Barristers predict a rise in public access work
Market liberalisation scheme is benefitting consumers, say regulators
Public access barristers are expecting the volume of work obtained directly from clients to increase over the next few years as consumers bypass solicitors.
New research, taken from a survey jointly commissioned report by the Bar Standards Board (BSB) and the Legal Services Board (LSB), found that just over half of registered public access barristers had undertaken up to five cases in the past year.
While a relatively small proportion of barristers' overall caseload, public access work has increased markedly over the past three years in the family, chancery, employment, commercial, and general common law practice areas.
The barristers surveyed considered that the scheme had brought relatively modest benefits for consumers thus far, with respect to widening choice, improving timeliness of access to services, and reducing costs.
However, barriers for consumers were found to include a lack of awareness of the scheme and the services that counsel are able to provide.
The regulatory framework was found to be largely effective in protecting public access clients, although some barristers suggested that further clarity was required within the public access guidance and the associated training requirements.
Ewen MacLeod, the BSB's director of regulatory policy, said: 'We are pleased with the insight the findings give us into the operation of the public access scheme for barristers.
'We will take them into account when deciding what, if any refinements should be made to the regulatory arrangements governing the scheme.'
Also commenting on the findings, the LSB's head of research and development, Steve Brooker, said: 'This joint research is an important stock take of where the public access scheme currently stands. While representing a relatively small proportion of a barristers' caseload it is, nonetheless, growing.
'Benefits for consumers that are starting to emerge from this key market liberalisation measure - wider choice, improved timeliness of access to services and lower costs - are important and can be expected to grow as public access work grows.'