BSB Chair and Vice Chair listen to the views of the circuits

The Chair, Baroness Ruth Deech, and the Vice Chair, Sir Geoffre Nice, of the BSB have been travelling to meet barristers and colleagues in the Circuits. Baroness Deech talks in detail about the visits.

The purpose of the visits was to see for ourselves the situation of the Bar throughout the country, and to ascertain what the BSB can do to help. We also wished to discuss with the circuit leaders the forthcoming changes to the structure of the practice of the Bar. On 26 May we were in Manchester to meet Stuart Brown QC and colleagues; on 28 May we went to Birmingham to meet Gareth Evans QC and colleagues and on 29 May we were in Newport with Winston Roddick QC and colleagues. A meeting with the South Eastern circuit will shortly take place. We were interested to hear their definitions of the essence of being a barrister (now that there is so much fluidity in the tasks and structure of legal professionals); how they feel about having one body representing both the employed and the referral Bar;
and the further ethical and regulatory difficulties they feel arise in dealing with both solicitors and barristers together in various practice structures. They were of the opinion that there might be a great deal in common between all advocates, whether solicitor or barrister, but at the same time voiced some anxiety about the training and quality checks needed to keep HCAs at the requisite level. On the whole they did not welcome moves towards LDPs and ABSs for their own sakes, let alone BOPs, with great enthusiasm - although seeing the inevitability. There was concern about conflicts and about the true independence of the advice that would be given to clients in a partnership structure rather than as an independent advisor. Parallels were drawn with the reorganisation of NHS dentistry and the abortive takeover of building societies by banks.

This was the background. The clear and cogent view that came from all circuits was that the publicly funded Bar doing criminal and family work is having to attempt to work on such unfair terms that it must be allowed some new business structure through which it can compete with solicitors. Referral fees and block contracting must be dealt with - the first by being outlawed, the second by being allowed to barristers, possibly through a special purpose vehicle. We heard senior representatives of the Bar, heads of large sets of circuit chambers, express their near desperation on behalf of their junior tenants and would-be-pupils, not so much on their own behalves.

We were left in little doubt about the poor prospects for the publicly funded Bar. Although not persuaded that there was ever a considered policy for undermining the referral Bar in the way that has happened, we are convinced that when the Bar Council and the BSB identify a new business structure that can allow junior barristers to survive, and thrive, by taking advantage of the same opportunities that are available to solicitors, then we must do all we can to establish and regulate that structure. We are working at the BSB to get that right.

Baroness Ruth Deech
Chair, Bar Standards Board