UK Roundup: The bar

Joanne Harris on the month at the bar

‘Elevenses’ anyone?

There have been mutterings around Lincoln’s Inn for a while that something was up at number 11 New Square. But nobody seemed very sure whether chancery set Eleven New Square was merging with its upstairs neighbour, tax set 11 New Square, or with one of the sets based at 11 Old Square.

The truth finally emerged this month when Eleven New Square, headed by Hedley Marten, announced it is to merge with the chancery and commercial chambers 11 Old Square.

The two sets seem to have thought this one through, and it makes a lot more sense than most mergers. Both 11s are of similar size and have overlapping practice areas. Neither has many silks – Eleven New brings two, and 11 Old brings three – but the practitioners at both sets have solid reputations and their combined strength should surely attract more senior barristers in the near future.

Behind the merger is a desire to create more critical mass in the expectation of increased competition. The new set will be of a similar size to sets such as Serle Court or Wilberforce Chambers, and it should be trying to push into the same tier of work as those recognised chancery and commercial leaders.

The merger takes effect in June. For the time being the merged set will operate from its existing two sites. The six clerks will operate from one building and some of the barristers will switch offices. But the set needs to find itself one location soon to permit full and successful integration.

Of course, it also needs a name. Simply ‘Eleven’ has been discounted because 11 Stone Buildings is still going strong. ‘Elevenses’ and ‘Eleven Squared’ are also reportedly in the running, but may be a bit gimmicky for the traditional world of the chancery bar.

Hollis Whiteman loses five

Lincoln’s Inn isn’t the only place where rumours of new sets have been running riot. In the Temple, the talk was all of criminal super- set Hollis Whiteman Chambers and the fact that five of its barristers are planning a new breakaway outfit.

Hollis Whiteman is ranked among the best of the criminal-focused sets, known for its stable of eminent silks and rated juniors. It is also known for its legendary senior clerk Michael Greenaway, who, with nearly half a century of clerking experience, retired before changing his mind and coming back to Hollis Whiteman.

So the general consensus is that it is a pity that Julian Bevan QC, Timothy Langdale QC, John Kelsey-Fry QC, Richard Horwell and Ian Winter have announced their intention to set up a small, elite set practising private and high-cost criminal work. Indeed, some sources go as far as muttering that the concept smackd of arrogance. Others are questioning how the set will function without junior juniors – after all, you can hardly expect a criminal client to pay for a senior silk to go and do an interim application at Bow Street Magistrates’ Court.

Administration will be key to the new set’s success; the clerking team will have to market the services of its tenants in a targeted way to ensure cash is coming in. One person they will not be able to call on is Greenaway, who has again announced his retirement from the Temple.

In the meantime, Hollis Whiteman is remaining steadfast in its determination to continue practising publicly funded criminal work while bringing on its young juniors. The chambers has approved a new management structure, introducing a chambers director as well as a new senior clerk. Chambers head Vivian Robinson QC and his fellow members can be sure that the rest of the bar will be watching with interest, and a not-inconsiderable amount of sincere goodwill.

CPS goes in-house

Despite the elitist plans of Bevan et al, over at the Criminal Prosecution Service (CPS), there are new opportunities opening up for junior barristers. The CPS has begun the slow process of introducing in-house advocacy in a scheme that is to be rolled out to cover all courts.

The service is recruiting for an advocacy team to be based in Snaresbrook, northeast London and four advocates are already based in Bristol Crown Court.

It is a controversial move. The Government wants to cut legal aid spending, but is coming under pressure from both solicitors and barristers not to cut their fees. Criminal practitioners are all anxiously awaiting the numbers for Lord Carter’s review of legal aid procurement. If those figures are bad news for the self-employed bar, then the CPS might find itself deluged with CVs as defence lawyers decide to try their hands at prosecution.

And it’s good knight from him…

The Bar Council’s independent complaints commissioner has issued his final report after nine years in the role and is now retiring to make way for the transition to a single Office for Legal Complaints (OLC).

Michael Scott, a former Army officer, has gone out with a bang. His last report slams the whole concept of an OLC and also rounds on the Law Society’s complaints handling. Scott says it is unclear how the OLC will address the current problems and claims that, if the OLC employs the Law Society’s staff and structures, it will be unable to cope.

On the other hand, Scott is pleased with the Bar Council’s record, praising the way the council is prepared to adapt and amend its practices. It seems individual chambers still have some work to do, with 10 per cent having no written complaints procedure, which breaks the Bar Council’s code of conduct.

Scott signed off in a less serious manner, printing a delightful selection of comments sent to him over the years both praising and criticising his performance.

One of the less offensive comments reads: “You’re obviously just the retired Army type, capable of only living now in gentle pastures. You wouldn’t be up to taking on some of the big, arrogant bullies that exist among barristers. You’re the wrong man for a job of this nature. That’s why you got the job. The barristers knew you’d be no trouble.”

But not everyone found him incompetent or inefficient. Scott will ride off into the sunset of retirement with the mantle of “Knight in Shining Armour” on his shoulders, bestowed by a grateful complainant. If only all stories ended so happily.