A Labour government will reform barristers’ training by putting it back in the hands of the Inns of Court and ending the “profiteering” by the current commercial providers, the shadow attorney general has said.
Addressing the Bar Council’s annual conference in London on Saturday, Baroness Chakrabarti said Labour would “end the racket of Bar courses that offer too many places for too high fees to too poor students, many of whom have no prospect of the pupillage that remains the gateway to the profession”.
Branding the commercial providers of the Bar professional training course, which costs up to £19,000 “profiteers”, Lady Chakrabarti said they were “on fair notice that change is coming”
She pledged to work with the Bar and the Inns “enthusiastically and creatively on the best way to invest in the best future of the profession”.
Endorsing the proposal made by the shadow solicitor general Nick Thomas-Symonds in an article in The Times in February, she said the “obvious solution” to the problem of the high cost of legal training was to “let the Inns become the course providers” and establish regional centres.
Quoting Mr Thomas-Symonds, she said: “Let them train the smaller number of students who do have a genuine chance of pupillage, expand their scholarship and bursary programmes and build a profession of barristers from many different backgrounds.”
Lady Chakrabarti also pledged “a radical reversal of the cold hand of Coalition austerity politics on legal aid and the court system” by increasing funding for legal aid and law centres as well as providing better support for Crown Prosecution Service, Serious Fraud Office and Law Commission.
She said the £23m in extra funding for the Advocates Graduated Fee Scheme – which included a further £8m announced by Lord Chancellor David Gauke on Saturday – was merely a “sticking plaster”.
She branded the Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment Act 2012, which removed public funding from whole fields of civil law, “a national scandal on a par with universal discredit and the hostile environment for migrants”.
She added: “It may not yet command the same newspaper coverage, but it is a similar agent of delivering misery.”
The law, she said, “is not a bourgeois luxury but an absolute essential for everyone and especially the most vulnerable in society”.
Lady Chakrabarti said the “particularly savage treatment” of the Ministry of Justice, which had suffered 40% cuts in the Treasury’s austerity measures, were “ideological in leaving abuses of power unchecked”.
On the impact of the austerity agenda, she said: “I never thought that I would see food banks next to investment banks in one of the wealthiest countries on Earth. Nor did I think I would see doctors, lawyers and teachers having to take to the streets like the industrial and agricultural workers of previous generations.”
As the country has become more unequal and polarised, she said the legal system was “fast coming to resemble the Michelin-starred restaurant next to the soup kitchen”.
“The international super rich still have a taste for British justice, seeking to strike their deals with a view to settling their disputes here, or better still, in shadowy arbitrations in glamorous offshore tax havens with the aid of some of the finest and most expensively trained minds in our country.
“Meanwhile on the ground, several miles down from the Learjet and penthouse suite, the proportion of litigants with legal representation fell from 60% in 2012 to just 33% in the first quarter of last year.”
While technology could help in some areas of legal work, she said what was needed was greater investment. “That means access to justice for everyone in this country and not only those who want to use the City of London as a boutique money laundering service off the coast of Europe,” she said.