Increasing pressure on publicly funded fees and the increasing costs of regulation makes the news that the Inns have decided to reduce their subvention to the Bar Council by 50% over the next two years most unwelcome. At present, the Inns’ contribution amounts to some £1.4m. In each of the next two years we shall have to find another £350,000 (which equates to about 5% of the Practising Certificate Fee (PCF)), through the PCF or the Member Services Fee (MSF), just to stand still, or we shall have to make cuts to that extent. The subvention is applied solely towards the Bar Council’s regulatory obligations. Unless these reductions are made good, the representational and policy activities which the Bar Council undertakes will be further squeezed.
“About time, too!” I imagine some of you will be saying, and I understand the points which are being made. I recognise the importance of ensuring that the Bar Council’s activities are relevant to the profession. That is why, last year, I promised a full review and consultation into the PCF, on what the money is spent, and its incidence. Before the unwelcome news of the Inns’ subvention arrived, the Treasurer of the Bar Council, Stephen Collier, had agreed to chair a working group to undertake that review and consultation. The review is in safe hands. As many of you will know, Stephen is Group Chief Executive Officer of General Healthcare Group.
I have also established a working group to review the structure, composition and workings of both the elected and executive parts of the Bar Council, in order to ensure that the Bar Council, and what it does, is relevant to the needs and requirements of the profession, and that what it undertakes it does so cost effectively, efficiently and responsively.
I am determined that those two groups should report as soon as possible; it is essential that they do so. The results of these reviews are crucial to informing the budgetary process for this coming year and the decisions we must make as to the incidence of the PCF across the Bar and the decision as to whether the Bar Council needs and/or should employ a Chief Executive. If the answer to this last question is “yes”, then the review will identify the functions of that role and the cost involved.
As a Bencher of Lincoln’s Inn, I know of some of the excellent activities undertaken by the Inns for the benefit of the profession, particularly in education and training, and in the provision of scholarships. But I have also witnessed some dissatisfaction with the increasing commercialism which the Inns adopt in relation to the other services they provide: the very full commercial rents charged to Chambers, the charges levied for room hire for educational events of Specialist Bar Associations (SBAs).
Of course the Inns’ activities have to be financed. But their latest initiative in relation to their subvention may kindle or fuel a debate about a possible realignment between the Inns and the Bar.
The first month in office
When people said that I would have to hit the ground running in January when I took office, they were not joking. A useful meeting with the Lord Chief Justice in the first week of the new term; a round table meeting which Taryn Lee (Chair of the new Social Mobility Committee) and I convened, at the Bar Council, at which representatives of the Inns, the Circuits and the SBAs discussed their initiatives for the promotion of social mobility with a view to greater collaboration and the eradication of duplication of resource; meetings with some of the SBAs; meetings with the Chairs of Bar Council Committees to discuss their agendas for the forthcoming year; a meeting with the Chair and Vice Chair of the Institute of Barristers’ Clerks; the formation, and initial meetings, of working groups to look at increasing the efficiency and speed of civil litigation, to address the LSB Triennial Review and to look at the potential for commercial Contingent Legal Aid Funds (CLAFs); and of course, my first Bar Council meeting; all within the first two weeks. Minutes of Bar Council meetings are published on the Bar Council’s website.
The results of appointments to the CPS Advocacy Panel have now been announced. The Bar Council has worked closely with the CPS on the formation of the scheme and the fact that 94% of applicants have been awarded a place on a panel demonstrates the high quality of those applying.
We can be less sanguine about the new CPS Graduated Fee Scheme which is to be brought into effect in relation to new instructions after 1 March 2012, in particular in so far as they relate to document-heavy complex fraud cases. Further provision needs to be made for these exceptional cases.
With payment day for tax looming large, we have been pressing the Exchequer Secretary, David Gauke MP, to respond to our concern about the effects of late payment of fees by the LSC and we are urging the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to fast-track implementation of the EU directive on late payments by public authorities.
We shall continue to make the Bar’s case to the Government on several fronts.
Michael Todd QC, Bar Chairman