IBC Annual Dinner 2024 – Chair’s speech

IBC Chair, Geoffrey Carr’s speech at the Annual dinner Tuesday 4th June 2024

“My Lords, distinguished guest, ladies and gentlemen, friends

Good evening and welcome to the Institute of Barristers’ Clerks Annual Dinner

I must start with some “thank yous”

Firstly – The Hon society of Gray’s Inn for the use of the hall, Secondly – To the catering staff who I am sure you will all agree are doing a fantastic job this evening.

Thirdly- To Brian our toastmaster former chair of the Institute of Barristers clerks (2013) who was also awarded the Chambers and Partner lifetime achievement award in 2016

And finally Simon Boutwood and Angela who organised this evening sorted the seating plan and all the admin needed. Many thanks to all.

Tonight, as we gather to celebrate another year of hard work, dedication, and remarkable achievements, I am filled with a mix of pride and nostalgia.

This evening holds a special significance for me, as it marks my third and final year as the Chair.

Reflecting on this journey, I am reminded of the incredible privilege it has been to serve this amazing organization and to work alongside such extraordinary, friendly and understanding individuals. (STOP)

Throughout my tenure, I have had the distinct pleasure of collaborating with four exceptional Chairs of the Bar: Derek Sweeting KC, Mark Fennells KC, Nick Vineall KC, and, of course, Sam Townend KC. When Sam finishes his tenure, Barbara Mills KC will join this illustrious list.

Each of these leaders has brought their unique perspectives, strengths, and vision, enriching the dynamic and evolving landscape of our profession. Their guidance and support have been invaluable to me, and I am deeply grateful for the opportunities to learn from and work with them.

I also want to extend a heartfelt thank you to the support staff at the Bar Council and the Bar Standards Board. It has been an absolute pleasure and privilege to work with so many amazing people, the likes of Kathryn Stone, Mark Neale, Sam Mercer, Malcolm Cree, Adrian Vincent, and Carolyn Entwistle.

Additionally, I have had the opportunity to collaborate and work closely with the LPMA, the Legal Services Committee, countless barristers, barristers clerks, and chambers support staff. The list literally goes on and on and on! I started and will leave the post in March 25 with the biggest feeling of imposter syndrome you can possibly imagine.

When I took on this role, I faced what can only be described as a baptism of fire. All Chambers began to reopen post pandemic, we found ourselves at a crossroads, confronting new challenges and rethinking the very essence of our workplaces, these challenges were unprecedented, but together, we have managed to adapt and grow stronger.

We grappled with Staffing issues, the physical setup of Chambers, and the evolving way our actual work would change.

Navigating them was no small feat, but it was a task made infinitely more manageable by the unwavering support and collaboration of my support teams who are people willing to help other clerks, other chambers and more importantly the profession in their own personal time and way.

I should also add that being the chair in 2022 during our centenary year was SUCH a privilege, I cannot tell you how much I enjoyed touring the regions, speaking and seeing Chambers support staff and getting to know the membership in their working environments as well as the members of Chambers…………………What an honour that was!

Now a significant undertaking for us this year, which I know has flown under the radar of most people has been the revision of the Institutes rules to ensure that we operate more efficiently in today’s legal environment.

As our membership has increased…….the actual pool of members is higher than ever and spread evenly across the whole of the UK ……. we have even had members in Australia.

It was becoming more and more evident that we had to look at ourselves more closely, how we report and generally streamline the running of the Institute.

By way of example, let me draw your attention to the immense breadth of issues we tackle at each management meeting. As a minimum, we cover nine core areas that impact the Bar, even before we delve into our membership their needs and related issues. The core areas are:

1. Regulatory Changes and Compliance Requirements Including increased regulation and compliance demands, as well as Legal Aid reforms.

2. Technological Advancements and the growing influence of AI.

3. Economic Pressures: Such as market competition, fee structures, and ABS’s.

4. Client Expectations: The demand for value and greater involvement in their cases.

5. Work-Life Balance: Addressing mental health and flexible working arrangements.

6. Diversity and Inclusion: Ensuring representation and equal opportunities.

7. Globalisation: Managing cross-border work and global clients across all work streams, not just Business & Property.

8. Professional Development: The need for continuous learning and specialisation within specific fields. And finally

9. Access to Justice: The impact of legal aid cuts and the importance of Pro Bono work. Given this list, I sincerely hope that you get a flavour of the amount of work we undertake for the Bar.

Please also consider the numerous sub-committees needed to ensure we are on the ball, managing the issues and getting information across. Each set of Chambers operates differently, with varying levels of staff and unique management styles. This makes our task even more complex.

I must extend special thanks to Howard Rayner for the immense efforts he undertook with regard to these changes. Howard, your expertise with spreadsheets and your overall contributions on this front have been crucial in ensuring we remain as an Institute robust and responsive. I can certainly say that chairing our meetings has become significantly easier since this review.

Having touched upon the subject of Pro Bono, in the core areas you all know we have always been closely associated with Advocate. It would be remiss of me not to mention them and their herculean undertakings.

I have absolutely no doubt that you are all alive to the need and good work that they undertake, it embodies the essence of justice, ensuring that legal services are accessible to all regardless of financial means. But beyond this inherent altruism lies a realm of professional development and growth. Pro bono work offers barristers exposure to a diverse range of cases and clients, broadening their skill set and expanding their legal horizons. Through these experiences, barristers have the chance to showcase their expertise in varied contexts, enhancing their reputation and credibility within the legal community.

Advocate has launched its latest initiative, The Pro Bono Recognition List, aimed at celebrating and acknowledging those in the legal profession – barristers or solicitors who champion access to justice.

Supported by none other than the Lady Chief Justice herself, this initiative underscores the importance of promoting equal access to legal representation.

So, how can you assist?

Firstly, I urge every chambers to appoint an Advocate pro bono champion.

Next, consider signing up to Advocate’s Chambers Framework. This framework not only strengthens and highlights the pro bono ethos of your chambers but also provides an opportunity for everyone, including staff, to contribute meaningfully. 

Please support them in every way you can.

When I was considering what to raise at this dinner, my mind kept coming back to Criminal chambers and what I have learnt over my tenure as chair

The criminal action we all witnessed last year brought about numerous challenges for both barristers and support staff in sets. It highlighted to all the critical need for investment in our justice system.

The strains and deficiencies exposed during this period are not isolated incidents but symptoms of a broader, systemic issue that demanded and demands urgent attention.

I have never clerked Crime; one of the privileges I have had in this role is to understand from Judges, Barristers and clerks how this area of the Bar works.

What I can say, despite my limited knowledge base is that even I can see that despite the government’s spring budget addressing family and criminal courts, much more is required to restore the system to full functionality and public trust. The budget allocations, while a step in the right direction, are insufficient to tackle the deep-rooted problems plaguing our courts. Investment needs to go beyond mere financial injections; it requires a holistic approach that includes modernizing infrastructure, recruiting and retaining skilled personnel, this alone would deal with (imo) a lot of the ridiculous listing issues that the Criminal bar face and implementing technological advancements to streamline processes.

The recent statistics from the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) speak volumes in my opinion, with the backlog reduction target not being met. Case delays have become a norm rather than an exception, causing prolonged distress for victims and defendants alike. The overburdened courts are struggling to keep up with the caseload, leading to justice being delayed, and as the saying goes, justice delayed is justice denied.

I am not the sharpest tool in the box. However, it’s evident that the criminal justice system is nearing or already at a point of total failure. This is not just a matter of bureaucratic inefficiency; it’s a crisis that undermines the very fabric of our society. When the public loses faith in the criminal justice system, it erodes the social contract and diminishes the rule of law. We are at a crossroads where decisive action is needed to prevent a complete collapse.

On a more positive note, I was incredibly proud this year of the work we undertook on our comprehensive workplace survey report in collaboration with the LPMA, I have said this before and I say it again, special recognition must be given to Lucy Burrows from the IBC and to Clare Bello, and Jemma Tagg of the LPMA for their significant and personal contributions to this.

They have championed this initiative and I know are working closely with the Bar Council to ensure all the recommendations are followed and reviewed.

This report was the beginning of I hope many more joint initiatives which have to and will happen as we move forward in the weird world of Legal Services.

In conclusion, one goal that I set myself and failed to achieve was to ensure that every clerk is a member of the Institute. Although we have made significant strides, with membership numbers now at an all-time high, my successor will need to persevere with this endeavour.

I must also thank My joint Head’s of Chambers Johnny Jones KC and Adrian Keeling KC. Adrian has supported me right from the word go whilst I have been on this journey, I genuinely could not have undertaken this role without his support, and of course Tony McDaid who is a pillar of support and frankly instrumental in starting me on this road in the first place, always having my back and allowing me the time needed.

As I prepare to pass on the baton, I do so with a deep sense of gratitude and pride. The journey has been challenging but immensely rewarding, and it has been an honour to serve alongside such dedicated professionals. I look forward to seeing the Institute continue to thrive and evolve under new leadership. Thank you all for your support, your hard work, and your unwavering commitment to excellence. Here’s to a future filled with continued success and collaboration.

Enjoy the evening and thank you.

Now before I call upon Sam Townend KC for a very short response, it falls upon me to present awards for the Institutes Introduction to Business management course. I am pleased to say that we have two awards this evening one for the July 23 and the other for the Jan 23 intakes

The winner of for last year’s intake is a candidate who was simply excellent according to Don Turner (who runs the course), she completed one of the THE best essays ever submitted and her standard of work exemplary!

Please put your hands together and welcome up to receive her award Louise Hornsby from 20 Essex Street – Jemma Louise is clearly one to keep a close eye on.

The winner for our January intake continually achieved excellent scores and was (again according to Don Turner) very highly driven. This individual put in a huge amount of effort incorporating reading and modules from outside the course.  According to Don “she had her eye on the prize from the start”

Please welcome up Daisy Bullman (5 SAH).

Please could I now call upon Sam for a few words of wisdom.”