Message from the New PIBA Chair
The very first thing I should do is thank and pay tribute to my predecessor, Darryl Allen QC, for his leadership over the last two years, and in particular his very public leadership and investment of time over the last few weeks. And the second is to thank Sarah Crowther QC for stepping up to be Vice Chair alongside me for the next two years.
Thank you too if you were able to attend our virtual AGM on Monday. It was interesting to see that we had more people logged in this year than typically remain for the AGM on a Saturday afternoon in the lecture theatre at Catz during the Annual Weekend. Perhaps something to consider for next year.
As I said at the AGM, it is sobering to note that PIBA has just turned 25 years old - formed in 1995 in response to the introduction of CFAs which, at the time, were feared to be the greatest threat to its existence that the PI Bar had ever faced. Now, aged 25, we’re facing other threats, but I am convinced we will work through them.
If you were unable to attend the AGM, I am emailing to let you know what PIBA is doing, and will do.
Action in the short term
(i) Covid-19 and the Courts lockdown
Now that we have got over the immediate shock, and can see that different courts are in different ways revising their systems and trying to work out what they can still do, our priority will be to try to keep as much PI work as possible going.
I fully recognise the concerns articulated by some PIBA members and some in the judiciary that HMCTS might use success in “coping” with remote hearings now to drive through a programme of closing courts, reducing judicial numbers still further, and replacing in-person hearings with remote ones when we get back to “normal”. Judicial concerns are beautifully expressed by an anonymous family judge here: http://www.transparencyproject.org.uk/remote-justice-a-judges-perspective/ I agree with those. The successful undertaking of a remote commercial trial, widely publicised by those who were involved, does not for one moment mean that justice would be done in many of the sort of cases we do, if they were to be tried by video-link.
But there were already many aspects of our interlocutory work which were done by phone, and many more could be by phone or video. With careful thought and pre-planning, we would expect that, at least in the interim, most applications and CCMCs could be. Also Stage 3 assessments and the more straightforward of the Fast Track trials. And, where the parties can agree and technology permits, some of the more complex hearings and trials. We recognise that PIBA members will want as much of our work as possible to continue.
To that end, I’ve written to all the DCJs to ask that PIBA is kept updated with their local directions and announcements. We will share that information as a resource on the PIBA website. We have offered to them all that we will engage in trying to set up workable protocols to keep our cases going through the Courts. Not all have yet responded, some have warmly, some lukewarm. We will keep you updated.
I am inviting PIBA members to give us feedback from next week, through our Circuit Reps, about how local Courts are working in PI cases, and suggestions for improvement.
Those Circuit Reps are:
North Eastern: Stuart Jamieson - firstname.lastname@example.orgWestern: Rachel Russell - Rachel.Russell@stjohnschambers.co.ukMidland: Gareth McAloon - email@example.comSouth Eastern: Meghann McTague - MMcTague@2tg.co.ukNorthern: Matthew Hooper - firstname.lastname@example.orgWales and Chester: Theo Huckle QC - email@example.com
They will collate replies so that we can see what is happening and take appropriate action.
(ii) Continuing education
Huge thanks are due to those who had planned our Oxford weekend, those responsible for the seminars which were in any event planned for this term, and the speakers, for working together and pulling off the magnificent feast of continuing education by webinar which we are now enjoying. Details are on the website.
Action in the medium term
At the AGM, I set out what would (in normal times) have been some of our priorities for the next two years.
- Getting PIBA represented more strongly on the Bar Council, the Civil Justice Committee, the CPRC, etc - not to seek positions for their own sake but so that we can try to get ahead of the game, see what reform proposals are coming our way, and by being involved at an earlier stage perhaps remove some of the problems.
- Improving our communications with PIBA members. Updating the form and content of the website to make it more user-friendly and make it a go-to resource for PI practitioners. Updates to members about what PIBA is doing, not just about events.
- Carrying on and building upon our excellent education and training. Embracing the video technology and recording of seminars which have been forced upon us. So far as possible, extending that to our other events and lectures. Increasing the number of seminars on soft skills, ethics, wellbeing, practice-building and practice management which have been so well received to date.
- Maintaining our focus on the junior PI Bar, as that is where the pinch is felt with every set of reforms which has been proposed to date.
- Not being afraid to intervene as an SBA in appropriate cases, but ensuring that we have crystal-clear aims, objectives and limitations when we do.
That’s it ...
Apologies that this has been a long email. Well done for getting this far!
We will keep you updated over the next few weeks.
Steven Snowden QC
Chair of PIBA