Fifteen members of leading civil liberties set Tooks Court are to form a new low-cost chambers that could be open within the next fortnight, the Gazette can exclusively reveal.
The new set, to be called Mansfield Chambers, will be headed by Michael Mansfield QC, the current head of Tooks Court, which announced today it is to dissolve at the end of the year.
The set, whose members derive 90% of their work from legal aid, blamed the government’s cuts for its demise. A statement issued on its website today said: ‘The public service we provide is dependent on public funding; 90% of our work is publicly funded. The government policies led by justice secretary Chris Grayling are cumulatively devastating the provision of legal services and threatening the rule of law.’
Mansfield Chambers will leave the premises occupied by Tooks in Farringdon Street and share four desks in serviced offices at 5 Chancery Lane. The lease on Tooks Court still has a year to run.
Chambers member Mark McDonald told the Gazette that the new set hopes to halve the overheads paid to chambers by operating on a ‘wholly new platform’ through an electronic hub.
There will be a room and a ‘much reduced’ clerking facility, but, said McDonald, everything will be done through email using free software such as Google Office. McDonald said the set aims to cut the cost to its members. The set will initially employ one clerk rather than the 10 staff at Tooks.
Tooks’ 55 tenants currently pay 22% of their fees towards chambers and clerking. Mansfield Chambers will initially ask members to pay 10% of their fees, plus £250 a month. ‘As more people join, we want to reduce that further. The focus is on low cost, but providing the same amount of professional service,’ said McDonald.
The new business model, McDonald said, will mean members of chambers doing publicly funded work will receive a 10% pay increase to help offset the reduction in the amount they receive from legal aid.
Fifteen of the current 55 members of chambers are so far expected to join the new set, including at least one of the other QCs aside from Mansfield. McDonald said the set will be open within the next fortnight and possibly by the end of this week.
McDonald said the set hopes to take on one pupil if it can find a way to help fund it, with the asssistance of initiatives being led by the Inns and the Bar Council.
Tooks, which has worked on some of the most high-profile cases since its foundation in 1984, has always been at the forefront of innovation. When it opened, its members were one of the first in London to set up in premises outside the Inns of Court.
Door tenants at Tooks include Labour’s former legal aid minister Vera Baird and the current shadow attorney general Emily Thornberry.