The Bar Standards Board has confirmed that it will not extend the ‘cab rank’ rule for barristers in public access cases – on the grounds it would restrict access to justice. At its board meeting last night the BSB confirmed several proposals outlined in a consultation paper published in June.

Public access schemes allow lay clients to instruct barristers directly without going via a solicitor or other lawyer.

One of the major points of this summer’s consultation was on extending the time-honoured, but in practice little used, cab rank rule, but the BSB has confirmed will remain applicable only to cases referred to barristers from another lawyer.

According to the BSB’s Handbook, the rule obliges a barrister to accept work in a field they say they are competent to practise in, at a court they normally appear at, and at their usual rates, irrespective of the identity of the client and any personal thoughts they may have.

The regulator said extending the rule could create a barrier for access to justice because some barristers may become less inclined to undertake public access work and clients might also try to invoke the rule in cases with little merit. 

The new public access rules will also remove the requirement for barristers of less than three years’ standing to maintain a public access log. Amendments will also be made to the licensed access rules, which will permit certain expert clients to directly instruct barristers who have not undertaken public access training.

The BSB also confirmed rule changes for when barristers renew their practising certificate. These include:

  • Requiring barristers to provide information on practice areas, including any public access work, and the percentage of income derived from each area;
  • Barristers who operate in youth courts will have to register that fact;
  • Barristers will have to provide a unique email address.

Ewen MacLeod, director of strategy and policy at the BSB, said: ‘The new rules regarding authorisation to practise will enable us to improve our regulation of barristers. Our changes to the public and licensed access rules will also further support those clients who instruct the bar directly.’

The new rules will be submitted to the Legal Services Board for approval next month.