For too long, those who practised at the criminal bar on circuit were regarded by many London practitioners and solicitors as country cousins. How things have changed.
The local bars on the Western Circuit, in Plymouth, Exeter and Bristol, for example, now all have silks and senior juniors who are highly regarded and sought after throughout England and Wales.
So what has changed the perception of the circuit practitioner? There have always been highly talented practitioners on circuit, so an influx of new talent cannot have been the sole reason. It is more likely that there has been a real change in the attitudes of solicitors and prosecuting authorities to the Bar in the provinces.
On the prosecution side, both Customs & Excise and the Serious Fraud Office have made a real effort to instruct talented practitioners on circuit. Andrew Chubb and David Bartlett, both recently appointed as Standing Counsel to Customs & Excise, are based and practise on circuit. The Serious Fraud Office now makes a point of not limiting its choice of counsel to those practising in London.
On the defence side, solicitors are more concerned to find the right silk or junior for the case, rather than paying lip service to geography or tradition.
This growing appreciation of circuit practitioners has been spurred by the changing attitude of the Bar itself. Over the last 10 years, it has woken up to the fact that lawyers must be more flexible. Solicitors today, quite rightly, expect a much higher standard of service from the Bar. The Bar, particularly on circuit, has had to respond to this higher expectation.
On the Western Circuit, we have had two leaders of the circuit over the last five years who have devoted an enormous amount of time and effort to ensure the Western Circuit does not become an anachronism.
It is largely as a result of the vigour and enthusiasm of the present leader, Nigel Pascoe QC, that the young Bar is expressing a revived interest in the circuit. The young Bar must play an important part in the future of the circuits. The fears and anxieties of young practitioners on circuit about the future of the Bar are a matter of great concern to the Western Circuit and we must strive to involve them in discussions about the Bar's future.
There is still a great future for the young practitioner on circuit, and it is the young Bar of today which will secure the success of the circuits in the future.
The best juniors of today become the silks of tomorrow and those on circuit are just as likely to be as successful as those in London. The following have been recommended.
In Manchester: John Bromley-Davenport at Deans Court Chambers; senior juniors Robert Platts, James Gregory, Campbell Tait, Paul Reid, Andrew Nuttall and James Pickup, together with Peter Wright, Suzanne Goddard, Elizabeth Nicholls, David Sumner, Peter Wright, and former prosecutor Rick Holland all at Lincoln House Chambers; Ian McMeekin at 58 King Street; Susan Klonin at Old Colony House; and Paul Taylor at 28 St John Street.
In Liverpool, those mentioned include: Henry Riding and Janet Reaney at the Corn Exchange, and Brian Jones at Victoria Chambers.
In Leeds, names to note include: Gerald Lumley at 9 Woodhouse Square; Colin Harvey at St Paul's House; Jeremy Barnett at St Paul's House; and Simon Myerson and Alistair MacDonald at Park Court Chambers.
In Nottingham, those singled out include: Adrian Reynolds and Calder Jose at St Mary's Chambers; and Jonathan Teare at No 1 High Pavement Chambers.
On the Midlands Circuit, sets which have noted juniors are: 1 Fountain Court, with Melbourne Inman, Malcolm Morse, John Wait and Paul Farrer; 3 Fountain Court with Robert Juckes, Andrew Jackson, David Mason, Philip Parker, Trevor Faber and David Travers; St Ive's Chambers, with Barry Berlin; and 4 Fountain Court, with Patrick Thomas, John Maxwell, Mark Wall and Antonie Muller.
Heading further south, Albion Chambers' Martin Picton, Patrick Burrowes and Michael Cullum are all singled out for mention for general crime, together with Gavin Chalmers, Stephen Mooney, and highly-rated Brian Lett at South Western Chambers. Also noted are Alan Large and Robert Linford at Devon Chambers in Plymouth and the set at Walnut House in Exeter has a host of counsel, including Francis Burkett, Iain Leadbetter and Geoffrey Mercer.
Moving into Wales, Stephen Hopkins at 30 Park Place, Cardiff is also singled out for mention.