There’s a lot going on for criminal barristers at the moment – QASA, OCOF and more recently the titular head of the Bar, the Attorney-General, called those criminal barristers who oppose QASA ‘foolish’.
For a criminal barrister, it may feel like the Government is out to get us. And, in this case, it’s true. They are. If you are in government, you want to cut money if you can and lawyers are an easy target – no-one has any sympathy for us and everyone believes the lies perpetrated by the media about how much we earn. And if the independent bar and independent law firms go to the wall – what’s the problem? All it means is fewer pesky lawyers to challenge them when they want to do something.
So, what is our trade union, the Bar Council, been doing? The official line on OCOF (which unsurprisingly went down like a sack of the proverbial) is that:
“We expect to begin meetings with officials at the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) very shortly. I have set up a policy group to deal with this. It will include representation from the Criminal Bar Association and the Circuits. I want to be able to go to the MoJ proactively with workable proposals. Simply reacting can achieve nothing.”
The official twitter account of the Bar Council is here. Looking at it as of about 11.00am on 14th March, we see :
You can see that there has not been a great flurry of activity in relation to Dominic Grieve’s comments (or the other issues facing the criminal bar). Is this what you expect of your representative body? Not everyone is into twitter of course, but there appears to be a ‘radio silence’ from the Bar Council. Maybe they’re too busy trying to find a Chief Executive …
It may be that they are working ferociously behind the scenes – but, even if they are, then they really ought to tell us what they are up to. Failing to do so just invites criticism from the ‘rank and file’.
I don’t want to single anyone out, but what has our General-Secretary (aka Chair of the Bar Council) been up to in fighting the fight on our behalf? Well, for the last two days she has been sitting as a Deputy High Court Judge.
There is nothing wrong with this, but I would question whether it is appropriate for the Bar Council Chair to sit at all in the year that she holds the office. As I say, there is absolutely no suggestion that she has done anything wrong in so doing, but does it send the right message of independence from the government?
Given all that has been kicking off in the last few months, and the AGs comments yesterday (I’m writing this on the 14th March), this was the state of the Chair’s twitter account this morning:
No tweets in the last six weeks. I’m sure that someone funnier than me would be able to make a joke about herding sheep up a hill … (for the avoidance of doubt, it should be noted that she does make it clear on her profile that she is Chair – it’s not a purely private account). Again, it could be said that she is it too busy doing her job of representing us to tweet, but in this internet age someone at the Bar Council should be informing us what they are up to.
Prior to the Legal Services Act 2007, the Bar Council was in the position of being the Bar’s regulator as well as representative body. In those circumstances, it was probably appropriate to ensure that the Chair of the Bar Council was appointed in the way they were. Now, given that the Bar Council’s role is to represent barristers (the BSB is the regulatory body), I’m not sure that that holds true anymore.
Remember that the Chair of the Bar Council is on £172,753 a year give or take (their salary is tied to that of a High Court Judge), paid for by us. Maybe it’s time for us to elect the Chair directly so that not only do they represent us, but they are seen to represent us?
Again, this is no criticism of Maura McGowan (from what I’ve been told she’s working very hard on our behalf and is doing a good job), but the lack of communication from the Bar Council is unacceptable, especially given their purely representative role.
It should be said that the Criminal Bar Association is doing an absolutely sterling job in relation to organising a response to the MoJ and communicating with their members.