28 March 2013

Public access rules approved by LSB

The Legal Services Board (LSB) has today approved the removal of two rules around public access work that will promote greater access to justice. At the same time the BSB is strengthening the training that all public access barristers are required to undertake.

The changes, proposed by the Bar Standards Board (BSB), will allow barristers to take instructions from clients who may be eligible for public funding but have decided not to take up this option. It will give clients greater choice over the legal services available, and allows barristers to expand the range of work they offer and meet growing demands from clients.  

By allowing barristers of less than three years' standing to take on public access cases the changes will allow members of the public to tap into the rich source of legal expertise which such barristers offer, at an affordable cost.

The prohibition on accepting cases that may be eligible for legal aid will be removed from 1 April 2013. Revised guidance for barristers and clients, together with model client care letters, will be published on the BSB's website later this month.

The prohibition on barristers of less than three years' standing will be removed with the introduction of a new training regime, which is due to be in place by autumn 2013. From this point, more experienced barristers who have already completed the existing training will have 24 months to either undertake additional training, required by the BSB, or apply for a waiver. In the meantime, barristers currently undertaking public access work can continue to do so.

Bar Standards Board Chair, Baroness Ruth Deech, said: "These changes will make direct access to justice easier by allowing more clients to go straight to a barrister. Also, allowing junior barristers to undertake public access work will greatly improve consumer choice and harness the energy, expertise and talent offered by younger members of the Bar."

The BSB will undertake a review of these changes 18-24 months after they are introduced and will also explore, in conjunction with other regulators, whether the scope of the cab rank rule should be extended to public access work.

The LSB also today confirmed the BSB's application to remove rules prohibiting barristers from expressing a personal opinion in the media on cases in which they are involved. These rules will be replaced, with immediate effect, by guidance that identifies the factors and risks which barristers should consider when making a professional judgement on whether or not to make such comments.

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Notes to editors

The rule change application was made to the LSB, by the BSB, in January 2013.

The changes involve the removal of rules, which are no longer considered to be necessary or proportionate measures, namely:
• a prohibition on accepting cases which may be eligible for public funding; and

• a prohibition on barristers of less than three years' standing undertaking public access work.

To undertake public access work, any barrister with less than three years' practising experience must have completed the necessary training and assessments, and also
• seek feedback from their public access clients on the service provided; and

• maintain a log of public access cases they have dealt with, including any issues or problems that have arisen and make this log available, on request, to the BSB for review.

Training programmes and providers are to be confirmed later in the year.

The BSB also applied to remove rules 709.1 and 709.2, which stated that a barrister must not express to the press or any other media a personal opinion on anticipated or current proceedings in which they are instructed. Instead, the BSB will publish guidance aimed at helping barristers identify the factors and risks they should consider before commenting to the press or via social media.

The Bar Standards Board regulates barristers called to the Bar in England and Wales in the public interest. It is responsible for:
• Setting the education and training requirements for becoming a barrister

• Setting continuing training requirements to ensure that barristers' skills are maintained throughout their careers

• Setting standards of conduct for barristers

• Monitoring the service provided by barristers to assure quality, and handling complaints against barristers and taking disciplinary or other action where appropriate

Contact: the Bar Standards Board Press Office on 02076111392.