A smartphone identification system is being developed by the Bar Council to help barristers get into court without having to go through onerous security searches. The new ‘app’ will be used as part of the HM Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS) Professional Entry Scheme pilot, announced today.
Barristers and other legal professionals will be able to enter court buildings without the need to be searched as part of the pilot, which covers five courts. Registration begins in August, with the fast-track entry pilot starting in September.
The HMCTS pilot was developed with the Bar Council after barristers trying to enter courts in England & Wales were held up from representing their clients due to airport-style searches and security measures.
Barristers will soon be able to gain access to their new ID via the Bar Council’s secure MyBar portal, where they will be able to download a photograph and unique barcode onto their smartphones or tablets. Courts taking part in the pilot will be able to scan the barcode and allow the barrister entry without further security checks, other than random screenings (c.10% of users) to verify that restrictions on prohibited items are being complied with.
Solicitors will also be taking part in the pilot, but will be using hard copy ID, and court staff will check their names against a paper list under a process agreed with the Law Society, the solicitors’ representative body. A separate pilot for members of the Criminal Law Solicitors Association will also be operating nationally, but without ‘professional access lanes’.
Andrew Walker QC, Chair of the Bar, said: “Barristers across the country have been telling us about lengthy delays and sometimes intrusive, unnecessary or excessive security measures being imposed on them when trying to enter to court buildings. We were hearing stories of barristers being forced to prove their drinks were not dangerous, having essential electronic devices confiscated, and having their private belongings searched in public. They are there to do their job, playing a key role in the administration of justice. They do not deserve to have that job made more difficult, or to have their time wasted.
“We made the Bar’s views clear to HMCTS, and took up the challenge of trying to find a solution. To HMCTS’s credit, they have worked with us to try to find a way forward that has the support of the judges, and does not jeopardise the need for tight security in our courts.
“The Professional Entry Scheme will not be a panacea for all of the problems barristers encounter in entering our courts, but it is a major step forward. We hope the pilot will help identify any teething problems with the initiative, and also with the new digital Bar Council ID system.
“We will also be encouraging HMCTS to use this opportunity to find every way it can to minimise queuing times for barristers in those courts which do not readily accommodate a ‘professional access lane’, so that we can avoid cases being delayed, and barristers’ time being wasted, in every court. Entry needs to be ‘fast-track’ in every respect if it is to make the difference that is desperately needed.
“We will be encouraging our members to give us (and HMCTS) as much feedback as they can during the pilot.”
Registration for the Bar Council’s smartphone ID is expected to open on MyBar soon. The Professional Entry Scheme pilot will begin on 5 September 2018.