The Criminal Bar Association exists to represent the views and interests of approximately 2,400 specialist criminal barristers in England & Wales. This section contains information about our committees, our history and also links to other sections of the site, such as bursaries, news, events etc.
Born of frustration and anger, the Criminal Bar Association (C.B.A.) of 1997 is unrecognisable from the body of about 100 which met in 1969 to form it. The seedsmen were Barry Hudson and Dick Lowry; the cultivators were our first two great leaders, Jeremy Hutchinson and Basil Wigoder, who were chairman and vice-chairman from 1969 to 1975. Even they could not have anticipated how events would provide the Association with its first great opportunity to make its mark on the public: but the llth Report of the Criminal Law Revision Committee provided that chance. The “Yellow Book” – the C.B.A.’s response – was remarkable for a number of reasons: its decisive impact on the debate, obviously; more than that, it demonstrated that the criminal Bar could pull together and that, when it does, what it has to say is of great weight and worth. It demonstrated, also, that the Bar is most influential when it eschews shouting and slogans and concentrates on substance.
The 1970s saw extraordinary – and potentially very damaging – events with regard to the criminal Bar: two stand out in my mind – the reduction in publicly-funded fee rates and the growing concern about the length of criminal trials. The C.B.A.’s impact on the resolution of the first of these is not always recognised; the way in which the Association dealt with the second points to another lesson the establishment is wont to ignore – that this is a radical Association with positive and practical suggestions to make. The C.B.A. was the driving force in the discussions which led to the Central Criminal Court Practice Directions Rules. If that lesson was not leant, the publication in 1980 of the three Discussion Papers on Shortening Criminal Trials should have made it clear. If it did not, the fault lay with those who were determined to perpetuate the myth that criminal practitioners are second grade barristers.
If the 1970s had been a decade of constant pressure, the 1980s were even worse: the Philips Royal Commission, leading to PACE and the establishment of the Crown Prosecution Service; Roskill; fees; codification; Mackay. Bearing in mind the present government’s attitude to the C.P.S., it is somewhat ironic that Neil Denison and I spent several hours trying to persuade an interdepartmental meeting that a single C.P.S. was a fundamental mistake and that what was needed was a regionalised service. Roskill revived the argument about juries: fees led to negotiations, the judicial review of the then Lord Chancellor for not negotiating and more negotiations. And Mackay … well, that story is still without its ending.
Others are better equipped than I to tell the story of the last 11 years since I retired as chairman in 1986 but nothing has happened since then to diminish the importance of the Association: indeed, the contrary is true – and this is even more important now that the government is talking about a public defender system.
We are now the largest specialist Bar association, extending across the country as a whole; the credit for all that we have done since 1969 really belongs to the members; the principal officers have been privileged and honoured to be the flag bearers. This one is enormously grateful for the opportunity to carry the flag for a while.
Michael Hill, Q.C.