Criminal lawyers were due to launch a barristers' charter at the weekend to improve standards and to cut down on last-minute changes in counsel.
The proposal put foward by Manchester solicitor Michael Hopkinson, of Bridgwood & Hopkinson, at a conference of the Criminal Lawyers Solicitors Association (CLSA), follows a report on Bar standards which highlighted similar problems.
But Michael Jones, of Sheffield's Rodgers & Howe, who helped to draw up the charter, says the CLSA's measures go further than the recommendations by the Bar Standards Review Body.
The review body concluded that in many cases the Bar could not be held responsible for briefs being returned late. It recommends that barristers should be obliged to provide written explanations if quizzed by solicitors about the return of briefs. It also suggests that barristers returning a brief should be responsible for ensuring as little disruption as possible to the case.
But the review came out against “contracts” arguing that the natural caution of those entering them would “tend towards the lowest possible commitment”.
Hopkinson's charter is a quasi-contract which seeks to put the solicitor-barrister relationship on a more formal footing. He says the main problems are last-minute changes in counsel, lack of preparations and senior counsel refusing cases “not considered appropriate”.