So a bunch of barristers get together in a London hotel. What does that mean to Joe Public? One assumes the immediate reaction would be from an ordinary person that we stuffed our faces with expensive food and laughed at how much money could be made from the misery of others. Nothing could be further from the truth. Admittedly the croissants for breakfast were good and we ended on a party but, in between, business was done. The Government was given a thorough pasting for ignoring the plight of the poor and vulnerable.
The chairman of the Bar Council, which represents barristers, Peter Lodder QC spoke to 600 delegates on the topic Shaping the future: A modern Bar for a modern market urging us to look for work across the world, partly because the work we do is so little known or understood here. As legal aid cuts bite, there are growing numbers of ‘public access’ trained barristers working directly with clients. Since 2004 members of he public have been able to instruct a barrister directly (as opposed to having to go to the Bar through a solicitor). Find out more here. We know that English barristers can provide a high quality service at a low unit cost but do you and did you know you could go to a barrister direct?
Barristers often work for little or no fee – or pro bono. I am part of team providing pro bono advice for the Olympics and Paralympics 2012 having tendered for the work offered by the organisers. Barristers come from all walks of life and cover all forms of litigation from family disputes to commercial litigation to criminal trials. Highlight of the day was the presentation of the pro bono award to Shereener Browne. She was measured, sensible, attractive and clever and has clawed her way up from a sink estate.
The Attorney General Dominic Grieve QC attended the conference and reminisced about how inefficient things were in his day and how much money could be earned back then. He seemed to base his opinion on inefficiency by reference to a few sentencing errors and made it plain that the Government has an antiquated view of what is an efficient profession. Many was the story from delegates of complex cases dealt with in short periods of time followed by months of delays by the Government agreeing what are in fact fixed fees.
Of course every profession has its dinosaurs and there was quite a spat in the women’s seminar as discussion centred on the dented glass ceiling and a male delegate decided to criticise one of the few female judges. It all made for a lively finish as the open forum chaired by Simon Fanshawe proved how dedicated the Bar is to real people providing a real service to people and businesses in real need. Forget watching overpaid footballers prance around the pitch, the greatest entertainment is in the intelligent debate on social justice and corporate responsibility amongst a lean profession that Hilda Rumpole would have been proud of.
Felicity Gerry QC
Felicity Gerry is a high profile criminal barrister and author specialising in serious fatal, sexual and violent offences. She is the co-author of The Sexual Offences Handbook and also a legal media commentator.