Hardwicke Building to split its civil and criminal departments

Hardwicke Building, the largest set of chambers in London, is to demerge its civil and criminal teams.

Hardwicke’s 68-tenant civil team, which is likely to take the name Hardwicke Chambers, will remain in the existing premises in Lincoln’s Inn and will be led by current joint head Nigel Jones QC.

Fellow head Patrick Upward QC is looking for new premises to house the 48-strong criminal team.

Hardwicke will be hoping to replicate the success of Cloisters, which after considerable deliberation demerged its civil and criminal teams in 2000. Last year, Cloisters, now a purely civil set, won Employment Team of the Year at The Lawyer Awards.

Hardwicke has undergone a considerable period of turmoil in recent years, marked by a series of high-profile departures. These culminated in June 2002 when Romie Tager QC and six colleagues, as well as a civil clerking team, left to establish Selborne Chambers.

Following their departures, the set rebranded as Hardwicke Civil and Hardwicke Criminal, but the two divisions will now be physically dismantled. The two new sets will retain some links, though, including the provision of joint pupillage arrangements and IT support.

One of the set’s biggest problems has been the divergent earning capacity of the two groups, exacerbated by the cost of its premises. Although providing some of the best accommodation in Lincoln’s Inn, the 20-year commercial lease – one of the first at the bar when it was signed in 1996 – has imposed a considerable financial burden.

However, strong financial growth from both divisions in the past 12 months means that, despite the loss of income from 48 tenants, both room rents and chambers contributions for the civil team, which have been reduced below 20 per cent, will not increase. Since 2002, the civil/family group has increased revenues by 29 per cent, while income from crime has rocketed by 44 per cent over the same period.

Chief executive Ann Buxton said rather than result in redundancies for chambers staff, the split will actually create two new roles.