This month my nephew commences his GDL. We are not a family with a history of lawyers. There is me, my sister-in-law and our joint nephew. That is it.
In fact we are not a family with a history of university attendance. My generation in the family were the first to go to University. My nephews and nieces have all gone to university. What a giant leap forward in one generation.
And now the Bar will shrink back into the Dark Ages. In a week when the Lord Chief Justice is, I respectfully suggest, somewhat complacently suggesting that diversity in the Judiciary will work itself out in fifty years time, the reality is that the Bar is rapidly undoing all the gains made in recent times. Think not just of the gender of the upper echelons of the Judiciary fifty years from now. Think of their diversity, their ethnicity, their cultural background, their educational background. I foresee white, privately educated and, more than likely, still male.
Why do I say this? My nephew and I are very similar. We went to the same (comprehensive) school. Our (proud) parents had not attended university themselves. Both of us have paid our own way, in conjunction with our parents, albeit his level of debt dwarves mine.
I am not suggesting either of us were ever going to be the Lord Chief Justice. In my case I can positively rule it out. However the upper echelons of the Judiciary tend to be drawn from the Bar. It is the Bar that tends to allow people to concentrate on being lawyers rather than managers, business leaders and employers (please, solicitors, do not all shout at me at once, I know this is a generalisation but a blog requires some shorthand sweeping statements and, for the time being, the Supreme Court is likely to be drawn from the Bar).
So why am I ruling out my nephew? It is because I love him and want to see the best for him. So I have advised him against going near crime and have advised him against a career at the Bar, despite the fact that this is what he wants to do. This is not the X-Factor. Being passionate about it and “really, really wanting it” whilst going on “an incredible journey” does not pay the Student Loan and does not alter the diminishing prospects at the Bar. Not when the incredible journey saddles you with £30,000 more of debt, no pupillage and a largely meaningless post-graduate qualification.
The culmination of various Government policies means that anyone who gives realistic advice in the best interests of an aspirant lawyer will tell them not to pursue a career in crime, not to pursue a career in public funded work and that their greater chances of a career lie with a training contract rather than a pupillage. Even the brilliant and the dedicated, and the brilliantly dedicated, need a dose of reality. And they are smart enough to make the right choice. And the right choice is no longer the Bar. And it is no longer crime.
I have read that people predict that the Two Tier Contract system sees the death of the Criminal Bar within six months. That may be a tad pessimistic. The true prognosis, however, is that the Bar is already stricken by a terrible malaise. It may not finish us off tomorrow but it will end the profession as we know it now. An open and diverse profession. A profession to aspire to. A profession with a training regime designed in the pursuit of excellence in our traditional strengths.
The Bar will struggle to recruit the brightest and the best, unless they happen to be wealthy. The Bar will struggle to recruit from a diverse social and cultural background. The Criminal Bar (often a way in for those less privileged) will struggle to recruit at all. Meanwhile we will struggle to retain those already practising. If you do not accept the link between retention levels and remuneration levels just take a look at what is happening with junior doctors.
And that may be where Sumption may have got something right. Thirty years ago the problem was in male dominated recruitment. In more recent times retention levels have been lower for women than for men. Where he is wrong is in his assessment that this represents a lifestyle choice by females, a rejection of lifestyle in some way more suitable to men. For many it represents an economic necessity that they do not remain within the profession.
Where Sumption is even more out of step is in concentrating his public pronouncement on an attack on gender positive recruitment. He needs to look further down the food chain. He needs to step into the limelight to highlight the damaging impact of Government policy on the diversity of the pool of available candidates for his job fifty years from now. Now that would be a fine example of an independent judiciary.