I write this from my Chambers, having had to come in to work for the first time in three weeks, to deliver an online talk. My window, next to the Master’s House, overlooks both Temple Church, from which I hear the Director of Music, Roger Sayer, putting the organ through its paces, and the Pegasus Building Project, from which slight sounds of drilling float to me over the still spring air. Life seems reassuringly normal.
An Update from the Treasurer
In fact, of course, it is everything but. The Inn is almost completely deserted, apart from a very few working barristers like me, still fewer residents, and one or two members of staff (including of course the Porters, whose staunch presence has kept the Inn safe from intruders). But the life of the Inn proceeds, if remotely, irrespective of the restrictions introduced by the Government Regulations promulgated only three weeks ago. It strikes me that many of you who have rightly kept your distance may like to know what exactly is going on. You will of course find out much from the copy of Innerview which will be with you shortly. But here are the headlines.
Financial assistance for our tenants
We have written to our commercial tenants, acknowledging that the current lockdown is having an impact upon the ability to meet rental obligations, and offering relief in appropriate cases, given evidence of hardship. The Executive Committee has authorised the constitution and operation of a special emergency group which will sit to consider applications remotely. That group is to hear the first applications next week. We have written to our residential tenants too, to invite them to let us know if hardship is making it difficult for them to meet their rental obligations in current circumstances.
Financial assistance for our pupils
The Executive Committee has also authorised a fund to alleviate the hardship experienced by pupils and very junior practitioners who are not eligible for the Government scheme for the self-employed. The application process and loans and grants awarded will be administered by the Inn’s existing hardship fund, the Marshall Hall Trust. That too expects to be able to consider applications next week.
Financial assistance for the Bar generally
The four Inns have worked together to support an appeal for funding for the Barrister’s Benevolent Association, each voting to commit substantial sums of money to support members of the Bar who will be in distressed financial circumstances as a result of this outbreak.
It should be noted that the monies committed by the Inn to these various forms of relief sit on top of the £1.8m given out by the Inn this year in the form of scholarships and exhibitions for students, as well as the rather larger sum (together amounting to £4.7m in 2019) that it devotes to educational and training purposes. In normal times, the Inn’s provision for the profession is prodigious; in these exceptional times, it is something of which we should all be proud.
Education and Training
Our E&T staff and committee members are hard at work devising online substitutes for the intense training of students, pupils and junior practitioners that is normally carried on in person in or about the Inn. Once the necessary arrangements have been made, training will be carried out as intensively as technology and trainer availability allows, with the aim of enabling our young members to fulfil their practical learning requirements just as they would have done in ordinary times.
Although the physical facility has had to close during the lockdown period, the Library staff run a document retrieval service as well as satisfying online queries for other material. See innertemplelibrary.org.uk for details.
I am delighted to say that, after a short hiatus to evolve safe methods of working consistent with the new regulations, Sir Robert McAlpine Special Projects are back on site and working hard on Project Pegasus. Meanwhile, the Estates staff are on call to deal with other problems that arise, and have given each set of Chambers in their care a full health check. The Estate Surveyor is also on site every day, working as normal from the Department.
We aim to cancel planned activities only at the point where the return of deposits can no longer be safeguarded. It is our wish to bounce back from this pandemic as soon as possible, and resume our full round of activities, including in some cases reviving postponed events.
Sean Harkin (our Head Gardener) remains on site, tending to the glories of the Garden. There is no need to miss out on this: for those of you on Instagram, Sean posts floriferous images from day to day, and a delightful How does the Garden Grow video every week.
The Master and Reader of the Temple and the Director of Music keep us spiritually and musically refreshed with a fine programme of remote activity and music: keep an eye on the regular announcements concerning Temple Music at Home, as well as services on YouTube.
Keeping in touch
We have found it refreshingly easy to adapt to the new remote way of working, using a number of online video platforms (primarily Zoom) for communication. Although no complete substitute for proper fellowship, these platforms facilitate group discussions, and we have used them for many discussions between members and Inns, and for an Executive Committee. We expect to use the same technology for the next Bench Table. If you are a member of one of the Inn’s committees, do take part: it would be good to see you all, if only via a screen.
I hope that this short bulletin reassures you that The Inner Temple continues to thrive. In the meantime, until we are able to meet again, please stay well and stay safe.
With my warm regards,
Guy Fetherstonhaugh QC