Report #8 – John Cooper QC on the problems facing the Bar in 2012 and beyond

Posted: November 18, 2012 in Charon Tour, Reports

UK Tour Report #8 – John Cooper QC on the problems facing the Bar in 2012 and beyond

The Bar, as with the other branches of the legal profession, is having to adapt to the fast changing legal landscape. As part of this preliminary series of podcasts, in which I try to set the scene for the tour as a whole, I talk with John Cooper QC, a well known crime and human rights advocate, about the challenges facing the Bar.

We discuss a number of key issues:

(a) The problems being caused by the cuts to legal aid funding.

(b) The undermining of the rule of law when defendants cannot afford legal representation.

(c) The practical difficulties faced by barristers in practice at the crime, family and common law bar.

(d) The debate between the Solicitors Regulation Authority and The Bar Standards Board on which regulator should regulate trial advocates.

(e) The role of the CPS and prosecutors – who will be fully funded by taxpayers.

(f) The complex and controversial issue of ‘referral fees’.

(g) The role of the Bar Council and whether it is doing enough to represent barristers as a whole.

Listen to the podcast

iTunes version of the podcast

Note: Because John is in the middle of a trial outside London we had to record the podcast over Skype. The sound quality, accordingly, is not as good as for the face to face recordings. A couple of times, because of time lag or lack of Skype clarity, John had to ask me to repeat the question. The hesitation in response on occasion was due to the time lag and not to any hesitancy on John’s part.


John Cooper QC: 25 Bedford Row, London
Leading in serious crime including murder, serious violence, drug trafficking, terrorism, fraud, human rights and media. Regulatory work including fraud and sports regulation. Inquest work including Judicial Review. John Cooper QC has been named by The Times as one of the Top 100 Influential Lawyers of 2012 in the UK. He is also visiting Professor of Law at Cardiff University and a Master of the Bench at Middle Temple.

John Cooper was lead counsel in the successful Twitter Joke Trial appeal

Chambers : 25 Bedford Row
Blog: Shadow of the Noose
Twitter: @John_Cooper_QC


Podcasts in the series coming up in the next two weeks:

1. Jeremy Hopkins, Director of Operations at Riverview Law on his view of the changing landscape from what he sees and hears on the ground.

2. Professor Fiona de Londras, BCL, LL.M, PhD (NUI) – Guantanamo and international human rights.

3. Sheila Bramley, Director College of Law Guildford on the changes in legal education.

4. Sean Jones QC, 11 KBW, on current key issues in  employment law.

5. Nicky Richmond, managing partner at Brecher, on the role of a managing partner in a modern law firm
and her perception of the future legal landscape.

6. Tom Harris MP on the role of the law makers in Parliament
and how laws are made and implemented.

I will publish the podcasts due to be recorded in December shortly.

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  2. ObiterJ says:

    Great discussion and highly informative.

    Legal aid – The Bar, Law Society etc. have failed to explain legal aid cuts (both criminal and civil) to people. The general public have little to no idea of the impact on access to justice which will come about as LASPO 2012 is implemented.

    Slow payments of fees by a State-body such as the Legal Services Board is a disgrace. A much tougher stance needs to be taken by the profession to get fees properly earned paid promptly. Easy to say of course and the real question is just what can be done in practice to speed up matters.

    The problems inherent in self-representation in criminal cases are well explained in this podcast. The fact that a defence advocate makes sure that a conviction is sound is important. To do this needs the knowledge and ability to properly test the prosecution case. Very few self-represented defendants are able to do this effectively – particularly when up against a well funded prosecution team. It is also true that many people see a trial as a form of investigation and it is not. Rather, it is a testing of the prosecution case.

    Managing the expectations of complainants is also vital and Police and lawyers have a key role to play here. Unfortunately, far too often complainants are made to feel that the outcome to a case will be fully favourable to them and, if it is not, there is huge disappointment and a tendency to blame the system which is seen as failing to deliver. Professionals should not seek to blame the system excepting where the system itself is clearly at fault.

    The Magistrates Courts received mention and I would hope that further podcasts dig into the workings of those courts. It is here where the greater number of unrepresented defendants appear. Can this be right where the tribunal is essentially a lay tribunal – (District Judges apart). Are DJs sitting alone on criminal cases a “good thing.” A lot of scope here for some probing analysis.

    There is enormous pressure on defendants to plead guilty. The one-third discount for prompt guilty plea is one such pressure, although it is not discussed in this podcast. That discount is usually lost if a trial is run even if the defendant had a good defence albeit one rejected by the court.

    The point made by Cooper that prosecution is getting better organised whereas defence is not is a good one. Teams of specialist prosecutors are being set up etc. and using public money to do it. There is a clear imbalance here in the force of arms.

    It is also true that prosecutors are sometimes moving away from being disinterested presenters of the case and are becoming some kind of zealous champions seeking to convict. Some of the press conferences – especially at the end of some Crown Court trials – bear this out. However, i think that generally prosecution is carried out properly but there is trend here which might usefully be nipped in the bud.

    Referral fees – it is a pity that the various regulators are in disagreement here. They are insidious and ought to be stopped. As I listened to the podcast, i wondered whether a better term might be “inducements” to get work. On that view, offering anything to suppliers of work would be an inducement. IF referral fees in any form are to continue (and I hope not) then there ought to be an obligation to make this clear to clients.

    Diversity- a big topic here. However, I have also come across teachers in State schools who tell pupils that getting into the bar is immensely difficult – more a case of who you know than what you know etc. Of course there are big difficulties – the costs of University and professional training alone limit things to the wealthy. Then there are the problems of getting pupillage and tenancy. Are teachers to be blamed if they point out to their pupils these problems?

    Bar Council – Agree absolutely that the BC needs to stand up very much more to government proposals. There is a need to test proposals by better argument and, in particular, to take the argument to the public. As things stand, government is having a field day destroying much of value – legal aid; access to justice; attacking judicial review; introducing a general closed material procedure for any civil case etc. My worst fear is that all of this is a deliberate attempt by government to reduce the rights of the citizen and to enhance governmental power and control.

    Great series of podcasts here! Extremely informative – thank you.

  3. [...] Sunday I did a podcast with John Cooper QC on the controversial issue of referral fees. Toby Craig, head of communications for The Bar Council contacted me soon after I published this [...]

  4. [...] John Cooper QC on the problems facing the Bar in 2012 and beyond [Charon QC] [...]

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