The 5% Solution Group – a barrister lobby looking to reduce the level of practising certificate fee (PCF) – is to hold off calling an extraordinary general meeting of the Bar Council pending a meeting with Bar chairman Peter Lodder QC.
The aim of the group, which began via social networking site LinkedIn, is for the Bar Council to find “5% cuts annually for the next five years and [to confine] its role to what is necessary rather than luxurious”.
It says there is support from “very considerably more” than the 150 barristers needed to convene an EGM.
However, Mr Lodder has offered to meet the group, led by Jonathan Dingle, joint head of 218 Strand chambers in London, to discuss their concerns. Mr Dingle said it was appropriate not to make any decisions until after the meeting.
A consultation on proposals to increase the PCF by 5% closed last week. In a letter to Mr Dingle, Mr Lodder said it reflected how “the demands on the Bar Council in its approved regulator and representative capacities have continued to grow relentlessly”.
The increases in the Bar Standards Board’s (BSB) costs are largely accounted for by the statutory levies for the costs of the Legal Services Board and Legal Ombudsman, the need to plan for the BSB as an entity regulator and the development of the Quality Assurance Scheme of Advocates, he said.
Listing the range of the Bar Council’s representative work, Mr Lodder said: “For the Bar Council to stand up and fight for the publicly funded Bar, to expand work for the Bar at home (and, increasingly, in overseas markets), and to speak for the young Bar, a minimum level of funding is necessary for our effort to be effective.”
He insisted that its activitie
s are “necessary and not luxuries when the profession is under so much pressure for its continued existence”. He pointed out that the Bar Council is under a statutory duty to provide the BSB with the resources it needs to carry out its regulatory functions.
“Although the call to reduce the practising certificate fee is perhaps understandable and well-intentioned, any cuts can only mean that it will be the representative side of the Bar Council which will be affected, undermining its capability to stand up and fight for the Bar, at a time when we all agree it is most needed.”
Mr Dingle said he was delighted that Mr Lodder, and his successor Michael Todd QC, were taking the group’s concerns seriously.
He paid fulsome tribute to the work of barristers who volunteer their time to support the work of the Bar Council and to the “inspiring” work done in areas such as diversity and human rights, and campaigns such as promoting access to justice.
“The group’s message, however, is one which calls for a rigorous examination of the Bar’s approach to its statutory obligations and its other activities, from a cost-benefit perspective,” he explained.
He said Mr Lodder’s letter did not address two key concerns of the group. First, whether the Bar’s activities have been subject to “the sort of rigorous cost-benefit analysis with supporting costed ‘pain and grief’ impact statements if funding was not increased, or indeed reduced in part or totally: there is considerable concern that the Bar is being financially reactive rather than working to an affordable and tested budget in the way that public and private sector now do”.
The second was why those earning the least at the criminal, human rights, and family Bars “appear to be required to support Bar Council-funded projects seemingly costing over £700,000 in 2012/13 to develop work for those earning the most in the commercial and chancery Bars”.
Mr Dingle added that the group is also “very concerned that the increasing expense of simply putting on a wig may be adversely affecting access to a career in the profession for those from disadvantaged backgrounds, and the many women who make up a substantial proportion of the publicly funded Bar”.