Bar accuses Apil of rushing fee deal

PERSONAL injury barristers have broken ranks with the NewsBar to agree compromise conditional fee terms of engagement despite concern in some quarters that they are being rushed into it.

The model agreement was unveiled on Friday by the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers, which described it as “a major step towards the smooth implementation of conditional fee agreements by both branches of the profession”.

Apil president Michael Napier said it was “ludicrous” that the Law Society and Bar Council had been unable to reach agreement themselves.

The document was drawn up by Apil and the Personal Injury Bar Association (Piba) and the groups had hoped it would be approved by both the society and Bar, whose inability to come up with a joint agreement cast a shadow at the launch of conditional fees.

But the Bar is still dragging its feet over an optional clause in the document which would make it contractually binding.

Bar sources accuse Apil of rushing through the agreement in time for an announcement at its conference in Hinckley.

Announcing the agreement without the Bar's support has also generated controversy within Piba. One committee member was amazed the group was going ahead without the Bar's support.

But Piba president Daniel Brennan QC said there was an overwhelming consensus that the document should be launched now. Piba was still seeking the Bar Council's endorsement.

A Bar Council spokesman hinted that the Bar was likely to support the move despite its reservations and the fact that it had not had time to fully consider the document.

“It's perfectly probable that the Bar Council would support any practical measures which were backed by the majority of working barristers,” the spokesman said.

Napier denied the move was a “pre-emptive strike” to force the Bar's hand and said the Bar had had plenty of time to consider the agreement.

The compromise document has optional clauses on the need for a different type of arrangement between solicitors and barristers working together for the first time and those with an on-going relationship.

The Bar's concerns over the contractual element of the agreement are thought to stem from the fact that it denies barristers access to the society's disciplinary procedures should solicitors default on payments.