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Monday Message 21.12.15

Chairman’s Update: 
Mark Fenhalls QC


It briefly crossed my mind that I should attempt some kind of humorous seasonal message – perhaps attempting a re-write of the 12 days of Christmas for the CJS … “12 floaters floating, 11 witnesses waiting etc”.   Then I remembered a traditional family saying first coined by my sister “that’s like a joke Mark, but not funny” and so I leave that to others.

I hope you will forgive a short letter this week with a number of references.  As we all crash towards the end of the year frantically trying to manage the remaining workload, it is all that time allows. 

Many of you will know that there is a short consultation that closes this week.  You can find the consultation HERE.  Here is the CBA’s response.  Please take time to read it.    

Research and Data Working Group
The MoJ published a research paper last week following a great deal of detailed data analysis conducted in conjunction with the Bar Council. 

It has been independently reviewed and is a fascinating if complex read.  All those involved in the number crunching and analysis deserve great praise for their work.  There was a great deal of over-simplified and frankly misleading comment and reporting at the end of last week and there is no substitute for taking the time to read and re-read the paper.  I cannot possibly do it justice here.  But amongst its findings the data shows substantial declines in fee incomes for the “most engaged” self-employed advocates over the last three years. 

This is not wholly surprising given the fall in AGFS spend.  But the innovation (it seems to me) is that this work strips out the uncertainty created by loose talk about crime rates changing, volumes of work flowing through the courts, changing practices and so on. 

What I think it does is show objectively what your representatives have been arguing (and no doubt chambers HoCs and Treasurers assessing fee income have also believed) for some years now.  Self-employed barristers doing the same basket of cases year on year have demonstrably suffered a major drop in income.  

The other conclusion that jumps out for me is the “flat-lining” effect of the AGFS and the way in which experience and career progression is not reflected in receipts.  Anyone who tries to over-simplify the results or influence headlines is almost certainly making a mistake.  Read it yourself and see what you think.  There are some really interesting and profoundly challenging conclusions that will influence our debate on E & D issues and the sustainability of the self-employed publicly funded Bar. 

Those individuals in chambers who do the strategic thinking about size, direction, recruitment and retention of young barristers and even the age profile of chambers may find it particularly valuable.

Wish-list for 2016
I can leave off anything to do with BCM and DCS because you are all registered, up to speed, cjsm compliant etc etc.  Chambers has no doubt begun planning for how to implement the “vulnerable witnesses” training programme, so no need to include this.  I have said more than enough recently about panels, AGFS replacement, system reforms, a quality based alternative to “two tier” and so on and such thoughts have no place in such a list.  And because it is a time for thinking about others, I will leave discussion about improved rates of remuneration for advocates until the New Year. 

I am even quietly confident that those responsible understand that warned lists are incompatible with the interests of the members of the public (witnesses, complainants and defendants) most involved in the CJS and that there is a real desire to work towards ending their use.  So I need not include that wish here.

Which leaves this… (in addition obviously to the end of war, disease etc) …  I hope that the BSB puts its energies next year into reforming the BPTC as a matter of urgency and priority.  In so doing it could cut the average debt levels of students approaching the Bar by huge amounts.  The current course costs an utterly unjustifiable £18k.  Add £15k or so more for an extra year of living in London and the amount is obscene for what the students get.  You can read more of the CBA’s views about alternatives HERE.  But imagine a world where our regulator helped reduced average debt levels by tens of thousands of pounds and approved a training scheme that was actually fit for purpose.  What a sensational use of resources and an achievement that would be.  What a fantastic statement of confidence for the future.  The profession would be more open to talent irrespective of economic background.  Such reforms would make a major contribution to social mobility (rather than making it worse as the current system does).

Have a richly deserved holiday break.  Enjoy present shopping on Thursday.  My thanks to all officers, executive members and others who have contributed so much to the work of the CBA this year. 

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