In the next few weeks, various members of the Kysen team will be taking over Clare’s blog. This week, Account Executive Tim Wells talks to James House QC of 7BR Chambers on his recent Silks appointment.
Speaking to me still in recovery from the raucous celebrations that accompanied his appointment to QC, James House is candid about his enjoyment of the grand traditions surrounding the silks process, as well the modernisation that the legal sector has adopted over the last few years. The two aren’t incompatible, he argues, and barristers are in fact better equipped to practise as a result of the apparent discrepancy.
At 7BR Chambers, James practises all aspects of criminal law and quasi criminal matters, and also undertakes professional and disciplinary actions. In January, he was one of 93 new silks, celebrating silks day on 16 February along with the rest of his cohort in gowns and wigs. Is this pomp and circumstance at odds with the modern app-wielding barrister?
“The tradition is a fantastic thing, and obviously great fun too! You have to put in a lot of hours just to get considered and the ceremony is a reflection of that. You are signifying all that has gone before you, the best part of 800 years of the legal profession, emphasising that sense of history. It will be a sad day when the gown and wig are hung up for good,” he says.
Yet James is far from an archetypal antiquated barrister. Living in South Leicestershire, it would be understandable if he felt remote from the set’s London base at 7 Bedford Row. Technological change has, however, made the distance perfectly manageable, and is now even penetrating the courtroom.
“I frequently open a case in court using a laptop instead of notes, and the technology comes into its own in closing a case. You can amend your speech in real time, reacting to your opponent’s closing speech. Technological developments are just a response, like in the business world or in wider society, to the ease of accessing information. Comparing my experience of other sets, 7BR is very progressive. From video conferencing to Skype to the technology enabling the seminars we deliver, 7BR is really ahead of the game.”
James’ Skype sessions are certainly timely; earlier this month the Online Dispute Resolution Advisory Group of the Civil Justice Council recommended setting up a pilot programme to settle non-criminal cases of less than 25,000 pounds online, thereby cutting court expenses. The final stage could be a direct video conference with a Judge using Skype or an equivalent platform.
“It’s an excellent idea,” James tells me. “I have used video link in the past – to countries as far flung as Canada, Cyprus and Germany – and it really does cut down the cost and inconvenience of flying. The only reservation I have is the requirement to use a specialist provider. If we were to put in sufficient safeguards, I don’t see any reason why we couldn’t remove the monopoly of organisations and do it through the courts for free.”
Coverage of the silk appointments this year inevitably carried dire warnings about a legal sector still failing to inspire female or ethnic minority candidates. The number of female awardees increased by 39 percent from 18 to 25, though the actual number of female applicants “remains stubbornly low” according to Queen’s Counsel Appointments. Does this chime with what James is seeing day to day?
“It takes 10-15 years at a certain level to reach silk, and the push for ethnic minorities and women is only really just beginning. It will definitely take time for the figures to catch up and bear out the reforms taking place at the moment.”
For a process and profession supposedly stuck in the past and refusing to change its ways, you still can’t help but be encouraged by James’s enthusiasm for a more efficient and inclusive future that is quietly making its way to the Bar.