Return to Chambers
I remind you of the guidance I gave in last week’s In Brief about complying with the Chief Health Officer’s directions in Chambers.
On Monday, 7 December 2020, the Chief Health Officer published updated directions. Of significance to barristers returning to Chambers are the:
The most significant changes in relation to the use of Chambers appear to be:
I remind you that each barrister is an ‘employer’ for the purposes of the directions and must have their own COVIDSafe Plan. A template can be found here.
The requirement to keep a record of visitors to Chambers remains in place.
The information I have given above is designed to assist you in navigating the directions but is not a comprehensive list of all your obligations.
You can find the full text of the directions here.
I encourage each of you to read the full text of the directions and ensure that you comply with them.
Hopefully, this will be the last update on this subject for some time.
The Executive of the Bar Council has met weekly since the election, considering and dealing with many mundane matters. However, some important issues have and are being considered. They range from the Bar’s response to the recommendations of the Royal Commission into the Management of Police Informants, to the need to replace the Bar’s ageing IT system, and to the reinstating of proper obituaries to mark the death of members. In addition, we held a workshop to settle recommendations for membership of the various Bar Committees. We will continue to meet weekly until the end of the year.
Last night saw the last Bar Council meeting of the year, marked by a lengthy and varied agenda. Of note, this was the first meeting of the new Bar Council held in person and in the Bar Council Chamber. Covid spacing and convenience meant that some members did attend virtually, but a majority were physically present. I suppose it’s a mark of the times that this is noteworthy!
I was able to report that Róisín Annesley QC, Helen Rofe QC and I attended (virtually) the Board meeting of the Legal Services Board and Commissioner on Tuesday 8 December 2020. It was a constructive first meeting. We received a presentation from Paul Clark, CEO & Managing Director of BCL, as to its current position, the challenges arising from Covid and how they have sought to be met. Composition of the membership of all the Bar Committees was settled, albeit with a few loose ends still to be tied off. There was discussion about the Bar’s IT system and we will report to members further on this topic in the new year. We considered at some length the new Bar conduct policy and as a result of some further questions, it will be further considered at the first Bar Council meeting in the new year.
As a result of the numbers planned to undertake the Readers’ Course next year, Sue McNicol AM QC advised at the meeting that there was a pressing need to attract additional members to assist with mooting and marking. Another 28 people are likely to be required. In the leadup to the election, the Bar’s control of the Readers’ Course figured prominently and was clearly instrumental in the result. Here is the chance for members to not just vote about it, but to do something about it. The Readers’ Course needs your assistance in a practical way, so provide it. I encourage all members to consider assisting in this small way. Your first point of contact should be Sue via email.
Members may be aware that the Bar’s continuing membership of the Law Council of Australia has been under consideration since the last Bar Council raised objection to payment of the capitation fee, given the very serious effect of the Covid crisis in Victoria. The issue was further discussed last night. It is fair to say it raises passionate responses on both sides of the argument. The Bar Council is still working through some matters that could not be concluded last night. We should be in a position to report further later next week.
Also, last night, we formed a working group comprising Róisín Annesley QC, Amy Wood and the Ethics Committee to consider and deal with the recommendations of the Royal Commission. More immediately, the need for a constitutional amendment to allow for the removal of Nicola Gobbo from the roll of retired counsel was discussed. A form of amendment is being considered. As a first step, the Bar Council has resolved to request that she seek her own removal from the roll.
As promised, we have provided a link to the approved minutes of the last Bar Council meeting, redacted to respect privacy and confidentiality where required here.
The next Bar Council meeting is due to be held on Thursday, 28 January 2021.
Christopher Blanden QC