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Fri, 14 August 2020

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Delaying justice will leave us with no barristers to pick up the pieces

Delaying justice will leave us with no barristers to pick up the pieces

“A threat to the barristers’ profession survival is a threat to the future of our justice system,” said Amanda Pinto QC, Chair of the Bar | Credit: PA Images

Bar Council

3 min read Member content

Law and order must not go off into the long grass, the Bar Council has warned after releasing new findings from the barristers’ profession.

The new research has highlighted the shocking effects that the current crisis is having on the justice system and the law profession.

Barristers are providing an essential public service in delivering justice throughout the pandemic, but only 7% think access to justice is currently acceptable. 77% of self-employed barristers say people are now unable to properly access justice.

The Treasury must urgently now provide a rescue package for chambers and a rescue package for those at the publicly funded Bar who provide a vital public service but are ineligible for the self-employed scheme.

“Barristers and others involved in the justice system are rightly classed as key workers by the government, because they are essential to ensuring that justice continues to be delivered for the public, despite the pandemic,” says Amanda Pinto QC, Chair of the Bar Council.

“A threat to the barristers’ profession survival is a threat to the future of our justice system,” she continued.

The Bar Council’s survey also reveals that Covid-19 is having a devastating effect on the profession’s sustainability and diversity, due to a major drop off in hearings and other work.

This comes despite efforts by the legal professions, judiciary and HMCTS to deliver justice via remote hearings, and where necessary, conduct essential court hearings in-person.

“These findings paint a completely different picture from just weeks before Covid-19, when law and order was high on this government’s agenda. Though circumstances have changed, the fundamental role of justice in our society has not,” said the Chair of the Bar Council.

65% of self-employed barristers who responded had seen a reduction in work: the typical barrister has gone from working over 50 hours a week to working fewer than 18 hours a week.

Amanda Pinto QC said: “We can’t bury our heads in the sand and ignore the ramifications this virus has for the future of justice which affects the public in a direct way, day in, day out. Legal issues cannot be put off indefinitely.”

The Bar Council is calling on the Treasury to increase the threshold above the £50,000 trading profit for self-employed barristers to ensure that more of the junior bar is eligible for relief, thereby going some way to ensuring the sustainability of the profession.

According to the survey, 53% of self-employed barristers cannot survive six months and 74% cannot survive a year. 31% of criminal barristers will not be able to continue to practice within three months; 69% will not last six months and 88% will no longer be practicing within a year. 83% of young barristers (those in the first seven years of practice) cannot survive a year.

The research also found the financial impact of Covid-19 was greater on barristers from BAME or state school backgrounds.

The Bar Council is calling on the Treasury to expand the types of acceptable evidence required to be eligible for self-employed relief, to include those under the threshold but without 2018/2019 tax return and extend business rates exemption relief to barristers’ chambers.

Amanda Pinto QC, Chair of the Bar Council, said:

“If we fall into the trap of routinely delaying hearings, adding to the ever-growing backlog of cases and taking work away from those whose livelihoods depend on it, we might very well find there are no barristers left to help pick up the pieces of the justice system after the crisis subsides,”

“Then access to justice in England and Wales will be in real trouble. Our findings highlight the fear that this is already happening,” she concluded..

 

Read the Bar Council’s survey report here.

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