Bar Council at loggerheads with OFT over MDP probe

The Bar Council has issued a stinging response to the Office of Fair Trading's (OFT) statement last week that it will continue investigations into the bar's restrictions on multidisciplinary partnerships (MDPs) and allowing barristers to litigate.
In a strongly-worded response to the OFT, the bar chairman David Bean QC expressed his surprise that, in the context of the Enron debacle, the bar is being asked to reform its policies to allow chambers to enter into MDPs.
Those barristers wanting to conduct litigation services can do so freely by becoming solicitors, said Bean. If barristers do undertake litigation, he continued, fees will rise automatically because of “the costly regulatory burden for the profession and the administrative costs for individual barristers”. He described such a policy as “not practicable and not in the public interest”.
The OFT has ceased its investigation into the bar's prohibition on advertising success rates, having accepted the bar's view that it “would discourage barristers from taking difficult cases”.
However, the OFT retains its critical stance on the bar's position of retaining the QC system. Bean, who said that he will soon announce the membership of a committee to consider the judicial and silks appointments system, said: “The OFT recognises that the QC system is a matter for the Lord Chancellor. Like him, we consider that the rank has value as a recognition of high standards.”
In direct contrast, the response by Law Society president David McIntosh to the OFT's demands on lawyers was one of agreement. “We're pleased that they acknowledge our need to ensure that there are adequate protections in place where liberalisation takes place,” he said.
The OFT, noting that the Law Society was already starting upon the path of liberalisation before the OFT's intervention, highlighted the reform implemented by the Law Society allowing lawyers to provide legal services to banks or supermarkets.
The Law Society has set up a working party to reconsider a proposal to lift the ban on fee-sharing with non-solicitors. “Lifting the ban would facilitate MDPs,” the OFT said last week. “This could provide benefits such as overhead costs savings and more open access to services for clients.”