(Direct) access all areas: is the bar making the most of direct access?

(Direct) access all areas: is the bar making the most of direct access?

With more than a third of the bar now registered, Catherine Baksi takes a look at the history of direct access and considers whether the bar is warming to the idea of dealing directly with clients.

The birth of direct access old–school Rumpole–style barristers have traditionally had as little contact with their lay clients as possible – keeping them at a safe distance through the buffer of their instructing solicitor. But times are changing. As solicitors have gained increased rights of audience and encroached on the work of the bar, barristers have been permitted to take instructions directly from clients, bypassing the solicitor.

When it was introduced in 2004, the public access scheme was restricted to certain practice areas – clients not eligible for legal aid and barristers over three years’ call. Andrew Granville Stafford, chairman of the Public Access Bar Association, notes that uptake in the early days was slow. However, as the restrictions have been removed, there has been a growth in the number of barristers being trained.

In 2010 and 2011 public access was extended to crime, family and immigration work, then in 2013 and 2014 the scheme was opened up to barristers of less than three years’ call and practitioners were allowed to conduct litigation. The rules were also amended to enable barristers to accept work from clients who were entitled to legal aid, but who preferred to instruct a public access barrister.

Changing landscape

Recent research published by the Bar Standards Board (BSB) and the Legal Services Board showed that 5,695  –more than a third of the practising profession – are registered for public access work. Half (54%) of them had dealt with between one and five cases in the past 12 months, while only 2% have undertaken 50 or more cases.

On average, the report shows that for around 60% of the 404 respondents, public access work accounts for between one and 10% of their

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