The bar

Sets to have their say over client gift furore

A commotion is brewing at the bar as the barrister’s right to entertain came under scrutiny last month.

The turmoil began when the Bar Standards Board (BSB) issued a consultation into the issue on 13 December 2006. It has been claimed that barristers’ gifts to solicitors have become too lavish, including spa weekends and all-expenses-paid jaunts to the Rugby World Cup.

With a month left until the close of the consultation on 1 March, dozens of chambers – including Hardwicke Chambers, Wilberforce Chambers and Old Square Chambers – told The Lawyer that they are gearing up to present submissions for and against providing hospitality to clients.

Wilberforce senior clerk Declan Redmond says: “Barristers are in direct competition with solicitors. A chambers should be able to do what it wants as long as it doesn’t put the bar in disrepute.”

Old Square head John Hendy QC says: “Solicitors should be selecting who they instruct on the basis of merit, not who gave them the best present or night out.”

Hiring drive results in High Court growth spurt
It is all change in the courts with a flurry of appointments to the High Court and one significant elevation to the House of Lords.

The increased rate of appointments to the High Court is the result of a Judicial Appointments Commission (JAC) recruitment drive that kicked off three months ago. For the first time in the history of judicial appointments, the JAC advertised for 25 new High Court judges in the press.

Last month five QCs moved up the ranks, including Timothy King QC from Manchester-based Bryon Street Chambers and John Griffith Williams QC of Goldsmith Buildings to the Queen’s Bench Division, while Launcelot Henderson QC of 5 Stone Buildings joined Chancery.

Henderson takes over from Lord Justice Neuberger, who was made a Law Lord on 13 December 2006 after just two years at the Court of Appeal. It is thought that Neuberger’s rise is one of the quickest in the judiciary. Lord Justices Hoffmann and Saville spent two and a half and three years respectively at the Court of Appeal before their elevation to the Lords.

D-day for QC applications
Climbing the ladder has also been a hot issue for the junior bar.

Would-be QCs were initially given just one month from 12 December 2006 to complete and submit the 122-page application for the 2007 round of silk appointments.

After complaints that it is nearly impossible within a month to complete the form – which requires 24 references – from specialist bar associations and individual applicants, the Queen’s Counsel selection panel was forced to extend the deadline by two weeks to today (29 January).

By 2pm today applicants’ completed forms need to show their abilities in five key competencies: understanding and using the law; oral and written advocacy; working with others; diversity; and integrity.

Many at the junior bar have also been left disgruntled by the cost of applying rising substantially, from £1,800 plus VAT last year to £2,500 plus VAT this year. Successful applicants in 2007 will have to pay a further £3,000 plus VAT, compared with £2,250 plus VAT in 2006.

On the reason for extending the deadline, a spokesman for the selection committee says: “The panel wishes to minimise any risk of undermining the confidence of the public or the professions in the selection process, and to avoid any potential discriminatory impact. Overwhelmingly, it wishes to be fair to applicants and to ensure that the eventual list is of the highest quality.”

Blackstone to bring SFO to book over abandoned BAE probe
Public confidence, arguably, has not been on the Serious Fraud Office’s (SFO) mind when it dropped its probe into BAE Systems.

The result: Blackstone Chambers launched a major legal action against the SFO, the Attorney General and Prime Minister Tony Blair over the decision to drop the investigation into BAE’s involvement in a Saudi Arabia defence contract.

The set’s heavyweight team, including top judicial review silk David Pannick and Dinah Rose QC, last month announced that it will be applying for judicial review with Leigh Day & Co partner Richard Stein. The claim was expected to be issued at the beginning of this year to kick off formal proceedings, but the application has suffered a slight delay due to a few loose ends.

The Blackstone action, on behalf of the Campaign Against Arms Trade and social justice movement The Corner House, alleges that the SFO’s scrapping of the probe into BAE was unlawful as it breached an international anti-bribery convention.

While Blackstone continues to wait for a hearing date to argue why a judicial review is required, the pressure has been turned up on the courts to hear the case by groups outside the UK.

Earlier this month (18 January), the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development declared that the barristers’ interpretation of the anti-bribery agreement was correct and that the SFO may have acted illegally when it dropped the BAE probe.

Sets target better ADR capabilities
As with most litigation, the BAE judicial review looks as if it could become expensive, which is why many clients these days are turning to other forms of dispute resolution.

The change in consumer focus has led chambers to look at how they can strengthen their arbitration and alternative dispute resolution (ADR) services. The two-year slowdown in the litigation market, which is set to continue, has also prompted a strong move towards ADR.

In response to this, Brick Court Chambers last month strengthened its arbitration capabilities with the hire of door tenant Klaus Reichert, who moved from Littleton Chambers. Meanwhile, commercial set 3 Verulam Buildings’ expansion into Old Square Chambers’ former home has meant that Verulam is introducing an arbitration suite.