13 Nov, 2012

Michael Todd QC, Chairman of the Bar Council, which represents barristers in England and Wales, last week told delegates at the Bar’s 27th Annual Conference, The Modern Bar – Accessible, Adaptable and Relevant, that it must fight to shape its own future or be lost forever.


Over 500 barristers gathered at London’s Hilton Metropole Hotel for a mixture of plenary and specialist sessions, all of which tackle the Conference’s theme. The opening session included keynote addresses from the Chairman of the Bar Council and the Rt. Hon. Lady Justice Rafferty, DBE.


In a wide-ranging address, Michael Todd QC tackled the challenges facing the profession and its fundamental importance in safeguarding and promoting the Rule of Law and the values which underpin the profession.


Michael Todd QC (pictured), Chairman of the Bar, said: “It is the Bar which provides that essential access to justice which is required by the Rule of Law. Why, then, are we not at the forefront, mapping out the agenda in the changing legal landscape, shaping our future? We have 800 years of experience. We know what we are talking about. Why, then, do we not start the conversation?


“The Bar must now seek to wrest the initiative away from those who do not want to see the Bar survive, or who do not care whether it survives, as an independent referral profession. If we do not, so much will be lost, and lost forever.p>


“Our oversight regulator, the Legal Services Board, talks about key performance indicators, we talk about the interests of justice, the public interest, the interests of clients. The Government is looking to make savings, we are seeking to promote the Rule of Law, to provide effective access to justice.


“We cannot expect the public, Government or the media to understand and appreciate our value if we are unable to articulate, clearly and persuasively, what we do for society.


“In my view, now is not the time to change our values, or the quality of what we do, but to change from being reactive to what is going on around us, reacting to the ideas of those on the periphery of the provision of legal services, and to take charge of our future.”


Speaking of those to whom the Bar provides services, of the Bar’s vital role in ensuring access to justice, he will say:


“Vulnerable people to whom, primarily, the publicly-funded Bar provides representation on a daily basis, working in the public interest, not in their own personal interests, providing the access to justice required by society, and demanded by the Rule of Law.


“Where would they all be, if others, on the periphery of the provision of legal services, get their way?


“We must not and will not neglect or abandon those who depend on us the most.”


He also addressed the social value of the Bar, saying: “The Bar has long been a leader in Corporate Social Responsibility. We just haven’t talked about it.


“Only last year a further 600 barristers signed up with the Bar Pro Bono Unit, thereby evidencing their willingness to undertake work on a pro bono basis.  Now, nearly one-third of all QCs have registered their willingness to undertake pro bono work.


“The pressure on the provision of pro bono services becomes ever more acute with whole swathes of areas of work having been taken out of the scope of legal aid.


“There is much to play for, there is so much that could be lost. The stakes are high. We have a legal system which is the envy of the world; not just the envy of the common law world, of which, undoubtedly, we are the leaders, but of the civil law world also.


“However, if we take control of our future, in this modern, dramatically and quickly changing, legal landscape in which we provide our services, there is much to be gained.”

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