Chairman of the Bar outlines his concerns and priorities for the coming year
Four important areas, will dominate 2015, according to the Chairman of the Bar, Alistair MacDonald QC. These are edited extracts from his article in Counsel magazine.
The first is criminal legal aid. Tapering, fee cuts and attempts to structure the fee system so as to bring about guilty pleas are all having an adverse effect on the ability of lawyers to provide quality legal advice. The proposals followed deeply damaging fee cuts imposed in recent years and failed to recognise that members of the Bar routinely performed work at weekends.
Negotiations with Government officials are proceeding in an atmosphere of cordiality and calm engagement. We are proceeding on the basis of individual contracts tailored to the needs of the case. We have a system now in which the chosen barrister is actively involved in the decision about the rate to be paid for the case.
In addition, we are also pressing ahead with seeking mechanisms in which Bar fees can fairly be kept up to date. Disputes are time-consuming, upsetting and damaging.
The second is the crippling effect upon justice of the implementation of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012, otherwise known as LASPO. The Bar Council through its staff, members of committees and barrister volunteers worked tirelessly to point out the injustices that the implementation of the provisions were bound to cause.
The result was entirely as predicted. The high-profile cases dealt with by the President of the Family Division are but the tip of a large iceberg and the courts are clogged with litigants in person. The numbers of those going to mediation have plummeted and, in a huge number of cases, there is no representation and the process to provide for exceptional funding has utterly failed.
I believe that litigants who are currently paying McKenzie friends would prefer to employ the services of a fully insured and regulated, direct access trained, junior barrister who has carried out pupillage and has the benefit of operating from chambers, if they did but know that they had that option. The costs of doing so would be the same as, or only slightly greater.
Third, business structures. Undoubtedly, there will not be a one-size-fits-all solution to the way in which the Bar is structured in the future. However, it is an absolute necessity that the Bar is provided with the best possible information and analysis about various possible models. To that end, a team of Bar Council staff is looking into this question urgently. They will produce proposals that will be discussed at Bar Council and more widely. The idea is not to be prescriptive but to give the profession as much information as possible so that they can decide whether any particular model will work for them.
Finally, I want to do everything I can to ensure that England and Wales remains the jurisdiction of choice for those who desire to have international and transnational disputes resolved. In addition, it seems to me to be vital that we have a substantial share of burgeoning markets abroad. There is also the Global Legal Summit in February in London in which we are an important part of the partnership.
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