PIBA Chair Conference review and Easter e-message – 13 April 2022


 

It was a privilege to take up the reins as the newly elected PIBA Chair at our first in-person Conference since 2019, back at St Catherine’s College, Oxford. So many attendees commented about what a pleasure it was to be amongst friends from the PI Bar again.

The Annual Conference presentations were all the more insightful and interactive for having the speaker and audience in the same room (slides and handouts are available on this link). The variety and quality of speakers was as impressive as ever. It was great to meet many new attendees, enjoying their first PIBA residential conference and taking advantage of the heavily subsidised prices, particularly for the most junior members. Regular parallel sessions meant there really was something for everyone, however junior or senior. We also enjoyed the hospitality laid on for us by the College. The feedback confirms our impression that the Conference was a great success. The event was quickly sold out, so book early for 2023!

The Association’s huge thanks goes to our tireless organising team and administrators as well as all who presented sessions from the Bar, the Bench and the expert witness community. PIBA is particularly grateful to Nicola Davies LJ who not only delivered an erudite keynote address on Vicarious Liability (the text of which is available here) on the Saturday morning, but also joined us on the Friday night to chat informally to members in the bar and over dinner.

Steven Snowden QC: can I pay tribute to Steven who has done all the hard graft of being Chair for two years without the fun aspects. Steven took over in the early weeks of the pandemic and maintained the energy and resolve of his predecessor as Chair, Darryl Allen QC, to make sure members were kept informed and supported through the unique challenges of the pandemic. The Association is very grateful to Steven for his long service to PIBA, both in his two-year term as Chair; Vice Chair before that; and previously as Secretary for many years.

Thank you: We are also grateful to others who are stepping back after being long-standing contributors to PIBA’s activities, including Chris Kennedy QC and Anna Symington.

Welcome: to all the new officers and representatives, whether they are remaining in post or are new to the Executive Committee (listed here). PIBA’s new Vice-Chair, Emily Formby QC, and I look forward to working with you all over the next two years.

Priorities and Bar Council Engagement: Further bulletins will follow about the ongoing work of PIBA and its officers, but I will focus on particular priorities in this note. I have arranged to meet with the Chair of the Bar, Mark Fenhalls QC, later this month, to discuss PIBA’s priorities and enlist Bar Council support to drive them forward. We will continue to have maximum engagement with Bar Council initiatives/ resources. Let’s continue our increasing engagement on numerous levels: EDI; listing; fee levels; opposing LSB/BSB mission creep; access to justice, silk process etc.

Education: We are proud of PIBA’s long-standing track record as the leading SBA for the quality and frequency of its educational provision. Those efforts were redoubled in the pandemic lockdowns to ensure that members stayed connected and informed. At one stage in spring 2020, the Association was putting on no less than two webinars a week, available both live and to watch later. Our commitment to PIBA’s education programme remains strong.

Circuits: As we transition back to in-person events, such as the Annual Conference, we will ensure that we remain connected to our digital audience. We are also making sure our Circuit audience does not miss out on in-person provision. The first of a series of Circuit education events kicks-off in Leeds on 27 April, with an event on Social Worker liability: all the details are here. I look forward to attending to hear the presentation and meet up with more of the Association’s Circuit members, large numbers of whom were at the Annual Conference too. We are committed to working with our Circuit reps to ensure that all our members shape our priorities and e.g. engaging with DCJs on concerns such as listing, extended hours etc.

Fixed costs and listing: PIBA is facing the challenge of getting its voice heard to ensure that fixed costs and in particular Fast track trial fees, unmoved for a decade, are addressed and not left to languish again, especially in an era of high inflation. Rest assured that remains top of the PIBA priority list, as does a concern across the circuits about listing practice. PI work being given lower priority than family, housing and other work in our County Courts. Junior practitioners are still being badly affected by last minute adjournments, usually for no fee, in a system which takes no account of availability Counsel for a fresh hearing. Often that unpaid preparation is never compensated for, as case moves to other Counsel for the next hearing.

Over-regulation: We continue to push back on mission creep by the Legal Services Board and the BSB, looking to ramp up quality control of barristers against an inadequate evidence base to justify it, with consequent increases in practising fees. PIBA recently put in a robust consultation response and continues to support the Bar Council’s opposition to these moves.

Outreach, Equality, Diversity, Inclusion and Retention: I am passionate about PIBA doing more in this area. The constitution was changed a year ago to embed ED&I into PIBA’s objects and allow us to commit funds to its furtherance. It is not just about money, it is about time and a change of mindset. I have chaired our ED&I sub-committee for the last year and am confident that the energy of those working to further PIBA’s important work will continue. Recent Bar Council statistics reiterate the scale of the challenge. PI work should lend itself to flexible working. But the gender pay gap is worse in PI than the Bar average. Racial (and other) diversity is a major PI Bar issue. The Executive Committee would be a good place to start. Let’s embrace the Bar Council’s new toolkits on fair allocation of work; mentor and help fund a generation of diverse students; mentor existing members to reverse the loss of talented juniors; and support diverse silk applicants.   

Junior PI work: the MR’s recent speech shows that the importance for litigants and junior members of small claims, portal and FT work needs reiterating at senior judiciary and government level. These cases shouldn’t be devalued or side-lined in favour of higher value or higher profile litigation outside our field.

Pandemic recovery: I have already written about tackling listing problems and judicial/HMCTS engagement. But preserving the benefits of remote working, promoting members’ wellbeing and the collegiality of chambers are also top priorities.  

Thank you for entrusting the helm of PIBA to me and Emily for next 2 years. After a successful Annual Conference, we are busy getting stuck into the challenges and meanwhile we wish you an enjoyable and restful Easter break.

Charles Bagot QC

13 April 2022

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