Bar chiefs grilled over Legal Services Bill

Bar chair Stephen Hockman QC and Desmond Browne QC, chair of the bar’s Legal Services Bill Response Group, gave evidence to the joint committee scrutinising the draft bill last month.

Hockman and Browne spent an intensive hour or so being grilled by the committee, whose members include barristers Lord Neill of Bladen QC and former QC Lord Campbell of Alloway. They were there to put over the Bar Council’s point of view about the bill and its potential consequences for practitioners.

The session began by discussing the Bar Council’s regulatory and representative split, which Hockman described as “more of an evolution than a revolution”. He stressed the bar’s concerns that the Legal Services Board needs to be independent from government, and generously offered the bar’s skills in redrafting some of the bill. As Lord Bach pointed out in the evidence session, it was after all pro bono week.

The committee and Hockman went on to discuss whether a barrister’s duty was first and foremost to the client or to the court, and Hockman agreed to Lord Neill’s request for more paperwork on this topic.

Cost was the other hot topic of the session. Browne outlined the bar’s deep worries about the cost of the new system, describing the projected costs as “unrealistic”.

The committee now has to take the bar’s evidence on board alongside the comments from other bodies and weigh up the most important points to produce its report in July.