Barriers to barristers accessing courts

10 January 2018

We have been hearing worrying stories recently about barristers experiencing significant problems getting into court buildings, in particular crown courts. Though some queuing is on occasion inevitable it is clear that at some court in particular the problem has become acute. In simple terms, some of you are having to queue for an unreasonably long time. 

You may have seen a tweet earlier this month from the CEO of HMCTS, Susan Acland-Hood, to the effect that HMCTS had started discussions with both the Bar Council and the Law Society about problems barristers and solicitor advocates have been experiencing when trying to get in to court. We met with HMCTS earlier this week as part of this initiative and we are trying to gather as much information as we can about where these problems are most acute and what is causing them. 

We are told that some of the queues are being caused by sheer volume of traffic, others by arguably over-zealous and lengthy bag searches, and others by the physical infrastructure of a particular building - trying to squeeze too many court users through too small a space. HMCTS appear to acknowledge that access is a problem in certain buildings and that it is a less than ideal start to anyone's day, be it a barrister, police officer, witness or anybody else trying to get in to court. 

Though there are undoubtedly problems at some magistrates' courts (e.g. Westminster) we are also aware of particular current problems in the following crown courts: Leeds, Maidstone and Southwark. However, we and HMCTS need a full picture of where else there are major issues with court access so that action can be taken to improve matters. If you would like to highlight any other courts which present a particular problem - anywhere - please email HMCTSSECSAF@Justice.gov.uk copying in courtreform@BarCouncil.org.uk stating the name of the court and, if you know, briefly outlining what the source of the problem seems to be. 

We have advised HMCTS that immediate interim action should target the courts most in need of help, including those listed above. In the longer term, as you may have heard mention of in the robing room or read about on social media, HMCTS is considering introducing an ID card system (including photograph) for advocates. On the face it, this seems like a sensible solution. There are, of course, a number of hurdles which would have to be overcome before introducing any such initiative but we will work closely with HMCTS to see if this is a viable option. 

We will keep you up to date with plans and progress.

Phil Robertson is Director of Policy at The Bar Council