Direct access frustrated by Bar Council inertia

The Bar Council has been criticised for not promoting direct access to the bar to business and the public, new research has found.

In the first-ever survey on direct access since its introduction two years ago, more than 90 per cent of respondents felt that the Bar Council had not provided clear or sufficient information on how to instruct barristers directly.

Two in five in-house lawyers did not even realise information had been provided.

The findings come as the debate over greater public access to justice continues to accelerate in the wake of the Clementi reforms.

Direct access, which was brought in through an historic move by the Bar Council, allows barristers to receive instructions directly from the public in an effort to allow better access to justice. Since its launch the impact has been small, with only 34 per cent of the 1,000 businesses contacted having instructed barristers directly and 40 per cent saying they will not contemplate using the service in the future.

The research, commissioned by chambers Hardwicke Building, does show that 95 per cent of participants welcomed direct access, with in-house lawyers being the most likely users.

Ann Buxton, chief executive of Hardwicke, said: “Commercial chambers will have to continue to reform the way they operate to meet the needs of increasing numbers of direct access clients.”

Geoffrey Vos QC, chairman of the Bar Council, said it is encouraging that the scheme has been welcomed, but added: “The bar still has some work to do in terms of providing greater information about direct access.”