As 2019 draws to a close, Adrian Vincent (Head of Legal Practice and Remuneration), Kathy Wong and Stuart McMillan (Policy Analysts: Legal Practice and Remuneration) share their highlights from this year.

In 2019, the Bar Council has had regular meeting with HMCTS regarding their court reform project. We support much of what HMCTS is hoping to achieve in terms of improved efficiency through the use of technology, but have been open in drawing attention to when HMCTS has failed to achieve those goals, or have actually reduced access to justice by introducing automated procedures which might fail to direct people to legal advice.

The Bar Council's Legal Services Committee has raised concerns with the Criminal Procedure Rules Committee's proposal to make new rules on the exercise of judicial functions by authorised court officers. As a result, important improvements were made to the procedures.

Our IT Panel has engaged with HMCTS over the issue of GDPR and court bundles. An agreement was reached and we continue to engage with HMCTS to ensure that it is being followed, given that there have been several instances where the judge has wrongly sought to insist that the barrister dispose of the bundle supplied by the court.

The Bar Council has continued to engage with HMCTS regarding the Flexible Operating Hours pilots. The incoming Chair of the Bar, Amanda Pinto QC, in her inaugural speech has once again highlighted the potential detrimental impact upon the diversity of the profession and access to justice.

In terms of remuneration issues, the Chair of the Bar, the Remuneration Committee and the Family Law Bar Association worked closely with the Legal Aid Agency on payment delays in Family Very High Cost Cases. As a result some streamlining to the process has been introduced, including an increase in the cost limit from £25,000 to £32,500.

The Bar Council's Remuneration Committee also worked closely with the London Criminal Courts Solicitors Association (LCCSA) to produce a revised Protocol for the instruction of Counsel in the Magistrates' Court for the benefit of both solicitor firms and barristers.

The Bar Council, in conjunction with expert representatives from the Legal Aid Agency and the specialist publicly-funded chambers and solicitors' firms hosted three seminars on crime, family and immigration legal aid work. This will be an annual event which will be taking place in May and June 2020.

Finally, the Bar Council's Remuneration Committee responded to the Ministry of Justice's consultation on Extending Fixed Recoverable Costs in Civil Cases: Implementing Sir Rupert Jackson's proposals.