The South Eastern Circuit
Leader's Update

Tier 2:
On the 23rd March the Prime Minister imposed the lockdown and the courts paused.  The restart has been long and painful over the last six months or so.  Some jurisdictions have recovered more swiftly than others.  This weekend large parts of our Circuit move into “Tier 2”.  You can find the 
HMG list of areas here

I am not privy to the planning of the Senior Judiciary, nor HMCTS.  But for the moment (though we all know things can change quite quickly and in all directions) I think you can broadly be confident of the following things.

  1. The courts will of course follow whatever HMG rules turn out to be.
  2. At all times HMCTS will keep the safety of court users as its highest priority and will adhere to PHE guidance.
  3. Judges, court staff and lawyers are all key workers and will be allowed to travel and work as normal.  At court the 2m social distancing, screens and other measures are in place to keep people safe.  In theory this makes the courts as “covid-proof” as they can be.
  4. In crime non-jury hearings will continue for the moment, although different courts may have different approaches to “remote” hearings depending on the risks in their areas.  So assuming courts can keep staff at work and swear and retain juries, cases will soldier on.  
  5. If staffing / jury problems become insuperable on a local level then RJs (no doubt having consulted Presiders) may decide to limit hearings/ trials.  
  6. I imagine that any decision to close a court would be a matter for the SPJ.  

The Bar will continue to encourage all courts to use CVP/ other video platforms wherever possible / appropriate.

Circuit Elections:
Nominations for elections were due to close today at 5pm.  I am postponing the closing date by 14 days to 30th October.  I am keen to make sure that as many practice areas as possible are represented on the Exec next year and the make up is as diverse as possible.  Please consider how you or others could play a part in supporting the work of the Circuit, or expect to be “volunteered” to stand. 

In other news:
Circuit Leaders met the Lord Chancellor and officials last week.  We raised the disparaging comments made by the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister about sectors of the legal profession. The Prime Minister’s suggestion that the government needs to ‘stop the whole criminal justice system from being hamstrung by what the home secretary would doubtless – and rightly – call the lefty human rights lawyers, and other do-gooders’ was a gross and offensive misrepresentation. We have of course been propping up an underfunded system, not “hamstringing” it. We told the Lord Chancellor how the profession felt about these comments, and as you know the leader of the Bar has written a powerful letter to the Prime Minister.

We covered all the crime issues you would want us to cover – trial courts (emphasising multi-handers), access to prisons, CVP problems, HMCTS recruitment of more staff following the August commitment, testing, more Nightingales etc.  I think the Lord Chancellor and his team are committed to trying to reopen the system fully and keep it running through this winter.  It seems they are on track for 250 trial courts nationwide by the end of the month.  I do not believe that this is the limit of their ambition.  But as ever staffing levels may prove the biggest challenge.

I have had meetings with our London and SE Delivery Directors to discuss their plans for improving capacity in individual court centres (in crime, civil, family and tribunal work).  They are going through each centre, reconfiguring courts where possible.  Where bigger changes are needed (for example to accommodate larger trials) they are seeking funding / exploring options.  Like all Bar Leaders, I press and press for more openness and speed.  On Monday this week in the Crown Court there were 99 trials listed across the SEC (starting, part heard and floating).  On the preceding Mondays the figures were 88, 71, 75, 66, 64, and low 40s at the start of September, so some parts are working.  

Rumours occasionally circulate about cuts in sitting days.  As recently as Monday, Amanda Pinto confirmed with SPJ’s office and CEO of HMCTS that any such suggestion is wrong.

Please find here the 
s28 protocol for Snaresbook Crown Court.

Cracked trials.  Some of you may have seen Jo Cecil’s tweet that the LAA has agreed to pay all cracks as though they are in the final third, even if no trial date was set at PTPH.  The 
updated LAA guidance can be found here.  The issue does not arise with legal aid orders made post 17th September.  

Prisons & Video:
HMPPS confirms that the new operating hours are being agreed on a prison-by-prison basis, in those establishments with a remand function, along with additional resourcing to staff the extended prison video operating hours.  On our Circuit the following prisons are providing extended prison video operating hours: Belmarsh, Bullingdon, Cookham Wood, Feltham. High Down and Pentonville have also committed to extending their hours and we await “go-live” dates at.  High Down and Lewes will soon be offering Saturday prison video.  While few will choose the Saturday option, in extremis this might make the difference for you between an effective trial or crack, or not.

HMPPS stresses: ‘Please note that these additional operating hours are to enable consultations and interviews necessary to progress hearings and cases deemed a priority in accordance with the guiding principles recently circulated by Jo Farrar, our Chief Executive. They are not intended for court hearings outside normal sitting times, other than the continuous cover over lunch, enabling courts to avoid having to break proceedings around the normal fairly lengthy prison lunch period.’ 

HMPPS also says: ‘we are on track to achieve our target of increasing video by 50% by the end of the financial year in prisons that serve the criminal courts. All minor enabling works and video installations are due to be complete by the end of March 2021.’  
The lowering skies.  None of you need me to add to the sense of unease we all feel as infection rates rise at different rates in different places and Government policy changes.  Please keep an eye on your friends and colleagues through the days ahead.

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. 

BSB Guidance to Pupils:
Impact of Covid-19 on pupillage.

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.

Law Care - Life in the Law research:
Law Care have launched a ground breaking research study, ‘Life in the Law’ and have asked  the membership for assistance.  

Law Care want to encourage as many people working in the legal profession, those in training, legally qualified and support staff, to take part, as the results of this study will pave the way for determining what we can do as a profession to improve the support available to people working in the legal profession by enhancing our understanding of the issues that affect mental health and wellbeing. The data will help us all drive long lasting cultural change in legal workplaces to benefit both the present and future generation of lawyers and staff. Law Care expect the results to also form the basis of an academic paper.
Your support in helping to promote the study would be really appreciated. 
To give you an overview of the study, please see the following links, a FAQ document will be uploaded and circulated once prepared.  attached  FAQ document. I am also attaching the following promotional resources:

SEC Elections:
Nominations to the Posts of:  SEC Leader, SEC 2nd Assistant and Executive Members remains open until 30th October 2020 - Full details can be found here
(a 14 day extension granted by Circuit Officers)

The Listing of Trials at Lewes, Brighton and Hove:
A comprehensive document has been created after our Bar Mess Rep was asked by the Resident Judge, HHJ Laing QC, to be a ‘focal point’ for liaison with the bar regarding listing at these court centres.  

The document includes a list of the fixtures which Lewes are planning on hearing between now and the end of the year, which should provide assistance to both counsel and clerks.

Access the letter to all Criminal Teams
Access the Pre-Trial Listing Questionnaire (word doc)


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:

SEC / Crown Courts in the Covid Era - Q & A:
Tuesday 27th October
17.00 - 18.30

Full details and to book

SEC/Recorder Exam Guidance - Virtual Lecture:
Postponed until 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 until 2021
SEC/CPS Form Filling Virtual Lecture:
Postponed until 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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