Barristers who work for free could be breaching referral fee ban, Bar Council warns

Print This Post

7 January 2016


police station

Bar Council: law firms “wrong to suggest no fee is available”

Criminal barristers who agree to work for law firms “for no fee” could be breaching the referral fee ban, the Bar Council has warned.

The Bar Council said that in cases where no representation orders had been granted and counsel was “unassigned”, some solicitors were asking barristers “to conduct such hearings in the magistrates’ courts for no fee”.

In return, the solicitors had “stated that instructions to conduct the consequent Crown Court trials will, in the absence of unforeseen circumstances, be sent to members of chambers (who may or may not be counsel who conducted the magistrates’ court hearing)”.

In a guidance note issued by its ethics committee and posted on its website this week, the Bar Council said that in these cases law firms were “wrong to suggest that no fee is available for this work”.

The Legal Aid Agency had confirmed that the fee for barristers was included in the payment made to solicitors under the Litigators’ Graduated Fee Scheme, the Bar Council said, and barristers were entitled to be remunerated out of these payments.

Referring to earlier guidance by its ethics committee on referral fees, the Bar Council said the committee’s views was that “acceptance of an improperly low proportion of the fee paid under a graduated fee scheme can amount to a referral fee”.

The earlier guidance, updated last summer, reminded barristers that referral fees are banned under the Bar Standards Board (BSB) handbook.

The guidance stated that the provision of junior barristers at “discounted fees” or “even for no fee at all”, in return for securing instructions for other members of chambers, particularly more senior members, was prohibited.

“Not only does this involve a disguised referral fee, but it also involves a serious abuse of the most vulnerable in the profession.”

The Bar Council also referred to its protocol for instructing counsel in magistrates’ court cases and a letter from its chairman reminded heads of chambers that requiring junior counsel to work at rates “significantly below” the recommended levels was likely to be a further breach of duty under the BSB handbook.

The Ministry of Justice set out plans in a consultation paper last autumn for a statutory ban on solicitors seeking referral fees from advocates in criminal legal aid cases.

Tags: ,



Leave a comment

* Denotes required field

All comments will be moderated before posting. Please see our Terms and Conditions

Legal Futures Blog

How do you choose your ATE provider?

Tony Dyas Allianz

Choosing an after-the-event (ATE) insurance provider isn’t easy for solicitors. Differentiation between products and price is not always clear at first glance and you don’t really know what you’re getting until you use it years later. And, as with all intangible insurance products, you can’t take it back. Many solicitors are very loyal to their ATE providers and often focus on price, but this isn’t the only consideration. So, as a law firm, what should you be thinking about when considering who to work with?

November 23rd, 2017