Methods that allow members of the public and lay clients to instruct barristers directly without turning to a solicitor first are working well, the barristers’ regulator has claimed.

In a review of its public and licensed access schemes published today, the Bar Standards Board said the schemes are an important way to access legal services. The review also found most public access barristers to be providing 'a valuable service' to their clients.

The BSB began a review of the schemes in 2015. Public access allows registered barristers to accept instructions directly from any member of the public, while the licensed access scheme allows certain ‘licensed’ clients to instruct any barrister directly.

However, despite stating the scheme is ‘working well’, the BSB review identifies three issues which need to be addressed:

  • Consumers being unable or unwilling to access a public access provider;
  • Barristers and clerks not having enough support or being inadequately prepared to manage public access work; and that
  • Some public access barristers 'may be providing a poor client service'.

According to the BSB, the ‘barriers’ to public access include a lack of awareness of the scheme and an 'inability of potential clients to fulfil the functions traditionally handled by a solicitor, such as the conduct of litigation’.

However, it notes: 'This is not necessarily a significant concern, as barristers are not permitted to accept public access work if it would be in the client’s best interests to instruct a solicitor.’ 

The BSB said it had agreed to address these concerns and would reassess the rules governing training, amend the rules and guidance for both schemes, and review and revise the documentation given to the public when they contact barristers through the schemes.

Ewen MacLeod, director of policy and strategy at the BSB, said: ‘Overall, our review has found that the public and licensed access schemes offer an important service to the public.

‘These perform a valuable role in promoting consumer choice by increasing the ways in which legal services can be accessed by the public. However, we cannot afford to be complacent and want to make sure both schemes continue to work well and that the challenges identified in our report are fully addressed.’

A Law Society spokesperson said: “Because of the nature of a barrister’s practice, the type of cases which are suited to public and licensed access schemes will always be limited.

‘As the report itself references, discrete pieces of work are more suited to direct access work than longer running or ongoing matters. We would add that many clients require the type of support and backing that can only properly be provided by a solicitor, and this too is acknowledged. It is really only the most knowledgeable and able clients that are fully able to take advantage of the public access scheme.

‘As the report identifies there is no easy fix to address the problem identified in the report that “Barristers and clerks may not have enough support or may be inadequately prepared to manage public access work”.’