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Birmingham sets St Philips and 1 Fountain Court are considering merging to form the UK's largest set of chambers
As revealed on www. thelawyer.com/lawyernews, the sets hope the merger, which will create a set of 133 barristers including 10 silks, will enable barristers to handle the expected extra workload arising out of the franchising system for criminal defence work. This system involves only select sets receiving instructions to carry out defence work. The merger would create one of the Bar's largest criminal teams. St Philips is a multidisciplinary set with 95 tenants including a 30-strong criminal team, while 38-tenant 1 Fountain Court practises predominantly criminal law. John Randall QC, head of St Philips, said: "We take the view that within a few years, the way in which a lot of criminal casework is distributed and allocated is likely to be such that chambers will need a substantial number of criminal practitioners under one roof to deal with that. "There are a limited number of franchises for criminal defence work, whereas previously we would be able to get work through the legal aid system. In addition, the CPS has been developing its structure so its case work directorate is based in major centres and [we face] the prospect of block contracting for work, so we have to be ready for that when it is implemented." Melbourne Inman QC, head of 1 Fountain Court, said: "My responsibility is to look 10 years into the future. I've no doubt that chambers will have to be strong in quality and size to deal with the likely demands on the profession. Our present discussions with St Philips reflect this." St Philips has been gearing itself up to the greater commercial demands on chambers by overhauling its management structure. Under the direction of its chief executive officer Paul Wilson, the set has brought in clerking, IT, finance and client services managers. Tenants of both sets are being consulted about the merger but no final decision date has been set.