The Bar Standards Board (BSB) is to conduct a review of the massive growth in complaints made against barristers by litigants in person (LiPs) – although it said this is likely to be caused by legal aid cuts.
A professional conduct department report – published last month – said there had been 55 complaints against LiPs in the first three-quarters of 2011, compared to just seven for the whole of 2010.
“The trend is clearly one that is being sustained and the recent report by the Civil Justice Council (CJC) on access to justice for litigants in person supports the view that this trend results from recent changes in the legal aid system,” the report said.
The BSB is now pressing ahead with plans to conduct a thematic review of the trend.
As in the first two quarters – when the trend first emerged – the majority of allegations (63%) made by LiPs were of “discreditable conduct/dishonesty” or misleading the court.
To date, 20 of the 30 complaints of misleading the court received from litigants in person in 2011 have been dismissed with the remainder ongoing.
None of the complaints has been referred to disciplinary action, “which reinforces the comments made in previous reports that allegations of misleading the court from litigants in person are likely to arise from misunderstandings on the complainants’ part of the role of opposing counsel in proceedings”.
The CJC report – which assessed what steps can be taken to improve access to justice for litigants in person and to prepare for the possibility of a material increase in such litigants – included a recommendation to publish guidance for legal professionals representing a party against a litigant in person and also a statement of what litigants in person are entitled to expect from legal professionals representing other parties in a case.
The BSB said: “To some extent, the CJC report has overtaken the thematic review of complaints from litigants in person planned for early 2012. Nevertheless, the review will go ahead in order to provide a richer picture of the issues litigants in person raise regarding their interaction with barristers.”