The Legal Services Board (LSB) has said the Bar Council’s response to the Jeffrey review illustrated its “extreme reluctance” to “look forward and adapt to market conditions”.
The LSB said the Bar’s “selective reading” of the government-commissioned review of criminal advocacy highlighted parts that “painted barristers in a positive light and failed to mention recommendations that related to changes the criminal Bar should make, for example undertaking a full appraisal of its future”.
In a recently-released board paper, the super-regulator referred to highly critical remarks made about the Bar’s response by the Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association and London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association.
They described it as “entirely preposterous entirely self-interested hubristic triumphalism”.
The Bar Council hit back in a statement to Legal Futures, saying it was “surprised by some of the language used” by the criminal solicitors’ groups, which could “only serve to distract attention from a matter of real concern”.
It referred to the review’s finding that the market for criminal advocacy services could “scarcely be argued to be operating competitively or in such a way as to optimise quality” and that “the group of providers [ie, barristers] who are manifestly better trained (if not always more experienced) as specialist advocates are taking a diminishing share of the work, and are being beaten neither on price… nor on quality”.
The statement went on: “Our concern is that the market should work properly, with competition based on quality and the best advocates being chosen by clients, with the help of advice from their solicitors. That is in the public interest.”
The Bar Council said that in April it set up a working party, chaired by Geoffrey Rivlin QC, whose terms of reference included considering both the current state of, and any suggestions for change to, the manner in which barristers provide their services; and improving the manner in which barristers provide their services. “That working party continues to consider, inter alia, all aspects of the report published by Sir Bill Jeffrey on 7 May 2014.”
Referring to Sir Bill’s comments that the criminal Bar was a “substantial national asset which could not easily (or perhaps at all) be replicated”, the statement concluded that the Bar would “continue to look forward and consider how a good future can best be achieved”.
Elsewhere in the board paper, the LSB made it clear the importance it attaches to the Bar Standards Board becoming a regulator not just of individuals, but of entities.
The super-regulator said it expected that some entities would bid for criminal legal aid contracts in the next round, to be awarded in October, but to act as “influential first movers” the BSB would need to be ready to regulate them and the LSB able to approve the necessary rule changes.
In his report, published in May, former civil servant Sir Bill outlined one future where would-be criminal law barristers trained together with solicitors and worked at law firms before joining a “smaller, specialist Bar” later in their careers.