Complaints against barristers by litigants-in-person forced by legal aid cuts to represent themselves are rising fast, according to the Bar Standards Board (BSB).
Many result from a misunderstanding of the role of opposition barristers, the monthly meeting of the BSB’s full board heard last week.
The news comes ahead of publication of the Justice Bill, including further legal aid cuts and implementation of the Jackson reforms, which is expected today.
A report on complaints against barristers in the first quarter of 2011 by the BSB’s professional conduct department reported that of 108 conduct complaints, nearly a third were from civil litigants, more than from the BSB itself, which is usually the largest complainant.
Almost half – 15 in total – were from litigants-in-person (LiPs); more than double the total from LiPs in the whole of 2010.
The report, by head of professional conduct Sara Down and complaints committee chairman Simon Lofthouse QC, said: “This increase is almost inevitably due to the cuts in legal aid which have forced more people to represent themselves. We anticipate this trend will continue.”
LiPs frequently allege that barristers for the opposition had misled the court. The report said: “Four of the new complaints have already been dismissed, suggesting that litigants in person may be failing to understand the role of opponent barristers and/or the court system.”
Mr Lofthouse suggested the BSB could produce a leaflet to educate LiPs in barristers’ duty to the court. But vice-chairman Sir Geoffrey Nice QC responded that this was probably the courts’ role, not the BSB’s.
The report also revealed that the Legal Ombudsman (LeO) has only accepted 149 complaints against barristers since opening for business on 6 October 2010. It has since referred just 15 to the BSB, well below the 25% referral rate expected based on the prediction that a quarter of complaints would involve conduct as well as service issues.
Last week Legal Futures revealed that LeO had accepted nearly 4,000 complaints for investigation, the vast majority of which are about solicitors.