A London barristers’ set specialising in crime and regulation is to close, citing Covid-19, court underfunding and the imminent sale of its premises.
Charter Chambers, which is to formally close on 30 October, said it has come to the ‘inevitable conclusion’ that courts are unlikely to return to normal operation until the government’s medical advice changes, a vaccine is found, or sufficient extra court rooms are provided – ‘something which to date [the government] has failed to demonstrate it has the ability to do with any speed at all’.
Neil Hawes QC, head of Charter Chambers, said: ‘It was this assessment – alongside a review of chambers’ own needs for its future – that led Charter to the unanimous conclusion that to continue as we were would inevitably lead us to depleting our financial reserves and result in the set entering into significant borrowing.’
Members were ‘not prepared to engage in such a business risk’.
‘The contradictory message from the government to the self-employed bar is that we should borrow our way out of this so we can continue to support and sustain the justice system. That is the job of government, not the professions,’ Hawes said.
It was decided early last year that Charter Chambers would not renew its lease on its premises on 33 John Street and the building is now up for sale. ‘The end of the lease was always intended to provide us with a natural waypoint when we could have an opportunity to review Charter’s future,’ Hawes said.
‘This review necessarily had to take into account the many decades of deliberate neglect the justice system has suffered under all governments.’
The set has more than 50 members, including six QCs.
Last month, the Bar Council revealed that almost 30% of publicly funded barristers are unsure whether they will renew their practising certificate next year and fee income has fallen by an average of almost 60% across the board, including privately funded work.
The crunch for many criminal chambers is expected to come on the next rent quarter day in September, when the impact of a trial-free April and a slow May will be most keenly felt.
*The Law Society is keeping the coronavirus situation under review and monitoring the advice it receives from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office and Public Health England.