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Monday Message 23.05.16

Chairman’s Update: 
Mark Fenhalls QC


A couple of weeks ago Matthew Syed, wrote in The Times:

Just last week, I read that undergraduates studying law at the University of Oxford are being told before lectures on cases involving violence or death that they can leave if they fear the content will be too “distressing.”

If this is accurate, it reflects poorly on Oxford’s law faculty. 

The criminal law exists to resolve questions about the uglier and most unattractive aspects of human behaviour. As lawyers we can’t flinch from the repulsive subject matter, any more than a surgeon repairing a mutilated body.  

Even someone with my less than stellar academic background finds it hard to fathom how students can learn a subject by being excused lectures.  Maybe Oxford is only really interested in commercial law nowadays?   Maybe the students need trigger warnings about horror-stories of corporate greed and tax-dodging in the Chancery Division, too.

We all know that a huge proportion of the Crown Court’s business relates to serious sexual offences.  Many of us (Judges included) spend large proportions of our working lives dealing with cases where people have suffered grievous assaults of the most intimate nature. 

The pressures we have faced in the last few years in dealing with the most serious and difficult cases continue to increase.  Everyone does their best to improve the treatment of vulnerable witnesses and defendants.  The justice system has made great strides in dealing humanely with such cases in the last decade or more. 

Meanwhile working conditions have deteriorated, travel costs spiral, and fees have been cut.  Ancillary applications proliferate and the Courts and the Procedure Rules demand far more in the way of time-consuming skeletons and applications in writing for which there is no payment.

Historically our profession has not done enough to look after the welfare of its members.  The Bar Council has recognised this and since 2014 has done a great deal of research into the “wellbeing” of barristers and the problems associated with, and causing, substance misuse, debt, stress levels and mental ill-health.  The “wellbeing website” is planned for the autumn and the help it will provide cannot come soon enough.

So in the meantime, look around you in chambers.  How are your friends and colleagues doing?  Is s/he drinking (even) more than usual?  Is someone who is usually fairly relaxed, looking overwhelmed in a way that cannot be explained by the case in which s/he is immersed?  What kind of support networks exist?  Are they good enough? We soak up other people’s misery in our work. It can take a heavy toll. We need to be open with our friends if we are in trouble, and first we need to be open with ourselves. Being afraid of showing weakness is a weakness in itself.
A collaboration between Justice Gap and Justice Alliance 
These organisations are crowdfunding to put together a one-off publication on legal aid. Their ambition is to put together the definitive account of the critical importance of publicly-funded legal advice in our society. It will take the form of a new issue of ‘Proof’ magazine. It will be 84 pages and c50,000 words.

The publication will be aimed at the public – to explain what real access to justice means and why it is threatened.  It will feature original and powerful writing about access to justice issues from a range of contributors – from top commentators and journalists, to leading human rights lawyers academics, and campaigners.

Proof magazine is edited by Jon Robins, a journalist who has been writing about justice issues for the national and specialist press for 20 years and runs the Justice Gap, and Brian Thornton, a former BBC Newsnight producer and senior journalism lecturer at Winchester University.  Andrew Stock, art director for the Guardian is designer and they work with a documentary photographer Andy Aitchison. You can find out more about Proof HERE

If you would like to contribute you can do so HERE.  In return you will receive a copy of the magazine and an invitation to the launch.

On this subject, you may also find it interesting to see what the Bar Council published by way of recommendations for the Queen’s Speech.

Criminal Procedure Rule Committee – vacancy
Patrick Gibbs QC and Michael Caplan QC are due to retire from membership of the Criminal Procedure Rule Committee at the end of August, after two full terms of service for which both our professions should be immensely grateful.

The appointments which they will vacate are made by the Lord Chancellor.  On Friday the Ministry of Justice Public Appointments team published a notice of the vacancies at:

If anyone is interested in the barrister’s position, please feel free to speak to me or indeed to Paddy about what is involved.

New Sentencing Code
The Law Commission published its most recent report on Friday 20th May.   It plans to publish a third and final consultation paper, including a draft of the New Sentencing Code, in early 2017 and to produce the final report and draft Bill for this project in 2018.  You can read a little more about this monumental project HERE.
Phishing alert
On Friday afternoon several members of the Bar received emails relating to the BRF or membership fees, purporting to be from [email protected] and signed off by Chairman of the Bar, Chantal-Aimée Doerries QC.

These emails did NOT originate from the Bar Council. There are no indications that they are harmful, but if you have received such an email, please delete it.


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