In the Media

Bruising for the Bar – and keeping the public on side

PUBLISHED September 24, 2006

Andrew Hall, QC, is the new chairman of the Criminal Bar Association. He has his work cut out 
HIS motorbike was not in evidence that day because Andrew Hall had to get a bundle of papers to court. But normally the top criminal defence barrister arrives attired in leathers. ?I am famous,? he admits, ?for attending meetings at the Department for Constitutional Affairs dressed in armoured trousers.?

Even in a suit, however, the QC still looks the part of a tough negotiator. Which is apposite: from today he is the Bar rank-and-file?s new cheerleader. In between defending murderers at the Old Bailey and trips to Africa to train lawyers he takes on the demanding brief of chairing the 3,000-strong Criminal Bar Association, fighting his colleagues? corner at a time when the Prime Minister has declared war on the criminal justice system in general ? and criminal lawyers? practices in particular.

?It?s a very tough job,? he says. But Hall has form: for two years he worked tirelessly chairing the Bar Council?s remuneration committee when it was negotiating with the Government over legal aid rates.

The shopping list is lengthy: the Carter review on legal aid; the Legal Services Bill; advocacy standards; rape convictions; jury trials in fraud cases; sentencing; and summary justice. ?The Criminal Bar has been through bumpy waters in the past few years and it?s not going to get any easier ? we need a voice and a centre.?

But Hall is not just a trade unionist. The case for the Criminal Bar must be made, he says, on the basis of what is in the public interest and with a view to fundamental principles such as judicial independence, civil liberties and due process. The two often combine: ?The public interest and our own, in the continued existence of independent, specialist advocates in the criminal courts, are inseparable.?

The Government has yet to respond on the Carter proposals. Bar leaders believe that Carter has averted further protest action by practitioners. But one said last week: ?That kind of action is only just at bay; it will be Hall?s job to keep it that way.? The review will mean better rates for junior barristers, funded by the handful of very high earnings at the top end; the offer is modest, not generous, he says. ?We have always argued for that distribution.?

But he disagrees that there are many truly fat cats, citing the familiar argument that the headline earnings are often multiples of more than one year?s work.

?I have a mortgage, I live in a two-bedroom house in Hackney and drive a nine-year-old Saab. You have to take these [fat cat] figures with a pinch of salt. When you take off expenses, most criminal silks are paid the same sort of pay as a GP or hospital consultant.?

Hall, 53, is not the stereotype barrister. He comes from a family of fishermen in Hull ? both his father?s and mother?s family were fishermen ? but he broke with tradition, going to read law at Birmingham University. ?I think I watched too much Perry Mason,? he says. ?I thought law was not about being a commercial lawyer, looking after companies and property interests, I wanted to be involved in justice.? So after a masters degree in criminology at Sheffield he moved down to London and joined a law centre, where he qualified as a solicitor, ?working with people in trouble with the police?.

But in the Seventies law centres did not handle much crime so he joined Henry Hodge (now Mr Justice Hodge) at Hodge, Jones & Allen, staying there for nine years ? having started doing ?modest? criminal work and ending by running a large criminal department of nine solicitors.

His most well-known case was acting for Winston Silcott, the man charged with the murder of PC Keith Blakelock in the 1985 Broadwater Farm riots, which dominated his time for four or five years until the successful appeal where it was shown that Silcott?s confession had been fabricated.

?It was yet another miscarriage of justice . . . which led me to think how to be constantly alert, that the criminal justice system can go very badly wrong unless monitored and that you have to be extremely vigilant.?

But it was also a turning point. ?After Silcott I needed a new challenge. I was 39 and I really wanted to be a frontline trial advocate doing difficult trial work. The Bar seemed to be a very changed place from the early Seventies when it was rather less welcoming if you had no connections.? So he went to Doughty Street Chambers, did a shortened pupillage and transferred to the Bar. That was 15 years ago.

Now he has a leading practice in crime but with a civil liberties-human rights slant: it includes commercial fraud and terrorism, but is mainly homicide and organised crime. His most recent cases involved defending a Birmingham man who murdered his wife and three other family members by burning down the house in which they were sleeping, and a member of a notorious Nottingham criminal gang who ? for revenge ? shot dead the parents of a rival serving life for a gangland murder.

That is not all. He has led Bar human rights missions to Burma and Sudan; visited Cameroon, China and Cambodia, also on human rights projects; and devised a library resources project in six African countries as well as running advocacy training for the profession in Malawi. In all he has visited 13 African countries and plans to go to the special court in Arusha, Tanzania, to help with advocacy training there. No surprise, perhaps, that he won the Bar pro bono prize in 2004 for outstanding commitment. ?The Bar has been fantastic for me so I wanted to put something back ? that?s why I?m doing the job I?d doing.?

What of the future of the profession? The Bar has never been as modern in its approach as it is now, Hall argues. Nor is it elitist, except in terms of the skills barristers have. ?The reality is that if you have talent and ability you will succeed, irrespective of background.? But pressure on fees creates a risk that it will revert ?to the bad old days?.

Students arrive with ?30,000 of debt, he says, and the freezing of fees for the past ten years has had an impact. ?Academics say to students, ?You will have to think of something else?.? There is a real risk it will return to being a profession for the rich. ?I don?t want a Criminal Bar where only those with contacts and the right sort of backgrounds are those coming to the Bar. There?s a serious risk that it will happen but I? m absolutely determined that it won?t because a diverse Bar is essential.?

Beyond Carter, the future funding of the profession is also a concern. There has been talk of competitive bidding for individual cases, allocating briefs on the basis of price. That would mean that quality suffers dramatically, he says, and will put the future of the profession at risk. But if the new fee changes bed down satisfactorily, that spectre may be seen off.

He dismisses the idea that the Criminal Bar is too large but in London and the South East, he agrees, there may be too many juniors competing for work. One idea he floats is the possibility of minimum salaries for young barristers ? although that would have to be squared with ?preserving the nature of practice at the Bar, self-employed individuals in competition?.

Meanwhile, Hall will fight any moves for a tougher sentencing regime: sentences are already tougher than most in many other countries, he argues, with more people going to custody and for longer periods; or against removing juries in fraud cases, while working for higher standards of advocacy ? particularly in rape trials ? and reforms to listing of cases to stop barristers being ?double-booked? and briefs being returned at the last minute.

He wants to see the Criminal Bar active in reforming the system; but in general it works, he believes: ?The guilty get convicted and the innocent get acquitted.?

There will be little time this year to be off-duty but, when there is, Hall and his partner (they have no children), who is in charge of behaviour support services i
n Islington, go hill-walking or head off to a small house in Spain ? although even there Hall admits it is often to get his head ?around a big case?.

?This is a really exciting time to lead the Criminal Bar. It?s at a crossroads ? we have to persuade the public and the Government that we have a modern Criminal Bar that determines its agenda by what is in the public interest.?