Barristers to be fined for poor work

BARRISTERS could soon be fined up to £2,000 for the first time for giving clients poor service, if radical Bar Council proposals are accepted.

The Bar Council, in keeping with its evolutionary strategy for high standards of service, and against a background of growing numbers of complaints, aims to revolutionise the Bar's complaints system with a new procedure that could be put in place by 1997.

In the most fundamental departure from the current system, the Bar Council proposes that:

– A lay complaints commissioner, to be drawn from "the great and the good" who would direct investigation of complaints.

– Barristers should be liable to pay compensation not just in cases involving professional misconduct, but also where the barrister provided "inadequate professional services" to the lay client.

– Compensation of up to £2,000 to be payable by barristers to lay clients, to reduce the bill in whole or part.

This is similar to the Solicitor's Complaints Bureau system, which has a limit of £1,000.

Until now, the existing complaints system has only dealt with professional misconduct arising from breaches of the code of conduct.

Bar Council chair Peter Goldsmith QC says that an "independent mechanism for speedy and effective redress of legitimate complaints is an important element in reinforcing public confidence in the professionalism and expertise of the services provided by the Bar".

Bar Council figures show the number of complaints almost doubling from 207 in 1989, to 359 in 1994.

Around two or three barristers are struck off and two or suspended every year.