In 1986 I was asked by the Careers teacher at school what I wanted to be. “Barrister,” said I.
“Boys from this school do not become barristers,” came the response.
Well that was wrong. The careers advice was a little outdated. The Bar was changing. Boys and girls from comprehensive schools could now enter this profession. Not exactly an easy route but the barriers had come down and the Bar had begun a journey to an increasingly diverse future.
So with my D in Latin (another example of the outdated careers advice) I ultimately joined my chambers for Pupillage and then tenancy. I was one of three pupils at the time and all of us were taken on. This was not due to my brilliance. This was due to the fact that I was good enough and there were no impediments in my way. It took a couple of bank loans and a bit of luck but I joined a chambers of about 30 practitioners. A grand total of 4 of them were women. Now there are 86 members of chambers, 36 of whom are female. That means back in the day 13% of chambers were female and now it is 41%. The Bar has changed. For the better.
However I fear it is changing again. If I was now doling out careers advice to a modern day me I would not suggest that being a comprehensive school boy should stop me being a criminal barrister. I would just suggest that I should do something else. Something with better prospects. Something that was better respected. Something which had a future. A GP maybe. A chief executive (I am not sure these had been invented in 1986). The modern day me would also probably discover that I could not obtain the loans required, that the student debt would cripple me and that I simply could not afford to do it. Comprehensive school boys would still be welcome to come to the Bar but only if they could afford to do it.
The 1986 version of me would never have dreamt that one day I would be part of a “strike”. The closest I would get to a Flying Picket was the a capella band. The 1996 version of me would not have imagined it. By 2006 I probably had justification to want to. In 2014 I have no qualms about it being the right thing to do. When fees were frozen I could have gone on strike but I did not. When I did not get an increase to even keep me in line with inflation I could have gone on strike but I did not. When the cuts started to come I could have gone on strike but I did not. Tomorrow I will do. Not because I am demanding more. Because the Bar cannot take any less.
Nothing makes me prouder of the Bar than the fact that it no longer matters what university you went to. Nothing makes me prouder than the fact that the daughter of a caretaker or a deaf comprehensive school boy or a more mature entrant changing careers can come to the criminal Bar. All of that, all that has been achieved in terms of social mobility will cease overnight if these cuts come in.
So the Criminal Bar have to stand together. This great, diverse collection of individuals have to speak with one voice. We owe it to ourselves. We owe it to our clients. We owe it to victims. We owe it to boys and girls in comprehensive schools who dream of advocacy. We are not used to this type of fight. But fighters we are. And we are bloody good at it.