From Silks Row: the QCs’ view on public access, Rawdon Crozier reports

Public Access Bar Association

  • Moderator Andrew Granville Stafford, Chair of the Public Access Bar Association, Head of the Bar Council’s Direct Access Panel, 4 Kings Bench Walk
  • Speakers Philip Cayford QC, 29 Bedford Row; Stephen Harvey QC, 3 Paper Buildings; Susan Jacklin QC, Joint Chair of the Remuneration Committee, Deputy High Court Judge, 2 Garden Court; Anthony Speaight QC, 4 Pump Court; His Honour Judge Robin Tolson QC, Family Judge at the Central Family Court, St John’s Chambers

Public access now accounts for 12% of the Bar’s income; in 2009 the figure was just 2%; Five QCs, one a recent convert to ‘the Dark Side’ of judicial office gave personal views of public access.

There was a distinct family bias to this PABA session, which was none the worse for that. In fact as a civil practitioner, whose public access work is far more symbiotic with the solicitors’ profession, with clients often looking for initial advice and referral to a suitable solicitor, it was interesting to learn that in the family field, the Bar is far more often either in direct competition with solicitors or filling the void left by legal aid.

In the field of ancillary relief, the Bar can offer a far more cost-effective solution in big money cases; a telling example was given by Susan Jacklin QC who revealed that a direct access client had told her he had been given more substantive advice in their first four-hour conference than he had previously received after spending £¾million on three ‘blue chip’ solicitors’ firms. Thorny issues, such as writing correspondence and avoiding stepping over the sometimes-thin boundary that in practice can exist between permitted public access work and conducting litigation, was also discussed (although 6,000 barristers have completed training and registered for public access work only 220 have gone on to obtain a the qualification to conduct litigation). As a family judge, Robin Tolson QC echoed Sir Henry Brooke’s comments earlier in the day about the impossibility of maintaining equality of arms when one unrepresented party appears against another who is represented and the relief he feels when a previously unrepresented party has, through public access, managed to secure representation. 

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Rawdon Crozier

Rawdon Crozier is a barrister at KBG Chambers, Plymouth, specialising in property law. He is a member of the Counsel editorial board, writes for several legal journals and also writes poetry.