My powers of clairvoyance are no better than the next man’s but I would be willing to wager £46.50 (mention hearing fee) that whatever else happens on Friday 8th May 2015 The Right Honourable Chris Grayling MP, Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain & Secretary of State for Justice will no longer hold those offices. During my term as Chairman of the Young Barristers’ Committee a great deal of attention and ire was focussed on the person of Mr Grayling. Not surprisingly politicians in office become lightning conductors for dissatisfaction when things go wrong and bad reforms are implemented. I was and continue to be wary, however, of expending too much energy on personalities. Systemic shifts often owe a great deal more to entrenched institutional views than the fleeting intentions of come and go politicians.
And it is extremely difficult to escape the feeling that for many in the Ministry of Justice the Bar, and particularly the Criminal Bar, is a nuisance and a headache. This is by no means true for all but the diffuse nature of the Bar and its idiosyncratic membership, from a Civil Service perspective, no doubt, makes it a very awkward supplier base to contend with. Most barristers would observe that inherent in that awkwardness lies the Bar’s greatest virtue: its independence. Magna Carta was a keystone in the foundation of a state and society where that independence could subsist.
Where it is difficult to absolve Mr Grayling of any blame however is in the timing and composition of one of the centrepiece’s of this year’s 800 year Magna Carta celebrations. The Global Law Summit in London is scheduled for 23rd February even though Magna Carta was sealed on 15th June 1215. Not to mince words this event has been deliberately timed to attach kudos and attention to Mr Grayling and the Conservative administration in the run up to the election. Although notionally celebrating and examining the Rule of Law those most at risk of falling out of its beneficent reach are dismayingly absent from its programme as Peter Oborne justifiably excoriated in The Telegraph: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/law-and-order/11331353/The-hypocrites-have-jumped-aboard-the-Magna-Carta-bandwagon.html
What would have been truly interesting and relevant would have been a drafting of a Magna Carta for 2015 and a conference inviting those who would most benefit from such a revision. But of course such an event would highlight how precariously the fate of the Rule of Law for all hangs in the balance.
One truism that attaches to the leadership of the Bar senior and junior is that there are no easy years and I would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to my predecessor and my successor as chairman of the Young Barristers’ Committee. Hannah Kinch of 23 Essex Street was an indefatigably cheerful leader during 2013, better known as the year of consultations. Her endless good humour was a real inspiration and lesson to me during 2014 when the long anticipated and much vaunted ‘action’ actually occurred.
The Young Bar could not hope for a steadier captain in 2015 than Daniel Sternberg of 9-12 Bell Yard who has an old head on young shoulders and was constantly at my side in the year past when I needed succour, counsel and an amanuensis to ensure I cast no hostages to fortune.
2015 will be a difficult year, very difficult, but Daniel will be more than a match for anything that comes his way. I will, of course, continue to champion the interests of the Young Bar and any barrister, pupil or student who wants my help is welcome to it: firstname.lastname@example.org.