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Leader's Message: 14th June 2024

Leader's Message: 14th June 2024

My friends,

This weekend I attended the Bar Conference in London where the Chair, Sam Townend KC doubled down on the Bar Council’s commitment to the “Manifesto for Justice”. They represent 8 key asks of the “next” government (a copy is attached).

Those key asks can be broadly distilled into three areas which I know remain important to many (if not all) of us.

The maintenance of “a strong, effective and properly funded justice system". He has for some time being pressing the issue of the lack of funding in key areas not just in terms of remuneration but also in relation to the failing aspects of our legal infrastructure.

Access to Justice. Which includes those aims we ourselves hold dear in relation to the engagement with our wider communities and ensuring proper access to justice across all areas and to include at a local level. More on this later.

Upholding the rule of law. In particular, that is in the face of the persistent attacks on members of the legal profession by the certain sections of the media.

It seems to me that those are aims we can all get behind. As he rightly observed, public confidence in the justice system has been eroded, that is notwithstanding the efforts by the Bar in face of the many obstacles now facing us.

Also delivering a keynote speech was the Lady Chief Justice, who of course needs no introduction. She highlighted the need for the leaders in the profession to promote a diverse Bar at all levels by giving opportunities the junior bar to show and develop their skills, particularly in Court. As you know a key component for our drive on Circuit to improve diversity is the development of all so that they can fulfil their potential; as we say equality and excellence.

Speaking of the Lady Chief Justice, some of you will know that she is on Circuit this week fulfilling some of her wider duties. She has a full itinerary which has meant that this time she has limited capacity to engage with us (fingers crossed for the future).

Whilst on Circuit she will be engaging with the Leeds Knife Crime Initiative, which is headed up by the Recorder of Leeds and HHJs Batty and Stubbs. It is worthy of a special mention to highlight efforts of our local legal community to engage with local agencies, the police, local schools (and their pupils) with a view to diverting young people from the depressingly topical issue of knife crime. It is an issue that I have close to me and will be representing Circuit at the initial events. I only ask that going forward if your assistance is asked, we do what we can to support what is a wholly worthwhile and important initiative.

I should say, that line then with Her Ladyship’s interest with the future we have been able to secure a small audience with her following that event with ostensibly younger members of Circuit. They are after all are our longer-term future.

She also spoke of the important role the Bar plays in “keeping judges on trial while they are sitting in judgment”. It is heartening that the top of the judiciary is keen that we are not afraid to tackle and report judicial “excess” where appropriate, whether it directly impacts on us or not. In her words “You not only should, but your duty to your client and to the rule of law requires it. The judiciary as an institution requires it.”

Not only that but is also part of the wider considerations of looking after ourselves and each other. As I have said previously there are the facilities of “Talk to Spot”, the ear of the senior practitioners including myself.

Whilst here she was also earmarked to take part in the official opening of the

Business and Property Court (Westgate). That has been postponed in light of the recently announced election, but the Court is fully operational! It is showing real signs of living up to its billing as being a jewel in the crown of the local business and legal sector and remains a testament to all those including our members in the Business and Property Forum who played a role in bringing it about. We look forward to the rescheduled grand opening.

Community Engagement

I said, I would come back to this. Our outreach work of course continues, but I would like to focus on the charitable work that we have been engaged with. Not only through the continued efforts of the Charity Committee (who I understand remain on the lookout for new members to help with their ideas going forward) but also to the recently announced “Clothes Fair” which is to take place on the 9th November 2024 (please contact Glenn Parsons for further details, flyer attached). It requires the donation of previously loved business wear and court attire. I along with others have been able to witness the significant impact and that these donations can have, in enabling those who may not be able to do so, make the right first impression - which as we all know counts!

Over the next few weeks, the “Legal Walks” are taking place around the Circuit.

The sums raised go to the “Access to Justice Foundation” supporting and funding advice charities working in our local communities. I will be hoping to attend either the Leeds Legal Walk (26th June 2024) or Newcastle (4th July 2024). It would be good to see as many of you as possible at one of these events. For further details of your most local walk please see the link here.

Education and Events

As you all know by now, we have one of the more advanced education and support programmes of all of the Circuits. It remains important though, to maintain the viability of those programmes, that we support the events where possible to do so.

They are invariably excellent and can form an essential part of our ongoing learning and informing us about managing our practices. The Diversity Outreach Group and the Women’s Forum have been very active recently along with the ever present excellent advocacy and pupillage training courses all of which remain well supported.

Can I then bring to your attention the Criminal Regulatory Seminar, taking place in York this Saturday (please book your place here). It is one of the first Circuit wide seminars engaging with professional misconduct and discipline (delivered by Olivia Checa-Dover, KBW). It is an area that we have a small but highly regarded group of practitioners and I am keen we raise this profile across Circuit. There will also be presentations in relation to forensic scientific and best practice. At the moment numbers are slightly lower than we would like and so if you are interested in these areas there are still places available. Sign up!

Finally

I am more or less hitting the halfway mark in my time as Leader. Whilst I am not counting down the days (promise), it has inevitably caused me to reflect on the first half of my term. It has reminded me what a worthwhile and privileged role this is.

So, I want to thank those who have shown support, even if only by words through that period, in making it feel that way. It makes a difference and is appreciated. I extend that in in particular to those who have made the sacrifices of their time on our behalf.

Whilst I always have an eye on the future, that reflection has also brought to mind those members who we have lost recently or have left us to pursue other interests.

In this regard, do you mind indulging me a little whilst I extend my personal thoughts and thanks to two of our members who have recently ceased practice, Robin Freize and Elyas Patel. The were significant personalities and role models for many of us.

Both showed kindness and support to me, as well as others, in my early days, which went on to influence me in the many years that have followed. Kindness does, you see, make a difference. Thank you both and I wish you (and everyone else) well going forward.

That’s it for now.

JP

Jason Pitter KC
Leader of Circuit