Alba keeps quiet about Bar Council accreditation plans

The Administrative Law Bar Association (Alba), the only specialist bar association to be directly affected by controversial Bar Council proposals to accredit public law barristers, has declined to respond to a consultation.

The association has not made any response to proposals that a Bar Council spokesman described as “inevitable”. Senior barristers are concerned about whether the Bar Council should be taking proactive steps towards accreditation because of the sensitivity of the issue.

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) sees no need for accreditation as it believes it is already well placed to select appropriate counsel. However, barristers may be refused public funds if they are not accredited.

The consultation document suggests accrediting public law barristers generally, but highlights those specialising in mental health, education, community care and immigration. Original proposals contained in the Asylum and Immigration Bill recommended accreditation of immigration practitioners only.

The Legal Services Commission, which selected these specialist groups, wants a ready means by which solicitors and advice agencies can easily identify barristers with expertise in a certain field. The bar is considering accreditation, as its users “do not always select suitable counsel”.

Alba chairman Robert Jay QC declined to comment. But there are concerns within his association about whether it is the Bar Council’s place to decide on accreditation.

Specialist bar associations do not favour the Bar Council’s suggestion that it should manage the accreditation scheme. The bar’s report says: “It could put their members in the potentially invidious position of sitting in judgment on their colleagues or competitors.”

Former Alba chairman James Goudie QC says: “Many points could play havoc with accreditation. How does one classify cases as coming within a certain category? There’s no field in which you can say what the outer limits of that field are. Also, as the bar is a referral profession, law firms should know the quality of barristers they instruct.

The Bar Council is under pressure from the Government, which believes that accreditation will save money. One Alba member says: “The Bar Council put pressure on specialist bar associations for immigration barristers to be accredited, but they were fairly reluctant to respond.”

The bar’s consultation report states that not all bar associations favour accreditation. It says: “[Some] saw such schemes as inconsistent with the concept of an independent referral bar, and there were concerns that a move towards specialist accreditation could disadvantage the competent generalist and his or her clients.”