The South Eastern Circuit
Leader's Update
Another “quiet week” for the Justice system and rule of law… but fear not, nothing here about international or EU law, or the surrounding politics. 
Civil – the numbers of cases going into the courts has gone down, but waiting times have risen.  Obviously something is not right.  The high end work is well resourced and is broadly fine.  The county courts are not.  The biggest problems appear to be with fast track trials, small claims, and possession hearings.  The Government’s failure to modernise the fabric of the lower courts and tribunals over the last few years has made the system significantly less resilient.  The problem is only going to get far worse as the economic consequences of the pandemic unfold over the next six months and more.  It is true that CVP has been installed in many places, but it seems that there are not enough trained staff who have been able to adjust to the new Covid reality and sort the tech, the e-bundles and the listing… At every opportunity we put pressure on the MoJ to concentrate on modernising the non-crime estate, improve listing and address the burgeoning backlogs in, for example, employment tribunals.
Crime – where to begin?  Day by day seems easiest.
Monday.  Custody Time Limits. 
The SI extending CTLs from 182 to 238 days was laid before Parliament. Likely to be in force from 28th September.  No one will be unaware of the all too public debate surrounding CTLs that has exploded this week.

The Crime Recovery Plan was published.  Please take a little time to read it.  For regular readers, there are no great surprises but it is very helpful to have a public statement of what HMCTS is trying to achieve.  The stated aim of HMCTS is to have 250 out of 488 crown courts countrywide ready by end of October.  We think, probably, that this means about the same trial capacity as in the restricted sitting days of 2019.  Maybe more than 2019 if we can keep jury trial courts for trials and put all the ancillary hearings in the 238 rooms that cannot accommodate juries.  Many will ask, what does that mean for my local court?  Well I keep asking for more information and we may get some.  But even if we do not, we can see the improvements week by week.  Courtserve reveals that by late July there were usually about 25 or so jury trials going on across the Circuit.  This week the number has been in the low 50s. 
The opening of these court rooms requires contractors to take out furniture, install screens and then replace furniture (often different).  That is three contractors and two supply chains for HMG to organise in places where no two spaces are the same, while following public procurement rules.  This is not easy and we should acknowledge their efforts.  Much more progress is promised over September and into October.  If HMCTS meets its commitments, we should see a step change and significantly increased trial capacity over the next weeks.  
It is always true that as soon as something positive happens, even the most charitable of us are inclined to demand “that’s all very well, but what we really need is this…”  The CJS remains in crisis and while the progress to date is becoming slowly more visible there is much that still needs to be done.  If you want to ask HMCTS some questions yourself, you can 
register for this online event on 23rd September here.
Tuesday.  Covid Operating Hours.  A huge thank you to HHJ Heather Norton and HHJ Martyn Zeidman QC who were guests at the Circuit’s Q&A on Tuesday evening.  I was particularly grateful for a strong attendance on Tuesday from WICL who will be helping the Circuits and the CBA with evaluation.  The Resident Judges of Snaresbrook and Reading explained how they will run the pilots.  In each court centre, only one of the four available trial courts will be used for the EOH scheme.  The other three will continue to list trials at usual hours.  This so called “blended model” is an explicit attempt by HMCTS to mitigate any potentially discriminatory impact.  Everyone will of course have their own view on the effectiveness of this approach.  
The pilots will be demanding on resources (requiring double staffing, extra work in the list office etc) and therefore hugely challenging to HMCTS.  However much many at the Bar may dislike the pilots - and I assure you we are not alone - they are a reality that we need to endure for the next few weeks.  Snaresbrook begins on Monday, Reading the week after.  I will report back next Friday.
Wednesday.  The BSB’s latest ‘
Regulatory Return’ landed in the inboxes of  ‘a selection of around 350 chambers, BSB entities and sole practitioners’.  The fairly consistent reaction I have had so far from HoCs  can be described thus: “I am completely appalled at the insensitivity of the BSB in requiring us to complete such a massive exercise when we are short staffed, under resourced and morale is at rock bottom.  It is a huge undertaking – surely they could try and give us a break!
I gather that in meetings and correspondence over the summer, the Bar Council tried to persuade the BSB to defer the exercise until staffing and work levels have recovered.  The BSB refused. Perhaps Regulators think they have to act thus to justify their existence?  Perhaps they even believe that they are helping?  These things are beyond me.  To borrow from Roger McGough ‘…I am sorry, but this is the way things are.’
The AG’s office published the Government Response to the Attorney General’s disclosure consultation,  The new SI laid on Thursday can be found here. The new Code and Guidelines will not come into effect before 31st December 2020. 
The AG’s office notes that ‘some responses expressed concerns over the lack of resources for investigators to be able to comply with these proposals. Defence practitioners were also concerned over whether they would be fairly remunerated for the extra work expected of them during pre-charge engagement.’  It is good news therefore that someone may have listened as it is reported that ‘the Ministry of Justice will shortly launch a public consultation on a fee scheme on how best to remunerate this work.’
I have no idea whether this consultation will be wrapped up in CLAR 2.  I hope not.  CLAR 1 comes into force on 17th September and I know we will welcome every small step in the right direction.  But whether in CLAR 2 or on its own, remunerating our solicitor colleagues properly for the work at police stations and in the Magistrates court lies at the heart of a fair fees system. 
Thursday.  Multi-handers (bail and custody) and new court capacity.  At several meetings we pressed HMCTS for more details of the plans for multi-handers and the next tranche of Nightingale/ Blackstone courts.  As soon as we know more, I will tell you.
But the issue is not just about the buildings and space to house the cases.  We need to finish trials as well as start them.  It will not have escaped any of you as the autumn draws in, that this might be a bit trickier this year.  We surely cannot afford for every inevitable cough and sneeze to cause unwarranted delay when jury time is such a scarce and precious commodity.  The unsatisfactory state of affairs was brough home to me very forcibly yesterday, when my 16 year old was sent home with a slight temperature.  She cannot return to school until we can get her a test.  And the rest of us are now meant to be isolating, although no one else has any symptoms.  Frankly today she doesn’t either.  Last night my wife and I spent around 7 hours on computers since 5pm trying to book a test, fruitlessly refreshing and watching the site crash.  Nothing was available anywhere in the UK.  The site barely functioned.  There was a brief moment where we were offered a test in Northampton 24 hours later, but even this then failed.  What is going to happen at those court centres like the CCC and Southwark trying to make long trials run?  I am not demanding the return of Matron at the Old Bailey, welcome though that would be.  Frankly a qualified nurse to attend court for a couple of hours every morning, with a 21st century on site testing facility would do.
Friday:  The 
Public Accounts Committee published a critical report into the state of the country’s prisons.
Given our concerns about Covid and prisons in March, it is an achievement that so few inmates have suffered serious ill-health as a direct result.  But the isolation of our clients and the knock on impact on systemic delay need to be better addressed.  The urgent need for a large scale expansion of video endpoints remains vital to unblock the courts.
For a variety of Covid related reasons I am afraid we have had to postpone a number of advertised educational sessions. A full education programme is being drawn up for 2021, when we will run annual lectures to assist members, covering CPS Grade applications, Recorder Exam Guidance and Practice Guidance.  For the remainder of 2020 we will be running a number of ‘ad hoc’ sessions.  We will focus on current issues and getting the Justice System back on its feet. By way of reminder, our S28 session takes place on 22nd September.  We could even cover the subject of “Regulatory Returns” if there is enough appetite!  
That email from the BSB reminded me that most years around 70% of your PCF goes to fund the LSB, BSB and Legal Ombudsman.  The Bar Council gets just under 30% and even then statute largely prevents this money from being used for any of the representative functions that matter most.  So if any of your friends and colleagues ever complain to you about the Bar Representation Fee, please tell them that paying it supports the crucial lobbying work that the Bar Council does on your behalf.  We are much, much stronger when more of you become involved, whether with the Bar Council, your SBA, or indeed your Circuit.
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. 

Bar Council Elections 2021:
Elections for nominations to the 
Bar Council 2021 can be accessed here.  
Closing date - 21st September.

Nominations for the 2020 Bar Pro Bono Awards are OPEN!
Do you have a friend or colleague who goes above and beyond for every pro bono client? A mentor who goes the extra mile? A clerk who always manages to find time in everyone’s diaries for pro bono work? 

Give them the recognition they deserve by nominating them for a Bar Pro Bono Award at 

The deadline for nominations is Sunday 27th September 2020 and most of the awards will be presented at an online awards ceremony during Pro Bono Week in November.

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.


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/S28 - Q&A - Virtual Lecture:
Guest Speakers: HHJ Sally Cahill QC and HHJ Peter Lodder QC
Tuesday 22nd September  
18.00 - 19.30

The access link will be issued on the day of the session. 

Please register your interest to attend here.
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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