Central Chambers Turns 25 Years Old

As Central Chambers prepares to celebrate 25 years of expert advice and representation, founding member Nazmun Ismail reflects on the journey so far…

In 1996, a small and diverse group of like-minded progressive practitioners had a bold vision.  They decided to establish a new set of chambers which was avowedly and proudly a progressive common law set, focused principally on legal aid work and pro bono work in areas such as Housing, Immigration, Prison Law, Criminal Defence, Family – areas which some established sets appeared not to prioritise. 

I am proud to be one of the founder members of Central Chambers.  Chambers is 25-years-old this year. I am ‘slightly’ older now but don’t feel it. The barristers’ profession has a way of exhausting us, but when we see an injustice, big or small, we muster the energy from somewhere to stay up all night to try to find that solution to enable us to persuasively put our case to the judge the next morning.

I remember 1996 as an eventful year for the city. Manchester was attacked by a bomb which shook the city centre, prompting the Royal Exchange Theatre director in superb Mancunian understatement to observe, “Well there goes the Matinee”.  

The nostalgia of 1996: ‘red corners’ were the norm in the Crown Court; there was no such thing as ‘FAS’ forms in the Family Court. It was a time when we got paid for the work we did and when we felt much more appreciated as practitioners doing publicly funded work. Now, in 2021, the number of unrepresented parties appearing at courts is the largest number it has ever been since legal aid was first introduced. The problem being that these unrepresented parties still need help with their cases.  

Chambers has felt like a child for me, before I had my real children and the need to budget to make ends meet, to deal with crises, to enjoy the good times and successes. There has been blood, sweat and tears. 

Chambers has always been rooted in Manchester.  Our clerks Neil, Jayne, Kate, and Jade are wonderful local people who have played a significant role in our continuing success. A special mention to Neil and Jayne who have been with us throughout and have that special spirit which inhabits the city, through thick and thin.  

Setting up chambers on the established and highly respected Northern Circuit felt like a bold but daunting move as we had extremely limited personal financial resources.  However, we had an abundance of passion, and a clear vision of being able to offer a service which focused on the disadvantaged and the ‘little people’ or those who were left behind in society.  Our initial attempts at arguing for human rights were dismissed or rejected. Things became a little easier with the introduction of the Human Rights Act, a couple of years after our formation, and this led to several successes at the House of Lords – latterly the Supreme Court – and at the Court of Appeal.   We have long-standing links with Law Centres.   This has continued to evolve with members of chambers offering a virtual LGBTQIA + Law Clinic to members of the public in a variety of areas of law including Discrimination, Employment, Housing and Criminal Matters.

It must be said that during our 25-year journey, we’ve had some interesting skirmishes and more than our fair share of drama. Indeed, at one stage, such was the drama, that we even contemplated writing a book about the various challenges and obstacles faced by us over the years!

Like any other organisation, we have had talented members leave, retire, or sadly pass away, and we have had new members join us over the years, but the core guiding principles of chambers have remained the same. Namely, access to justice, fairness, equality, and a client-focussed approach to assist the Court in coming to its decision. The Equal Treatment Bench Book now acknowledges much of what we have been fighting for, but it did not exist in that form 25 years ago. Participation is now fundamental and mandatory but, nevertheless, our members still need to draw the issues of fairness and equality of treatment to the attention of courts on a regular basis.. 

Our focus of providing a consistent, personalised service to all our clients remains central to chambers culture and how it does business today. Quite simply it is part of our Chamber’s DNA. We are delighted to see that, in recent years, there has been a very welcome and seismic shift towards ensuring a much fairer approach to how things are done in barristers’ chambers. Those changes are to ensure that there are proper maternity/paternity leave arrangements, pupil training, wellness at the Bar or anti-bullying. Our Chambers has long fought for such things. It was not easy and some of the things we had been arguing for were initially pushed to one side as us being ‘soft’.  Now, those issues have become buzzwords and core professional obligations. We have, as we often do, quietly led the way on such things for many years.

Celebrating our 25th anniversary is a really special moment for us. It has given us the opportunity to reflect on our history, to celebrate past achievements, and to consider just how much Central Chambers has grown over the years.

Chambers is holding a 25 Year Anniversary Dinner on 2 October 2021 at The Kimpton Clocktower Hotel and also raising much needed funds for our chosen charity ‘The Care Leavers’ Association.’ We hope that as many members of the Judiciary, the Bar and the Solicitors can attend. We very much hope that the awful effects of the pandemic will have reduced by the time of our event and that we can enjoy some time together. This event promises to be very special indeed. There will be fantastic entertainment, great food and drink, and a chance to learn more about us and about The Care Leavers’ Association.

We look forward to continuing to make a difference for our clients and communities for many years to come. 

Ms Nazmun Ismail