Report #11: An interview with Toby Craig, Head of Communications, The Bar Council

Posted: November 22, 2012 in Charon Tour, Reports

Report #11: An interview with Toby Craig, Head of Communications, The Bar Council

The Bar Council represents the interests of all barristers in England & Wales – the regulatory function being carried out by the independent Bar Standards Board.

Facing significant change in the way legal services are delivered in the wake of the Legal Services Act , increasing competition from solicitor-advocates and a government now cutting back on the provision of legal aid, proposing to restrict judicial review and pushing through legislation on secret trials – the role of the Bar Council in the legal profession is a very important one.

Last 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 podcast to ask if I would be prepared to do a podcast with him to enable The Bar Council to put their view.

The discussion with Toby Craig covered a number of controversial issues which members of the Bar have expressed concern to me about.

In this podcast we look at:

1. The Role of The Bar Council

2. The relationship of The Bar Council with government

3. The potential conflict of interest in relation to the Attorney-General who is the head of the Bar

4. Michael Turner QC’s robust criticisms published in The Daily Mirror: Injustice for all: Leading QC on why legal aid cuts and change in regulation is bad news for Britain

5. How democratic is the Bar Council and the controversy during the  recent  Criminal Bar Association elections

6. Criticism of The Bar Council raised in a report commissioned in 2011

7. Referral fees – the Bar stance is that referral fees are a breach of the Code of Practice and they will also give rise to civil and criminal liability – issues raised by Nicholas Lavender QC in June 2012. I ask Toby Craig what steps the Bar Council is taking to survey Chambers that may have paid or are currently engaged in paying referral fees to bring in work.

8. Social media and diversity at the Bar

The podcast raises important issues of representation and professional ethics and I welcome comment and discussion from members of the Bar and others with an interest.

Listen to the podcast


The iTunes version has had the sound boosted – for those using computers with no external speakers – click the link below to bring the file up in your browser.

iTunes version of the podcast

  1. ObiterJ says:

    This is a most interesting podcast – touching on so many areas of interest and concern. I will give this much thought.

    As a general impression, I think that the Bar Council was far too slow to take a lead when the Clementi report came out and, subsequently, during the implementation of the Legal Services Act 2007. Perhaps there was a hope that things might not actually change too much and, for some, they may not. However, if there was such a hope, it was generally speaking head in the sand. An equally forlorn hope might have been that a change of government would mean a change of policy in this area. The result is that valuable time has been lost and the Bar Council now seems to playing “catch up” as more commercially minded (cut-throat ?) providers come into the frame.

    I would hope that the Bar Council can yet rise to the challenge? As Michael Todd QC said recently – the Bar must shape its own future or be lost forever. I do not think this is an exaggeration. In so many ways, Todd appears to be right though I would need to think much more about his view that the Legal Services Board should go though it certainly talks the language of “targets” and not “justice.” The Bar Council needs to come off the perch and start communicating with the public about the various concerns including matters such as (lack of) legal aid provision; attacks on judicial review; “secret” courts etc. In short, the Bar seems to be “reactive” (slowly) rather than “pro-active.”

    There also appears to be a worrying gap between the activities of the Bar Council and the various other associations (e.g. Criminal Bar Association) and also, most importantly, individual barristers. Far far better communication and involvement is clearly needed. Unless they all pull together they will be torn apart.

    None of the above is to deny the excellent work done by the Bar Council in so many areas and, in particular, in promoting the rule of law internationally. However, for the time being that may have to take a lower profile whilst the general future and even existence of the bar is sorted out.

    Turning to other points in the podcast.

    I have thought for a long time that the Attorney-General should not be the leader of the bar. This may be hallowed by practice over the years but it is not right. The Attorney is chosen by the PM on the basis of political affiliation as well as legal ability. No member of the executive – however independent they claim to be – should lead an independent bar. In this area I am afraid that I found the answers from Mr Craig unconvincing. Opportunity to reform this office was lost a few years back when the Labour government looked at the role. (Of course, Baroness Scotland fought hard to maintain the status quo).

    On referral fees, the Bar is right to maintain its present stance but must start to make far more noise about getting the law sorted out. Government will probably not see this is having much of a profile at all but it is insidious and ought to be (preferably) stopped. (Opportunity to do this was lost when LASPO 2012 was going through Parliament).

    An issue not discussed was QASA. Michael Turner QC has said that this is a precursor to one case, one fee. Very likely to be a much smaller fee. This scheme ought to be abandoned and, in any event, it is not the role of judges to be marking advocacy in a formal way.

    The point made near the end of the podcast about judicial diversity is highly valid. Lord Sumption has said it will take until 2050 to achieve true diversity. I am not so sure it need be that long BUT the costs of university education are so high that many are being put off. Somehow, there probably needs to be a return to training for the profession without the necessity of a degree. Sacrilege? Maybe, but some lateral thinking appears to be dreadfully overdue.

    The bar has a magnificent tradition of independence and a superb reputation for excellent (even if rather gold-plated) work. Regrettably, these factors may not save it unless the Bar truly rises to the challenges facing it.

    Just some reactions to the podcast. Well done for this series. Further thoughts will no doubt arise over the next few days!!

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