Four years after its launch
The Bar Council has confirmed this week that it’s ditched a pioneering nursery service designed to help barristers with young children.
The scheme was launched in April 2013 and was operated out of Smithfield House Children’s Nursery in Smithfield, London — just by the Old Bailey. The facility is open 8am to 6pm five days a week and can cater for the needs of up to 40 children, aged between eight weeks and five years. The nursery, until very recently, offered reduced rates to barristers, chambers’ employees and Bar Council staff.
However, the representative body for barristers across England and Wales has now scrapped the scheme. A spokesperson confirmed that Smithfield House — which also accepts the children of non-barristers — was now operating at full capacity, so the Bar Council had agreed to “discontinue the partnership going forward”. The spokesperson added:
The Bar Council is also exploring other ways to support barristers with childcare responsibilities.
The decision is unlikely to sit well with champions of gender diversity at the bar. In 2015, a Bar Council report entitled ‘Snapshot: The Experience of Self-Employed Women at the Bar’ suggested that balancing family life and a career was “hugely problematic”. This is particularly true for those advocates working in legal aid. The report said:
The legal aid cuts are a threat to all members of our profession, but they perhaps have the most significant impact on those who are primary carers, of whom the majority are women… [W]hen income cannot cover the costs of childcare we are potentially creating ‘no go’ areas of practice for women. That is bad for justice and for society as a whole.
But while London barristers will have to make other childcare arrangements, the barrister nursery in Leeds remains unaffected by this week’s announcement. The Tiny Tree Nursery, close to the city centre, struck a similar deal with the Bar Council as Smithfield House had, and continues to provide discounted childcare for barristers’ kids.