Junior barristers with less than three years’ practising experience can now undertake public access work.
They will first have to undertake the new public access training, which the Bar Standards Board (BSB) has appointed the Bar Council and HJT to deliver.
Existing public access barristers will also have up to two years to undertake additional top-up training or cease to conduct public access work.
Junior barristers will also have to maintain a log of public access cases they have dealt with, including any issues or problems which have arisen; make this log available, on request, to the BSB for review; and to seek feedback from public access clients on the service provided.
When it first mooted the change last year, the BSB said the ban on these junior barristers was not proportionate, and instead unnecessarily limited consumer choice and hindered access to justice.
The key regulatory risk was that newly qualified barristers will undertake work that they do not have the required experience or competency to handle.
“This is a risk that applies to all barristers across all areas of work, not just newly qualified barristers thinking about undertaking public access work,” it said. “The Code of Conduct has very clear rules in place that mitigate this risk and the BSB is aware of no evidence to suggest that barristers are not complying with these rules.”
Research last year among public access barristers showed that 58% had declined instructions, with the most common reason that it was in the client’s interest to instruct a solicitor. It also showed work divided fairly equally between advocacy and advice, while employment, family, chancery and commercial were the most popular areas of public access instructions.
Head of professional practice Ewen Macleod said: “The new changes mean that clients will be able to access a broader range of public access barristers and can be more confident of the standard of service they will receive.
“Any barrister who, two years from now, undertakes public access work without meeting the additional training requirements will be in breach of the Code of Conduct and could be subject to disciplinary action.”
A small number of existing public access barristers may be eligible for a waiver from the top-up training, but they must apply for this. Those most likely to be eligible for a waiver will be able to demonstrate extensive experience of undertaking public access work and legal aid cases involving vulnerable clients, and the associated knowledge and understanding required.
The BSB also expects to be approving other training providers shortly.