What is Direct Access and how does it work?

Before 2004 it was not possible for members of the public to engage a barrister without first instructing a solicitor. That changed when the Public Access Rules for barristers were introduced in 2004. You may now instruct a barrister directly.

In certain cases, barristers can accept work directly from the public, other professionals, foreign lawyers, organisations and commercial companies without incurring the additional expense of a solicitor, potentially saving you a significant amount of money overall.

Communication with a specialist direct access barrister is faster because you are dealing with the barrister directly. Direct Access to barristers, however, may not be appropriate in the some cases – which are better suited to the traditional model of instructing a barrister through a solicitor.

The other clear advantage in many cases is that it is much more economically efficient to instruct one lawyer (barrister alone) rather than two (solicitor and barrister).

Full details of the Bar Council’s public access scheme, including relevant guidance, can be found on their website at:www.barcouncil.org.uk. Not all cases will be suitable, but the Bar Council sets out the details of the sort of direct access work a barrister is permitted to conduct without a solicitor being involved.

In brief, a barrister working on direct public access cases can represent a client in courts and tribunals, and provide specialist legal advice including giving a second opinion. He or she can also assist in drafting correspondence, statements and documents required by the court, and he or she can advise on the use and instruction of experts in certain cases.

However, a direct access barrister cannot correspond directly with other parties in the case, or collect evidence or interview witnesses. They cannot issue court documents, instruct experts directly on your behalf, or handle clients’ money or hold money on account.

Some Tips on instructing a Direct Access Barrister.

  • Leave plenty of time: The commonest reason that barristers decline direct access instructions is that things have been left too late. Remember that a barrister’s diary will be full up in advance with court bookings. You need to leave enough time for them to consider the papers and to advise you. If everything is up to the wire you will probably be better off going to a solicitor first – they can access a pool of barristers and will usually be able to find someone who can make the date of your hearing. If you want to instruct a particular barrister you are entitled to ask them to do this for you.
  • Organize your paperwork: Before a barrister can take a case on they have to be confident you can manage the administrative side of the case that a solicitor might otherwise handle. Keep your papers in order: file orders and applications, statements, correspondence and other material separately and in chronological order. Generally a barrister will need to see all the papers in the court bundle even if you think they are not relevant. If you are asked for a particular document send that document – let the barrister decide what is and is not relevant.
  • Work out your questions: Know what you want the barrister to do. Do you want general advice about how strong your case is? Do you want a specific technical question answered? Do you want practical advice about what application to make or what to do next? Or do you want advice about how to maximize your chances of getting the best possible outcome?
  • Be frank and balanced: Your barrister will need to know not just how you see the case but also how the other party sees the case. It is pointless asking for advice about the case when you have only given half the story. Explain the issues being raised by the other party even if you don’t agree with them. Be honest with yourself and your barrister about the weaknesses in your case.