewhere, in terms of spend on social housing, health, local authorities and so on. The World Bank is currently running an initiative with the International Bar Association across a number of countries to look at these benefits and value the positive externalities in more detail. The Ministry of Justice should be leading on this kind of research – commissioning it, supporting it, demonstrating to the Treasury that when the longer term view is taken, it is a case of spending more money now to save public money later.

I do not suggest that there are any easy answers. There may be things that we as a profession can do better, or adapt for the modern age, which may ultimately reduce cost. But they cannot be done unthinkingly – disruption is all very well as an aim for a technology company, but it sits uneasily with a system of common law and constitutional tradition based on incremental development and change. We must not lose sight of the fact that efficiency and greater use of technology are not ends in themselves, but should be seen as ways of supporting and bolstering our most basic and cherished principles. The problems we face are too big and the issues at stake are too important for resolution by crisis-driven negotiations or short term budget cycles. After a further injection of funds for the short to medium term, one way to consider the long term solutions available would be a Royal Commission chaired by a senior retired judge, coupled with a commitment by the major parties to enact its recommendations.

There is now a small window of opportunity. We have a former Chief Secretary to the Treasury as Lord Chancellor and a former Lord Chancellor as Chief Secretary to the Treasury. We have a Legal Aid Minister who was a practising QC. If, like me, they want to see a future legal profession that promotes diversity, social mobility and talent, that retains people as they progress, and which does its level best to provide justice for all – and from what I’ve heard just now, I believe that they do want that – then they must make the case for better justice funding more vocally; now, through the Spending Review and beyond.

Because when it comes down to it, there is not simply a Conservative case for justice or a Labour case for justice. There is not simply an economic case for justice or a social case for justice. There is not simply a constitutional case for justice. There is a single compelling case for justice of which these are all but individual threads. It is a case which every single person in this room, every single person at the Bar, every single person on the Roll, and every single person in society at large needs to understand, and needs to be making. Lord Chancellor, Mr Attorney, Madam Shadow Attorney – join us, and make that case with us.

This address was delivered by Richard Hoyle aka @Barrickster (Chair of the Young Barristers’ Committee of the Bar Council of England and Wales) to the delegates at the Annual Bar and Young Bar Conference 2018. 

The state of the Criminal Justice System


The Young Barristers’ Committee (YBC) supports the position of the Criminal Bar Association (CBA) in relation to funding under the new Advocates Graduated Fee Scheme (AGFS) and the state of the Criminal Justice System.

The Young Barristers’ Committee further endorses the statements made by the Bar Council of England & Wales and the Young Legal Aid Lawyers. Read the full YBC AGFS statement here.

What the Young Bar Needs from Chambers


On Friday 9 February 2018, Rick Hoyle (Chair of the Young Barristers’ Committee of the Bar Council of England and Wales 2018) attended and addressed the delegates at the Legal Practice Managers Association (LPMA) Conference 2018. The speech broke down what the Young Bar needs were from Chambers and their Practice Managers.  Rick’s speech is available here.

Entrepreneurs build Businesses, Barristers help Protect Them


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On Thursday 8 February 2018, Rick Hoyle (Chair of the Young Barristers’ Committee of the Bar Council of England and Wales 2018) launched the first of the Young Bar Primer Series seminars. The speech shed light on the Junior bar point of view of the future of the independent referral bar. The seminar titled ‘Entrepreneurs build Businesses, Barristers help Protect Them’ focused on the implications of the Gig Economy on Employment law, GDPR, and Brexit on entrepreneurs and businesses. Rick’s introductory speech is available here.

Raising the Young Bar profile

Junior barristers, now more than ever, face a world which looks increasingly uncertain. Rick Hoyle, Chair of the Young Barristers’ Committee, looks at the worrying trend and what is being done about it

Whilst the Bar as a whole is now larger than ever before, at a little over 16,000 practising barristers, that trend masks much more disturbing news at the junior end.

Comparing the statistics between 2005 and 2017, the number of barristers of five years’ Call and under has shrunk by more than a third (36%). The number in the six and ten years’ Call category has also shrunk by nearly a quarter (24%). We are, in short, an aging profession.

This really matters. Those of you who have ever read a Bar Council response to a consultation paper will notice in every introduction the phrase: ‘A strong and independent Bar exists to serve the public and is crucial to the administration of justice.’ Those are not mere words, but a statement of our core beliefs about the role of the profession in society. If a career at the junior end, or some parts of it, is becoming unviable or less attractive, then the long-term existence of that strong and independent Bar may be in doubt.


Continue reading Raising the Young Bar profile

Chair of the Young Barristers’ Committee’s Address for #OneBar17

When I meet someone new, I am always extremely proud to say that I am a barrister. And, when I say that I am a barrister, they normally look interested and want to know more. That is, until I tell them that I am a Chancery barrister and what that means and then they look considerably less interested. But I think that the initial reaction tells us a great deal about the esteem in which our profession is generally held.

I therefore think that most people outside the profession, and frankly many inside it, would be shocked to discover that the Young Bar is shrinking at an alarming rate. The number of barristers under 5 years’ call shrank 30% from 2005-2015. That is not what one would expect given population increase and the increasing complexity of modern society. For anyone who believes that a strong and healthy independent Bar is good for justice, these figures, which speak directly to its future, are alarming indeed. Clearly, the Young Bar faces some serious threats, as the title of this conference would suggest.

Chief among those is, of course, the unprincipled and unwarranted cuts to legal aid over the past twenty years. A symptom of that, is that according to the protocol for the payment of Magistrates’ Court fees agreed between the Bar Council and the London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association in 2008, and still in force, the going rate for a full day hearing in the Magistrates’ Court is £150. That does not only cover the time in Court, but the hours of preparation beforehand and travel to and from court. The Young Barrister will not even receive all this, as there will be Chambers expenses of roughly 20%, insurance, and other expenses to pay.

Can anyone really think that defending or prosecuting a vulnerable teenager accused of sexual assault for a day in the Youth Court is only worth £150? When preparation is taken into account and expenses are factored in, that amounts to about £10 per hour. That is roughly what an Uber driver is estimated to earn, according to the company’s evidence to a parliamentary select committee, and much has recently been made in the media about how poorly Uber drivers are paid. For certain hearings at least, young barristers are no better off.

Added to poor rates of remuneration, has been the removal of whole areas of work from public funding by the Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (‘LASPO’). The review of that sorry piece of legislation announced this week is long overdue.

Continue reading Chair of the Young Barristers’ Committee’s Address for #OneBar17

Time for a Change

Duncan McCombe and Sam Roake reveal the grim reality, as a Young Bar survey shows 50% of criminal juniors are working for free. Doing nothing is not an option and a solution must be found, they argue.

Ask a group of junior criminal barristers if they’ve ever taken a magistrates’ court (MC) brief on the understanding that they would receive no fee whatsoever, and half will tell you yes, they have.

That’s the grim truth as revealed by the recent survey carried out by the Young Barristers’ Committee (YBC). With 1 in 4 eligible junior barristers (those in the first seven years of practice and specialising in crime) completing the survey, there is now a firm evidence base to back up what has been known anecdotally for a long time.

Unpaid fees aside, on the occasions where a fee is paid, the situation is also bleak. The majority told us (64%) that MC fees are paid on average somewhere between 1-6 months after the hearing. Twenty-four per cent said the delay was 6-12 months. Ten per cent described having to wait more than a year.

This is despite the fact that the Legal Aid Contract which solicitors sign with the Legal Aid Agency (LAA) requires counsel’s fees to be paid within 30 days (clause 3.3(b)(i)). Less than 2% of respondents were paid in that time on average.

Whose fault are these lengthy delays? 70% blamed instructing solicitors; 10% said it was the LAA; and only 2% pointed the finger at clerks or chambers (8% weren’t sure).

Sixty per cent of respondents had raised concerns in chambers, despite the obvious professional risks involved. The results, they said, were disappointing. While a tiny minority had experienced positive change (whether through fees being successfully chased or chambers no longer taking instructions from that firm), most said that nothing had changed at all.

That’s life at the Bar?

Most were given short shrift: ‘That’s life at the Bar!’… ‘It’s part of the job!’ were examples of replies respondents had received from chambers. Another was told ‘Shut it if you want Crown court work!’; others told a similar (and familiar) story of chambers wanting to keep solicitors on-side so bigger, juicier briefs could be brought in. Another, during pupillage, was even reprimanded for raising concerns.

So, while most respondents blamed solicitors for payment delays, many of those individuals also described clerks and chambers as being complicit in the situation. Aside from the clear moral wrong of exploiting junior barristers, this raises regulatory concerns: in particular the requirement (Bar Standards Board Handbook rc110i) to treat all members of chambers in a fair and equitable manner, and the issue of referral fees.

This, along with other factors, is having a devastating impact on the young Bar. As one respondent said when asked what was done after he/she had raised concerns about the payment of MC fees: ‘Not a lot. Now on secondment trying to find a way out of the profession. Can’t afford to live. Very disheartened about the whole career at this stage – working for basic minimum wage.’ No wonder the number of barristers under five years’ Call has fallen by 30% between 2005 and 2015 (practising certificate figures for the Bar, January 2017).

Doing nothing is simply not an option

Some action has been taken over the years. In 2002 the Bar Council agreed a protocol with the London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association concerning the payment of MC fees. This was updated in 2008 and can be found here: bit.ly/2h7zjIi. The protocol, although voluntary, sets out minimum rates for MC work (£50 for first appearances, remands, bail applications, sentences and adjourned trials; £75 for a half-day trial; and £150 for a full-day trial) and states that fees should be paid within 30 days of invoice. The new protocol was accompanied by a letter from the then Chairman of the Bar, Timothy Dutton QC, to the profession emphasising that these were minimum rates, and drawing attention to the relevant regulatory requirements for chambers (now under the BSB Handbook rc110i) and the serious potential consequences of breaching them. Yet, almost ten years on, the problem persists.

Like those 50% of criminal juniors working for free, readers are probably wondering what the solution might be.

It is clear that the current protocol is not working. If you didn’t realise it existed, you’re not alone – 43% of respondents didn’t either. The fee levels haven’t changed since 2008, not even adjusted for inflation, and will rightly be seen as derisory by many. Some of the fees received by respondents fell below even these levels and – of course – sometimes a fee won’t be received at all.

Finding a long-term solution

While a new protocol, or wider knowledge of the current protocol, may help at the periphery, we do not think that it is a long-term solution to the problem. The YBC’s view is that the answer is more likely to lie in the modernisation of how counsel’s fees are paid for MC work. In a criminal justice system where there is a general drive towards digitisation, and in which Crown court fees are a) set at fixed levels and b) paid directly to counsel, doesn’t the mode of payment in the lower courts look like something of a relic, and an unfair one at that? (Would anyone redesigning a system for payment now structure it as it is?)

It is the YBC’s view that a new system is needed where fee levels for all the various hearings are fixed (and kept under review) and paid directly to the advocate.

We have had various meetings with the LAA, the Remuneration Committee at the Bar Council and solicitors. No one has raised any objections of principle to such a scheme. Most of the objections appear to be simply that nothing will change and therefore that it is not worth trying. We could not disagree more. This is a serious and long-term problem which is undermining the viability of the profession as a whole. The LAA indicated to us that a change, although potentially difficult, is ‘not beyond the wit of man’. As has been shown with the proposed AGFS (Advocates’ Graduated Fee Scheme) reforms, the LAA is willing to make changes if the profession commits the time and effort to assist it in doing so.

Fairer system of payment

A system of direct payment would be fairer and would prevent abuse. It would bring remuneration for MC work in line with remuneration in the Crown court. It seems to us that this should eventually allow for efficiency savings for the LAA. It would also remove an administrative burden from solicitors, who would no longer have to deal with paying advocates for work done on their cases.

Any change of this nature would take time. The current Legal Aid Contract has three years to run and has the option of being extended for another two years beyond that. Let us use this time to put together a robust long-term solution to this long-running problem. We must start now.

The Criminal Bar Association has already offered its support and naturally, we welcome the views of all parties in this debate – the Bar, the LAA, the Ministry of Justice, and of course our colleagues in the solicitors’ profession. We have begun that process of engagement with all of those groups. It is the YBC’s sincere hope that real progress will be made on this vitally important issue. If you have suggestions, please email us at YBC@BarCouncil.org.uk.

Further information can be found on the Young Bar Hub’s summary of the survey.

IN THE SHORT TERM: potential solutions

While the search for a long-term solution continues, here are some tips as to what may help to alleviate the situation in the short term:

  • Help your solicitor. Even though you as counsel may have a fixed brief fee, the solicitor is paid per hour by the LAA including for your time. Proper time recording of hearing and preparation time may help bump the solicitor’s fee into a higher bracket and therefore have a knock-on effect as to the fee you can charge for your work. Similarly, solicitors we spoke to said that receiving a single monthly bill from chambers for MC work, rather than numerous individual bills from each barrister, would help them with their administration.
  • Report abuse. The BSB cannot do anything about breaches of the handbook about which it has not been told. This may require reporting by more senior members of the profession on behalf of their junior colleagues who may feel unable to do so. The Bar has a proud tradition of standing up for the vulnerable; it should do so within the profession too.
  • Educate yourself and your clerks. Solicitors get paid a monthly fee for MC work based on their previous volume of cases, which is then reconciled at regular intervals with the actual amount of work done. They are not paid directly on a per case basis. Accordingly, as one solicitor we spoke to put it, there is ‘no excuse’ for late payment. The LAA told us that it is happy to investigate late payment or non-payment of counsel’s fees on an anonymous basis if it is reported to them.

If paid, when is payment received?

  • (64%) 1-6 months after the hearing
  • (24%) 6-12 months
  • (10%) more than a year

Whose fault are these delays?

  • (70%) instructing solicitors
  • (10%) Legal Aid Agency
  • (2%) clerks or chambers
  • (8%) not sure

Duncan McCombe – Chair of the Young Barristers’ Committee (2017)

Sam Roake – Member of the Young Barristers’ Committee (2017)

(This article first appeared in Counsel Magazine issue: October 2017)

National Pro Bono Week

To the Young Bar,

I am writing to invite you to take part in the 15th Annual National Pro Bono Week, sponsored by the Bar Council, the Law Society, and the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives. This takes place between 7-11 November 2016.

Pro bono work is of great value. By taking on pro bono work, young barristers decline paid opportunities and offer their time and resources to further access to justice.

Many young barristers undertake pro bono work; whether by working with the Bar Pro Bono Unit, the Free Representation Unit, the Personal Support Unit, giving advice in Law Centres, working on the Chancery Bar Litigant in Person Support (CLIPS) scheme, or even through voluntarily reducing their fees and hourly rates to ensure that they can represent clients who require their help and assistance. There are many schemes and initiatives throughout England and Wales through which young barristers help to ensure that those most in need are supported.


National Pro Bono Week is a week devoted to marking the efforts of barristers, solicitors, and legal executives in England and Wales. The Young Barristers’ Committee is committed to supporting the efforts of young barristers who take up pro bono work. We have a member of the Young Barristers’ Committee who sits on the Bar Council’s Pro Bono Board, and have supported the efforts of the profession by publicising the consultation on the level of pro bono work done at the Bar (click here to participate).


I hope you will join us to celebrate and promote the pro bono work of the legal community, through the series of events throughout National Pro Bono Week.  The launch event for the Week is an evening of “SPARK Talks” on Monday 7 November at BPP University London. This event presents an opportunity to hear about the experiences of people engaged in pro bono practices as they recount challenges, concerns and hopes for the future. The Chairman of the Bar, Chantal-Aimee Doerries QC, will give the opening keynote on behalf of the legal profession. Other speakers include Ann Cooper (national coordinator at Kids in Need of Defense (KIND) UK), Amy Heading  (Pro Bono Director, UK & Nordic at DLA Piper), Gloria Morrison (Joint Enterprise: Not Guilty by Association (JENGbA) Campaigner), among many others.

For further information, please email YBC@BarCouncil.org.uk or visit the National Pro Bono Week website here.

Louisa Nye

Chairman of the Young Barristers’ Committee 2016

Chairman of the Young Barristers’ Committee’s Address for the Young Bar Conference 2016

There are two themes which have been consistently present over the past year and during my time as Chairman of the Young Barristers’ Committee: – technology and Brexit.

Both of these topics will be spoken about today, and the breakout sessions on these issues highlight the importance of these themes.

Both topics bring with them a great deal of uncertainty – a lack of clarity as to the way forward, how they will affect the Bar, and particularly how they will affect and change the future of young barristers.

Today’s cohort of young barristers is in a particularly vulnerable position.

They are financially vulnerable – as a consequence of tuition fees and increases in the BPTC fees we now know that young barristers can have anywhere from £30,000-£70,000 debt when then start out in the profession.

Many are making repayments over their first 5 years of practice if not substantially longer.

Young criminal and family barristers are receiving the lowest of sums for carrying out important work, and many are struggling to maintain a living.

Parts of the media have reports almost daily where lawyers are criticised for the work they do and characterised as a scourge on society.

Young barristers live in deeply uncertain and difficult times. I would argue more so than any generation of barristers in the previous 52 years. And it is difficult against that background not to feel somewhat lost and somewhat depressed.


The Wellbeing at the Bar report published last year highlights the levels of stress and anxiety being felt by all barristers.

Nearly 2,500 barristers responded to the survey that formed the research behind the report.

The survey found that one in three barristers find it difficult to control or stop worrying. One in six barristers said that they felt low in spirits most of the time.

I myself have suffered with anxiety and depression. I have lost a close friend who took her own life, in part under the strain that this job and circumstances can place on people.

And the increase in remote working has started to remove the idea that chambers are where others will be working and where support can be found if needed.

Young barristers are under increased pressure and this is why I welcome the Wellbeing at the Bar initiative, which is being launched today. Through this work we can dispel the stigma that prevents so many people from asking for help. And we can help others to understand what they can do to assist those in difficulty.

For the young bar in particular there is also the Young Bar Hub and Toolkit, which have become an invaluable resource for young barristers – to find advice and guidance, and to understand that they are not alone in this profession.

One thing I have realised and learnt over 7 years of practice is that many people, many young barristers, do their work while dealing with great adversity. Whether that is physical disability or illness, mental un-wellness, discrimination or harassment, or financial pressure.

The one thing that the Bar excels at is standing firm in the face of difficulty. The concept of fearlessly defending others’ interests and standing up for our client is at the heart of all that we do. And we are capable of taking the wrath of judges, governments, solicitors and (on occasion) clients.

All the barristers who I know manage their difficulties and never once allow it to negatively impact on their work for their clients or their duty to the court. They stand strong.

In her sermon at the Annual Judges’ Service at Westminster Abbey, to mark the Opening of the Legal Year, Reverend Jane Sinclair, Canon of Westminster and Rector of St Margaret’s Church, described lawyers and judges, and the work of lawyers and judges, as a gift to society. A gift to society that helps us to maintain our freedoms.

It is for these very reasons that I think we have to embrace change and see the opportunities ahead – even if they appear sometimes to be elusive.

We are a strong profession. We are becoming a more diverse profession. And we are a profession that puts our clients first – no matter what.

I am proud that I am part of a profession, and a cohort of young barristers, that still hold those values true. The value of representation. The importance of assisting and guiding our clients. And the duty that we hold to the court that enables justice to be done in every case in which we appear.

Barristers are not a scourge on society. We are strong advocates that ensure people’s stories are heard and their rights are protected.

And so while Brexit is being debate and discussed, I truly hope and invite and encourage the Government and individuals to look to barristers to assist them. To guide them and help them in framing our new relationship with Europe.

While our Courts are embracing digitisation I call on Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunal Service and the Senior Judges to listen to and take the advice of those of us at the coal face, who assist and help individuals through the system every day.

And for all those present to remember that what we do matters.

Representation and advocacy matters.

Today there are a variety of sessions that are specifically aimed at Young Barristers, and are identified as such in the programme. All are welcome to attend these sessions, but I would encourage young barristers in particular to take this opportunity to learn something new and to engage with others.

After lunch our keynote speaker Caroline Wilson will be speaking to the young bar, and we will have an Open Forum session where you can ask any question of your leadership and we will answer. This is the time for your voice. No question is a silly question – we are here to listen and speak with you.

I sincerely hope you will enjoy the Conference and look forward to meeting as many of you as possible over the course of the day.

This address was delivered by Louisa Nye (Chairman of the Young Barristers’ Committee of the Bar Council of England and Wales) to the delegates at the Young Bar and Annual Bar Conference 2016. 

Chairman of the Young Barristers’ Committee responds to the EU Referendum result

Commenting on today’s decision to leave the EU, the Chairman of the Young Barristers’ Committee, Louisa Nye said: “I am currently attending the European Young Bar Association’s AGM in Dusseldorf, and this reflects the Young Bar’s commitment to maintaining a good working relationship with the European market. The Young Bar is committed to engaging with other European lawyers regarding the changes that will be taking place. The Young Barristers’ Committee is confident that the quality of advocacy and legal service provision in the jurisdiction will not be undermined by today’s results, and London will remain a leading centre for international dispute resolution.”


Notes to Editors

  1. Further information is available from the Bar Council Press Office on 020 7222 2525 and Press@BarCouncil.org.uk.
  2. The Bar Council represents barristers in England and Wales. It promotes:
  • The Bar’s high quality specialist advocacy and advisory services
  • Fair access to justice for all
  • The highest standards of ethics, equality and diversity across the profession, and
  • The development of business opportunities for barristers at home and abroad.

The General Council of the Bar is the Approved Regulator of the Bar of England and Wales. It discharges its regulatory functions through the independent Bar Standards Board.