Chambers pioneers direct access first

John Malpas reports

A YORK set of chambers is at the centre of a pioneering direct access arrangement with its local probation service.

Under the recently-forged agreement, barristers at York Chambers will take instructions directly from probation officers for breach of probation order hearings heard at York Crown Court.

The arrangement has been approved by the Bar Council for a one-year pilot period making the North Yorkshire Probation Service the first public body to be granted direct access to the Bar.

The probation service, which came up with the idea, claims that it stands to make valuable savings. And York Chambers barrister Richard Scott, who negotiated with the service, said he believed direct access for probation order breaches was a good idea.

"It will not mean a great change for us because in the past, although we received the brief from solicitors, it was practical to deal directly with the probation officers when we were in court," he said.

Brian Marshman, assistant chief probation officer at the service, first approached the Bar Council with the proposal.

He said the service calculated it could cut advocacy bills by 36 per cent, saving around £2,000 a year for the service.

"I think it is very much the sort of thing other much larger services would want to do and they would stand to save far larger sums of money," he said. "But first we have got to prove to the Bar that it is appropriate for us to have direct access."

Mark Stobbs, secretary of the Bar Council's professional standards committee, said it was the first time a non-professional body had been granted direct access.

Stephen Williamson QC, the leader of the North Eastern Circuit, had been asked to monitor the arrangement, he added.