What is Direct Access?

Direct Public Access

Until recently, all barristers in practice at the Bar of England and Wales were forbidden to be instructed by the public. All instructions to barristers had to come only from solicitors. This restriction has recently been abolished. Now, any member of the public and any member of a profession can go straight to a barrister with their legal problem from the outset, to seek legal advice, to draft documents, to assist and advise on legal disputes, to help with correspondence where disputes have arisen, to advise and help in gathering evidence, preparing witness statements and court documents, to deal with and advise on court procedures, and to conduct trials and hearings in the courts and in tribunals on behalf of clients.

The advantages of going straight to a barrister from the outset are obvious. Under the “old system” a client would always have to go to a solicitor first, and if the solicitor found a client's case to be too complex, or to need expert legal advice and guidance, or to require a more expert review of documentation, or to draft complex documents, or to advise on procedural difficulties, the solicitor would usually instruct a barrister and in fact usually still does. If the matter ended up in litigation, a barrister would be instructed to deal with the litigation and court hearings. All of this of course can still happen, because anyone can still go to a solicitor and a solicitor will often still bring in a barrister where necessary. But the disadvantage of this system is that the client ends up paying at least 2 lawyers if not more. Sometimes in very complex cases, there will be a QC as well, which can mean 3 or even 4 lawyers being paid by one client!!

So, why not go straight to the horse's mouth from the very beginning? That is exactly what Direct Public Access is about.

What kind of work can be done by a barrister under Direct Public Access?

The answer is that any kind of civil law matter can be dealt with by a barrister under direct public access, as long as it is within the barrister's field of expertise and experience. Here are some examples of the kinds of cases that can be dealt with by barristers under direct public access:-

Commercial matters and business disputes, building and construction disputes, employment difficulties, trusts, inheritance and wills, pension disputes and legal problems relating to the administration of pensions, landlord and tenant disputes (both private and business tenancies or leases), housing matters, cohabitation disputes, general negligence claims and professional negligence claims, nuisance cases, trespass and adverse possession cases, property ownership, planning matters, environmental disputes and prosecutions, enforcement notices issued by local authorities such as Building Act, Environmental Protection Act and Highways Act notices, health and safety problems and prosecutions, partnership disputes, consumer credit and finance/loan problems, disputes over written guarantees and indemnities, company issues, shareholder disputes, directors' liability and disqualification cases, personal bankruptcy and corporate insolvency, Mediation and Alternative Dispute Resolution, costs liabilities, advising on or drafting legal documents such as contracts or leases.

There are some restrictions on the type of work that can be done under Direct Public Access – see “Things to Know”.

Who can John deal with under Direct Public Access?

Licences for professionals can easily be obtained from the Bar Council, and John can assist with this where necessary.

Is Direct Public Access good for the public?

The answer is that Direct Public Access is undoubtedly good for the public. That does not mean that it is no longer appropriate for members of the public to consult solicitors. But it does mean that the public has a much greater choice in the way they can now obtain legal advice and services from properly qualified and experienced lawyers. It also means that they can obtain legal advice and services in a much more efficient and cost-effective way, depending on their needs and circumstances.

In a recent Report published by Westminster University Law School in June 2009, following a public consultation across a large spectrum of commercial and professional businesses and private individuals, the conclusion reached by the University Law School about Direct Public Access was extremely positive. To quote from a part of the Report:-

our interviews have indicated that clients who have engaged barristers directly have found the experience positive. Responses have included terms such as "great value for money" "fast and efficient" "good to deal with the main person in case" "respect for budgets" "very knowledgeable" "thoroughness and attention to detail" and "good communication"

(see "Straight There No Detours - Direct Access to Barristers" by John Flood and Avis Whyte, University of Westminster School of Law, 17 June 2009).