In the 1960s there were about sixty barristers practising in Northern Ireland. It was the preserve of the rich and connected. I was at Queen’s law faculty in the late 1960s when one of these people came and told us not to go to the bar because it was “overcrowded”. I did other things for ten years, then studied at the Institute for Professional Legal Studies. At this point there were about 180 barristers practising. A man called Kennedy came and told us not to go to the Bar because it was “overcrowded”. A few years later his daughter came to the Bar. There are now about 700 barristers in practice , trying to get a piece of a pie which has shrunk by probably a third, since the 1980s. Legal aid for civil proceedings is rare and the fees paid for serious criminal cases have seriously diminished. The Chief Justice suggested that a solution to the absence of legal aid could be that young unemployed barristers might do cases for free.
Readers may remember a recent campaign by the profession, complaining about fee cuts and suggesting that it was the end of justice as we know it. Humpty Dumpty- like, the profession was led up the hill and back down again.
Now the Minister of Justice, when told of a muttering by the legal profession will think what Stalin said when told of the Pope’s criticism: “how many divisions has the Pope?”
The implications for young barristers are dire. More importantly, the outcome for the public is that they will not be properly represented by experienced counsel. Maybe not an issue until you are falsely accused of a crime.
Worse, we head back to the days of the 1960s when a friend was told by an old hand, who eventually became a Lord Justice of Appeal, “there seem to be a lot of cloth cap barristers arriving”.
Cloth cap no more.