Regional chambers hit hardest by pandemic, says Bar Council

The Law Gazette

2 July 2020

Regional chambers have been worse affected by lockdown than London ones, a Bar Council study has revealed, warning that barristers face an 'existential threat'.

Regional chambers have been worse affected by lockdown than London ones, a Bar Council study has revealed, warning that barristers face an 'existential threat'.

According to a survey of 157 heads of chambers, 31% of all sets believe they will go under by the end of the year, compared with just 16% of London ones. The Bar Council said this would have ‘serious implications for access to justice’, particularly in areas with fewer barristers.

The publicly funded bar has also been hit hard. The representative body predicted that 86% of chambers that receive the majority of their income from criminal work will disappear within a year, and said a quarter of publicly funded criminal sets have seen their income fall by 80%.

Barristers have criticised the number of cases that have been delayed during lockdown, claiming many adjournments were unnecessary as trials and hearings could have gone ahead entirely or partly remotely.

Responding to a parliamentary question, justice minister Lord Keen of Elie said comprehensive adjournment figures are not held for family courts, civil courts, magistrates’ courts, Crown courts or most tribunals. However, the Bar Council said it had received feedback from practitioners indicating ‘mass or unnecessary adjournments day-to-day’.

The representative body conducted its first survey of heads of chambers at the end of March. Five recommendations were subsequently made to the government, including increasing the £50,000 profit cap in the support package for self-employed workers, and the expansion of the types of evidence required to be eligible for self-employed relief, to include very junior barristers who don’t have 2018/2019 tax returns.

So far, none of the recommendations have been adopted.


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