Bar puts cash into complaints plan

The Bar Council is investing thousands of pounds in extra resources for dealing with expected hefty increases in complaints against barristers.

The increase stems in part from a new complaints system, overwhelmingly endorsed in a council meeting last week, which will introduce a compensation scheme for the new charge of 'inadequate professional services'.

The system, which is likely to cost the Bar £100,000 to £150,000 to implement, is expected to attract more complainants in total.

According to a senior source in the Bar Council secretariat, complainants who previously may not have made a complaint on the more serious grounds of professional misconduct are thought likely to be quicker to take advantage of the proposed streamlined system for handling poor service.

The move comes against a background of increasing complaints of professional misconduct. Latest Bar figures show that these have shot up by 24 per cent, from 359 in 1994 to 446 in 1995.

This is causing an “almost intolerable strain in terms of workloads” and “excessive backlogs and thus delays” which create a danger of mistakes, says David James, council head of professional standards and legal services, in the latest Bar News newsletter.

Increased resources to deal with further expected workloads include several new secretariat staff, the use of a second in-house solicitor to be recruited by the Bar Council, and eight new barrister members to the professional conduct committee (PCCsp).

PCC barrister members, which will total 43, investigate all complaints.

The Bar Council's complaints computer system will also be “heavily modified” to handle the growing workload and is expected to be on-line by July. Cautious spending of council cash, arising from barristers' subscriptions, also remains a priority, a source said.

However, the threat of action by opponents of the complaints scheme, including a second Bar ballot or even judicial review, could delay the Bar Council's plan to implement the scheme by autumn 1996.