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A retrograde step as Bar Council ends nursery scheme after four years

Despite launching in 2013 after a six-year campaign effort to support working parents, the Bar Council has this week discontinued its Bar nursery service.

The facility was launched in April 2013 in conjunction with Smithfield House Children’s Nursery, and was open 7am to 7pm five days a week, available to children aged between eight weeks and five years. It offered special rates to members of the Bar, chambers staff and Bar Council employees.

The Bar Nursery Association, which was established in 2007, was set up to campaign for a family-friendly working environment and to retain female professionals after having children.

A Bar Council spokesperson told Legal Business that the Bar nursery facility was ‘oversubscribed’ because it was shared by non-barristers, but assured that the body will ‘come up with something’.

‘We’ve got other ideas, and we hope to have an alternative programme in place by early next year’, the spokesperson added.

PJ Kirby QC, a barrister at Hardwicke Chambers, said: ‘The Bar has not been good at retaining female professionals having children. It has not historically looked into how these issues could be dealt with. Facilitating parents as they come back to the Bar is an extremely important issue.’

Despite ending the London-based scheme, the Bar Council still offers its Tiny Tree Day Nursery located in Leeds.

Spaces are available for children aged between six weeks and five years, and offers special rates for members of the Bar and chambers staff.

The decision to end the Bar’s nursery scheme will disappoint those seeking to address the gender imbalance in childcare responsibility. Ahead of the nursery’s original launch, the Bar’s 2011 exit survey found that 28% of women who left the Bar did so because of childcare responsibilities, compared to just 3% of men.

In 2015, the Bar Council published research entitled Snapshot: The Experience of Self-Employed Women at the Bar, which found that balancing a career at the Bar with having a family was ‘hugely problematic’. The report also stated that ‘younger members of the self-employed Bar said they could not see how it was possible to have a career and a family.’