New research: Delaying justice will leave us with no barristers to pick up the pieces

Law and order must not go off into the long grass, the Bar Council has warned after releasing new findings from the barristers’ profession today.

Barristers are providing an essential public service in delivering justice throughout the pandemic, but only 7% think access to justice is currently acceptable. 77% of self-employed barristers say people are now unable to properly access justice.

The Bar Council’s survey also reveals that Covid-19 is having a devastating effect on the profession’s sustainability and diversity, due to a major drop off in hearings and other work. This comes despite efforts by the legal professions, judiciary and HMCTS to deliver justice via remote hearings, and where necessary, conduct essential court hearings in-person.

  • 65% of self-employed barristers who responded had seen a reduction in work: the typical barrister has gone from working over 50 hours a week to working fewer than 18 hours a week.
  • 53% of self-employed barristers cannot survive six months and 74% cannot survive a year.
  • 31% of criminal barristers will not be able to continue to practice within three months; 69% will not last six months and 88% will no longer be practicing within a year.
  • 83% of young barristers (those in the first seven years of practice) cannot survive a year.

The research also found the financial impact of Covid-19 was greater on barristers from BAME or state school backgrounds.

Amanda Pinto QC, Chair of the Bar Council, said: “These findings paint a completely different picture from just weeks before Covid-19, when law and order was high on this government’s agenda. Though circumstances have changed, the fundamental role of justice in our society has not. Barristers and others involved in the justice system are rightly classed as key workers by the government, because they are essential to ensuring that justice continues to be delivered for the public, despite the pandemic. A threat to the barristers’ profession survival is a threat to the future of our justice system.

“We can’t bury our heads in the sand and ignore the ramifications this virus has for the future of justice which affects the public in a direct way, day in, day out. Legal issues cannot be put off indefinitely. If we fall into the trap of routinely delaying hearings, adding to the ever-growing backlog of cases and taking work away from those whose livelihoods depend on it, we might very well find there are no barristers left to help pick up the pieces of the justice system after the crisis subsides. Then access to justice in England and Wales will be in real trouble. Our findings highlight the fear that this is already happening.”

Read the Bar Council’s survey report here.

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