Combar votes to examine public direct action plan

THE Commercial Bar Association (Combar) has voted to consider allowing the public direct access to barristers in all non-contentious, as well as some contentious work.

But at its AGM on 15 July, the association voted overwhelmingly to ditch an even more radical proposal to allow barristers to ape solicitors by conducting litigation.

The proposals were the brainchild of commercial silk David Blunt, of 4 Pump Court, and were designed to help barristers meet the threat posed to their practices by the Government's legal reform plans, including the plan to sweep away the restrictions on solicitors' higher court rights of audience.

Blunt was unavailable for comment, but it is understood that he sent his proposals to the Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine QC, who subsequently told the Bar Council the ideas merited further consideration.

The most radical of the proposals, which was also mooted last week in Lord Irvine's consultation paper, called for an amendment to the Courts and Legal Services Act to allow barristers to conduct litigation.

It was suggested that barristers could maintain their distinction from solicitors by outsourcing client care functions. But Combar chair Ian Glick QC said Combar members had rejected the idea because they believed it would lead to the de facto fusion of the professions.

He added that he had reservations about the plan to allow the public direct access for non contentious cases and limited direct access for cases with contentious elements, but believed it was sensible for Combar to look at the idea more closely.

Dan Brennan QC, vice chairman of the Bar Council, said it was inevitable that groups like Combar were looking at ways to meet the threat posed by the Government's reforms.

The Bar Council is conducting a pilot project to test the merits of allowing advice centres direct access to barristers. Any proposal to relax the restrictions on direct access would need the council's approval.