Master Richard Wright was Called to the Bar in 1998 and took Silk in 2013. He is a criminal advocate who has defended or prosecuted many of the highest-profile cases in the North of England. He is Leader of the North Eastern Circuit and Chairman of the Middle Temple North Eastern Circuit Society.
Timing is everything. On that point Master Treasurer and I will certainly agree, having both assumed office – Sir Brian as our Treasurer and myself as the Leader of the North Eastern Circuit – on Wednesday 1 January 2020. This is certainly not the year that either of us had planned!
I think back to Wednesday 4 March 2020 when the six Circuit Leaders travelled to London for a meeting with the Lord Chief Justice and the President of the Queen’s Bench Division. The Leader of the South Eastern Circuit suggested that we added Covid-19 planning to the agenda. The rest of us told him not to be so soft.
Fast forward to late July and we have all been adapting to a very different way of life to that which we had previously known and enjoyed. But amidst all of the change that has been thrust upon us, the Inn and the Circuits have continued to play a vital role in providing a sense of stability for the profession. It is perhaps in such times of adversity that our common sense of belonging to these important institutions resonates more strongly amongst us.
Some years ago, Master Igor Judge identified the particular challenge faced by the Inn in retaining its links with members who practice on Circuits outside the South East. Whilst the challenge remains, I hope that the ‘pythonesque’ calls of ‘What did the Middle Temple ever do for us’ have receded in recent years.
Before Covid-19 struck, we enjoyed an excellent Survive and Thrive event organised by the Inn in conjunction with the Circuit and followed by a well attended Mess in Leeds. This event brought together the Inn and the Circuit and was designated a Qualifying Session.
Sadly, our plan to welcome Master Nick Hardwick to Leeds in order to reprise his excellent lecture given in Hall last year ‘The Prisons Crisis: What’s gone wrong and how to fix it’ has been put on hold. As have our hopes for a repeat of the drinks reception at the Judges Lodgings that we enjoyed last summer, together with further student focused events planned for the autumn.
There is one other very important way in which the Inn has been able to support its members on Circuit and that is by the very generous financial provision that it has been able to put aside to assist members facing financial hardship. I know that the grants made directly by the Inn to pupils have been a lifeline to many. Moreover, and I repeat here the thanks I have paid privately to Master Treasurer, the generous donation made by the Inns to the Barristers’ Benevolent Association (BBA), that enabled them to establish the Covid-19 fund, has quite simply kept people going through some very difficult times. I should also mention in this regard my friend from over the Pennines, Master Simon Medland, who first identified the pressing need for the establishment of a special fund to assist the Bar, and the publicly funded Bar in particular.
We must now look to the future and to the recovery of capacity in the Courts and Tribunals which we hope will be both rapid and sustained throughout the winter. We must also not forget that the eye-watering backlog of cases facing us existed pre-Covid-19 and is largely the product of years of chronic underfunding of our justice system. By the same token, the survival of the publicly funded Bar hangs in the balance not as a result of Covid-19, but because years of cuts have had a terrible effect on the sustainability of the profession.
If lockdown was tough then we might expect this ‘recovery’ phase to be harder still. It is more important than ever that we face these challenges together and I am sure that the Inn will continue to play an important role as we try to meet them.
We still hope to be able to hold the Joint Northern and North-Eastern Circuit Dinner in Liverpool on Saturday 28 November 2020 and we look forward to welcoming members of both Circuits then.