Solicitors believed to pose an unacceptable credit risk would not be able to call upon the 'cab rank' rule when instructing barristers under proposals floated by the Bar Standards Board today.

The change would make it easier for barristers to decline instructions under the time-honoured but little-invoked rule. 

The rule states that if a self-employed barrister receives instructions from a professional client such as a solicitor, and the instructions are appropriate taking into account the experience, seniority and/or field of practice of the barrister, they must accept the instructions.

However, at present they are not obliged to follow the rule when dealing with clients on a list of defaulting solicitors maintained by the Bar Council. 

In a consultation published today, the BSB asks for opinions on whether, instead of a reference to the list of defaulters, there should be an exception to the cab rank rule if the barrister 'has formed the reasonable opinion that the professional client is an unacceptable credit risk'.  

The regulator also asks for views on options including:

  • Retaining the status quo;
  • Giving barristers greater flexibility to propose terms other than the standard terms required by the rule at present;
  • Removing the standard terms, but requiring the barrister either to adopt their own standard terms or propose reasonable terms for the specific instructions in question;
  • Removing the standard terms, but requiring the barrister to accept any reasonable terms offered by a solicitor or other professional client.

The regulator concedes that it is rare for solicitors to have to avail themselves of the cab rank rule in order to obtain representation. The consultation closes on 19 June.