The South Eastern Circuit
Leader's Update
The last two months have been hard on so many, in so many different ways.  So I hope many of you have been able to switch off your phones and screens for substantial parts of this supposed “half term” week, resting weary eyes.  

I trust many of you derived some comfort from the CBA’s “Monday Message” this week, as the Chair set out what she had found on her court visits around the country and the extensive work achieved by HMCTS to clean and prepare courts.

It is plain that a great deal has been done and continues to be done as HMCTS seeks to meet the aims spelt out by the LCJ recently – all court centres will hopefully be open again by the end of June.  But what does this really mean?
It certainly does not yet mean a return to business as usual, or anything remotely like it.  While any step in the right direction is welcome, the journey ahead is long and arduous.

Difficulties remain with the return to work in the county courts and tribunals.  Many regulators appear to have shut down with little in the way of plans for restarting.  We very much hope that the changed listing priorities in the civil courts begin to make a difference.  I shall be staying in touch with the civil SBAs and doing what we can to monitor the situation in county courts and elsewhere. 

The Circuit CVP training room has been used by many chambers all week.  Thank you for the various suggestions you have made on ways to improve it.  Usage increases in courts and with it have come some teething problems.  For example, you will not be surprised to know that different court centres have different sound systems and this inevitably causes glitches.  But these are being worked through methodically.

There is a much wider problem.  The current roll-out was only ever intended to repurpose and improve links to the current video endpoints.  It improves quality but not capacity.  By way of example HMP Wormwood Scrubs serves Harrow and Isleworth Crown Courts and 2 large Magistrates Courts.  There are 6 video booths in total and these are also supposed to allow time for conferences, meetings with probation etc.  The Justice website says:  ‘Wormwood Scrubs is a Victorian-built 'local' prison, Category B which holds up to 1279 adult males in the early stages of custody remanded from local Magistrates and Crown Courts.’  It is not surprising that lawyers are being told that the first opportunity to see clients over video is in July.  This problem is being replicated all over the country.  I should also mention that it appears that a number of prisons have abandoned the central booking facility and are now making their own arrangements. 

Many think that there is a discussion to be had about whether or not CVP might play a role in allowing multi-handed trials to be heard if prisoners can elect to watch some of their trials over CVP.  But even if this is a good idea, it is a non-starter is there is insufficient capacity.

The next Crown Courts to hold jury trials?
I do not know the answer to this.  But I have been to Croydon this week and spoken to the Residents at Southwark and Isleworth.  I am not signalling anything by mentioning these courts, but I wanted to thank the Judges and their staff for the ongoing hard work they are all doing to try and open trial courts as soon as possible.  The Judges deserve our particular thanks for supervising the clear up of robing rooms.  Everywhere I have visited there are coats and other personal belongings which have been left.  Please do what you can to collect them, before they are removed to lost property.

As I have written often before, we all know that under current social distancing rules, Crown Courts can only try a small proportion of their outstanding cases.  The Old Bailey can manage four at a time, Reading hopes to hold three; nowhere else I have heard discussed so far has managed more than two, and these need to be signed off.  Some court centres do not think they can do any.

The need for alternative spaces in all jurisdictions becomes more pressing by the day.  The Bar Council, Circuit Leaders and the SBAs are doing all they can to persuade the politicians that they must provide the resources to enable the Judges and juries to try the cases.

If you have time on your hands?
Something tells me that some of you may not be entirely up to date with your CPD planning this year.  May I remind you of the excellent CPS Prosecution College that is available to all panel members.
Members can access their account here.  If you have a login problem contact the team at

The training materials available include the following:
·      Admissibility of Hearsay
·      Allocation and Sending
·      Better Case Management 
·      Case Theory and Analysis
·      Consent in Sexual Cases
·      Coercive and Controlling Behaviour
·      Cost Orders
·      Custody Time Limits Parts 1 & 2
·      Introduction to Prosecuting
·      PACE
·      Prosecuting CSA for Specialists
·      Prosecuting Domestic Abuse
·      Speaking to Witnesses at Court
·      Stalking and Harassment & Restraining Orders
·      The Victims’ Code
·      Victim Personal Statements 
And I make no apology for repeating what I said last week about letters to MPs.  Please complete the Bar Council request to the Bar to write to/tweet your local MPs to help make the case to Government for urgent support to prevent the Bar from collapse.  Go back to my past messages if they help; re-read 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.
It was a real pleasure this morning to be able to join the Judges and staff at Guildford Crown Court for a “virtual valedictory” to HHJ Peter Moss.  The closure of courts has meant that we have been unable to gather to say farewell to old friends.  It is always invidious to name anyone, because inevitably you omit others, but I am personally sad not to have been able to bid farewell in court to HHJ Nicholas Loraine-Smith and HHJ Rebecca Poulet QC, who both graced Southwark and the Old Bailey for so long.  We very much hope they and others will be our guests at a Circuit Dinner sometime this Autumn.

For anyone who is feeling nostalgia for the Temple, you may
enjoy this visit to YouTube.  The film begins with an aerial shot of Temple Church and then some glorious choral music.

Enjoy your weekend whichever Castle you visit, while obeying the rules.

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. 

The Bar Council is looking to nominate a barrister representative for the Incorporated Council of Law Reporting (ICLR) in a 4 year post:
Full Details and to apply

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

A Series of Online SEC Lectures and Training Course are currently being devised for roll out over the next 8 weeks, topics include:
  • Remote Working - Judicial Advice - Crime
  • Remote Working - Judicial Advice - Civil
  • Wellbeing
  • Form Filling - CPS
  • Silk Application Guidance
  • Recorder Exam Guidance
  • Diversifying your Practice
Bookings will open shortly!
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