Twitter tsunami sinks Criminal Bar Association candidate

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Jun 30, 2017
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Rarely does the election of the next vice-chairman of the Criminal Bar Association create even a ripple of excitement among barristers but Simon Spence, QC, has taken a leaf out of Donald Trump’s book and provoked outrage on social media.

As The Brief highlighted in our Wednesday quote of the day, the silk from Red Lion Chambers in London took the “brave” move of insulting the larger branch of the legal profession in his campaign manifesto, which was published several days ago. In it the barrister, who took silk in 2009, described criminal law solicitors as “postmen” who effectively delivered bits of paper while letting barristers do all the heavy intellectual lifting.

Arguably, his comments were just the latest round of increasingly robust jousting between the two sides of the criminal law profession. Tensions have been rising for several years as the old dividing lines between litigation and advocacy have been blurred. Solicitor-advocates now encroach on traditional barrister territory and barristers have started fighting back with beefed up direct public access schemes.

Nonetheless, Spence’s manifesto remarks were far from welcomed by his solicitor … er … colleagues. A furore kicked off and the silk withdrew his candidacy for the association post. But perhaps more embarrassing for the 33-year-call barrister, his head of chambers sided with the other lot. And his head of chambers is far from an anonymous old duffer – he is Max Hill, QC, the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation.

Hill felt so agitated by the episode – and undoubtedly concerned that solicitor instructions might head to any chambers but his – that he issued a damning statement. Spence, said Hill, “made a significant error in his election manifesto and has paid a heavy price for that mistake, namely the loss of his candidacy together with intense criticism from representatives of both legal professions, the Bar and solicitors”.

Hill then reiterated that Spence had “made a personal decision to stand for election. He was not selected by Red Lion Chambers, nor did his manifesto represent the views of Red Lion Chambers. No member of Red Lion Chambers saw the manifesto before it was submitted to the CBA”.

But that was not the end of the saga – Spence has prominent supporters, despite his unvarnished views of solicitors. Sarah Forshaw, QC, of 5 King’s Bench Walk and a former leader of the southeastern circuit, rushed to his defence on Twitter. “What a sad way for a set to treat one of its own silks for fear losing work,” she tweeted to Red Lion Chambers.

Links partners feeling pepped up

Journalists from specialist legal publications came blinking into the daylight yesterday morning after having been held in lockdown by Linklaters, the “magic circle” law firm that was keen to orchestrate the release of its latest financial results.

What was revealed? That senior equity partners at the firm are even richer than they were 12 months ago, with average drawings rising to nearly £1.57 million from £1.45 million the year before. For those whose heads are spinning, the firm has helpfully done the maths for us – that works out to a 7.8 per cent pay rise – or profit per equity partner (or, indeed PEP) as the anoraks refer to the figure.

With inflation running at about 2.3 per cent, it is no wonder that Gideon Moore, the firm’s managing partner, was in munificent mood. “Our performance has been driven by the efforts of our people, our deep client relationships and our sector focus,” he told the hacks.

Feeling a bit queasy at the RCJ

Spotted at the Royal Courts of Justice earlier this week: a school party of excitable young children being ushered in to witness the glory of English justice in the flesh.

Harassed teachers herded their charges through the security arcs before corralling them in the grand main hall of the late-Victorian George Edmund Street building. But what was one of those hard-pressed adults clutching in readiness?

It was clearly a sick bucket, reports The Brief’s court spy. Presumably, the teachers were playing it safe just in case the quality of advocacy at the bar was nauseating.

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