The Bar Council in the press: January-February 2019

19 February 2019

The Bar Council regularly appears in the press as a prominent voice, commenting on issues affecting the profession, the rule of law and access to justice. 

Here is a summary of some of that media coverage during January and February 2019. 

LASPO review 

The Daily Telegraph (print), BBC News, Sky News, The Times (print & online), The Guardian (print & online), Financial Times (print & online), Daily Mirror, City AM (print & online), Press Association, The Independent, Law Society Gazette, , Buzzfeed, Yahoo News, Politics Home, New Law Journal, The Dundee Messenger, Legal Futures, The Barrister - Mainstream & legal print and online media report the Chair of the Bar's comments on the MoJ's LASPO review. 

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) on Thursday announced an £8m funding increase and pledged to review the threshold for legal aid access. 

Richard Atkins QC, Chair of the Bar Council leads the criticism in the media, slamming the reforms, saying the money promised was "but a drop in the ocean given the impact Laspo has had on restricting individuals' access to justice. 

He added: "We fully understand that the MOJ is constrained by budgetary limits, but this review provides clear evidence that the Treasury must find a way to properly fund the justice system and reverse a decade of cuts." 

Court IT failures 

The Independent, The Guardian The Times, The Yorkshire Post , Global Government Forum, IBB Law, Hinckley Times (print) - Mainstream media report that thousands of cases have been disrupted or delayed across England and Wales after the courts service's main computer network repeatedly crashed, preventing lawyers and judges from working. 

The communication failures, which started last week, are a significant embarrassment for the Ministry of Justice, which is investing £1.2bn in a high-profile programme promoting online hearings which aims to replace the legal profession's traditional reliance on mountains of paperwork. 

Richard Atkins QC, the chair of the Bar Council, which represents barristers in England and Wales, said: "I have no doubt that the Ministry of Justice and HMCTS are doing all that they can to rectify this major problem, but it illustrates how vulnerable the delivery of justice is with reliance on weak IT systems in our courts. 

Richard Atkins QC also said in a statement provided to The Independent: "Whilst HMCTS is moving forward with its programme of online justice, these problems would suggest that more investment in the basics is needed first. We cannot have a justice system that comes to a shuddering halt the moment the IT does not work properly." 

A longer statement on the MoJ's website  apologised to those who had been affected. The department said access had been restored to "a large number of Ministry of Justice sites" and that the main suppliers of the affected technology, including Atos and Microsoft, were "working hard to restore access for the remaining sites and users". 

Chambers membership

The Times (The Brief), Lawyer Monthly, Global Legal Post, Law Society Gazette, Politics Home, The Barrister, New Law Journal - Further coverage appears ofthe Bar Council's new chambers membership package

Feedback from chambers staff, including clerks and managers, solicited from the council revealed broader demand for access training courses and events previously open only to barristers. The Bar Council said it hopes the new annual chambers membership will encourage greater take-up of the specialist courses it puts together, for example on data protection law. The membership package also includes training on anti-money laundering, equality and diversity, practice management and direct access work.   

Bar Council chief executive Malcolm Cree said the move is part of the Bar Council's drive to work more closely with chambers to 'strengthen and better support and promote the profession'. The membership package was developed in collaboration with members of the Legal Professionals Management Association (LPMA).  

Social mobility & social media

Legal Cheek - the Bar Council's #IAmTheBar campaign is mentioned in Legal Cheek's announcement of the top ten best uses of social media this year,  with the winner to be announced at the Legal Cheek Awards on 21 March

Legal Cheek reports: Last July the Bar Council struck #gold with a social mobility campaign led by the hashtag: #iamthebar. The week-long Twitter campaign, aimed to stamp out stereotypes of barristers fitting into a single mould, celebrating the diversity that exists within the profession - as put by their slogan: "A Bar of all, for all." 

Using the hashtag, barristers were quick to share their own unconventional journeys to the bar. Many of these tweets went viral - hopefully encouraging the next generation of barristers. 

Human rights 

South China Morning Post (print & online) - Chinese media reports that professional bodies of lawyers from six different jurisdictions have expressed grave concern over the jailing of Chinese human rights lawyer Wang Quanzhang, who has been sentenced to 4½ years in prison for subversion. The English Bar Council expressed deep concern that the court ruled against Wang despite repeated calls in his defence from the international community. 

"We once again urge Chinese authorities to reaffirm and ensure full respect of the fundamental rights of all human rights defenders in China," said Christian Wisskirchen, head of international policy at its general council. 

He said such rights were guaranteed under the Chinese constitution, Chinese criminal procedural law, international conventions, and the UN's basic principles on the role of lawyers. 

Consultations 

New Law Journal  - The Bar Council has called for a 'more liberal regime' for pregnancy or maternity leave discrimination claims. 

Responding to the Law Commission's Employment Law Hearing Structures consultation, the Bar Council said maternity and pregnancy-related claims differed from other areas of employment law because 'an individual may be facing particular difficulties at this point in their life and the commencing of litigation may seem like one battle too many when they are juggling so many issues. 

'With a longer time limit, the individual would be able to focus on the merits of their claim rather than have to balance the decision to make a claim against their wellbeing.'

Equality and Diversity

The Guardian - In follow-up coverage of Joanna Hardy's nine-point plan for stamping out harassment and discrimination at the Bar, Baroness Kennedy told the Guardian: 

"There are plenty of guys who are supportive. You need men to call other men out. It has to be taken seriously by the Bar Council that there will be disciplinary procedures [for] people who misbehave and cross the line. It shouldn't be left inside chambers. The temptation is to keep it private and tell Charlie 'to behave and keep his pecker in his trousers'." 

Chair of the Bar, Richard Atkins QC said: "We are determined to stamp out behaviour that has no place in a modern profession, and to ensure a culture of inclusivity and respect." 

Driverless cars

The Times (online) - The Times reports on the Bar Council's response to the Law Commission's consultation on driverless cars. 

The Times reports that the Bar Council says people in charge of driverless cars that injure other road users should be guilty of a criminal offence. Failure to make it a criminal offence could result in a gap in the law, said the Bar Council. 

The Bar Council told the Law Commission that driverless car developers could be made criminally liable in circumstances where the driving system "is not fully safe". It also suggested that the commission consider the desirability of making driverless car users take additional training on "advanced driver assistance systems".