From the Treasurer

Call to the Bar

I write this shortly after the Trinity Term Call Night, as always an inspiring occasion. 102 students were called to the Bar in the presence of over 300 enthusiastic supporters, at least a few of whom were probably too young to remember the event, all proudly witnessing a momentous event for them all. Their deafening ovation showed the wonderful support in emotions and resources that so many of our students enjoy. It was such a pleasure to meet parents, partners and friends afterwards and to share their joy and pride in their loved one’s achievement. And once again there were many members from countries outside the UK – 20 to be precise – among those called.

Visit to India

We are a relatively small profession, but the Call ceremony reminded us of the esteem in which the Bar of England and Wales is held across the world and, associated with that, the rule of law as recognised and applied here. That was confirmed on our trip to India in February when we visited Delhi and Goa to meet senior legal professional and judicial leaders, and to attend the Commonwealth Law Conference. Visiting the Supreme Court of India and the Delhi High Court allowed us to appreciate the impact of the common law in the world’s largest democracy as well as the challenges and opportunities provided by its application in the context of a written constitution, and a society of such a wide range of political, religious and cultural perspectives. Likewise at the Commonwealth Law Conference we were able to renew old acquaintances and make new ones from across the member states. It was fascinating to hear the different perspectives on shared challenges, and the very different, sometimes alarming context in which some of our colleagues must work and need our support. I confess it was also enormous fun to meet so many talented, energetic and hospitable people! What were the messages I brought home? First, there is much we can learn from these visits. For example, the commitment in India to a technological revolution in the way litigation is conducted, under the inspirational leadership of the Chief Justice of India, Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud, from e-filing to live streaming of proceedings Second, there is significant interest in fostering reciprocal arrangements for practising in each other’s jurisdictions. Thirdly, and not least, the Pegasus Scholarship scheme, among other initiatives, and contact with our members practising in their home jurisdictions encourage mutual support for the rule of law. Given the challenges to judicial independence, access to representation and professional freedom, mutual understanding and collaboration has never been more important.

Timing of Call

Back home there is an increasing focus around what is now called the Timing of Call. Call to the Bar is but one stage in the arduous journey to entitlement to appear in the courts of England and Wales. In 2021/22 there were 2,178 students (of whom 980 were overseas students) on the Bar Course, a 45 per cent increase from 2017/18. The overall success rate on the Bar Course between 2011 and 2019 averaged 78 per cent. Because of the shortage of pupillages, and the desire of many candidates to practise in their home countries a large number of those who are called the Bar never go on to obtain a practising certificate. This means that currently there are 17,538 practising barristers registered with the Bar Standards Board and some 57,700 barristers who have no practising certificate but have been called to the Bar and are therefore subject to regulation by the BSB. Arguably this causes confusion for the public about what services a barrister can provide.

This has led to renewed discussion on the criteria for being called to the Bar. One argument is that only those who have completed pupillage should be entitled to be called, postponing the entitlement to describe oneself as a barrister to that point. Others argue that this, certainly on its own, will not solve the problems of allowing numbers to undergo the stress and expense of the Bar course massively in excess of the numbers who will end up in practice. The debate has been going on for at least 40 years but may well come to a head quite soon as the regulators have expressed interest in it. Therefore, all members in this country or elsewhere who care about the future of the profession should interest themselves in the discussions which will be taking place. The Inn, through the Executive Committee, with the help of a working group that has been set up will be considering the matter in depth during the rest of this year.

The Life of the Inn

I have been fortunate to be Treasurer for the first full year of our being able to enjoy the facilities of the two new upper floors of the Treasury Building. All visitors have been unanimous in their praise for what they see. It is so rewarding to see how excellently the design has blended the new with the old, making the most of our history and our ambition and our drive to promote and support a profession which is responsive to the needs of our times. This has all undoubtedly enhanced the experience for people attending the many events that have taken place this year.

Highlights for me have included the Social Context of the Law seminars ably assembled by Master Geoffrey Nice, which have addressed the topics of refugees’ human rights, whether the country’s constitution can survive recent challenges, and whether the adversarial system is fit for purpose. It says much for the Inn’s standing that these events can attract participants of national and international standing, such as Professor Gillian Triggs, Assistant General Secretary of the United Nations, The Rt Hon Lord Bonomy LLD, former justice of the Supreme Court Scotland, and of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, and Professor Sir John Curtice FRSA FRSE FBA, well known predictor of our election results, to name but a few. The Inn’s societies have been busy, too, with a particular favourite of mine being the talk organised by the LGBTQ+ Society and given by Master Kirby (Mr Justice Michael Kirby AC CMG, formerly of the High Court of Australia) strikingly titled Sodomy Law: the UK’s Persisting Legacy and the Great Quandary. All these events showed how successful our new and comfortable lecture theatre is as a venue, and how we now reach a wide, even international audience through live streaming some events. An honourable mention is also due to the tremendous efforts of the Drama and Debating Societies and the impressive performances of so many students.

Finally, it has been great fun to meet our members on Circuit at the various dinners arranged in collaboration with the Masters of the Circuits. I value these occasions as great opportunities to learn about circuit life and what the Inn can do the support them.

The social life of the Inn has returned to full speed. All our dinners, receptions and other events have been oversubscribed and shown off the great skills of our wonderful catering team for whom no demand is too difficult. The Garden has been a constant source of pleasure to me and many others with the partial ‘rewilding’ producing new and attractive surroundings for birds and insects – as well as humans and the occasional dog! The Garden Party was enjoyed by all, even if the Handel theme turned out to involve more water from a downpour than we had bargained for!

Education and Training

The Inn has continued to perform outstandingly in the duty imposed on us by James I of educating and training our members, old and new. As was the core purpose of the Pegasus Project we have been hosting ICCA sessions and students as and when required and we and they can be justly proud of their hugely impressive results. The success rate for ICCA students is spectacular: of those sitting the exam in April this year, 91 per cent of ICCA candidates sitting the criminal law exam for the first time passed (average for all providers 69 per cent) with 84 per cent against an average of 62.4 per cent for the civil paper.

I must make a special mention of the contribution the Library continues to make to the work of all our members. It remains a marvellously tranquil and welcoming place in which to study and I have been pleased to note that the numbers using it have markedly increased since before the redevelopment of the Treasury Building. The advice and online services make its learning readily accessible to everyone.

Our volunteer advocacy trainers have provided sterling service at advocacy weekends in and outside the Inn, all the while continuing to insist on the highest standards for themselves. Yet again our volunteer scholarship interviewers have performed wonders in interviewing all scholarship candidates. This year we interviewed 337 candidates for Bar Scholarships and awarded 120 scholarships. In addition to the actual interviews all volunteers were asked to undertake EDI training. This tremendous effort demonstrates the immense commitment we share to increase social mobility, inclusion and diversity at the Bar.

The future

So, what does the future hold? On a parochial level I look forward to supporting the Inn’s work with students, pupils, newly qualified barristers and established practitioners. The increased range of activities mean we will need as many volunteers as possible. If you have not thought of contributing to the Inn in this way before, now is the time to do so – you are needed! I also look forward to promoting our links with the Caribbean and the US on our visit to Trinidad, Barbados and Washington in October, to fill some of the gap left by the forced cancellation of Master Deborah Taylor’s tour last year following the death of Her Majesty the Late Queen Elizabeth II.

As an Inn we are aware there are many challenges ahead. Following the pandemic, it is no secret that many barristers’ working patterns have changed and with that comes a need to look at whether the professional accommodation we provide meets their needs. The requirements of chambers who spend more time working from home will be different. The greater appreciation of the access needs of some of our colleagues will cause us to look again at what can be done to meet them. We have begun a dialogue with the City of London planning authorities to explore possibilities for enhancing access to listed buildings on our estate.

I have already mentioned the issue of the timing of Call. I anticipate this may lead to a wider discussion about access to the profession and what we can do to enhance it. If we do not find ways of achieving that for ourselves we may find solutions are imposed on us.

Finally we live in times in which the value of the rule of
law in a democratic society, and of lawyers’ place in that, is increasingly questioned both in this country and overseas. We should all regard it as a professional duty to explain to all who will listen, and even more so those who do not, why what we as a profession do is so important in the interests of society as a whole.


None of what I have described nor the many activities that I have not would be possible without the dedicated and loyal work of our staff under the leadership of Greg, Henrietta, Richard, David, Gail, Rob, Pete, Sean, Vicky and Bob, with special thanks to Jennie and Wanda without whom nothing on the Treasurer’s (and I suspect Sub-Treasurer’s) diary would ever be attended to!

It remains a great privilege to be your Treasurer and I am looking forward to seeing as many as possible of you during the rest of the year. My only regret is that it is going so quickly!


Sir Robert Francis

Master Treasurer

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