The South Eastern Circuit
Leader's Update

The Opening of the Legal Year took place yesterday without the traditional opportunity for the public to gawp at ceremonial robes on show in Parliament Square.  Shiny shoes remained in cupboards and full-bottomed wigs went unborrowed. The reimagined day ended with a socially distanced service at Temple Church.  The congregation was not allowed to sing, but a small choir was permitted and the music was truly glorious.  It was never going to be as good as having a packed church and everyone participating, but it was much better than nothing.  The Lord Chancellor delivered the address.  Amongst the readers were the President of the American Bar Association, the Chairman of the Hong Kong Bar Association, The President of the Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe and the President of the Pan African Bar Union, beamed in from the four corners of the world.  It is not just the courts which have undergone a digital revolution in 2020.  You can hear it all for the next five days accessible through  

Lawyers and Judges from many countries would ordinarily have been in London this week to celebrate something that is both ours and a global legal event.  Our legal system has had a worldwide role, and we are going to have to fight to maintain that.  As a nation we have spent a lot of time over the last three years arguing about what we do not like, but rather less deciding what we might want in the future and how we see the UK’s role in the world.  Let us hope the next three months make things a little clearer.

This week I have visited two possible “Nightingale” sites in the London area with Judges and HMCTS staff.  We are all deeply frustrated by the steady / stately (choose your adjective) pace in providing more and more physical space for jury trials and other hearings.  I believe the Lord Chancellor and HMCTS remain committed to opening up more court rooms and keeping our justice system functioning.  But for some time it has been obvious that the physical space is only a part of the issue.

Court staffing levels, tests for coughing or feverish defendants, jurors, advocates and Judges… tales from the county court of fast track trials repeatedly being vacated because of lack of Judges…  these are the problems that are going to challenge us through the autumn and winter.  Nothing in this messy, complicated, depressing picture is straightforward. 

Criminal chambers and barristers in particular are feeling the financial pain and worry.  But the emotional toll on all of us is considerable.  Six months of misery, with the threat of six more ahead is not good for anyone’s morale.  We have all become more isolated and insular.  Please pause and ask yourself if there is a friend or colleagues who you should check up on.  And if there is, do something about it.

This week I have had detailed discussions or meetings with four of our Resident Judges, including a trip today to Canterbury, where I have finished this note.  HHJ James and I discussed the usual range of challenges faced by all Resident Judges in addressing the burgeoning trial backlog: staff numbers, jury enthusiasm and resilience; the balance of custody and bail trials and CTLs; delivery of screens and whether they actually fit; how many jurors they can fit in their buildings; space behind the scenes in deliberation rooms; capacity in the cells; making sure the pool of “ready-to-go” backer cases is big enough to allow court and parties some flexibility, but not so big that people are endlessly preparing cases that will either never be reached or at least not when advocates are available…  the list of complexities is long indeed.

Hanging over us all is the threat of more waves of Covid.  I also know from my discussions with all Resident Judges, not just this week, that they are keenly aware of the threat of increased infection rates, balancing footfall and the economic challenges faced by so many, young and not so young, after the collapse in trial work this year.  Everyone wants more trial capacity and understands the importance of not letting ancillary hearings impede the progress of trials, wherever possible.  Importantly all the Judges are committed to keeping an open mind about applications to attend remotely as the autumn unfolds.  Obviously the better prepared a case is, and the earlier you make the application, the more likely it is to be successful.


Last week you should all have received an email from the Bar Council setting out a range of training and courses that are available.  One that might be of particular interest to someone in your chambers is the leadership programme.  You have to be between 7-15 years call.  I hope you have all encouraged someone to apply.

I wish you all a very good weekend

Mark Fenhalls QC
Leader of the South Eastern Circuit

The Barristers' Benevolent Association:
The four Inns, together with the Barristers’ Benevolent Association, have launched a Covid-19 fund to give emergency financial assistance where it is urgently needed at the Bar. This fund will help those members of the Bar who are unable to support themselves and their families during these difficult times.

Their aim is to make emergency grants to barristers who are suffering financial hardship as a result of C19 impeding their ability to work as a barrister, as fairly, swiftly and simply as possible.

For details visit their website and complete the short Covid19 application form and email it to
Website: Email: or
Telephone: 07887 841302 and 07375 557326
The BBA exist to support, help and comfort those members of the Bar in England and Wales and their families and dependents who are in need, distress or difficulties. 

Call for Volunteers - Inner Temple Online Advocacy Weekend 2020:
The Inner Temple traditionally runs three residential weekends a year for its student members, each weekend focusing on a certain niche area of the law. These weekends typically take place either at Cumberland Lodge in Windsor or at Highgate House in Northamptonshire and are popular Qualifying Sessions amongst the student body.

Given the current situation, the weekend scheduled for 27th -29th November 2020 will be held online, rather than at Cumberland Lodge, but will otherwise be going ahead with all its usual advocacy sessions and lectures. The weekend is being led by Master Alistair McCreath and Abimbola Johnson (25 Bedford Row) and is entitled Modern Slavery and the Modern Slavery Act.

Inner Temple are keen to invite group leaders for this event who are, ideally, Inner Temple members with experience in this area of law (although this is not essential). We are particularly interested in hearing from volunteers from BAME backgrounds. The traditional role of a Group Leader is to help the students to prepare for the advocacy exercise they are set to perform before a judge on the Sunday, to lead preparation sessions on the Saturday and to assist students generally throughout the weekend. In an online format, you would be split into groups from the Friday night (around 6.30pm) and put back into these groups at various points throughout the weekend, to allow you to get to know your group well.

If you would be willing to act as a group leader, do let Inner Temple know at your earliest convenience (using email

BSB Guidance to Pupils:
Impact of Covid-19 on pupillage (September 2020)

Access the document here.

ICCA Governors - Chair and Vice Chair Recruitment:
The Inns of Court College of Advocacy (ICCA) is seeking to appoint the ICCA Chair of Governors and Vice Chair (SBA’S). Closing date is Friday 30th October 2020.

Full details and to apply.


Parental Talk with Noel Janis-Norton:
Recorded on 22nd July 2020

A copy of the this recording can be accessed here
SEC and Bar Mess Events:
Calmer Parenting & Teaching:
'Teach your child to read with my fun and proven method'
September online course
A SEC discount has been applied to this course

Full details and to book

SEC/Recorder Exam Guidance - Virtual Lecture:
Postponed to 2021
17.00 - 18.30
A session focused on exploring how to approach the recorder application process.  This seminar draws on the expertise of sitting Recorders and Circuit Judges to explore prepare to make an application, how to navigate the application form and its pitfalls, and how to approach the final exam.  This session is expected to be very popular; please reserve your place as soon as possible.

Diversifying your Practice:
Postponed to 2021
SEC/CPS Form Filling Virtual Lecture:
Postponed to 2021
17.00 - 18.30
An intensive session designed to explore all issues surrounding CPS grading applications.  A panel of speakers will discuss how to tailor your experience to the CPS grading criteria, and to project your skills appropriately.  There will also be an exploration of common mistakes made in the application process, and how to best avoid these.
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