Welcome to the South Eastern Circuit
Leader’s Annual Report – November 2015
2015 has been a year of consolidation for the criminal Bar, and one of hopeful expansion for the South Eastern Circuit. We can and should look forward to 2016 with measured optimism.
Issues surrounding publicly-funded practice continue to occupy the centre ground at Circuit Committee meetings. The criminal Bar remained threatened by the Coalition Government until May 2015. After the unprecedented direct action taken by the Bar, there was a rapprochement between Bar leadership and the Ministry of Justice, leading to our representatives being provided with access to statistical details of actual expenditure on criminal legal aid. This work occupied Bar delegations during the Spring and Summer this year, whilst the Conservative Government took over in May.
A further cut of £10million from AGFS funding loomed, but was not invoked by the new administration. All Bar leaders have made clear that any further cut to legal aid (AGFS) would inevitably result in a return to direct action and disengagement by the publicly-funded Bar.
Work over the summer resulted in the current MoJ consultation, to which responses are due at the end of November 2015. It is imperative that all members and sets respond.
The Bar Council and the SEC intend to release responses as soon as possible so that individuals may read and respond themselves. In short, measures to outlaw referral fees and associated misconduct are imperative, and instituting a panel for defence advocacy will be a substantial safeguard against in-house advocates taking over Crown Court trials where the independent Bar continues to supply the highest quality advocacy.
Allied to the consultation, Bar leaders have recommended a complete revision of the AGFS, bringing greater reward for effort expended on defence cases, doing away with the page-count proxy system.
These developments are all to the good, and I commend them to this Circuit.
Now to areas of practice beyond crime and the criminal courts. I am very pleased to mark the creation of the South Eastern Circuit Access to Justice Working Group, chaired by Circuit Committee member Alison Padfield. The Group comprises 20 barrister members from all areas of civil and common law practice. I hope this will lead to greater inclusivity and diversity on the Circuit Committee, as well as significantly enhancing SEC output on important consultations in future.
Away from our representative and consultative work, the SEC has enjoyed a busy Education and Training Programme this year. Director of Education Iain Morley QC devised an exciting programme of lectures, spearheaded by this year’s Ebsworth lecture given by US Ambassador Stephen Rapp. The SEC Keble Advocacy Course remains the jewel in our crown, with the hugely successful 23rd course running from 31st August to 5th September this year. Congratulations and thanks to our new Course Director HHJ Julian Goose QC and all of his team. Next year’s course is in preparation.
Thanks to new Editor Karim Khalil QC and his team, the Circuiteer remains in good hands with a vibrant edition in July; soon after a successful Annual Dinner held this year in Gray’s Inn with a principal speech by our special guest from Zimbabwe, Tino Bere.
Finally, there remain areas of uncertainty in particular for criminal Circuiteers. Solicitors ‘Two Tier’ contracts are coming and their impact is as yet not fully revealed. Regulatory changes, including the possible imposition of QASA, remain on the agenda. Remuneration, cut to the bone by previous Governments, continues to be a real worry. However, and notwithstanding these problems,
Circuiteers should remain upbeat about the possibilities and challenges afforded by life at the Bar. For Circuiteers, confidence in our ability and in creating a future for ourselves and for the next generation for this Circuit is the key. Times have been tough, but the glass is half full…
Max Hill QC
Leader of the South Eastern Circuit