This is an important development of the 'one bar' principle that has been advocated by the Bar Council for about five years. Some employed barristers are vocal in their belief that the bar pays lip service to this principle rather than applying it.
Members of the circuit are able to benefit from training and networking opportunities, as well as social events such as dinners and conferences.
The South Eastern Circuit, led by criminal practitioner Stephen Hockman QC, head of 6 Pump Court, is the largest circuit, encompassing the area from King's Lynn in the North to Chichester in the South and parts of Sussex, as well as London. This incorporates a significant portion of employed barristers in the Government Legal Service, the Crown Prosecution Service, and large companies.
“We will have to see how many join, although I suspect it will be gradual”
Stephen Hockman QC, 6 Pump Court
This includes the recently appointed chair of the Bar Council's employed bar committee and the director of the Serious Fraud Office, Rosalind Wright, and the head solicitor at the Department of Trade and Industry, Anthony Inglese. Inglese is joint vice-chair of Wright's committee.
Hockman said: “We hope the employed barristers' new position provides them with all the benefits of circuit membership and that they take all the opportunities available as a branch of the bar profession. We will have to see how many will join, although I suspect it may be gradual. However, I would expect a broad range to join.”
The circuit's move follows the debacle last year surrounding proposals by the North Eastern Circuit to ban all employed barristers from membership of the circuit. The circuit subsequently faced the threat of being forced out of membership of the Bar Council. Later it voted in favour of employed barristers having associate membership.
The European Circuit, led by David Vaughan QC of Brick Court Chambers, opened up membership to both employed barristers and those in independent practice through its original constitution. But, unlike Hockman's circuit, this did not require a vote by the European Circuit's members, who unanimously welcome employed barristers.
It believes employed barristers have been instrumental in developing European law and that they are omnipresent in the European Commission (EC) and Council, as well as the EC businesses' in-house legal departments.
Fergus Randolph, a barrister at Brick Court Chambers and the European Circuit's European junior, said employed barristers in the European Circuit are not subject to the same conflicts and confidentiality issues facing all the other circuits.