It seems extraordinary that it is now two months since the lockdown began and, while there has been a little easing of restrictions and the promise of some more, we are clearly a long way from the old normal. I do hope that you and your families are well, and that any of you who have fallen ill are well on the road to recovery.
Many aspects of the work of the Inn have developed in ways that we could not have imagined. Many aspects of the justice system have also continued to function in new ways, as judges and practitioners in the civil, family and magistrates’ courts will know. Nonetheless, many members face continued professional and financial worries, and the position of the criminal bar, in particular, remains difficult, with only a small number of jury trials possible at the present time. I thought that you would welcome an update on what we are doing to help and about how the Inn is adapting.
One area where we can do little within the current restrictions is our community life. On this, we have already announced that events for June are cancelled. I’m afraid that we have now taken the difficult decision to cancel Inn functions in July: sadly, this means that neither the Garden Party nor the Family Day will take place. We are retaining 23 July as a possible Call Day, although we are unsure whether this will be needed or about the form it might take.
I very much hope that we will be able again to enjoy each other’s company at some time before the end of the year, but I have learnt to be cautious and, against my natural inclination, not to be too optimistic. Dinners where we all sit two metres apart from each other don’t seem very appealing!
The picture in other areas is more encouraging.
For some time after the lockdown began, I thought there was a good chance of a Council meeting in July, if not in June. That now seems unlikely and so we shall go ahead with the meeting in the diary for 23 June, to be held remotely.
Resourcing and Support to the Profession
At present the Inn’s financial position remains sound, with reductions in both outgoings and income. However, it is still relatively early days and the cash flow position is being kept under close review.
A significant proportion of the Inn’s team are currently on furlough, others are working from home with site visits as needed, often on a rota basis. The most recent change in government guidance has seen an increase in the site attendance of gardeners and members of the Estates team.
In terms of support to the wider profession, we made a significant donation to the BBA’s Covid Fund and increased our own hardship fund for those who are not eligible for help from BBA. Like the other Inns, we have said that we will consider the support we can offer as landlords in cases of hardship resulting from the pandemic. The application forms and guidance are now available.
Decisions on individual hardship are being taken in line with our normal process (many thanks to Martin Moore, Sarah Whitehouse, Dominic Nolan and Christopher Stoner for their involvement). Decisions about assistance from the Inn as a landlord are being made by a small group of barrister benchers (Jonathan Crowe, Martin Moore, Jonathan Gaunt and Richard Wallington). The processes in place safeguard confidentiality, the identity of applicants and individual outcomes.
Looking to practical rather than financial support, the Junior Members’ Committee has launched a workshare scheme in the form of a database of junior members who have capacity to undertake research or other work for senior members of the Inn.
Online qualifying sessions are now running in the form of advocacy and ethics workshops. I’ve had positive feedback about how the first two of these have gone, using virtual breakout rooms to secure active participation from students. An online version of the new practitioners’ advocacy course is also in development for delivery next month – sadly without a substitute for valuable shared time in the bar and over dinner. The flexibility and commitment from tutors, committees and the education team show the Inn at its best.
The BSB has also now announced plans for holding August exams online. Students with pupillages will be permitted to start before receiving their BPTC results, if their Chambers or other providers agree.
The changes to normal timetable mean that we will not be able to Call any current students before November – we’ve scheduled an additional Call Day then to cover higher than normal numbers. Single Call Days in July and October remain in the diary for transferring lawyers and any students from previous years.
The change of emphasis in advice about returning to work has seen Estates activity pick up – the work to enable continued use of the Great Hall during roof replacement has been completed; scaffolding is going up to provide access to the roof; the Ostlers’ Hut has been cleaned; and work on the water mains is making good progress.
While the Library remains closed, the remote enquiry and document supply service continue to be well-used. The Library has now arranged a licence with the Copyright Licensing Agency to enable provision of copies of material for the purpose of commercial advice, in addition to provision for court and private research. This is in response to increasing demand from readers and we hope it is a welcome addition to the remote service.
Sheila, Nicholas, William and members of the choir have done a tremendous job in adapting to the current restrictions. If you would like to join the Chapel online mailing list please email Aleksandra Tomaszewska. As ever, Sheila is happy to provide a listening ear and pastoral support to members. She can be contacted at [email protected].