URGENT action to lobby the Lord Chancellor's Department on conditional fee arrangements will be the first task of a new association for personal injury barristers launched this week.
The Personal Injury Bar Association holds its inaugural meeting on 7 March, and organiser Matthias Kelly expects barristers country-wide to converge on the Gray's Inn arbitration room for the event.
Kelly, a personal injury specialist based at John Melville-Williams' Old Square Chambers, was motivated to form the group by the imminent arrival of conditional fees.
He claims the Bar Council's ability to press personal injury lawyers' interests during consultation was curtailed by the lack of an affiliated association of personal injury barristers.
"The Bar Council had no mechanism by which it could consult personal injury practitioners. That is a matter of concern," he says.
The move is welcomed by Association of Personal Injury Lawyers president Michael Napier who calls it an excellent idea which is long overdue and will complement APIL's work.
Kelly, secretary of the steering group setting up the new association, has sent out a letter to every chambers in the country urging them to send a representative to the group.
The letter cites conditional fees, the Lord Woolf review and the anticipated need for a personal injury panel at the Bar as presenting a need for barristers to be "consulted collectively, and to have their collective interests properly represented and advanced by those who understand them".
At the inaugural meeting of the association, members will elect an executive committee and vote on a motion that "urgent action should be taken by the committee of PIBA in respect of the conditional fee agreement proposals".
Kelly says likely concerns will include the stage at which the viability of a case is considered, after-the-event insurance and the mechanism for dealing with conflicts of interest between barristers, solicitors and clients.
He believes the Bar is divided on the "no win no fee" issue but says it is inevitable that such a system will be established.