Since 2004, significant changes to the law have ensured that there is greater direct access to the Bar. This comes in two forms:
Individuals or organisations with expertise in specialist areas of the law are able to apply to the Bar Standards Board to be licensed to instruct barristers directly via the licensed access scheme. If successful, the licence holder is permitted to instruct any member of the Bar for advice, and in certain circumstances representation, in areas relating to the licence holder’s field of expertise.
Potential licence holders must go before the Access to the Bar Committee in order to satisfy certain criteria. Matters which will be looked at include the type of work the body wishes to refer directly to a barrister, its expertise or experience, its familiarity with any relevant area of the law and its ability to obtain and prepare information for the barrister.
Public access enables members of the public to directly instruct a barrister without having to first seek out a solicitor or other intermediary. Prior to the implementation of public access, clients were required to involve a solicitor or a recognised third party who would then instruct the barrister on the client’s behalf. The key benefits of public access for clients are financial; having removed the need to engage a solicitor, clients have public access to the Bar without the added legal expenditure of engaging a law firm. Clients are able to make use of this new system across the full scope of work undertaken by barristers.
Public access is designed principally for cases which are relatively straightforward in their nature, and clients are advised to carefully consider the differences between the services offered by barristers and solicitors before seeking to instruct a barrister through the scheme. Barristers are expert advisers and advocates, and as such clients may use the scheme to garner specialist legal advice, to instruct a barrister to appear on their behalf in court, or to draft legal documents. A barrister is not permitted to issue legal proceedings upon a client’s behalf, or to instruct an expert witness on a client’s behalf.
Not all barristers are able to receive instructions through the public access scheme; in order to qualify they must have attended a public access training course which has been approved by the Bar Standards Board, except for in special instances where training might be waived. Clients are also advised that even barristers who are fully qualified for the scheme are not obliged to accept public access instructions. For clients seeking assistance from the Bar who cannot afford to pay, there are certain circumstances where financial support can be obtained from the Bar Pro Bono Unit, a registered charity which helps to find free legal assistance from volunteer barristers. The Bar Pro Bono Unit is able to assist clients in receiving both advice and representation.
Recently a Direct Access Portal website has been set up to serve as a hub for those in need of a direct access barrister: http://www.directaccessportal.co.uk/ In this year’s publication, those barristers who are authorised to accept instructions under the public access scheme appear in our tables and under their set profiles with an ‘A’ appended to their names.