On 4 April 2013, the Legal Services Board changed the rules relating to the circumstances when a barrister can undertake ‘public access work’.
…barristers are now permitted to receive instructions from lay clients who may be eligible for public funding, but have decided to not apply for it.
Two fundamental rules concerning public access work have been removed, thus expanding the scope for barristers in England and Wales to accept work directly from the public without the need for the client to consult a solicitor first. It is hoped that this change will ‘promote greater access to justice’ — a cause which is being cited more and more with regards to changes to the nature and provision of legal services in this jurisdiction.
Courtesy of the changes, barristers are now permitted to receive instructions from lay clients who may be eligible for public funding, but have decided to not apply for it. Thus, individuals now have a greater choice of legal services. Equally, this will enable barristers to widen their practices and accept instructions from a larger client pool.
The second fundamental change is that barristers of less than three years’ call are now permitted to accept public access instructions. Previously, this was not the case. This change will take effect by autumn 2013. Public access barristers of less than three years’ call, in addition to having undertaken the necessary public access training, must also obtain feedback on their services from their public access clients and keep a record of their public access instructions and any issues which may have arisen. This record must be available on request for the Bar Standards Board to audit. Barristers wishing to branch out into public access work will still have to undertake public access training as before.
The second fundamental change is that barristers of less than three years’ call are now permitted to accept public access instructions.
These changes effectively widen the scope of public access by giving the consumer of legal services more choice over which legal service provider they turn to. In a time where the legal profession is facing great challenges, it will no doubt be welcomed from many quarters.
On the same day, the Legal Services Board announced that the rules which prohibit barristers from expressing personal opinions to the media in regard to their cases are to be removed (rules 709.1 and 709.2 Bar Code of Conduct). The former rules are to be replaced by guidance on the matter. This guidance will stipulate the risks and other points which barristers should bear in mind before having such conversations with the media.
Revised guidelines and other resources for counsel and clients alike will be available from the Bar Standards Board website from late April onwards.