The long running dispute between the bar and the government over advocacy fees and other cuts 'may have reached a turning point', the leader of the bar said today.
Addressing the Annual Bar Conference in London, Nicholas Lavender QC (pictured), chairman of the Bar Council, said that after a year of 'unprecedented' action against cuts in advocacy fees 'we have reached a turning point'.
'Now our communications with the government take the form of positive and hopefully constructive dialogue. In the civil field, people are coming to see that the cuts have gone too far, and that something must be done.'
The effect of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO) was to deny legal help to over 400,000 people a year, or over 1,000 people every single day, he said.
In the year before LASPO came into effect on April Fool's Day 2013, there were 573,000 new cases of individuals receiving some form of legal help on legal aid. 'Yet in the year after LASPO came into effect, there were only 172,000 such cases. Over 160,000 of those 400,000 people a year are husbands and wives involved in family disputes.'
Despite the cuts, Lavender was bullish about the bar's future. In an implied comment on the role of solicitor advocates, he said 'It is no accident that the overwhelming majority of complex, difficult and important cases which come before our courts are conducted by barristers.' He also quoted the report of Sir Bill Jeffrey earlier this year, who found that the main area of circuit judges' concern was 'relatively inexperienced solicitor advocates being fielded by their firms (for what were presumed to be commercial reasons) in cases beyond their capability.'
One reason for optimism is that 'we are prepared to adapt', he said. 'That is not to say all change is good. But change happens and we have to deal with it.' One example was the ending of old-style undefended divorces. 'We dealt with it, and there are many more barristers practising in the field of family law than in the 1960s.' Another is the arrival of the chambers chief executive - and direct access to the public without the medium of a solicitor.
'We have survived Oliver Cromwell, and we have survived Judge Jeffreys,' he said. 'And I believe that we will survive anything which this or any other government throws at us.'
Lavender said he would be speaking on the subject of regulation later in the month.