Barristers and solicitors have similar fees according to guidance published by the Bar Standards Board for people needing help with immigration and asylum issues.

The Bar Standards Board has collaborated with the Solicitors Regulation Authority and the Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner to publish guidance for members of the public and guidance for professionals to help clients navigate the system.

Guidance for the public acknowledges that most people who need legal help usually go to an immigration adviser or solicitor first. However, 'if your case needs to go to court or tribunal (for example, because your application for asylum is turned down and you want to appeal), you may want someone, such as a barrister, to make the case on your behalf'.

A solicitor or adviser may hire a barrister for the client or the client can hire a 'public access' barrister, the guidance says. 'If you hire a public access barrister, you might have to do some things yourself, like handing documents over to others, (eg a court), because most barristers cannot do this. Make sure you check with the barrister to ask them to explain what they can do and what you will have to do,' it adds.

Under the section 'paying for a provider', the guidance says 'most providers charge for the help they give you, and they are allowed to set their own prices. In many cases, a barrister's fees are similar to the fees of a solicitor'. In the same section, the guidance says a client who cannot afford to pay for legal advice and representation might be eligible for legal aid. Several paragraphs later the guidance notes that people cannot apply for legal aid if they hire a public access barrister.

In the guidance for professionals, the only two case studies - hypothetical cases highlighting good service and an example of when things go wrong - involve the client hiring a public access barrister.

Ewen MacLeod, BSB director of strategy and policy, said: 'Following the publication of our immigration review last year, we decided that consumers would benefit from some more guidance in this area. We hope that by producing these documents, both professionals and clients can be more assured of what is expected from immigration service providers.'

Law Society president Robert Bourns told the Gazette: 'Immigration and asylum law is a challenging and complex area. The vast majority of firms appreciate the potential vulnerability of their clients. Many show great dedication to supporting their clients over and above expected standards, often without charge.

'The Law Society Immigration and Asylum Accreditation Scheme ensures that those solicitors who wish to work under legal aid contracts demonstrate the required legal and professional knowledge and understanding. We have published a practice note for solicitors on immigration judicial review and statutory defences available to asylum seekers who may be charged with document offences. Shortly we will also provide guidance for solicitors on best practice in undertaking immigration appeals.'