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‘I could walk away but I don’t want to’: Mansfield QC explains launch of virtual chambers following Tooks closure

The recent dissolution of Tooks Chambers was widely regarded as a sign of the times, as legal aid cuts coupled with a turbulent economy have hit publicly funded sets at the Bar harder than most. Now, however, former chief Michael Mansfield QC has embarked on plans to reinvent a low-cost, virtual version of the civil liberties set.

While Tooks closed its doors in Farringdon Street last Friday (11 Oct), 15 of the 55-strong set are expected to join Mansfield Chambers, as it will be known. Although the official launch is expected to take place in February next year, the new set began operating out of serviced offices at 5 Chancery Lane on Monday (14 Oct).

‘We had to begin the process of providing another physical base,’ Mansfield tells Legal Business. ‘The advantage of that is we’re renting flexi space which means that we can have as much or as little as we want. It’s a brand new conversion and it’s fully serviced. We have one room – we may have more, but we wanted to get our foot in the door.

‘The groundswell of support that I’ve had from clients is that they want us to continue. They wouldn’t mind if we practised out of our kitchen. It shouldn’t affect them at all. If I’m representing a particular client, and I need to see them, I just book a room in this building.’

The project will ultimately halve overheads and simultaneously create an electronic hub from which Mansfield hopes to set up a satellite system, enabling the new set to establish possible alliances via an alternative business structure with ‘allied occupations’.

Mansfield explains: ‘In the past, the Bar has been highly regulated. But now with deregulation, the possibilities over who you can combine with is manifold. It’s not going to require the kind of staffing overheads other sets have had.’

Tooks, whose members derived 90% of work from legal aid, laid blame on government cuts for its closure, and said policies led by justice secretary Chris Grayling are ‘cumulatively devastating the provision of legal services and threatening the rule of law.’

The demise of the set, which was home to five silks, was a sore blow to Mansfield. Called to the Bar in 1967, the heavyweight has been the barrister for the families of both Stephen Lawrence and Jean Charles de Menezes, as well as Mohammed-Al-Fayed over the circumstances surrounding the death of his son, Dodi, and Princess Diana.

However, when asked what the outlook is for the year ahead, Mansfield quickly responds: ‘survival.’

‘It’s been a troubled year – for me, it’s been painful. On the other hand, I do feel a sense of obligation. I could walk away – I was 72 on Saturday –but I don’t want to. I’m aware of a generation coming through university and college at the moment who are keen to be lawyers. They have a right to have an opportunity. Whatever Grayling may think about the Bar, it does important work for people who can’t afford it. I’m opening a door for the younger generation which is precisely why I set up Tooks in 1974.’

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