However, 2016 is proving in many ways to be a year that we will remember. This July we are left absorbing the follow-on from the vote in favour of Brexit, a new Prime Minister Theresa May, and a new Cabinet including a new Lord Chancellor, the Rt Hon Elizabeth Truss MP.
What will Brexit mean for each of us? Our answer may well depend upon how we voted, our practice areas, and our personal circumstances. Looking further ahead, the Bar cannot afford to be a mere passenger on this journey, which is why the Bar Council is preparing for what the future might look like outside the European Union. The Bar Council did not take a public position on how people should vote in the run-up to the referendum. We engaged with the issues through the publication of informative and detailed papers on the possible consequences of remaining or leaving, and we hosted a debate together with Lincoln’s Inn EU Group.
What is clear is the Bar’s continued commitment to working together with our partners in Europe and beyond, even if the UK, in future, is no longer within the EU. These connections are more important than ever. We will maintain strong links for the profession in overseas markets and will send a clear signal to our colleagues overseas that despite the referendum result, the Bar of England and Wales remains open for business and a partner for other Bars around the world. This matters both for business and from a rule of law perspective.
Our role now is to lobby on behalf of the Bar to ensure our interests are protected going forward and to keep the Bar informed of developments. I have asked Hugh Mercer QC to chair the Bar Council’s Brexit Working Group, whose role will be to consider the ramifications of Brexit for the profession as a whole, for certain practice areas, for chambers and entities and for the justice system more broadly. It will look at issues as wide ranging as the practice rights of barristers who have an EU practice, the future of the UK as an international dispute resolution centre, and tax and immigration ramifications. The working group will aim to co-ordinate with other groups and ensure that there is a single portal of information for the Bar on the Bar Council’s website which will include links to other working groups that are relevant to practitioners.
The group’s first step was to host an open forum for barristers to raise issues which they would like the working group to consider. A matter of some urgency will be securing free movement of lawyers within Europe and other jurisdictions where barristers currently benefit from European trade agreements. I would like to be clear that the Bar Council’s working group will not be seeking to influence the government’s decision to leave or remain in the EU, on which the Bar Council maintained, and continues to maintain, a politically neutral position. Instead, the Bar Council will seek to inform the public debate on the issues where they affect the profession, and our justice system. We will also seek, where possible, to provide practical advice to barristers. If you are interested in knowing more about the working group we are setting up, please email: Brexitwg@barcouncil.org.uk.
More broadly, we will need to ensure that the new government, and the new Lord Chancellor, is committed to our justice system and the funding of it, including publicly funded work. We will continue to ensure that the Bar’s voice is heard. I wish you all a good summer and a decent break from the pressures of work.
Contributor Chantal-Aimée Doerries QC, Chairman of the Bar
Working on your behalf
A glimpse of just some of the Bar Council’s work in June 2016:
- Brexit: before the referendum, the Bar Council published a three-part report on the potential effects of a Brexit vote and hosted a debate on the issue.
- The Bar Council submitted 11 responses to consultations on issues affecting the Bar and justice, including McKenzie Friends, Lammy Review of BAME Representation in the Criminal Justice System (joint response with the Criminal Bar Association), the Ministry of Justice’s consultation on increasing First-tier Tribunal Immigration and Asylum Chamber Fees, to name a few.
- The Chairman of the Bar, Chantal-Aimée Doerries QC, reiterated the Bar’s commitment to its international colleagues following the Brexit vote. She met with Bar leaders from Ireland, Malaysia and Australia and wrote to the Bar Council’s European counterparts.
- The Young Barristers’ Committee hosted its workshop, ‘The Specialist Advocate’, with guest speakers Lady Justice Black and Sir John Goldring.
- The Chairman of the Bar and a number of Bar Council staff and barristers took part in the Pride Parade in London.
- Chairman of the Young Barristers’ Committee, Louisa Nye, attended the AGM of European Young Bar Association (EYBA) in Dusseldorf.
- The Chairman of the Bar gave evidence to the Justice Select Committee on legal regulation.
- The Bar Council announced the date of this year’s Pupillage Fair (22 October) and opened registration.
- English-Cypriot Law Day was hosted by the Bar Council in Cyprus, with some 130 Cypriot lawyers taking part.
- Campaigning by the Bar Council to protect legal professional privilege in the Investigatory Powers Bill continued in Parliament, Whitehall and the media.