HH John Dowse

Last week we learned of the passing of HH John Dowse, retired Circuit Judge who sat in the North East and former Deputy Head of Chambers at 9 St John Street, Manchester. A distinguished and successful career.

For many of us, it is not the judicial initials that went alongside the His Honour title that we knew John by, but simply “JD”. And when the world lost JD, we truly did lose a fabulous man.

JD taught me what it meant to be a part of, and contribute to, the success of chambers. It is only through the hard work and excellent judgement of people like JD that chambers can work as a business. It is by JD’s example that I realised that chambers is also a family.

Shortly after I joined chambers he became the first Deputy Head of Chambers. He had recently organised the move from our previous premises to 9 SJS. I served with him on a management committee that dealt with moving our former senior clerk from a percentage to a salary, worked with him when he drafted the basis for the chambers’ constitution and assisted him as he transformed the way that chambers was run. He laid the foundations for the success that chambers was to enjoy as a business for the twenty years after he left to go on the Bench.

But he would never have wanted chambers to be “corporate”. On the day that I was offered tenancy in chambers, after I had called my mum and dad to let them know the good news, my pupil master told me that JD wanted to speak to me in his room about some work I had done for him. Back to reality. I wandered down the corridor to JD’s room, knocked on the door and went in. He was in his usual position at the head of a boardroom style table. In front of him was a bottle of champagne, half a dozen glasses and the same number of criminal practitioners standing around. He popped the cork and welcomed me to the family.

I was to spend a lot of time over the next eight years or so in that room, talking to JD. And laughing with him. John was a master of deploying pantomime-esque feigned ignorance to comic effect. His eyebrows would pop up, his voice become that little more Southern, giving him the every appearance of one of Fagin’s boys, overacting their innocence. I imagine that most people would have the word “mischievous” in their descriptions of John.

He had photos of his children in that room. It was always obvious that the photos were not there as mere decoration, nor were they there because that is what people do, but because JD wanted his family with him in some way at all times. Whenever I saw John after he went on the bench, it would not be long before he gave me an update on something in the life of at least one of his children. Never in a boring way. Never in a boastful way. Just out of irrepressible pride in his kids.

He was the pupil master of my contemporary and friend Rachel Wedderspoon (now Employment Judge Wedderspoon). Rachel and JD were as close as family to each other, and in many ways she has followed in his career footsteps. He would have taken no credit for her success but basked in pride.

When I was asked to be the Deputy Head of Chambers my first thought was of JD. I had big shoes to fill. If I did half as a good a job as he did, I will have done well.

Whenever I saw JD he would greet me with a hug. A man that I had only spent seven years or so with in chambers, a Circuit Judge, would give me a big hug when he saw me. Almost as if we were family…

My thoughts are very much with his family. His wife Elaine and his children, Francesca, Philippa and Jonathan. I hope it will be some comfort to them to know that mischievous, irrepressible JD will be missed by many of us.

The Unacceptable Tweet

When I was interviewed during my QC application I was asked why I thought that “Diversity” was one of the attributes that was required in aspirant Silks. Part of my answer was that, as a junior, I had looked to Silks to provide an example. That Silks were not just leading counsel but are, more often than not, the leaders in the profession.

This weekend I have spent a lot of time reflecting how best to react to a Tweet from a fellow member of the Bar, Jon Holbrook. I have debated with myself whether referring to it is amplifying the original Tweet and adds to the issues created by the original post. I have also reflected over issues surrounding free speech.

After that period of reflection I am quite satisfied that I have no choice other than to respond to the Tweet. And to make it clear that it is reprehensible and thoroughly unacceptable.

The context is that Mr Holbrook Tweeted about a case where a schoolchild and her parents challenged a school’s rule about hair which had seen her excluded from the school for periods of time. Her argument, ultimately successful, was that the rule was discriminatory.

His Tweet stated “The Equality Act undermines school discipline by empowering the stroppy teenager of colour” and quote Tweeted a short film about the original complaint.

I repeat – this Tweet is wholly unacceptable coming from a member of my profession.

I have no difficulty at all with Mr Holbrook seeking to debate the rights and wrongs of the Equality Act. I suspect he would be very wrong, yet it is an argument he can try to advance. But this Tweet has three very significant issues.

The first is that it is linked to the story of the young woman in the video. The implied criticism is, contrary to the fact that the school ultimately settled her complaint, that this was a frivolous and unfounded complaint borne out of caprice and not due to direct or indirect discrimination. Mr Holbrook, from the comfort of his keyboard, has implied that the young woman has “played the race card”.

In the BSB Code of Conduct core duty 5 states that “You must not behave in a way which is likely to diminish the trust and confidence which the public places in you or in the profession.”

The BSB have issued guidance about the use of social media and the interaction with CD 5. For my part it is difficult to see how the Tweet of Mr Holbrook does not demean the complaint made by the young woman. He has portrayed her not as a victim of some form of discrimination but as nothing more than a stroppy teenager who played the race card.

That is not acceptable.

Secondly Mr Holbrook’s Tweet links his perception of the Equality Act being used to undermine school discipline to one protected characteristic and one only. Race.

There are 9 protected characteristics. He does not complain that disabled students undermine school discipline by utilizing the Equality Act. Or students who follow a particular religion. Or male teenagers. It is “a….teenager of colour”.

Race is the one protected characteristic which is singled out as being misused by those bringing complaints under the Equality Act. We circle back to that phrase “playing the race card”. A phrase used to undermine those seeking to redress an injustice.

That is wholly unacceptable.

And finally it is the use of the phrase “stroppy teenager of colour”. It instantly sets the non-white teenager as being different. It sets them as having an advantage over their white peers by this legislation. It makes the accusation that the challenge to an unfair and discriminatory rule is based not out of legitimate complaint but a desire to cause trouble. It instantly diminishes any such complaint.

But it is so much more. “Stroppy”. It almost says “uppity”. It resonates with “know your place”.

It is simply unacceptable.

So what? Why does it matter?

I have read the Tweets that support Mr Holbrook. One of them came from someone who Tweeted that the Equality Act also facilitates BAME candidates being promoted beyond their competence, a view Tweeted by a man who also sought to justify a comparison between people of Afro-Caribbean heritage and primates. Just typing that sentence made rage creep through my body.

Mr Holbrook is not directly responsible for the views of others. His Tweet gives encouragement, however, to those who see the vital protections afforded by the Equality Act as nothing more than an unfair advantage to the undeserving. It is a fuel of racism.

Words matter. How we express ourselves matters. That an advocate should Tweet something which emboldens such a racist to add their support to the Tweet is appalling.

It is not acceptable.

And how would the teenager who is visually different from Mr Holbrook, the “teenager of colour”, who wants to be a barrister feel upon reading Mr Holbrook’s Tweet? Would they feel that this was a profession for them?

That is why it is vital that I, amongst so many others, say that this is not acceptable.

But saying is one thing. It is an important thing. But I feel that more needs to be done. Mr Holbrook has had more than enough time to reflect. He has had plenty of people point out the issues with what he has said. And yet the Tweet remains.

That is why I have decided to report Mr Holbrook to the BSB. This is something I have never done before. I don’t want to “cancel” Mr Holbrook. It is not for me to determine ultimately whether he has breached the Code we share. It is, however, vital that our Regulator examines this conduct.

Those of us that are a part of this profession are privileged. Mr Holbrook uses that privileged profession to be a “commentator” in publications like Spiked. He has a right to freedom of expression. But with that right and the enjoyment of that privilege comes a responsibility.

In my view Mr Holbrook is responsible for expressing a view which damages my profession and diminishes the standing of our profession. He hasn’t uttered a word of apology or contrition or acknowledgement of people’s concerns. Of course, that is not the way of the contrarian. He has not even responded to the repeated Tweets of the mother involved in the story, Tweets which contain a dignity which jars against the cowardice of silence in response.

This is why we have merchanisms of complaint. It may well be that I am wrong. That’s why others are in place to judge Mr Holbrook. But to stand by and not say anything, to not do anything, would be to abuse the privileged position that I hold.

I have no doubt that some will consider this approach as “virtue signaling”. I am not signaling my virtue. I am seeking to uphold the values which seem core to the bar taking its place in a modern society. With the privilege of our regulated profession comes responsibilities.

It is possible to debate the utility and purpose of equality legislation without implying unfair criticism of an individual and without a lazy generalised swipe at BAME teenagers.

Nick Kennedy

I met Nick when I was a young man playing cricket for the Circuit. From that first meeting we were mates. Well, I say we were mates, I certainly felt like he was my mate. I have no idea whether he thought of me as his mate. But that was one of Nick’s great talents. He made you feel like you were mates. Not in a false, bonhomie kind of way. In a “he is my mate” kind of way.

And it is always very sad to lose a mate.

When you walked into a robjng room that contained Nick Kennedy, the robing room was Nick Kennedy. Or Nick Kennedy was the robing room. Either way, you could sense his natural, Northern charm from the moment you walked in and he was at one of the tables, chatting away and greeting all comers with a smile.

There are not many of us that manage to be ourselves in the courtroom. Nick managed it. He prosecuted me in a firearms case a few years ago in Liverpool. Now imagine being cross examined by someone who had you believing that they were your mate? Believing that he was your mate right up to the point when the trap was sprung with you at your most disarmed. His style of cross-examination was as if he was about to let you in on a secret, the downside being that the secret was that you were lying. My defendant did not enjoy the experience, although I am fairly certain the jury did.

It was with great sadness that I learnt that Nick had passed away. He loved sport and our conversations would often revolve around cricket and the England team. Often there would be tales told of away trips to see them in foreign climes. If ever someone deserved a retirement of more trips like that it was Nick. 10 years as head of his chambers should have been followed by a time to enjoy his retirement. The only comfort is that he enjoyed life so much, and everyone was allowed to enjoy it with him.

John Broadley

I once spent a few hours in a pub with John Broadley. I should make it clear that I was in a pub with John Broadley on more than one occasion, but this relates to a specific occasion.

As I say, the pub visit was over quite a few hours of an afternoon. John spent the first hour telling stories. John then spent the second hour telling, largely, the same stories. And then the third. Those of you who did not know John might now be thinking that I am describing a crushing bore. The thing is, I am not. Because despite the stories being told on a loop, each telling of them was funny. And I mean properly funny. Freshly funny. The anecdote may have been the same but with some new punchlines dotted along the way, some new witheringly funny descriptions amongst the details.

Despite the wine causing repetition on that one occasion, John had an immense stock of funny stories and a considerable talent for telling them. Often they were about himself with no concern for the fact that he was the butt of the joke. And they were always told with the skill of a raconteur displaying a personal, natural style.

There is a large part of me that would both love to know how John would describe me, because it would be bloody funny, and also a way in which I don’t want to know because it would be frighteningly accurate. As reminded by Tom Gilbart, my friend in chambers, his description of a Judge’s court in Manchester as “Narnia – always winter, never Christmas” is a classic example.

As well as great company, John was a very kind man. When I had been around the Circuit for about 3 years I had a bout of serious illness. John wrote to me. Twice. Both letters containing warm wishes and the tonic of a story or two. At that point I barely knew him.

I remember there being a stranger in the robing room one day. They were clearly new to all of this. Very new. They were trying to put their wing collar on. Upside down. Many of us hid a snigger behind our hands. It was John who walked over and said “come on son, let me give you a hand”.

When I took Silk last year John wrote to me again. By now he was suffering from significant health difficulties. The handwriting betrayed the fact that there now existed some frailty. The warmth and humour was as robust as ever. The letter was characteristically hilarious. I can’t share it with you because it was also undoubtedly libelous.

JB was a fabulous jury advocate because jurors felt the warmth and appreciated his razor sharp analysis. He had the bedside manner and precision of a surgeon. He was the advocate of choice for many a firm of solicitors in their “big”cases but he was never one of those brash and arrogant barristers about his work. He was far too busy making us all laugh.

I will always remember John as a man who loved a gossip, loved to tell a story and loved life. His laugh, often at his own punchline, was infectious. But he was not a man for whom the label “joker” is right. He was so much more than that. He was kind. The robing rooms of the Northern Circuit are diminished by his absence.

My condolences to his family and friends, of which there are so many.

108 days later

I have not blogged for a while. Lots of things going on when nothing is happening. Then today I saw a Tweet that came from the AG’s office. This was the Tweet:

Now it may be that I am just a man on the edge of an angry outburst, but if I am, this was the moment Michael Douglas’s air conditioning packed up in his car in the film Falling Down.

I am going to leave aside the asinine “the UK is a global leader in this space in Crown Courts”, I mean that is almost too stupid for words. Or the words that have been used are too stupid to actually mean anything. But I am not going to get worked up about that.

I do not find it that upsetting that the response does not even attempt to answer the question posed by Jeff Smith in Withignton. Well, not that upsetting. It is a politician’s answer. Getting the message that they want asserted, no matter what the question is. Although I remind myself that this is the office of the AG and not a party political broadcast. But I can cope with that via some breathing exercises.

It is the last part of the Tweet. “Jury trials restarted in May, digital tools have been harnessed in over 10,000 cases, and all courts will have re-opened by mid-July.”

Everything back to normal then. Or almost.

Pass me the baseball bat.

I went through every Crown Court list for today’s business. That showed 40 trials either continuing or listed to commence today. Let me put that into context for you. On a perfectly ordinary day I would expect there to be 15 trials either part heard or listed to start in Manchester alone. And that wouldn’t be a busy day. There are 70 court centres that contributed to the published lists I looked through. You can do the maths. If every single one of those buildings only had one trial listed we would improve on the 40 trials by an additional 75%.

This is a tiny fraction of the work that would normally be done. Tiny. And is considerably more than was being heard two weeks ago. The first jury trials were held two months ago and yet we are still not even at 1 for every Crown Court building.

Then I go back to the Tweet. The “look we are back to normal” Tweet. The “we have this crisis beaten” Tweet. And I seethe. Not because I am an angry young (middle-aged) man. Not because I want to be this angry. But because of the utter deceit it involves.

The Criminal Justice System was in crisis well before Covid-19 but I am going to leave this to one side for the moment. Due to the pandemic there are people who will wait in custody for over a year for their trial. There are victims who will have no idea when their cases will be heard. And this Tweet pretends that we are doing more than coping, we are the world champions of Crown Court coping.

We are not.

108 days ago, when the last Crown Court trials were abandoned at the start of lock down, every participant knew the challenges that lay ahead. 108 days later we have barely a trickle of trials. That is 108 days without a credible plan, without honesty as to the true state of the criminal justice system. Every day that goes by the situation deteriorates. We should not be at the early stages of working out how we can maximize the number of trials that can take place. Yet that is exactly where we are.

There is no credible plan for getting the number of cases heard to even half of normal capacity any time soon. There is no credible plan to deal with cases involving more than one defendant in most court centres. What there is is a deafening silence about what we are going to do about it. There is an attempt to make it look like there isn’t a problem. There is little help for the practitioners emerging from lockdown to find they are still locked out of their incomes. There is £100 million for; zoos; £1.5 billion for the arts; and a tenner for everyone that wants to go out for dinner next Monday. But zero to assist the people that will be needed to prosecute and defend these cases that lie at the heart of our democracy, just as soon as someone comes up with a plan as to how those cases can happen.

This deceit, this lack of planning, this cavalier attitude toward the gravest of situations is a scandal. The fault lies fairly and squarely at the heart of the Government.

I have no idea what “but the UK is a global leader in this space in Crown Courts” means. But I do know that the current dereliction being shown by the Government means that Justice and those who serve it, are left in a limbo.

Do not Tweet nonsense. Do something.

The Gender Brief Gap

Life comes at you in waves. I wrote this blog back at the beginning of March, ready to publish the moment that I had finished the trial I was in at the time. There are ways that seems a lifetime ago. Maybe even a different life. Events big and small meant that this blog did not get published then.

Now I have come to realise that often there isn’t going to be the perfect time to do all we intend to do, that waiting can mean missed opportunities. I know we all have a host of problems that we face but this was important enough to me to have written about when we all, perhaps, were someone else. And so it is still important to me now. Important things should not go unsaid.

There is a significant issue which is prevalent in the legal world. It is something which I have always known was there but has really become apparent to me in recent times.

A little background: Before becoming a QC a significant proportion of the work I did were sex cases. My diary also contained serious violence, fraud and drugs but I was not someone who went from one “big” multi-handed trial to another. I have written before about how the legal profession seems to value some areas of work more than others, that the diary of “paper heavy” fraud trial is seen as being better than back to back sex trials. It would appear that we have forgotten that complexity is not only measured by page count and ELH.

Now I am a QC, my work has changed. And it is that first twelve months of being in silk which has really brought something home to me – there is a gender brief gap. Men are disproportionately briefed in the “serious” cases that involve murder, guns, drugs and fraud.

I can go back to November 2018. In the run up to finding out I had been successful in my application and then in the period straddling my appointment, I was the junior in a couple of cases. From March I have, with the exception of one trial that was leftover from my junior practice, done a number of cases in Silk. From November 2018 the subject matter in each trial has been; Trial A – double murder in a gang war; Trial B – conspiracy to murder in a gang war; Trial C – a grooming gang; Trial D – murder by strangulation; Trial E – joint enterprise murder; Trial F – joint enterprise murder with a firearm. Interspersed amongst those trials have been other cases but I want to just focus on the trials. These are the cases where judges have granted certificates for the instruction of a QC due to the seriousness and complexity of the case.

Let’s now look at each case in turn:

Trial A – 7 counsel in total, 3 QCs and 4 juniors. Total number of women? 0

Trial B – 21 counsel in total. 7 QCs and 17 juniors (3 of whom took Silk during the case). 4 women. That’s 19% of counsel in the case were female.

Trial C – 7 counsel in total, 1 QC and 6 juniors. 3 women. That’s 42%.

Trial D – 4 counsel in total, 2 QCs and 2 juniors. No women.

Trial E – 10 counsel in total. 5 QCs and 5 juniors. No women.

Trial F – 17 counsel in total. 8 QCs and 9 juniors. 1 woman. That’s 6%.

In the cases trials I have conducted in the last 18 months, only 12% of other counsel have been female. Notably, if you take out the one sex case that I did, this falls to 8%.

None of the cases have featured a female QC who was instructed in that capacity (one of my fellow new Silks was in Trial B with me which we started out as juniors).

It is entirely possible that my workload is unrepresentative, it is a statistical outlier. Yet when I look at work to come I reckon there are probably something like 58 counsel involved in those cases. At the present moment in time there are two women involved, one who prosecutes a sex case and one who is the prosecution junior in a baby shaking case.

I also know that every female barrister that I have spoken to about this will recognise the picture I paint. They have the experience of being the only female in multi-handed cases. They know that their talented female counterparts are not instructed in such work in the same volume as their male colleagues.

There are factors at play such as the retention of females at the criminal bar but the attrition rate is not such as explains this. This is not a question of there not being females available to conduct these cases because there are. Plenty of them. And whilst I am most reluctant to even have to deal with this potential explanation, the women that are available are more than capable of doing the cases.

So why is it that a pool of available and talented advocates are not instructed in these cases? I am afraid I don’t know the answer. At least not a detailed answer.

In general terms it is clearly a problem that can correctly be labeled sexism. That sexism may be the attitudes of others (clients wanting a male barrister), structural (women are pigeon holed into sex cases), ingrained (courtrooms packed with men are the norm in these cases) or overt, direct sexism.

What I do know is that it is wrong. How do we put it right? I don’t know that either.

That is part of the reason for this blog. I am really interested in the suggestions of others for the solution to this issue.

One thing that occurred to me is that organisations need to be accountable for what happens. We need to be able to see what is going on. Whilst this will not make me very popular in professions which are already burdened with administration, is it not time that we required solicitors and barristers to keep and publish data on the instruction of advocates in certain cases? It is only by transparency, it is only by us all seeing the problem, will the solution emerge. It is only when we all acknowledge the gender instruction gap, will we begin to close it.

Pupils Remote Advocacy Exercise

I am going to conduct a remote advocacy exercise which is exclusively for pupils currently undertaking their first or second six.

The exercise is going to be conducted via Zoom, Teams, Skype or FaceTime, depending on the participant’s preference. The advocacy exercise is going to be a plea in mitigation.

The sessions will be conducted in the week of 20th April, at a time to suit the participant. The exercise will take a maximum of about half an hour.

The process to apply is by sending an email to internship@9sjs.com. The subject header in the email should be “Pupil Workshop 1”. In the body of the email simply tell me your name, your current chambers, the stage of pupillage you are at and your pupil supervisor.

The ten who will be invited to participate will be selected entirely at random. I will email the selected participants to let them know they have been successful. The closing date for applications is 4pm this Sunday, 12th April. I will notify those successful on 14th April.

I will send the material for the exercise to each participant. You will need to do some preparation and the whole point is that you will be doing a piece of advocacy during the workshop. So be prepared and don’t be shy!

Good luck and I look forward to meeting ten of you and hearing your advocacy.

Advocacy Training Session

On 7th March 2020 myself and my colleague from chambers, Mike Lemmy, will be hosting an advocacy training day based in our chambers, 9 St John Street, Manchester. This training will be offered to ten participants. I will pay the reasonable travel expenses for those who attend. Refreshments and lunch will be provided.

To apply you need to be aged 16 years or over on 7th March 2020. This course is open to those that have not yet begun or completed either solicitor or barrister professional qualifications.

The purpose of the day is to provide you with a taster of advocacy and some advocacy training. The day will include talks about advocacy and practical exercises. You will be provided with written materials before the day. The practical exercises will involve participation. Do not worry that you have no advocacy experience at all, this taster session is designed for you, but please be prepared to participate. There is no point coming along and not opening your mouth.

This is the process by which the ten participants will be selected. The application is by email to internship@9sjs.com. This email account will only be used for the purpose of this application and will be disabled once the result is announced. Please only use this email address, do not contact my chambers as this is a personal arrangement and not something that my clerks or others at chambers have any role in organising.

I am afraid I am not going to be able to provide feedback to those unsuccessful and I am afraid only those invited for the session will be notified directly of the outcome. I will announce the names of the final ten on my blog and my Twitter account, so you will be able to check there. Once I know how many applications I am dealing with I will announce the date by which the successful candidates will be notified.

The initial application should include the following details in the body of your email;

  1. Full name
  2. DOB (the session is open to those who are 16 years or older on 07/03/20)
  3. Postal address
  4. Email address
  5. Contact telephone number
  6. Educational history (secondary school onwards, just let me know what you studied and where, I don’t need grades)
  7. Previous legal work experience

None of that information will be used to decide to who is offered the placement, save to ensure your are eligible. All of that information should be provided in the body of the email. Then you need to attach a separate document to the email, either in Word, PDF or Pages format, which answers three questions; (1) What do you consider to be most important skill in advocacy? (2) What is it about you that will make you a good advocate? (3) Tell me a story about yourself.

Please answer all three questions. Being concise in advocacy is an important skill, the STRICT word count for each question is 150 words. The closing date for applications is 5pm on 31st January 2020.

I am hoping to give an opportunity for people to learn a little about advocacy, having some fun along the way. The intention is to inspire and encourage.

Good luck and I look forward to meeting 10 of you on 7th March.


Remote Advocacy Workshop

The first remote advocacy exercise I am going to run is for students, ideally A-Level, undergraduates, GDL or BPTC students. If you are someone that has completed the BPTC but not started pupillage yet, please also feel free to apply. I will be running something separately for current pupils in the near future.

The first exercise is going to be conducted via Zoom. It is available to download for free, you just need access to a device with a camera. I am going to do an advocacy practical for ten students who I will divide into five pairs. The exercises will take place between 8th and 13th April, at a time to accommodate the different pairings. The exercise will take about half an hour per pair.

The process to apply is by sending an email to internship@9sjs.com. The subject header in the email should be “Student Workshop 1”. In the body of the email simply tell me your name, your current status (e.g. BPTC student/undergraduate at The University of Twittersville) and your preferred email address. That is all I need.

The ten who will be invited to participate will be selected entirely at random. I will email the selected participants to let them know they have been successful. The closing date for applications is 4pm this Sunday, 5th April. I will notify those successful on 6th April.

The workshop will deal with one of the areas that many struggle with at first – examination in chief. I will send a guide to examination in chief and the material for the exercise to each participant. You will need to do some preparation and the whole point is that you will be doing a piece of advocacy during the workshop. So be prepared and don’t be shy!

For those that are not selected, don’t worry. During the course of the lockdown I will be offering further opportunities, including similar workshops. Just follow me on Twitter for updates. And for the pupils out there, your workshop will be announced next week.

Good luck and I look forward to meeting ten of you in an appropriate social distance setting!

Difficult Times

The world faces a time of great anxiety with the pandemic of coronavirus/Covid-19. None of us knows how the next few months will develop. We do not know what it means for the health and wellbeing of us or our loved ones.

The Government will introduce a number of measures aimed to combat the spread and impact of the disease. We already know that this will involve significant disruption to our daily lives and the economy. There will be significant periods of time when citizens will be required not to work or will not be able to work due to their health or the health of others.

For the legal profession we will face many challenges, as will many others. For the self-employed Criminal Bar there will be many problems that we share with every other self-employed worker and some that are particular to us.

The majority of the income for a Criminal Barrister comes from trial work. We only get paid for our work at the very end of the case. Trials will be disrupted by problems encountered with our health, the health of jurors, the health of the Judge, the health of witnesses and the health of defendants. That is an awful lot of factors that can go wrong when up to 60% of us will have the same illness within the next couple of months.

Of course they are not the only problems. As of this week it isn’t just a question of not being well enough to attend court. We will have to self isolate in circumstances where we would otherwise be well enough to attend. And in the near future the same may apply if it is a member of your household that has identifiable symptoms.

That’s a lot of reasons why trials may not take place or conclude. And that is before we get to how the MoJ or the HMCTS may decide to respond to the developing situation.

As with many, this is going to provide financial difficulties for the Bar.

We can only hope that the Government will provide assistance across the board. We have to hope that concrete and universal proposals will be made for deferring VAT or tax payments. The choice should not be between paying staff or paying the Government. We should not be paying for HS2 when we cannot pay for our mortgages. It should not be on the basis of HMRC being “understanding”. We cannot be in a position where we have to grind through the bureaucracy of the tax authorities and end up no better off. And, of course, HMRC will be suffering their own staffing issues. We need to know that the money is available to us.

The CBA and the Bar Council need to be talking to the authorities immediately. The rules on payment need temporarily changing. We should be able to bill and be paid for hearings before the conclusion of the case. There should be no necessity for proving hardship. If we have been to court and made an appearance we need to be able to claim that fee. It could be the difference between someone keeping their head above water that month.

We also need to be inventive and altruistic. There must be a way that we, as a profession, can assist our colleagues. Where someone junior has to return a three day trial on the Wednesday because they self-isolated on the Monday, that may be their significant income for that month. Someone will pick up the return and earn the money instead.

Is it possible for us to do something to assist in those circumstances? Would it be possible to compile a register of people prepared to take on the case in those circumstances but either give the fee to the original advocate or share the fee? Would it be possible for Silks to take on those cases and the junior member of the Bar still receive the fee?

This must be possible. I know that April was going to be a month of mainly preparation for myself. I could give up a week of that, to work for free and make sure the junior member of the Bar does not miss out. Or, in the alternative, a dedicated hardship fund to which we contribute for the provision of financial aid to those that are struggling?

This is an unprecedented situation. We need some urgent and imaginative solutions to ease the burden we all face. Those that lead, from the Government to the DPP to the LAA to the senior judiciary to the Bar Council, need to lead. And need to help. It isn’t just the illness which can damage. It is the worry and the uncertainty. We need answers before the questions become problems.