The South Eastern Circuit
Leader's Update
A Shorter Message:
The Bar Council published a message this afternoon that has spared me a substantial amount of work.  
Please read it.  

You will find updates relating to safety in the courts, the financial crisis facing large sections of the Bar, the most recent publication on behalf of the Jury Trials Working Group and some significant developments in the Listing Priorities for Civil Cases.  Forgive the emphasis but each and every point (and link) in that message is worth following and reading.
Health & Safety First – All Jurisdictions:
Many of you have raised concerns about cleanliness and social distancing in magistrates courts, county courts and crown courts.

These concerns have been, and will continue to be, raised with HMCTS for as long as necessary.  It is a notable feature of the life we are learning to adapt to, that we are struggling to adjust to risks we do not fully understand, with information that is incomplete.  Every twist in the story, any piece of news, whether optimistic or pessimistic, raises or dashes hopes of being able to grab back some of the work and social lives we are all desperate to regain.

Everyone is worried about not being able to earn money and their personal and chambers’ finances.  We are all desperate to go back to work.    

Many of you have written about the difficulties you have faced in obtaining BBLs.  In contrast some have found it quite easy.  Most of the problems I have seen described have been created by those banks, who are either not offering BBLs at all, or who want you to open a new kind of account.  People have spent two or three anxious weeks trying to get answers out of banks which are simply not returning calls or replying to emails.  It seems likely that they have a capacity problem – not enough people doing the job, creating a backlog…  Keep persisting.  It may be that you eventually triumph.  But if you do not, please write and tell me;, so we can better inform the Government why this trumpeted panacea is not actually helping large sections of the Bar.  

The Work Pipeline and Technology:
In Civil we very much hope that the Amended Civil Listing Priorities begins to make a difference rapidly.  I suspect it will be three or four weeks before the picture becomes clearer.

In Crime, we face a whole different challenge, not least because the whole financial structure of barristers and solicitors depends so largely on trial income - the distortions inherent in the current system have added to our vulnerability and the existential threat faced by both professions.  

Yesterday I was in Reading Crown Court where the Resident Judge has overseen an extraordinary amount of work in making the building fit for purpose in the covid era.  We now know from round the country that PHE/W approved the checklist / process that has been implemented in courts preparing to hold jury trials.  In the case of Reading, this was signed off by those in charge of health and safety at HMCTS.  I do not know what has or has not happened in other courts.  If I were attending any court, I would ask the relevant court manager to tell me.  And I would tell my Circuit Leader or SBA what I found out.  Like most of you I am no health and safety expert.  All I want is to know that someone who does understand the science has approved a checklist that makes the best professional assessment possible and then that someone suitably trained has signed off the process.  I would want this whether I worked in a shop, a bank or a court.

The looming backlog that HMG must address:
The LCJ was reported earlier this week saying that 1000 trials a month were being adjourned across the country.  I heard yesterday that Reading has 252 outstanding trials, booked in the diary this year.  There are about 30 working weeks left this year.  There is one trial court.  Reading has a big building and it may be possible to run two or even three trials in a few weeks time.  But it is hard to imagine that this means more than 50 trials being concluded this year at the most optimistic of calculations.  I have not included the new receipts that have been and will be coming into the system.  And that is a huge and building backlog that is deeply damaging for complainants, victims and defendants.  And it is a huge drain on police resources to say nothing of the prison service.  It is just unacceptable.

That is just Reading.   Even the Old Bailey will, at best, be unlikely to be able to run more than 4 trials at once in its 16 courts.  Across the country there are 80 crown court centres I believe.  We desperately need at least one trial court in each court centre, but not all will be able to do this under current HMG advice/ rules. 
There is a way out, which does not depend on promises of possible vaccines and lightening tests (or even chloroquine).  It involves government at the highest level saying, we need new court space plans now and we are going to make it happen.  The professions will help the HMG design the solution, but the decision to do it needs to be taken now.
Thanks to all those tech reps who have tried out the Circuit CVP room.  I hope the tests with your chambers go well.  Mark Seymour and his team have done a superb job in drafting another
excellent SEC user guide.  Please take a look.  If your chambers has not
been running sessions, email Harriet and ask;

Thank you to those who organised another terrific SEC/ CBA “wellbeing” session last night attended by around 60 of you.  These will continue.  

Thank you in particular to Aaron and Harriet who continue to be towers of strength and support through all this.  

If you have by now baked too many cakes, finished your box sets, worn out the remote control so you can no longer access Netflix … please would you complete the Bar Council request to the Bar to write to/tweet your local MPs to help make the make the case to Government for urgent support to prevent the Bar from collapse.  Go back to my past messages if they help;  reread your SBA’s messages or survey results (PIBA, FLBA, CBA) and of course plenty more information can be found on
the Bar Council website.  

There are specimen letters that can easily be adapted.  Please make it plain you are a constituent – this can sometimes get lost and letters rejected if people use their work emails.  The BC asks that everyone copies in when sending so that they can track responses.

In ordinary years, I would wish you a good break with friends and family over the bank holiday and half term.  This year many of us want a break of different sorts, mostly to go back to work.  The tension and anxiety that has built over the last two months has not gone away.  We are all suffering from it in one way or another.  We are people who like to be able to plan if possible and that has been taken away from us.  The sheer uncertainty of all this is deeply troubling for all.  So whether you are able to have any kind of change or not, either next week or perhaps the following one if you have children returning to school, I wish you well.

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. 

SEC and Bar Mess Events:

ICCA Bar Course:
Junior members of the Bar and 2nd Six pupils
16.30 each day until the Courts reopen

Pupils can book into a session here

Diversifying your Practice:
An evening in this Summer
18.00 - 20.30
Further details will be announced shortly

A number of Virtual Training Seminars will take place over the next 8 weeks.  Details will be announced next week.
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