Bar pro bono unit wants direct access for public

The public will be able to use barristers without referral from a solicitor if the Bar's new pro bono unit persuades the Bar Council to relax its referral rules.

The unit, launched a month ago to tackle unchecked instances of injustice referred by solicitors, has been inundated with calls from the public.

Under the Bar Council's direct access rules, barristers can only take on cases via a solicitor and a limited number of professional bodies. Plans are also under way to allow barristers to take instructions directly from advice centres.

Now the unit has revealed that it has applied to the Bar Council for the direct access rule to be waived for members of the public under certain circumstances.

That would allow the pro bono unit to set up an advice line for the public with arrangements for some cases to be referred directly to barristers.

The unit, chaired by Peter Goldsmith QC, currently has 350 barristers willing to do three days' pro bono work a year for deserving cases. The work is intended to complement existing pro bono schemes and agencies such as the Citizen's Advice Bureau.

A spokeswoman for the Bar Council said it would be feasible for the pro bono unit to act as a representative in some cases and for the public to contact a barrister directly if a case had been dealt with by a solicitor at an earlier stage.

Vanessa Sims, the administrator for the pro bono unit said: “By the time a case has reached the pro bono unit a client will not want the added cost of employing a solicitor.”

The unit has already received 60 written enquiries from solicitors, including council tax cases and a newspaper company contract matter.

Bar chairman David Penry-Davey QC has urged members of the Bar to lend support to the unit which he said was already providing a “vital service”.